Impact of ethics on society and politics
Ethics is all about the moral personality of man.
About our conduct in society and politics!
Ethics brings out our moral strengths, moral courage in our actions.
And imparts to civilised society some well-defined moral behaviour and values.
Ethics touches every aspect of our lives, personal and the public lives. Our ideas and beliefs are shaped by ethics and moral principles.
In today’s world too individuals need core beliefs to steer through life. So, too the nations and peoples. The leaders of nations must be driven by a robust morality, the world must be evolving towards a wars-free era of peace and prosperity for the world.
Ethics is a fundamental issue for man and mankind! Ethics is not a subject for academic study. It is a study for practical life, for practical politics and also a sure guide for leaders.
History teaches us much about who is remembered by mankind and who is discarded by posterity. That historical experience is gained by the basic ehtical sense of man and mankind!
Today we live in a difficult world, it seems. Some words and phrases don’t convey any clear meaning. Today, the word “fundamental” might be misunderstood as referring to religious fundamentalism! Ethics reforest a fundamental knowledge! It is about the basic principle of life. How to live a morally justified way. What is morality, what is truth, falsehood, what is right or wrong are all the issues of ethics.
So, ethics is all about how to live a “good” life, a morally upright life and how to make safe for a war-free life for the masses of people all over the world. Moral appeals cross national boundaries than any other material goods and services.
Real globalisation is the globalisation of the values people share everywhere.
We, however, seem to live in an ethically challenging world, where there is still mutual suspicion and there is a race to build world destroying nuclear weapons and the world is not normal, there are so many abnormalities and asymmetries in the perceptions of the world leaders. In particular between George Bush and Vladimir Putin. So, their meeting in an informal summit gave rise to some of these thoughts! It was nice to hear Putin saying:” The deck has been cleared and we are ready to play. And I would very much hope that we are playing one and the same game”. That was also the hope of the entire world!
Just if only anyone cares to think, then, there would be real trouble! Yes, such is the power of thinking! And when thinking comes to serious issues, issues of life and death, so to say, as to how we have to live and go about our business of living and how we have to make choices, that is to do thin, rather than that and such questions could pose enormous challenges to our mental faculties.
Yes, such challenges we often face in our day to day lives.
At any rate I face this challenge and dilemma often. All I try to do to get over such dilemma is to just ignore the more troubling thoughts and get out and come down to more earthly concerns.
Yes, we seem to be like that most of the time, most of our do live such mundane lives and we are not not worse for such mere acts of existence.
But unfortunately, man has evolved over the animal kingdom and we have come to acquire some mental faculties that are not given to the animal ancestors. I am not sure. But I am assuming that we are better than our animal ancestors, arent we?
Only in that sense, we seem to be superior to our animal ancestors and may be, we of the present times, the more modern world of ,say the last century of one hundred years ,if we take a short period in human history, we have so many things for us, also so many things going against us.
Just take one example. Everyday when I open the newspaper I am flooded with so many news and so many questions. The issues often are like these: The visit of the nuclear-powered war ship to Chennai port, the militant students hiding in the Palistan Lal Masjid complex,the politics of Tibet or the partnership between Putin and the US President George Bush.
All these issues often pose some moral dilemma or other.Then,mind mind wanders,back and forth.I look at history and also look to the present and the future.
What are the issues in the dilemma?
Should Bush go for building missile defence systems in Central Europe?Is or is not Putin right in being very much concernd over what the US intends to do?Is the world safer by the moves of the USA?Is China right in doing what it does in Tibet?In denying the Tibetans their right to be a free nation?In denying the Dalai Lalama his right to represent his people?
These are just a few examples,on a day,in my life I go through such questions and issues of the day when I sit back and think and face the dilemma in deciding what is right and wrong?
Why Ethics matters?
Yes,only when such practical difficulties arise we are faced with dilemmas.Dilemmas to choose between what is the right path and what is the wrong path.
Ethics and also philosophy and much else in the realm of knowledge has enabled man, mankind to acquire this much of civilizational power that has given man the unquie power to do things and make the world such a beatiful place to live.
