The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

ON ETHICS AND MORALS

One of the few television shows that I really like is NCIS.  The plots are creatively constructed and I enjoy the interaction of the actors in their portrayals.

In one of the episodes, Dr. Mallard (Ducky) is preparing for an examination, aided in this effort by his assistant Jimmy.  Jimmy poses the question, “What is the difference between ethics and morals?”

Ducky responds, “The ethical man knows that it is wrong to cheat on his wife; the moral man doesn’t.”  It is perhaps the briefest and most concise explanation of those two terms and the writer who penned those lines deserves congratulations

The implication is that an awareness of what is ethical logically precedes the ability to act morally.  In the absence of an understanding of ethics, moral behavior simply will not happen.

Perhaps the easiest way to describe the word ethics is to say that it is generally accepted “good behavior,” as it should be  practiced by individuals and ultimately the societies into which they form.  Certainly early man who viewed his personal survival as the most ethical kind of behavior had little difficulty in extinguishing the life of a fellow who might have threatened him and his clan’s security.   But early man evolved and realized that there was a benefit in banding together, ceding certain rights to others and receiving benefits in doing so.  Thus early societies came into being.

As we continued to evolve, we looked beyond mere survival to question higher matters.  Who knows when the first man asked the question, “Why am I here and how did I get here?  And where am I going?”  Those are the same questions that haunt us today.

Most of us, in one form or another, have a belief in a higher power, God though he or she takes many names and forms.  We began to recognize that this higher power had higher understanding – and we accepted the rules that were laid down for us to follow by the Deity.  The Ten Commandments is an obvious and familiar example of how “the law was made for man; not man for the law.”

Most of us would agree that it is not ethical behavior to kill, to rape, to steal, to commit adultery, to covet.  And if we all acted morally in accordance with that we would have no need for police forces or courts or armies.  But it is obvious in reviewing human history that we don’t.  Now comes the reason for the existence of laws made by men.

As our higher power does not actively intervene in the affairs of men on a day to day basis – and, despite the fact that we have received an ethical code by which we are supposed to conduct our lives, there needs to be a practical remedy when those rules are broken.  (That they are broken regularly can easily be demonstrated by reading any local or national newspaper on any given day).

Can you imagine a society in which we all stood aghast on hearing that a murder had been committed?  “My word, that’s the first one that I’ve heard about in thirty-seven years.”  What a Utopia.  The truth is that murders occur about every thirty-seven seconds.

Laws made by men are, of their nature, punitive.  We presume that an infraction of our ethical standards will be breached and then turn our attention to an appropriate punishment for that.  I have no doubt that, for the most part, those who crafted these regulations did so with the best intention of society as a whole in mind.  Most of us would agree that we do not want homicidal maniacs roaming our streets carrying assault weapons.

But what if those who craft our laws are themselves devoid of an ethical standard and are morally bankrupt?  What result might we expect to find in the rules and regulations which they enact?  The answer is nothing that is desirable.

It is always difficult and often inaccurate to paint any group with a broad brush.  However, it is always “politically convenient” to do so.  Hitler found it to be an effective tool in his rise to power.  Great dictators have always used this divide and conquer strategy to attain their ends – focusing the attention of the unthinking mob against some group and using their distraction to usurp more power for themselves.

Fortunately, living in the United States of America we have protections against that sort of tyranny.  In our case it’s called the Constitution.

The Tea Act was the final straw that broke a fledgling giant’s back and patience and tolerance and started a new nation with a higher ethical standard on its way for what has now amounted to almost two hundred fifty years.  But has the pendulum finally begun to swing in the opposite direction?

The American Patriots’ anger at the imposition of British-made rules on them was that they had no voice in the matter.  The British who imposed the rules had the right to collect the monies they had levied on the colonists – but had no obligation to pay a similar tax themselves.  This was aristocracy operating in the way that aristocracy always operates – making rules for others and ignoring them for themselves.

