. The Only Way Is Ethics: A Crash Course in Six Parts | London Progressive Journal
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The Only Way Is Ethics: A Crash Course in Six Parts

Sat 3rd Sep 2016

Part One: Now You See Me, Now You Don't

Whether you're a fan of Plato or J R R Tolkein, H G Wells or J K Rowling you'll recognise the link between acquiring the super-power of invisibility and the freedom to behave without morals.

Posing such powerful questions in his dialogues nearly 2500 years ago, Plato sets down a challenge to all systems of philosophy and proto-philosophy throughout Europe and into Asia. His precept goes to the heart of how those with power take and maintain social control, and how those who are subjugated attempt to subvert the status quo. In fact, it is the very bedrock of politics.

What it's not is mere speculation. It's not the kind of quasi-religious postulation of pin-head dancing angels. Nope, it brings back the onus of responsibility to each of us, taking it firmly away from some beardy-bloke in the sky, or a muscled giant who can change the weather at will.

This is a question that lifts the examination of who we are and why we are here right up to the foothills of science. And that's why Ethics is the only way!

Here's the thing: let's say you get your paws on a ring, or an unassuming cloak, or perhaps a simple cap, and as soon as you try it on you become invisible. Woo-hoo! Yep, you can stride through the changing room and get an eyeful of nudie bits. You can boldly go up the marble steps of a Secret Service HQ and flip through files marked Top Secret; hell, you can even record them on your phone. You can crash that next bank consortium meeting and steal plans that threaten the world's economy. You get the idea.

Of course, you could also drift behind the computer of someone who's been ciphoning off company profits, and you could transfer the dosh to a social welfare charity. Or dip into the wallet of a con-man and pop some much needed cash through the letter-box of a persecuted refugee family.

So, what did Mr Plato want you to consider - given your new-found super-power? When you've got no one to answer to, no one to go tut-tut, no one to beat you with a stick or declare You're Fired or You're Nicked - what motivates you to do anything? Is your life now a free-for-all with you as the Me First Zone? When you can get away with anything, what do you choose to get away with?

There's a current Radio 4 revival of a series called Inside The Ethics Committee. It's a sort of cousin to The Moral Maze. It focuses on medical dilemmas, staff and associates playing at deities for the benefit of someone who's probably dying. The Maze covers wider ground, taking its cue from newspaper headlines fashioned into polarised political positions, overwhelmingly right of centre and disguised as morality.

What both assume is a quintessential link between morality and religion. And Judeo-Christian religion at that. But to restrict the boundaries of ethics solely within a religous context is missing the point. When what is defined as legal - or come to that what is legitimate - is devoid of intrinsic moral content, the system it regulates becomes amoral. If it is only considered within a religious arena, that system becomes quasi-moral.

Dunno about you, but I believe that is not a good thing. It's used to excuse and justify not only the politics of everyday, but the sacrifice of human beings over rigid social rules. It is to deny the cooperative essence of humanity.

We evolved as interdependent beings who identify with each other. That's actually the basis of all Art, and Art predated religion. It's a construct of Truth, a means of social inclusion. As such, it poses questions of ethical sensibility.

If the only or even the main focus of ethics is entwined with any religious sect, it will a priori be exclusive. The implication of such an approach is that anyone who doesn't believe in this religion or that is somehow inferior; and that anyone who is a declared atheist is even more inferior than that.

When such elements are brought into the mix, Plato's questions soon extend to matters of equality as well as pure ethics. However hard St Aquinus, as an admirer of Plato, twists and turns to include Christianity as an ethical foundation, it's the equality question which scuppers his assumptions, and those of his followers through the centuries. And that was long before Twitter!

We can argue forever about whether the hoi polloi can be trusted with decisions related to the finer points of governance. But it's only as people are able to discover their true social powers that they can question why they may feel left out of the decisions which affect their daily lives. However, because even the most unbiased news and current affairs coverage spoon-feeds people with selected bits of the issues of the day, debate more often than not slips into confrontation. And, more often than not, the media manipulates polarised positions for the sake of "good telly" or "giving readers what they want."
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