An exchange of ideas for an effective, fair and fully functioning democratic

Freedom equals social responsibility plus individual accountability. Good government requires nothing more than these two factors, yet we democratic nations around the world neglect one or the other, in favour of a focus on the remaining ingredient. Capitalistic approaches shun social responsibility, preferring, instead, to lean on free markets to drive growth and success. Socialist approaches ignore the merits of individual accountability as a driving force in shaping good governance. Look to the American system to see the dynamics of the former ideology in play, or to much of the European continent to observe the emphasis on the latter concept. Both experience monumental failures and significant successes. This blog intends to explore alternative ideas and mechanisms to the either/or approach to freedom. We eagerly anticipate feedback, guest blogger articles, comments and ideas from you, the reader. Please take the time to register, as well, and, hopefully, we can not only share ideas, but work together to implement change!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hold the Phone! Is It Always Unethical To Break The Law?

Does being ethical require obedience and adherence to the law?  Does being moral mean that you never infringe on the rights and safety of others? Does compliance with the law make you an honest person? And if any or all of these questions are to be answered in the affirmative, does that mean that each of us should never break the law, for fear of being immoral, dishonest or unethical?

It is estimated that ten percent of the population never will knowingly break the law, 10% will often attempt to circumnavigate those same rules, and the remaining 80% will, under the right circumstances, bend or deviate from the law. Three decades ago, a survey in Ontario, Canada found that nearly 82% of citizens would cheat on their taxes, if it were risk-free, and 38% admitted that they had already done so. That is an enormous amount of deviance!

But does compliance with the rules make one honest?  One individual that I know pushes the envelope regarding the interpretation of the law routinely, justifying his mistreatment of others and his habit of maximizing his personal gain at the expense of others by saying, “If the government thought it was wrong, they would create a law against it.”  Yet, he knows that his actions cause others to suffer.

One foreign student at the University of Manitoba approached another student and asked her to write his ethics paper for him.  It is difficult to refrain from laughing at this too-obvious paradox!  Yet, in his culture, the political regime tacitly encourages such subterfuge, by intruding so aggressively into one’s life that, in order to maintain a semblance of personal power, people look for creative ways to hide their behaviours from the government.  In his view, the act of cheating on an ethics course merely was a way to express power.  He did not see it as a moral issue.

Then there is the question of whether there are circumstances where to not break the rules is immoral or unethical.

Last week, my wife needed to be rushed to emergency care at a nearby hospital.  Her condition, as I viewed it, was desperate, as she tenuously clung to consciousness, her breathing was shallow, she was perspiring profusely, was pale, and had numbness down her entire right side.  As I sped along the back roads, exceeding the speed limit, I called 911 on my cell phone.  I continued to use the cell phone even after I had intercepted the ambulance.  I needed to notify her immediate family.

Using a cell phone while driving is against the law in our jurisdiction.  So is speeding.  I potentially placed others at risk with my aggressive driving, even if I was inside the letter of the law.  Yet, if I had not reacted with such speed, my wife may well have died.  If she had succumbed, and I had not given the family an opportunity to learn of and react to her emergency, I would have caused them undue suffering.

I determined that, although I was choosing to break the law, the law needed to be broken in this situation.  I viewed my actions neither as immoral nor unethical.  How do you interpret supposedly necessary breaches of the law?  Now, give us an honest answer, please!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Blame The Dieter, Not The Diet

Lifestyle changes are difficult, without doubt.  However, failure to implement desired lifestyle changes is doubly difficult on the initiator of the change.  We all intend well.  We all believe ourselves to be ethically sound, well-meaning persons. Yet, we look to blame others, or other circumstances for our own failures.

On the extreme end of blame are the conspiracy theorists, marching, lock-step, with the racist element.

I have a former friend whom I feel falls into, if not both categories, the classification as a conspiracy buff.  His claim is that the Chinese are strategizing to take over the free world.  His basis in fact?   Actually, his basis in fact is fact only in his own thoughts.  The theory began to take hold of him when he lost his job to an Asian person.  Then he lost another.  And another.  Not once did he self-evaluate, and say, “Maybe there is something that I am doing wrong.”  Instead, the easy way was to blame the Asian community for stealing his job.