In my posts I often refer to the Washington aristocracy.  I use the term specifically and for the reasons that I cite in the preceding paragraph.  Those who run the government (as our elected representatives or appointed officials) typically exempt themselves from being bound by the legislation that they craft and deem fit for the rest of us.

This is in direct contrast to de Tocqueville’s comments in, “Democracy in America” when he said, “the greatness of the American nation is that all are bound by the same laws.”  It was an obvious differentiation between the fledgling America about which he wrote and the entrenched aristocracy that then ruled in Europe.

Let’s look at one of the laws which passed, commonly known as “Obama Care” and, putting aside the emotion that surrounds some of its provisions, try to examine the passage of this law from a purely cold and logical basis.   While there is always a middle ground, I have decided to undertake this brief review by deeming it either a “good” or “bad” law.

Case One – Obama Care is a good law.

I defer to the legislators who spent their time crafting together this two thousand page document.  At least some of them probably know the provisions better than I as I have only read it once and then only with the aid of many pots of coffee.

My question, as a logician is, “If this is such a good law and has so many benefits, why did you specifically exempt yourselves, the President and Vice-President, members of the Supreme Court and thousands of other appointed officials from being bound by its provisions?”

Case Two – Obama Care is a bad law.

See Case One.

Two hundred fifty years ago the American people overthrew one set of aristocrats.  With few notable exceptions, those in power now seem to have forgotten that most basic American tenet, “Of the People, By the People, For the People.”  To exempt themselves from the laws they pass for the rest of us can only be an act of insanity or of gross calumny.  In either case, why would we continue to return these aristocrats to office – unless we ourselves are deranged or masochistic?

My hope is that we can purge ourselves of those with an aristocratic mindset and start electing people who are firmly entrenched in an ethical standard to bring guidance and inspiration to this land.  After we accomplish that, we can work on the question of morality.

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Comments on: "ON ETHICS AND MORALS" (37)

  1. The old tradition of royalty is one of the misfortunes of society. Even in republics there is a group that propels their way to the top either through force or economic power, and to the royalists and so called upper crust of society the rest are generally a common herd to be exploited to maintain their priveleged position in life. I’m not against people who are rich as their investment in society provides jobs, it’s the attitude of many in priveleged positions that is wrong and has to be in some way compensated for in law so majority has some say in providing a quality of life for all.

  2. You are quite right that there will always be an element that thinks it is above the law because it is the law. However, the principles on which America was founded sought to break from those traditions.

    Benjamin Franklin was outraged that the Congress was voted a salary for doing what he considered their patriotic duty. (The salary, incidentally was initially six dollars per day when the Congress convened – which was for about three months a year).

  3. Perhaps next you will take a closer look at The Patriot Act?

    • I have and will revisit it – however it will have to wait until after Easter as I gave up alcohol for Lent – and that is the only way I can cope with reading it.

      • Then at least one person will have read it ! Without going into it too far, I’ll give you one case in point – The European Union is now insisting that companies doing business in America must house personal data of European Citizens outside of the US. We are currently migrating all of our EU data back to the UK.

      • I promise that I shall give this my full attention – after April 15th (Orthodox Easter). Thank you for your insight.

  4. I wouldn’t count on it as from the beginning there have been those, even amongst the founding fathers, who have sought to undermine and cast aside the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

    • Thank you for taking your time to comment.

      I’m not sure to whom you are referring specifically in your statement but would genuinely be interested in your insights.

      • John Adams comes to mind who was a Federalist, the forerunners of big government republicans, The Alien and Sedition act of 1798 was passed during his presidency also a forerunner of the Patriot Act during Bush juniors presidency. John Adams was known to jail news paper editors who dared to challenge his policies and was defeated by Thomas Jefferson who opposed big govt. policies of the Federalists party.

        You will find this discussed in depth in Judge Andrew P. Nipolitano’s books which can be downloaded from Amazon.com.

