Ethics and values are the bedrock of civilisation
(Manners Maketh Man)
Ethics and values are the bedrock of civilisation.
Our species is naturally competitive, and our DNA enables us to compete using a variety of physical, emotional and intellectual capabilities. To live as a society we must curb some of our more aggressive animalistic tendencies and compete using subtler tools. Morals and ethics help us to do this.
Morals and Ethics have historically been develop by, and reinforced through, religions. Daily and weekly urgings by the religious hierarchies have cajoled, encouraged and threatened us into submitting to value systems. Religions have required the invention of something bigger than any man, ‘it is not me telling you what to do, it is GOD’. They have also provided an enticement that can never be proved wrong, ‘you may have a shit life here, but as long as you don’t rebel against the system I have put in place, then you will have your reward in heaven’, and when these did not work so well, men invented concepts like Hell and Satan. Religions have been useful to get us to our current state when used as ethical beacons and repositories of knowledge, or to subjugate adherents and keep the society of a state docile. However, religions are also used as tools of the state to wind people up to compete against other cultures ‘God is on our side – expand my empire’.
With our current scientific knowledge, our developed legal systems, and our developed communication systems, we can do better.
We should encapsulate ethics and values into a common law, and reinforce them via a common education system.
Religions should be tolerated as sub-cultures, but they should not be allowed to diverge in law or erode common ethics. Additional ethics and values are fine. We should teach the truth about our inventions, and clearly differentiate fact from possibility. No religion should be given precedence over another.
We absorb influences from our surroundings continuously, and these can reinforce our value systems or make us question them. Our family, friends, education system, edited media such as newspapers and TV and more recently the unedited cacophony of social media all accumulate to shape our individual behaviour.
In order to trust each other we require a common value system. To achieve a common value system the system must evaluate influencing material, consciously edit it and be open as to why it is doing it.
A Global system should seek to find the delicate balance between censorship and freedom of speech, with the aim of maintaining common ethics, while allowing the natural desire to innovate and test boundaries to express themselves. Education should openly reveal these mechanisms and teach why they are useful.
We should also allow freedom of speech, as long as it can be challenged, and as part of the challenge process, we must become more flexible in our ability to change our views through debate, and more forgiving in the understanding that peoples models of the truth evolve over their lifetime. The current demand for anonymity when expressing views, is often driven by the permanency of electronic media records and how they portray peoples understanding at a point in time, which may have subsequently changed. It makes it difficult to debate views which may be wrong, but which require open debate to grind out the truth.
We should teach debating skills, encourage lifetime development of personal understanding, and forgive prior mistakes in the light of improved understanding of the truth.
Reinforced by: News, TV, Gaming, Radio, Internet media, courts, punishments
Undermined by: Corruption, fake news, malicious intent.
Risk: The human predilection for telling others what to do (‘Control freakery’) tries to control too much of our human behaviours. Mitigate by encapsulating freedom of speech and challenge by debate.
Risk: There will always be some humans who cannot control their behaviours to conform to ethics, whether because of lack of control based on drug dependency, mental incapacity, or demand for success regardless of methods used (criminals), those who have become powerful enough to think they are above ethical behaviour, and those who just want to cross boundaries to test them. Mitigations include ensuring opportunities for success are available to all, social services for those that need it, a justice system for the rest.
History shows that ethics swing over time between tightly controlled and loose behaviour. A global ethical system must be able to observe and adapt, but within bounds of core values.