Next was his recognition that there were thousands of Chinese students in our universities, taking, according to him, spots away from Canadians.  He ignored the reality that no Canadian was turned down as a consequence of a foreign student buying his way into that spot.  Like my friend’s jobs, the seats were filled with students who had the dedication to advance their education.

My friend then chose to add to his arsenal of “proof” that the Chinese were sending only the brightest to “his” country, and that they were acting as an advance guard, who would use their higher learning to take over.  Again, he dismisses the idea that individual families were screened carefully by Canadian authorities, who decided which students obtained visas.  To assume that these were “spies” bordered on ridiculous, but conspiracy theorists tend to ignore realities in favour of biases.  It is easier to blame others than look at uncomfortable truths.

My old buddy goes on to claim that the tens of thousands of economic immigrants that arrive each year actually are sent by the Chinese government, as well, to take over our economy.  Perhaps, a small bit of truth.  The investment by foreign interests in our country is huge.  But we make the choice to accept the inputs, so it is difficult to blame the Chinese authorities for our decisions.  Still, hundreds of thousands do ignore fact, and blame the Chinese.

My brother, like my friend, lost his job to an Asian worker.  The fact that the Asian worker was a much better employee than my brother does not stop my kin from claiming that the Filipino community is plotting to take our jobs.  He trumps that claim by stating that his former employer, a Jewish person, is part of a global Jewish plot.  I suppose that the Filipinos are now a part of that sinister program?  What my brother ignores is that we are part Jewish!  Does that make him part of the conspiracy?  He rationalized that fact away, briefly, by denying his origins.  That is, until my research proved otherwise, and then he claimed that there might be some Jewish people who were not part of the universal plot.

These two anecdotes seem a far reach from discussions of lifestyle changes and blame, but they are not.

How many millions of us have tried, dozens of times, to implement a diet, but failed?  How many have made New Years resolutions, but lacked the commitment to see them through beyond January?  And, in turn, how many of us have said, “That diet doesn’t work.”

Diets neither work nor fail.  The work is in the hands of the dieter.  We simply choose to deflect the blame, and decline to accept personal responsibility.

This deflection occurs regularly.  “The government should do this,” or “that accident occurred because the city didn’t clear the roadway,” and so on.  The truth?  We are the government, so we make choices, and the government that we have is the one that we allowed to be put in place.  The accident occurs, always, because someone fails to exercise proper caution, given the conditions in which he or she was driving.

We cry about high crime rates, yet expect others to take measures to prevent crime.  We cry about high fuel prices, then drive up those prices by driving big vehicles, using excess amounts of petroleum-based products and invest in oil companies so that we can benefit from the soaring stock prices.  We blame the rich for getting rich, then aggressively seek to get rich ourselves. 

In an old (1960s) study, jurists in a British shoplifting case found a young man guilty of stealing a few pounds worth of goods, sentenced him to a hefty sentence, and then took the afternoon to discuss, among themselves, how to inflate their expense claims for the trial!  The Kitty Genovese incident of the 1960s is one of thousands where people have chosen to not come to the aid of someone in urgent need, opting to expect others to step forward instead.

Personal accountability is difficult.  Accepting responsibility for our actions takes effort, and often can cost us.  Yet, the failure to accept the personal onus for ethical action costs us much more, in internal esteem.

When we do the difficult, and make moral, ethical choices regardless of the cost, the ease with which we live with ourselves becomes greater, while the more frequently we choose the easy, less ethical response, the more anguish and angst we face inside. 

The best diet, the hardest to adhere to, is not one that involves actual food.  It is the one that weans us off attributing blame to others, and leads us into accepting responsibility for who we are, who we want to be, and how we want the world around us to evolve.  Stop blaming the diet!  Be the ethical dieter. It is not the diet that doesn’t work: it is that people fail to implement the diet.