      • I couldn’t agree with you more that bad legislation is bad legislation. The four Alien and Sedition Acts were controversial even when they were passed. For that matter, the Constitution allowed for the continuation of slavery and the relationship that Thomas Jefferson had with one of his slaves, Sally Hennings is well documented. So, does the fact that we have passed bad legislation in the past mean that we have provided a provenance and justification for continuing to do that? And I would ask you, as a reasonable person, why any rational person would think that a piece of legislation from which the legislators specifically exempt themselves, should be good enough for the rest of us?

  5. Wow … good post!

  6. We give up the same thing for Lent. Perhaps that explains why I am particularly cranky toward Mr. Obama and his party.

  7. Reblogged this on A Heapin' Plate of Conservative Politics & Religion and commented:
    Is ObamaCare good or bad law?. Juwannadoright gives an ethical analysis. She has actually read the bill, unlike most of our Congressmen and women.

  8. Re: So, does the fact that we have passed bad legislation in the past mean that we have provided a provenance and justification for continuing to do that?
    _________________________

    I suggest you ask the conservative republicans this question as they always manage to pass “bad legislation” as well as fail to enforce the law by ignoring it whenever they are in power.

    Re: And I would ask you, as a reasonable person, why any rational person would think that a piece of legislation from which the legislators specifically exempt themselves, should be good enough for the rest of us?
    __________________

    On this point I agree with you and suggest again that you ask conservative republicans that very same question.

    Now in regards to Obama Care Mitt Rommey {a member of the republican party} has already tried it on the state level in Mass. and now is attempting to run for president as a conservative {something that republicans who run for president always do only to revert back into the big govt. big spenders they really are after being elected} and die hard conservative republicans will hold their noses and vote for him simply because Mitt is a republican if he wins the nomination. On the other hand the independent swing voters will stay either stay home or vote for Obama while voting for the tea party at the local level.

    Of course it is ironic that Newt Gingrich, once again a conservative republican, was the first to propose the “mandate to buy insurance” when he began promoting national health care long before Obama came onto the scene.

    It all boils down to what kind of nation each and everyone of us wants to live in:

    A nation that takes pride in taking care of it’s own that pulls together in order to solve the national health care crisis and our other problems without bankrupting the national treasury.

    Or a nation that allows it’s citizens to die because they cannot afford proper medical care even as we give away what little money we have to foreign nations; whose leaders use the aid they receive to brutalize and deny their own people the rights we enjoy. Even as our leaders bankrupt the national treasury on a military many times larger than is needed for self defense and enough nuclear weapons to destroy the human race many times over.

    Those are the ethical and moral questions that beg to be answered?

  9. Thank you for your thoughtful response. I believe that in answering my question about whether lawmakers who exempt themselves from the laws they enact are operating out of personal self-interest and not the good of their constituents we have found a common ground. Frankly, there is plenty of blame to go around on both sides of the aisle – which is a consistent point that I have tried to bring to this blog’s readers attention.

    I also find agreement in some of the statements that you make regarding the influence on our lives brought to bear by business. However, I view the Federal government as a business – in fact, the largest such single entity in operation (much to the contrary of the vision for America as it was established).

    Further to the point of business influence, as you are aware, the pharmaceutical industry is one of the most significant lobbying forces in Washington. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, properly prescribed pharmaceuticals taken without the interaction of other drugs, result in approximately 200,000 deaths per year in this country. That is equivalent to having 9/11 happen once a week. Would extending this “benefit” to yet more people improve the quality of our general health or result in yet more deaths?

    Our poor choice of lifestyle, eating habits, lack of exercise, etc. are in large measure the reason that we have an explosion of obesity and diabetes which are fast becoming our greatest health challenges. Of course, avoiding these problems requires personal responsibility – something which few of us seem willing to contribute to the equation of our remaining healthy individuals and, by extension, a healthy nation.