So,our everyday choices are made or we are making,rather unconsciously or with the enormous consciousness that lie at the bootm of our deeply felt inner reaches of the mind and only when we are called upon to make a difficult choices,we summon our courage or moral instincts to reach out for the first principles of what is right,wrong or what is truth and morality and much else.
Ethics becomes so critical for our decision making,almost for our everyday decision-making,only in such delicate moments and in always such critical moments only we seem to realise how important ethics and much of the principles of philosophy and sociology,politics and even psychology are!
The point is that our civilized life and society and even I would say our self-assumed very cultured life is possible only because we have a system of ethics and philosophy and morals and much else that underlie our day to day lives. I am not sure how much priority is given in our average lives,in our average individuals’ lives for the ethical and moral questions.
But this doesn’t matter when it comes to the importance of ethics and morals in our lives.They do matter more than any other things.
Our very material comforts and happiness won’t make sense to us,unless we are so confident of our leading such a “good” life that gives us,all our family and friends,that rare sense of fulfillment.What is a fulfilling life?Simply put,it is basically a morally justified life. Otherwise, we would feel miserable.Our life would become so miserable and we have to go mad,otherwise,we would seek some other desparate means to get out of this miserable existence!
Yes,ethics is about our life and death!It is such a serious business!
I was saying all these things so far to indicate how important ethics is after all.So important that ethics is all that matters in one’s
Now,what is ethics?
There is a long tradition of ethics,starting from Pre-Socratic philosophy to the present times.Ethics,as defined by a general dictionary,is”the science of morals in human conduct,a greek word, ethos).This is Oxford Concise Dictionary. Encyclo paedia Britannica(1974)devotes twenty pages to the subject of ethics.
If you go into a sepcialist philosophy dictionary,then you are entering into an uncharted terriotry! There are anything like some 20 definitions or twenty different sub-sections that deal with different theories and schools of ethics!Simply put,ethics in academic terms is all about ” a theory of ethical formalism,which defines moral judgements in terms of their logical form,law,universal prescription etc.(The Oxford Companion to Philosophy,edited by Ted Honderich). There is one more definition,this time,in sociological terms.Ethics is about what outght to be, science is about what it is, a rather simple and simplistic defintion. The point is that ethics is about people whose privacy must be respected and a person’s personal choices,preferences must be respected and protected etc.But then,as questioned by the very same dictionary (Dictionary of Sociology, OUP)”Sociologists may never face the dilemma of Oppenheimer faced when he developed the atomic bomb,but as Robert Friedrichs wrote in A Sociology of Sociology (1970), ‘knowledge of man is not neutral in its import;it grants power over man as well’. Yes,the third definition is only of practical and immediate value to us here.
Ethics encompasses whole range of realted fields like religion, history,humanistic and social sceinces and not the least is its relationship with the physical sciences as well.The making of the atom bomb and the cloning of the cells are all issues that raise basic ethical issues. Such is the power and reach of the ethical debate!
Ethical questions are less important for us as a theoretical and philosophical question and more important and has more practical implications as a tool to help us ,man,to decide what is right and wrong and how we have to act when called upon to do so. A sense of history is crtical for man,for any citizen of a country.As for the citizens of the world,as we are all today in a globalised world,that certain decisions made by the leaders of the world deeply impact us,our lives irrespective of what country we belong to,to what country we are citizens.
The informal summit between US President George Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin is one such issue. The world,luckily, didn’t see another world war since the end of the Second World War,though we are currently witnessing some localised wars in Iraq and elsewhere.The world,as has been noted by historians and others,has been free of such devastating wars and ideological revolutions and much upheavals and much violence and bloodshed,as we have witnessed during the first half od the twentieth century.That is what the twentieth century is called, the history of the”short twentieth” century, 1914-1989(Eric Hobsbawm).Why the twentieth century is marked by the years 1914 and 1989.Readers must know the reasons obviously.Till 1914,the world belonged to an European imperial era.After the First World War broke out,the Europe as the world knew from the Austro-Hungariam Empire,or as the British knew as their own Empire grew from 1757 onwards, suddenly found themselves,the British and the Europeans,their empire days were over.The First World War ended the Ottoman Empire as well as the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the start of the Russian Revolution.The British Empire lasted but the British knew their Empire was to end sooner.So,the Versailles Peace Treaty was seen not as a peace treaty but as a treaty for an unstable world and also a world that was to witness another shake-up. Hitler was looming large,for over twenty years before he effected his” democratic”coup!He became the Chancellor through an election, let us not forget.So too Lenin, he also effected the revolution when the “provisional” ‘parliamentary’ government was in power in Russia. I am mentioning the fact that such ‘great’ revolutions, though different in nature, took place not through any unexpected war or seizure of power violently,though there was violence in Russia,there was time for much’peaceful’ transfer of power in Russia as well as in Germany.
