ETHICS, MORALITY, AND CIVILIZATION
Neal J. Pollock, PEO-SCS-E3. DoN, 1132H Crystal Park 5, (Crystal City)
2451 Crystal Drive, Arlington, VA 22202-4804
(703) 602-4787 W, (703) 602-8540 Fax
Carl Jung wrote that "we should never forget that what today seems to us a moral commandment will tomorrow be cast into the melting-pot and transformed, so that in the near or distant future it may serve as a basis for new ethical formations. This much we ought to have learnt from the history of civilization, that the forms of morality belong to the category of transitory things." [Freud and Psychoanalysis, Collected Works of C. G. Jung, volume 4, page 258]. Thus, he predicated a progressive morality. I suggest that rather than a linear, relativistic, horizontal model of ethics or morality, we adopt a non-linear, progressive, vertical model. Such a model would have ordinal levels corresponding to the levels of human development, (i.e. levels of abstraction). Thus, the upwards progression of humanity, as symbolized by civilization, would reflect more differentiated views of life and human interactions. In other words, at lower levels, people are concerned with conformity and exhibit the xenophobia of primitive cultures; at higher levels, people recognize individual differences (e.g. Myers-Briggs types) and think and act with tolerance towards such differences. Furthermore, their higher views are more integrated and consistent. Symbolically, the higher you climb a mountain, the more complete your view of the surrounding territory.
People on higher levels would be able to recognize inconsistencies in the maps provided them of the valleys below. These maps are the behavioral rules, core value lists, and other behavioral guidelines which proliferate throughout our organizations. I suggest that such inconsistencies, whether internal or external (i.e. hypocrisy, neuroses, etc.), can guide us in analyzing ethical and moral precepts and methods. For instance, egoism and selfishness are antithetical to the views of the Founders of the United States who were, in my opinion, people with high levels of ethics, morality, and abstraction. Thus, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are abstract documents, generally not lists of specific do’s and don’ts. These documents were aimed at posterity, not just the near-term interests of the Founders.
We can easily see the difference between the founders of Rhode Island and of Massachusetts. The Puritans, for instance, religiously discriminated against in England, could hardly wait to discriminate themselves once gaining authority and power in their new land of America. But the founder of Rhode Island, breaking away from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, founded a state with freedom of religion. Fortunately, it was his approach that later became the law of the land in the new United States of America. This was a more differentiated outlook by far. Not everyone had to be the same or think the same or believe the same. But they all had the same rights. Including the right to differ in their views.
Of course, they all had the Golden Rule to guide them even then: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." That didn’t stop them from having totally different policies and arguing for them in accordance with the law. I suggest that one could progress this dictum to "do unto others as they would have you do unto them." Static rules, no matter how good or where they come from, do not exist outside time on this earth. The only thing that doesn’t change is the fact of change itself. Indeed, even the second dictum can be improved upon. Of course, we were also told to "take the mote out of you own eye before you try to take the beam out of your brother’s eye." If you’re on an airplane and the oxygen masks descend, you put your own on first so you can help others with theirs. Good advice from the FAA! Old news can be good news too. Otherwise, you become the asphyxiated leading the asphyxiated. Big trouble if you have to ditch!
Interestingly, the Buddhists describe the Buddha’s Mercy as giving people what they need, not what they want. Tough to figure out though. Do you really know what you really need, let alone what another needs? That’s why the Buddhists strive to become Bodhisattvas—so they’ll be able to know what people really need. In case you are unfamiliar with the term "Bodhisattva," a story is illustrative. Three people, hot, tired, and thirsty were walking in a desert and came upon a wall. Circumnavigating it they could find no entrance. So the first one climbed up on the backs of the other two, stood on the top of the wall, yelled "Eureka!" and jumped inside. The other two looked at each other in puzzlement. So the second climbed on the shoulders of the third, got on the top of the wall, yelled "Eureka!" and jumped in. The third person laboriously climbed the rough stones, reached the top of the wall, and looked in. Inside was a lush garden with fruit trees, springs of water, shade trees—a veritable paradise. So the third person jumped down—back into the desert and walked around, directing passers-by to the oasis within the wall. That person was the Bodhisattva. One might say that to a Mahayana Buddhist, true morality is a constantly enacted attitude.