    Perhaps the greatest contribution of medical science has been in the area of medical device innovation. Interestingly, it is the only area of medicine on which a new tax has been levied in the Obama “Healthcare” bill. One can only wonder about the wisdom of legislators who vote to make something that is efficient yet more expensive. (I wanted to ask my Congresswoman what her thinking was on this issue – but despite the fact that she had voted for its passage, one of her staff informed me that she had not yet read the bill).

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

  10. kendallcotton said:

    And how do voters gain the mindset necessary to recognize and identify those running for office who have firm ethics and moral character? By employing critical thought, which is so absent presently!

    Let me also just say I have thoroughly enjoyed your recent posts. Your reasoning is very sound and I enjoy how you draw from personal experiences to help deliver your message. I think it helps to relate your message more to an audience than does big, abstract ideas with no foundation in every day life. You’ve inspired me to try that style more on my blog! Thanks, and keep up the good work!

    • Thanks for commenting, Kendall. I agree that insightful thought is essential. First we have to get people to realize the critical nature of our choice in electing people to represent us – that it is even more important than catching the sale at the mall or hoping their favorite team makes it to the playoffs. That is the first challenge.

      As to my style, I have always found that I learned more and grasped ideas better if people shared an example from their own life. In that way they were explaining to me rather than preaching at me. I think we are all more receptive to learning in this way as it is explanatory and non-judgmental.

      Hope to see you again soon – and I’m glad you’re enjoying your visits here.

  11. Re: …the pharmaceutical industry is one of the most significant lobbying forces in Washington.
    ___________

    This doesn’t surprise me in the least nor does statistic of 200,000 deaths you quote. As a rule the higher the fat content in food the better it tastes and the more dangerous {over time} it is to eat. In fact milk is the most dangerous food one can eat because its over consumption causes a protein imbalance in the body which then leeches the calcium out of the bones. Yet it is regarded as a healthy food because it has been over promoted as such by the Dairy industry.

    Most people don’t want to eat healthy, while those who do such as Seventh-day Adventists have been proven to enjoy better health, don’t get as sick as often and live longer, while the rest of the population wants a magic pill to cure what ails them. And the pharmaceutical industry is quite willing to supply those magic pills – for a price of course – even if they do cause the deaths of some of those who take their pills. Indeed I believe that in the coming years there will be an increase in death from liver failure because the pills created to lower Cholesterol over time damage the liver.

    Medical devices: Both of my mother’s parents had pacemakers, both lived into their 80’s and both ended up with dementia which neither one had wanted to live long enough to experience. Yet they had no choice once the pacemakers were implanted because by law they couldn’t be removed even at their request. So my mother has informed us that she doesn’t want a pacemaker put in her no matter the circumstances. And she won’t have to have one unless she needs surgery because then doctors will refuse to operate unless the patient agrees to have a pacemaker installed.

    Lobbying is another pet peeve of mine and needs to be outlawed asap. Here’s how I would stop it: 1) corporations are not people, they are not recognized as people in either the constitution or the bill of rights and therefore do not have the right to seek redress from the government. 2) Only CEO’s would be allowed to lobby on behalf of their company and any government official caught accepting a bribe or as they are called gifts would result in the immediate execution of both the ceo and the person he bribed. NO EXCEPTIONS! 3) No elected official could serve more then one term at a time with a maximum of two terms in a lifetime and the official would be barred from running for office for two elections after his first term expired. This would eliminate the need for reelection campaigns and they would be barred from being employed by the govt. for life once their split terms in office expired.

    Health Care and Medical Devices should never be taxed. Doctor’s salary – profits made by the medical company – the insurance industry? Absolutely Yes! Don’t want to pay taxes then become a non-profit and serve your fellow human beings because it is the right thing to do instead of profiting off their misery.

    • Yet more grounds for agreement. If our legislators got off their re-elections bandwagons and simply applied common sense, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But if the voters applied common sense in their voting, we wouldn’t have these legislators. Thanks again for your comment.

