Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Ethics Versus Fear

I was unable to get this published in the State newspapers, but that means I get to put it here.  Thank you for your time!

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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, two million more voters chose Clinton than Trump.   In effect, they were voting for equality, a concept rationally argued by the Founders.  Equality has had a recent surge, rippling the world consciousness.  The #MeToo Movement exemplifies this incipient transformation.  So does the quest for LGBT rights.  In the second most populous country in the world, India, gay sex was recently decriminalized.  All this is huge.  Massive social protests based on benevolent philosophies are major players today.  After several millennia of relative stagnation, civilization has been rocked by Enlightenment 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 a primal awakening to the majesty of nature.  Such feelings and attitudes exist across all cultures.  Combined with principled government, they establish norms of reason, based on dignity, respect, and hale stewardship of the planet Earth.

Another way to govern is through fear.  When President Trump spoke in his inaugural speech of ending "American carnage," he framed reality as a brutal competition.  An arena, one where you must win at all costs.  In some cases, the end does justify the means.  Whether this is an ethical argument or not, however, depends on clear-headed appraisal, not reckless and unthinking panic. 

For Trump, to win is not to do something ethical.  It is to seize material success.  This has been channeled, in part, into the rhetoric of jobs.  To have a job is to win.  However, no distinction is made between a fulfilling job and a soul-numbing one.  No thought is given to environmental consequences.  Or to health benefits.  Or to the increasing deficit.  No quarter is yielded to the fate of future generations.  In sum, no vigilance is maintained over the moral compass of the country.

Ethical governance opens the mind.  Fear-chained governance closes it.  The cost of wearing such stress-sewn blinders is not only psychological, not only impairs reason; it has also the practical effect of undercutting our ability to adapt in a complex, changing world.  As ice sheets melt, as mass extinction proceeds, as Texas-sized garbage patches gyre in the oceans, as catastrophic fire and storm punish our failure to admit the insights of science, our mendacious President fixates on an irrational threat to a mythologized white culture.  Nothing good will come of it.

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