Ethics and Morality

The Good Person

Some Topics

  • Freedom versus Group Discipline

    Ethical questions gravitate toward the interfaces between individual freedoms and group discipline. Humans are caught in a tense dialectic between self-interest and group interest. Individual interests are often best served by advancing the interests of a group, since many if not most human activities require more than individual effort. Individuals are usually locked into large quasi-cooperative networks leaving some choices about who does what to whom, but most arrangements that support human infrastructures are not voluntary or even optional.

    We have recognized a tense dialectic at work in our minds. The thesis is personal freedom and antithesis is bondage and oppression, acting as competing teams in constant play. Since we often work in the interfaces between being isolated creatures with selfish interests and participation in group activities, there are always tensions that need resolution. Often, we exaggerate the importance and the autonomy of individual experience and individual action, but we seldom act alone.

    Each person is an agent of a common understanding both innate and learned. We depend on each other to provide rules of conduct, information, context and meaning. The assumption of those that champion individual freedom is that their society must be secular, rational, democratic and humanitarian. Mostly, we are free to conform to the norms and expectations of the local group and suffer when others find fault with our actions.

    A human tendency is to treat only a few other humans well, members of your immediate select group, and to be suspicious of and hostile towards everyone else. Humans can learn to override this tendency and succeed to varying degrees at opening their minds to other sentient beings but this is a difficult task. We can equate freedom with human rights , government policy, elections, law courts and the right to legal representation. But, a free society is not without rules, obligations, duties and limitations on personal freedom. We have accepted that establishing and protecting human rights relies on defending one’s autonomy against the oppression of family, religion, employers, state, and other groups. Rules imposed from the top-down, by a moral or political authority are not human rights. Freedom means that individuals make choices and decide their fate, not the government or any organization. Elite groups continue to seek control over others, however. Civil societies moderate and conceal the influence of elite groups but do not remove power brokering. In democratic public forums, hotly contested ethical issues get stalled because agreement among diverse vested interests is impossible.

    Naom Chomsky is one of the smart and nice citizens of the world, willing to sacrifice his personal comfort and venture forth consistently over many years to confront contentious issues with reasonable, well-informed arguments, a desire for individual freedom and a belief in the perfectibility of humans. His premise is that the individual human can perfect himself or herself and live a moral and free life with little or no interference from other people, especially those who work for governments, religious organizations and large corporations. While this premise should appeal to most smart people, the problem is that humans have innate tendencies that cannot be changed by individual effort and humans do not act alone. Humans are obligatory social animals with the delusion of independence.

    We know that the root human struggle between self-interest and the interest of groups is ubiquitous, pervasive and is not going away. We know that a small number of humans will be alpha animals and lead a much larger number of humans who are followers and will not have the inclination or the ability to think for themselves.

  • The Good Person: Ethics and Morality by Stephen Gislason 105 Pages. Print and eBook versions. Persona Digital Books.

    Ethics is about the interface between selfish interests and actions and the common good. Both good and bad tendencies are innate properties that have useful functions, were not invented by modern society and are not going to change until the construction of brain changes. The dialogue between good and bad in human affairs is constant, predictable and universal. When a baby is born, the family and local community begin to teach the emerging being what is going on here and now. They provide the local language, costumes, customs beliefs and the local science and technology. All adult humans have an ethical standard and a technology to teach. While the local culture has an obvious impact on the appearance and behavior of emerging adults, the constant innate features of the human mind are pervasive and persistent.

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