  12. You make a very well-stated and well-defended argument. This is possibly the most logical thing I’ve read this month, and I look forward to reading more of your elegant discussion of this absurd law after Easter. May your Lenten penances bear you great spiritual fruit.

    Peace be with you.

    • Thank you for your kind comment and welcome. I hope that you find future posts have something meaningful to say. May the spirit of the season be with you.

  13. Reblogged this on nebraskaenergyobserver and commented:
    I ran across this blog this morning on a link from Green Mountain Scribes. Alan linked to a different post, which is very good and you should read but, this post really struck a chord within me.

    Ethics and morals is, in my estimation, somewhere between 85-90% of our problems in this country, so let’s start defining the problem, so that we can solve it.

  14. […] On Ethics and Morals (juwannadoright.wordpress.com) […]

  15. In a Democratic Republic the character of the population at large can be determined by the leaders elected into political office. If the leaders are corrupt then so are the voters who put them into office who are all to willing to be deceived.

    Here in Georgia Christian Conservative Republican’s voted Nathan Deal into the Governors office even though he had been forced to resign his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives to avoid a trial on ethics violations. {When I mentioned this to a Christian Conservative Republican whom I personally know and asked why he voted for Nathan Deal anyway he responded that he didn’t believe any of that.}

    Since elected Deal’s fellow Republicans have derailed an investigation into alleged ethics violations during Deal’s campaign for governor by defunding the ethics office resulting in the resignation of the lead investigator. David Ralston, speaker of the house, derailed the reform bill that would have limited the bribes {gift} Ga. Legislators could accept from lobbyists to a hundred dollars by burying the bill in a committee where it died. Then just this week the tax reform bill that failed last year was revived with some changes and introduced into the Ga. legislative 2012 session, voted on and passed into law. At nearly the last minute without being properly vetted and debated on as it should have been and would have been had it been introduced at the beginning of the session as it should have been.

    All of this points to the corruption and the utter lack of ethics and morals {Christian Conservatives claim they hold dear} at the very heart of the conservative movement’s ideology, the republicans who claim to espouse it and the Christians, who should know better, yet intentionally look the other way while supporting it with their votes.

    George Bush 2, Mitt Romney, and Newt Gingrich are just a few of the latest examples of Christian Conservative Republicans {yes I know that Mitt is a Mormon} who are two faced and whose conduct and actions do not live up to the Biblical standards of their professed religions.

    Until Christian Conservatives decide to live up to the ethical and moral standards they profess and require the same of their leaders instead of blindly voting them into political office. Then and only then will Christian Conservatives have the credibility and the ethical and moral standing to complain about the ethical and moral failings of their political opponents and the general population at large.

  16. I have to say that I am truly surprised that this particular post has generated so much commentary. Usually, it’s the “warm and fuzzy” pieces that I prefer writing that generate a lot of likes and a few laudatory comments. I am truly encouraged.

    I can’t speak to the situation in Georgia as I am not familiar with it. But I defer to your recap as you are a resident and are obviously keeping abreast of matters. I am glad that there is a watchdog on the loose in your neighborhood!

    You will forgive my saying so (or perhaps not) but I have noticed in your commentaries a tendency to categorize and lump people into one camp or another. That is appealing in its simplicity – but I think belies the fact that whatever a person’s political face, religion or ethnic background – it tends to diminish that person as an individual and makes it easy to dismiss his or her opinion. It is the ultimate basis for racism.

    Perhaps your Conservative Christian friend who voted as he did truly didn’t believe the stories or allegations which you raised. That might make him misinformed or naive – but it doesn’t make him an evil person or an intentional perpetrator of a corrupt system.

    There is much repair that needs to be done in America politically and economically – and yes, ethically as well. But in my opinion, that can only come about if we are willing to consider the other person’s point of view. The fact that they have one is a hopeful sign.

