Two questions: can you discuss ethics without taking sides? and can you explore ethics without anger?
So far I have received some good feedback on this blog, but one question keeps coming up: when are you going to take sides? When I look around the ethics community, I see how we think this way. It seems that to be ethical one has to take a firm position on what is right and what is wrong.
I’m not sure if it is because I am reluctant to commit to a position, or because I sense another way of looking at ethics; it just doesn’t seem to be the kind of ethical debate I am looking for.
I have been following the #ethics stream on twitter and have been struck by the anger that seems to drive the discussion and contribution there. Aside from the occasional inspirational quote, it seems like the majority of ‘ethical’ thought in the twitter stream is driven by anger, judgement and condemnation. I have witnessed this offline also. In the mainstream media and social world, it is commonplace to judge the ethics of corporations and governments with loathing and vitriol. One may say that the actions of corporations and government can at times make these responses warranted. I am not going to dispute that.
My wondering is whether anger is a useful space from which to explore ethics. I know for myself that when I am angry my brain seems to contract into a withering and ineffective tool. I somehow close myself off from alternate perspectives, and the anger fuels an outcome that it wants but is not necessarily in the best interests of all concerned.
Even when labeling an individual, corporation or situation as ‘unethical’, this is a judgement. No matter how well founded, justified or evidence-based, it is still nothing more than placing a judgement on another. Some may say that this is fine. That said, is it useful? Does placing labels and judgements on people or situations lead to better thinking or outcomes?
When evidence exists that a corporation or individual has acted in a way that causes harm, how could or should we respond to that? Is there a way where we can suspend judgement in order to explore how that situation came about. There may well be more layers to the situation than we previously were conscious of.
I have been fortunate to participate in generative and respectful explorations of ethical dilemmas and issues. How is it that this approach can be mainstreamed, taught or encouraged? Hang on, did I just take a side?