There were people who joyously welcomed the two revolutions.In the case of Russian Revolution this was more widely understood,there was a long period of gestation, Karl Marx and his followers did much theoretical work and justification for the way the Revolution’broke out’.In the case of Hitler too there was a positive response even in the British people!
The point is that in some great historic moments, or revolutionary times,even hard-headed individuals,from philosophers to leaders,could go wrong and their wrong decisions also could influence public opinion.
I don’t want to dwell too much on this topic,except to point out how public opinion even after a long time of the revolutions and large-scale bloodsheds and human sufferings,there are ignorant people and also gullible people among the elites who justify the past blunders. Though there is hardly any sympathisers for Hitler,there are sympathisers for Lenin, Stalin and Mao Tse Tung even now!
There are elites and the media,as in some sections India, who speak of solving international and national issues in terms of Marxism-Leninism! Such blind spots are the outcome of a poor understanding of history and the lack of spread of reason and science in our public discourses.
Oh, God, there is no world war
in the last half a century!
But small wars and dictators are still plenty!
Hitler,Lenin, Stalin and Mao
I have stopped reading the Dictators!
I have stopped reading about Hitler,Lenin,Mao and other dictators for quite some time!
What new lessons we can learn from them?Nothing! Yet,I find there is a curious phenomenon among the modern readers.In all the book shops,I find a steady interest in the life of the dictators,more so in the case of Hitler.His writing and books on him are selling continuously.I also see new books coming on him.So,too a large,some 600-page new biography of Mao has sold well.The book brings out the more brutal character of the dictator and how even his close lieutenants like Chou suffered so much humiliation under him.
We have only to see the humiliation heaped on the dictators by their countrymen,see what happened to Lenin and Stalin.Their statues were over-turned and smashed in many cities and in their satellite countries like the Baltic states.So too for Mao whose name is now hardly mentioned in the Chinese political discourse.
Yet,in India we see the curious behaviour of the comrades who derive some vicarious pleasure in displaying Stalin’s portraits in their party head quarters!So much for the worship of the dictators in our present times.
Wars or any talk that is likely to provoke large scale violence and bloodshed must be seen as a sign of lack of education and culture,a lack of concern for democratic norms and a more liberal outllook in life.This is a task for education,as it is a task for political opinion-building.In this place,if we can make a remark,that is this:in India there is now a tendency,that poltiics is not for public education and enlghtenment,it is just for a ruling clique,a ruling alliance of self-seeking individuals who have no concern for the larger issues,the larger vision for a world free of war, hunger and suppression of peoples’rights and freedoms.Politics in India,in particualr,has become extremely narrow,concerned with promtoing one’s family and dyanasty! How sad and how we have fallen from the larger concerns!
The world is not perfect.There are enough troubled spots in the world. There is too much of falsehood and fales official propaganda of governments unwilling to see reason and abide by a world-wide opinion,be it a decision about a country’s freedom or the freedoms of ethnic groups of peoples,or long suppressed voices of some other,like say,the present Tibetan question.
There is now a rise in international terrorism,there are internal troubles in many countries,India is neither free from such impacts from its neighbours,so too the issues of war and peace.
That is why when Bush and Putin met at the home of Bush,the world heaved a sigh of relief!
The world is so precariously poised,every country wants to have its way,more so the more developed and the more mature countries.
The USA is seen as the common enemy of the small countries in the world and any rich and powerful country is natural to invite envy and hatred.It is as simple as the individuals are inclined to envy the more propsperous neighbours!
The question of an ethical and moral position is as important for individuals as they are for nations!