Monday, December 9, 2013

The Sorry State of Ethics And The Ethics of Sorry

Human mind is generally a cornucopia of thoughts. How focused they are, how random they are, depends a lot on the individual and often tells us a lot about the individual itself. My mind, is no different. At least, I like to believe that is the case..! It is in this myriad of complex mesh (or mess??) that some thoughts on ethics came over to me. I admit, some of the recent happenings in my personal life have had a bearing on the nature and direction of those thoughts. There have been other happenings around the world, including but not limited to the emergence to prominence of Aam Aadmi party in the recent legislative assembly elections to the state of Delhi, the apology of the British prime Minister on 1972 “slaughter” of Catholic demonstrators, the apology of the Australian government to the “Stolen Generation” of native aborigines etc which have made me think in the recent times on the topic of ethics and ethical responsibilities. You, the reader, may point out the time latency in me expressing my thoughts on this because it has been over 5 years since the Australian Prime Minister Mr. Kevin Rudd tendered his apology and over 3 years since the British Prime Minister Mr. David Cameron did. My answer to that is one word – procrastination..! If only they could envision and develop a software that could print on screen the things you think, simultaneously, I’d be Salman Rushdie..! Before anyone reads on, I’d like to clarify here that I make my living writing software which very capable marketing teams sells to people who might or might not need it. In short, I have neither done a course in philosophy or ethics, not do I intend to do it anytime in the near future. So the views expressed, as they say in any typical disclaimer, are of the author’s own and are, in high likelihood biased, and may even be incorrect.

The omniscient Wikipedia defines ethics as “[involving] systematizing, defending and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct.”  I grew up in the non internet age, possibly the last generation that had (or lacked?) the privilege of doing so. My sense of ethics stemmed from my background, in a little conservative, traditional small household in the southern part of India. Like a lot of traditional Hindu families, my parents too had their set of superstitions which, in retrospect, I think form one of the platforms for ethics in my society. A simple “rule” illustrates that. As a child, I was instructed (and it was enforced in my household) that one should not step on paper or books, to do so would be equivalent of insulting Saraswati, the Goddess of letters and learning. And if you accidentally did step on one, you had to touch the book or paper which you stepped on and subsequently touch your hand to your forehead, an equivalent of apologizing. However superstitious this might seem, I think this demonstrates a very simple ethic – to respect letters and books. This example might seem superfluous, but it is one among many that approach the region of overlap of ethics and superstition in our cultures. The exact custom, ritual or background might vary, but the crux or the idea remains largely the same, across various cultures and communities in India. I’ve typically observed, a lot of ethical questions are tied to religion, which, to me, has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Myself, being a benefactor of a being brought up in a culture that has been really old and has possibly been refined over the course of human settlement in south east Asia, I believe I work on a strong platform of ethics. There are certain set of ethics I believe in and I like to stand by it no matter the situation. I can’t quite explain why I do it or what advantage I get by doing it, it is just that somewhere along the course of my life, it so happened that the set of ethics I believed in, was strung onto my character so much that any alteration in those seem to be something that will make me question my character.

I observe this, increasingly so with my generation which has witnessed a massive revolution especially in terms of opening up of the Cyberspace and the opportunities that come alongwith. The advent of internet has thrown up a world which had no precedent, no established set of rules or ethics of governance. In other words, it is like “I don’t know what to do, but whatever I do, so-called good or so-called bad, it won’t be challenged and will get me an audience, get me attention, from somewhere in the cyber world.” I believe in what the great Voltaire said, that “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” but at the same time I do expect what you say to stay within some established and agreed framework of, say, vulgarity. The present competitive world of cut throat competition and its requirements to deliver results ultra-fast, “at any cost”, sweep the concept of ethical responsibility to under the carpet.

I’ve rambled on a my share on the topic, I have to concede the thoughts might be unorganized and trivial, I have, and I would say it would be safe to assume that you too might have, had cases where you had to bent your ethics due to some unforeseen circumstances. Personally I value the role of a sorry, that one word spoken sincerely and from the heart, as something very soothing and to a great extent, compensating the actions you did against your sense of ethics and ethical responsibility. The examples I quoted earlier in this piece, about British and Australian governments apologizing to their own people for acts or atrocities committed are a stellar example of this. I revere the person(s) who had the guts and ethics to confess their crimes and say that sorry in public and that, for me, is something I hope to imbibe and if need be, attain. The poll campaign of the Aam Aadmi Party in the 2013 legislative election in Delhi, are based on the need for an ethical and transparent structure for governance, which, going by the vote share they got, seem to be the aspiration of a common voter in the state of Delhi. Apologies made by Pope John Paul the Second are too numerous to count, and he is a great man I respect for his sense of ethics to speak out. The word sorry, is too small for the too big and wholesome meaning it propounds.

Such men, such instances are becoming too few and far in between and for a better world, if we do need to continue to label ourselves a civilized world, we must come together and have a minimalist set of ethics. It is not something you can frame down in a document or enforce to be followed, it is something you need to inculcate. Before I go on a lengthy diatribe against nuclear power, I should think a moment as to why it was required and then ensure that I’ve done my part in switching off my light and fans so that some little, however insignificant, power is saved. That will increase my credibility to speak against nuclear power. If the issue of ethics, or rather the lack of it, is not addressed, the posterity which would look upto us might not understand the necessity for it, and that, I believe won’t do much good for the vision our ancestors had of tomorrow.

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