Ah, but what about ethics? I contend that your ethics, morality, scruples, call them what you will, are dependent upon your personal Truth. Unfortunately, we aren’t taught much about Truth with a capital "T" even in science classes. For that, you need to study Epistemology and the Philosophy of Science. True ethics are dependent upon Wisdom, and Wisdom depends upon Truth. Epistemology defines the Ways of Knowing [e. g. Montague’s book of that name]. These include: Tradition, Authority, Rationalism, Empiricism, etc. If you believe things because your parents told you so, for instance, one might ask you where they got it from? If their source was their parent, the same question can be asked again. You can go back to the iron, bronze, or stone age with this approach. Of course, the Japanese use "The Five Whys," asking the question "Why?" five times in succession in order to solve, not only a present problem of manufacturing, but also to prevent similar problems from appearing in the future. Thus, the methods of tradition, authority, and others have their flaws. Even with empiricism, you need to know if "it’s Memorex." And Rationalism is fraught with dangers—especially hidden assumptions and circular reasoning. Science is not an epistemological method. Rather it uses most of them in a particular way with a certain rigor. Yet science too is riddled with paradoxes: is light a particle or a wave?
Thomas Kuhn’s Philosophy of Science masterpiece, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, describes the discovery of new scientific paradigms, such as Einstein’s, and the tremendous resistance it faced from scientists. Scientists, being human, are just as prone to errors in life as anyone else. They can defend their investment in the old paradigm, often to the death. So when some pseudo or wannabe scientist tells you that Star Trek is hogwash because Einstein said you can’t exceed the speed of light, they’re living the present paradigm—and ignorant of what a paradigm is. Experts in a particular science are not real Scientists unless they understand what Science, per se, is—in other words, a higher level of abstraction. Some people can’t see the forest for the bark. You’d think they’d scrape their noses sooner of later! To my mind, the keys to Science are: repeatability, prediction, objectivity, and "all other things being equal." Science, of course, is a technique (and perspective) based upon the interrelationship between theory (i. e. rationalism) and practice or experiment (i. e. empiricism).
I suggest that since we presently (and in the foreseeable future) extol Science as our method of truth-seeking, that we internalize its essence, and apply its methods to ethics. Thus, rules that are not repeatable, whose effects are not predictable, that are not objective, and that ignore "all other things being equal," should be rejected. Otherwise, you are working at too low a level of abstraction. This is not, by the way, strictly a "T" or Thinking approach. The "F" or Feeling function (which we usually call a "gut" feeling) must also be applied equally. Otherwise, we’ve excluded half the population. Likewise, we can’t rely solely on our feelings which may be based upon our personal upbringing. As we have seen above, these are anything but universal. We have only to look at human history with its holy wars, inquisition, "final solution," etc. to see the inhumanity of so-called humans. As George Santayana said, "those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it." Let’s not. Rather than build the future from the past, why not build the present from the future? If we envision what people could be like if they were really civilized—like Mohatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., and the present Dalai Lama of Tibet, targeted their attitudes for our ethics, and tried our best to implement them today, maybe we wouldn’t have any more My Lai’s or Exxon Valdez’s. Humans may never all be the same, as far as I know every human trait ever measured was normally distributed, hence the name Normal Distribution. The objective is to move the entire distribution, the level of civilization. John D. Rockefeller said, "good management consists of showing average people how to do the work of superior people;" Elring E. Morison said, "the Executive exists to make sensible exceptions to general rules," and in my opinion, Wisdom rules.
Note: I attended the JSCOPE 98 as part of the Senior Executive Leadership Course.
JSCOPE.doc 12/1/98 Rev. 2