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 (?!)
There’s nothing inherently wrong with group involvement in the advance of humanity. To cover everything that must be dealt with, we share the load, and we do it rather well. Each of us tends to specialize in what interests us most, and we each go about it in our own subjective way, just a little differently from the way someone else might do it. We also share responsibility. That we do this at all illustrates the innate wholeness of mankind, and that we do it as well as we do speaks volumes for the innate goodness of mankind. While each of us can make an individual contribution, groups can increase our effectiveness many fold and enable us to progress collectively as far as we care to go. In the process, each of us has access to all the resources of mankind. What’s wrong with that? Nothing.
This is, in fact, the way things really are if we do it right. Apparently we haven’t. Let’s focus on what went wrong and why by returning yet again to square one.
Our first contacts beyond the family exposed each of us to societal morals (which, importantly, are different from morality). The influence of societal morals on each one of us has been profound and various, and not always positive.
Once an individual achieves some degree of independence in the family environment, he takes his experiences, for better or for worse, with him into the community, and from there into the world at large (and its groups). He also takes with him certain rights.
Remember those givens we continue to mention? Well, those universal truths number among our rights. They’re ours simply by virtue of our being. They needn’t and can’t be bestowed on us because we already own them.
In addition to open access to sunlight, air, gravity and the natural phenomena available to us all, we own the right to be (and to become). We own the right to use our own senses and motor skills (within ethical limits), the right to make choices, the right to employ our own intellect, the right to be the unique and private individuals that we are and the right to protect ourselves and our possessions. But these rights (and others), being universal, are equivalent. While you own yours, so does everyone else own theirs, so you may not infringe on their rights which, being universal, are the same as—equal to—yours.
Because those rights include as well certain responsibilities—obligations—that are nothing more than the other side of the same coin—rights from the perspective of humankind. Our responsibilities are just as much a birthright as the rights we covet.
So you also have the right to create, to advocate for humanity, to accept full responsibility for the consequences of your choices and actions, and to permit others to do the same. That’s ethics—just the way it is. No group can cause it to be otherwise. Givens are givens, like it or not. These responsibilities are as much yours as your breathing and your heartbeat, whether or not you choose to accept them, and neither you nor any group has the power to change that, or refer them to other groups.
And by discharging those rights (and obligations) morally, we would automatically enable and expand the free society that we all seek. Humanity is an entity that lives in spite of any one of us–another example of spontaneous order. The world is, after all, an ethical whole from which it is impossible to entirely banish morality. No government or its laws can prevail against it in the long run.
But we haven’t satisfied our part of the bargain. And by not doing so—by not exercising our rights and discharging our obligations—we have effectively abdicated to society—a group—our rights in exchange for mere privileges.