Ethics Or Fear
An ethic is a belief system founded in right and wrong, whether concerning conduct or mindset. Colloquially it is based in the heart, a nurturing soil of sentiment, reason, and spirit. Morality can be willfully broken or blind, in which case it ceases to be ethical. On the other hand, critical thinking can merge with passion and, importantly, honesty, to comprehend life with agape and awe. Einstein spoke to this confluence of intrapsychic forces when he wrote, "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science."
In the 2016 election, over two million more voters chose Clinton over Trump. In effect, they were voting for equality, a concept rationally and fervent argued by the Founders. Across the globe, there are countless noble movements, exemplified by #MeToo and the quest for LGBT rights. Gay sex was recently decriminalized in the second most populous country in the world, India. Massive social protests based on benevolent philosophies are major players today. Considering just the last hundred years, civilization has been rocked by enlightened ideals, a keystone being women's suffrage, achieved in the US in 1920.
Central to this ethical ferment is a profound and widespread sense of empathy. Indeed, caring and cooperation are common across the animal kingdom, having a strong basis in natural selection. In humans, empathy often combines with a spiritual element, accessed through religion, meditation, or simply awakening to the majesty of nature. These kinds of feelings and attitudes are common across all cultures. Combined with principles enacted in government, they establish reasonable norms based on dignity, respect, and good stewardship of the planet Earth.
However, there is another way to govern, one that plays off fear. When President Trump spoke in his inaugural speech of ending "American carnage," he framed reality as a brutal competition to survive. An arena where you win at all costs. Sometimes the end does justify the means. All wars are based on this argument. Whether this is an ethical argument or not, however, depends on clear-headed appraisal, not reckless and unthinking panic.
To win, on Trump's view, is not to do something ethical. It is to seize material success. The Republican Party has channeled this idea into the rhetoric of 'jobs, jobs, jobs.' To have a job is to win. But no distinction is made between a fulfilling job and a soul-numbing one. No thought is given to environmental consequences. Health benefits. Or the increasing deficit. No quarter is yielded to the fate of future generations. And no vigilance is maintained over the moral compass of the country.
Ethical governance opens the mind. Fear closes it. The cost of wearing such stressful blinders is not only psychological, not only impairs reason; it also has the practical effect of undercutting our ability to operate in a complex, rapidly changing world. As ice sheets melt, as mass extinction continues, as Texas-sized garbage patches form in the oceans, as catastrophic fires and storms punish our failure to adapt to the insights of science, our mendacious President fixates on an irrational threat to a mythologized white culture. Nothing good will come of it.