ETHICAL ISSUES: POLITICS and the PARETO PRINCIPLE
The field of ethics has changed remarkably over the years. In the 2000 years from Plato to The Enlightenment (was it really?), ethics (originally conceived in the political sense) was correctly identified with virtue. It seems that Plato (and Aristotle) had issues with politics even then. Things haven’t changed much in the ensuing years. To diverge, but not really…
The Pareto Principle, commonly known as the 80/20 rule, is an amazing ratio that holds true in most cases of all types (and this is not an exaggeration). For example: 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people; 80% of the money is owned by 20% of the people; 20% of one’s effort generates 80% of the results; 20% of the defects cause 80% of the problems (and 20% of the work causes 80% of the problems); etc. ad infinitum. Applied to politics, let’s say that 20% of politicians may be ethical while at least 80% are not. How else to explain the wealth of politicians whose salaries are not sufficient to generate that wealth? How else to explain why politicians exempt themselves in many cases from the rules they impose on the electorate?
After 2500 years politics is still in need of virtuous men. Since the 18th Century the ‘enlightened’ (are they really?) have slowly eroded the original idea of virtue to the point where tradition itself was thrown under the bus and the very idea of ethics became increasingly incoherent. Today, a ‘nice’ person with ‘good intentions’ may believe himself to be ethical. Know this: Making it easier to be ethical by changing the definition of ethics is fraudulent and unethical in itself.
Since Socrates, truth remains the root of ethics. ‘Good intentions’ do not necessarily lead to ethical decisions. Ethics is not about feeling or even doing, it is about being, about character. Ignoring the concept of virtue does not make it go away; the fact that it may be out of fashion does not negate it. Virtue remains a function of ethics; forming character its goal.
But a virtuous politician is a rara avis indeed. In fact, subterfuge is built into the very definition of politics: “…the art of political government; political methods and maneuvers; use of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control;” and playing politics: “to take advantage…to exploit…to deal with people in an opportunistic or devious way…” etc.
Is it any wonder we have the situation we have today? It’s “politics as usual.” Read the news and see that the politician with the biggest war chest is expected to win. What has this to do with character? Virtue? Trustworthiness? We have an attorney general being reprimanded by Congress (News flash: Pot Calls Kettle Black!) for stonewalling its investigation of government-sponsored activities, and being supported in his efforts by the President himself. There are innumerable other examples of ethical lapses(?) in government, but why bother with them at this time—all three branches are rife with current examples beside the ones just described. It may be noted that all three branches are largely populated by lawyers, but that’s for another time…
Governmental ethics is a contradiction in terms. Legal ethics is an oxymoron. Business ethics is a joke, environmental ethics a laughingstock. Virtue—propriety, prudence (what’s that?), temperance (and that?), courage, honesty—is largely absent from politics (and bureaucratic life in general). What’s to be done?
Truth and honesty, that’s what. And it starts with the individual. Be honest and demand honesty. Anybody can do it, but anybody must have the courage to do so (in other words, be ethical himself). Too much effort? Well, you see the results of that attitude—”All that’s required is for good men to do nothing.”
ExtremeEthics is bucking the tide, but it’s a worthy cause. How about coming on board? The Pareto Principle holds here as well—the honest 20% of us can dominate 80% of whatever it is we choose to dominate. If 20% of politicians were honest and did their job, we wouldn’t have these problems. That means that there aren’t even 20% of politicians who can be relied on! Twenty percent is all we need, and that’s within our reach if we decide to insist on it.
Start With Truth. EXTREMEEthics is committed to it. You should be, too.