Ethical Guidebook

A discussion of the difference between our personal values and our public ethics, how mature citizens can support both, and why our love for public ethics must trump our love for personal and group values when they conflict in the public space. Ethics offers a guidebook for evaluating public issues and finding multilateral solutions to endless cycles of values centric conflicts and unilateral violence.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Moral Values do not Public Ethics Make

Personal morality and group values are the cherished foundation of personal integrity, family cohesion, religious guidance, and national patriotism. There's nothing wrong with morals and values. They are after all the glue that binds similar people together and maintains cohesive order within groups.

But personal morality and group values do not public ethics make. The two have become badly confused in the minds of voters, politicians, and journalists. We confuse different values butting heads with ethical choices about how we will coexist as a public. Ethics and principles must sometimes trump personal morality and group values in a democracy.

Social orders founded only on values are necessarily based on closed sets of shared views and allegiances of particular groups. This is by definition inadequate to bind a secular democracy of dissimilar people, alternative families and customs, multiple religions, and individual rights that will always to some extent conflict.

Our country's obsession with self-serving values, left untempered by ethical democratic principles and external diplomacy, is at the root of problems from New Orleans to Baghdad. Ethics is more than just the opposite of individual criminal conduct.

Ethics and principles and due process are the glue that binds unlike groups of people together and maintains a level playing field arbitrated using non-violent solutions to injustice between groups in a civil society and a multicultural world.

Perhaps it is time to start the 21st century over on the right foot by giving ethics and principles predominance when values conflict. Let's quit moving back in history to a time before the Magna Carta and the Enlightenment, and move forward in history to an even better ethical democracy.


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