  17. This is completely accurate, completely true. We are the new American Patriots ruled by a Washington aristocracy. But here’s the thing: We the People created the aristocracy with our apathy and silence. Now, they are entrenched. How, and how long, to get them out? I don’t think we are deranged or masochistic, I think we don’t care enough because we haven’t suffered enough.

    I remember a post you wrote awhile ago about compassion, and I asked how we can make the powers that be feel compassion for those suffering under their misdeeds. Your answer was that those w/out compassion would have to suffer themselves before they could fully understand the suffering they cause. But this could only be the case if they have ethics, morals, a conscience. Minus these elements, their suffering would only serve as an impetus for them to sociopathically claw their way back to power – which happens repeatedly in our Washington aristocracy.

    • Yes we created this through our apathy and we did it over time – just as it will take time to correct. We have what I refer to as an “instantaneous mind-set”. We want everything and we want it now. We are in search of the silver bullet or the magic pill which we can use and everything gets fixed. Life just doesn’t work that way.

      But at the least, we must make a start.

      I believe that people, given the right set of circumstances and given the proper guidance can change their behavior. Fortunately, I believe this applies to all – even politicians. As the groundswell of opposition to aristocracy grows – even the most arrogant will begin to pay attention. Especially if a few place guillotines in strategic spots in Washington. (It seemed to work for the French).

  18. Re: Perhaps your Conservative Christian friend who voted as he did truly didn’t believe the stories or allegations which you raised. That might make him misinformed or naive – but it doesn’t make him an evil person or an intentional perpetrator of a corrupt system.
    _________________________

    Actually it does. He has access to the same information that I have yet simply chose to ignore Nathan Deal’s lack of ethics and morals and voted for him simply because Deal claimed to follow his same conservative ideology. Just as the German people chose to ignore and remain willfully ignorant of what Hitler said he would do in his book Mein Kampf then willingly became just as guilty of the crime of genocide. As a Christian Conservative he is a member of a group who wants to impose the ethics and morals of his religion upon the rest of the nation and enforce them by law yet doesn’t even bother to live the basic teachings of the Bible in has daily life and interactions with others.

    It is not one’s words that proves whether or not one is a Christian but one’s actions that ultimately tells the tale. Which is why it is written in the Bible that: “By their fruits they shall be known.”

    On the other hand a vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil and a Christian who votes for evil is not just a Christian in name only but a proponent of evil in deed.

    • I defer to your having been gifted with the insight of ultimate truth – something which I have not yet even begun to achieve. If you decide to teach a course on the subject, I would like to know the details so I can sign up for it.

  19. @ DaPoet: You said: “…a vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil.”

    This simple, lucid statement has a profound effect on me as I struggle with decisions about whom to vote for. In choosing between a snake and a shark, one does tend to choose the lesser of two evils but I think when we do that, we also, in our minds, allow the evil present in our choice to fade so that our choice is more acceptable to our conscience.

    Thank you for this statement, which will remain uppermost in my mind during every election – which, in these times, inevitably offer only snakes & sharks, (or dolphins with shark tendencies) to choose between.

  20. It is a relief to discover somebody that actually knows what they are speaking about on the internet.More people have to look at this and understand value of it.Very valid post,i enjoy this fabulous website,keep it up!

  21. […] On Ethics and Morals (juwannadoright.wordpress.com) […]

  22. Seems to me, that the “moral and religious people” for whom John Adams thought the Constitution appropriate, will have trouble existing under government that as currently, defines good and morality using legislation from which it exempts its leaders. The point of this post seems a clear spotlight upon this contradiction.

    Still, our governments have always reflected this duality, this contradiction in some degree and ultimately seem to fall of it. Government becomes too much like the governed, who then refuse to tolerate it? Rather ironic, that.

    But our species multiplies and prospers over the long term, at a price paid by many individuals. It all seems rather statistical. Perhaps it simply is the way things work …

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