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The parable of the underwater basket weaver

haksayngAug 10, 2018, 4:48:45 AM

Suppose you have the following principle: tell the truthor at least don't lie. You would not like to be lied to, so you honor the silver rule and do not lie yourself (though there may be times you choose to remain silent). You recommend this principle universally because you believe that honesty is a universal virtue that everyone should cultivate.

On the other hand, your hobby of underwater basket weaving is something you enjoy and derive value from, but it is not something you would defend based on principle (e.g. as something conforming to universally preferable behavior).

Peacefully sitting at the bottom of the local neighborhood swimming pool, minding your own business, weaving a basket, and getting lost in thought, a visitor appears.

Turn baskets into diplomas

The Visitor greats you. "Hey man, I like your baskets!" he says.

Oh! Your ego is stroked a bit; few things in life bring you more satisfaction than a compliment on your craftsmanship.

"How would you like to turn your baskets into something  more?!" the Visitor suggests.

You are a bit off put by this comment, could this fellow be trying to scam you? You notice his slick (waterproof) watch, which must have cost thousands of dollars. While you would normally be reluctant to respond to a business inquiry like the one, you somehow get the impression that the Visitor really does have the ability to make your baskets into "something more", whatever that means.

"Well, at least hear me out..." the Visitor begins. "I have received funding from private sources as well as government grants for opening a new University department. All you have to do is help me convince some suckers that a degree in underwater basket weaving is their ticket to a lifetime of riches. I'll pay you a dozen bitcoin upfront for your cooperation"

In the depths of your heart, you know underwater basket weaving is not a very lucrative endeavor. Even being number one on Etsy for underwater woven products (not even just baskets!), you don't even make enough from your craftsmanship to pay all your living expenses. You know that underwater basket weaving is not a ticket to riches.

 Virtue has won in your heart. You say to the visitor, "I will not lie; I refuse your offer".

Lifted by baskets

"So you are the type that wants to heal the world with your principles, eh?" says the Visitor.

"Suppose I gave you an offer to save the world from fighting through underwater basket weaving. How would you like to bring world peace through basket woven policy?"

You think about that for a moment. Indeed, if everybody in the world was forcibly required to dispel emotions like anger and sadness through underwater basket weaving, then the world would very likely be a better off place.

"Join me and we can institute basket weaving as restitution policies to turn hatred into beautiful baskets. All you have to do is join me in silencing your foes and turn them to basket weaving instead of letting them carry on in bringing chaos to the world. Imagine the world: integrated and interwoven like underwater woven baskets."

You imagine a world... a world without hate because people would be weaving baskets instead. Briefly, you drift into thought, imagining a Utopian basket weaving world peace future...

But then your judgment returns. 

"I will not lie and say I am certain my dreams of an underwater basket weaving utopia will surely succeed. The price of violating others' freedom to bring my experiment to society (because people will surely resist) is not one I am willing to accept."

Fit the world in your basket

The Visitor is a bit startled by this response. Surely the prospect of a better future would secure cooperation? The Visitor is not out of ideas, however. 

"Man... you have the BEST baskets. You could rule the world! Let us establish a meritocracy based on basket weaving. You would be at the top". 

You think about that for a moment. Yes, you know you do have the best baskets. A meritocracy based on underwater basket weaving would put you at the top of society, a position you know you are far from now.

"So, will you join me, and establish an underwater basket weaving meritocracy? All we need to do is use a couple of tricks to convince the sheeple that society should be based on underwater basket weaving merit."

 You now are near certain that the Visitor is here only to tempt you to go against your principle of speaking the truth.

"I will not lie to my fellow human beings," you affirm. "Now, leave me be."


Exhaling, you rise to the surface. Where has the Visitor gone? Maybe while lost in thought weaving a basket you had been imagining things.

With a newly woven, exquisitely crafted basket in hand, you head towards the local swap meet. You have baskets to offer the world.