The following is excerpted from the book To Tell The Truth… Ethics Unwrapped. We will continue to provide excerpts from the book in future posts. In the meantime you may wish to read the entire book (?!)
ETHICS: PRIVILEGES, VALUES and RULES
Society does not persuade us to be perfect, only to “go along to get along” for the good of the many. In fact, society and its laws persuade us to be alike, not unique, because it is easier to deal with, and regulate, similar entities. It is within this framework, not ethics, that our society’s rules and laws are written: just accept society’s values and obey its laws, and everyone will get along.
GROUP PRIVILEGES, VALUES and RULES
Any society needs a system of rules within which its members can operate to the general benefit. These rules are founded in its values and articulated in its privileges and laws. But while the rules of all successful societies including our own may begin in ethics and are adapted to the society’s needs and wishes, it’s in the adaptation that ethics suffers.
Our own rules trace their origin to a paramount need for freedom. Our own positive law began with a Declaration of Independence empowered by a Constitution written by individuals with a strong ethical and moral base “in order to form a more perfect union.”
Drawing upon the experience of past cultures and societies in order to weave the strongest, most equitable and serviceable fabric possible at the time, a document creating a republic representing the best the world had to offer was codified in a few short pages by an unusual group of dedicated individuals. Its first ten amendments spelled out what the government was not empowered to do with regard to its citizens—this Bill Of Rights clearly maintains the primacy of the individual. While not perfect (it was known not to be, hence the modifier more to the absolute perfect), it was a job well done that has served admirably.
It may be of interest to note at this point that “these truths that we hold to be self-evident”: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, are precisely that—truths, givens, underpinnings of morality.
But even the law of our own society, arguably a high-water mark of the world’s civilizations, does not apply globally. Other societies and cultures are free to exist and govern as they please. Enlightened as it may be, our society cannot intrude on others at its option (it’s a group, after all). Nor is it empowered to go beyond its own limits, even within itself.
The point is that any group—our society included—has limits even within itself beyond which it may not dictate what its members may or may not do. Ethics—truth—is one of these. No group, however well-intended, may tamper with truth or define it in any way other than the absolute. Furthermore, while our society may pass laws that ignore or disregard truth even if these laws would benefit that group, those laws cannot stand within the whole of mankind, and therefore cannot apply to mankind or its members across-the-board. And no matter to how many or varied the groups we “belong”, each of us is a member of humanity first, and First Principles trump all others.
The conflict only can be resolved by the individual, who stands at the very center of it. In fact, you control it by virtue of your humanity and innate ethics. Any society or government is limited in its powers by its own laws, and no society or government may ethically exceed these powers regardless of its wishes. Neither society nor its governments can prevail against mankind or the ethical individual.
The individual has certain powers by virtue of his humanity, not to mention those granted by law. When there is a conflict, the individual must look beyond his privileges (granted by the group) to his rights (granted by his very being), and he is not only empowered but obligated to resolve the conflict in the interest of mankind. If the conflict involves ethics, there is no contest. Ethics is the only choice.