December 19, 2016
The Pangs of an Itinerant Thinker– Of Ethics and Deathics
by Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com
In the course of my long-running participation in the human race, and my increasingly urgent strivings to figure-out where I’m likely to be placed in this enthralling event when old age and death finally force me to drop out of it, I’ve become increasingly confused about its rules.
At the start it seemed to be childishly simple. Obey the so-called commandments of some alleged heavenly father and earthly representatives like priests, parents and teachers, and you’re a guaranteed winner in either this life or the next, if not both.
But then adolescence kicked-in, activating not just antagonism to the rules, but a growing awareness that adults seemed to be running the human race according to not just a single set of rules, but countlessly competing and conflicting ones.
Some clearly and sincerely intended to render the race as fair as humanly possible, and thus genuinely ethical; but others designed to rig the contest in favour of themselves and their running-mates, and thus downright unethical, or, if you like, deathical to the rest of us also-rans.
In other words, there is an ethical/deathical divide in the human race that explains but by no means excuses the dismal fact that, as Aristotle wrote 2,500 or so years ago in his ‘Politics’, “man is the best of all animals when he has reached his full development, so he is the worst of all when divorced from law and justice.”
And, despite the system of ‘virtue’ ethics that Aristotle famously advocated as a solution to this infernal contest between good and evil in the human race, and all the myriad other ethical systems, both ‘sacred’ and secular that have been proposed before and since, the problem is seemingly eternal.
Possibly the oldest and most widely-known ethical principle, and certainly the first secular one I recall hearing about, is the so-called ‘Golden Rule’ to do unto others what we would wish others to do to us.
But, while at first sight this is a perfectly reasonable rule for the fair and successful running of the human race, on further examination it has a fatal flaw lurking in the apparently innocent word ‘others’.
Because as has been horribly evident throughout history, the word ‘others’ has been routinely (mis)interpreted as meaning and including ‘others just like ourselves’, and thus excluding all other others.
As including only other Aryans, to cite an especially evil perversion of the Golden Rule by the Nazis, but excluding non-Aryans and even allegedly non-humans like Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and other groups thus targeted for torture and killing.
And in a perennial virtually worldwide sense, including ‘others’ of our own race, skin-colour, creed, gender, nationality or some other equally spuriously significant common factor, and excluding other others accordingly.
‘He who makes the rules gets the gold’
A further problem with the Golden Rule as an ethic, of course, is that it is so easily subverted by such cynically self-serving deathics, as, for example, ‘he who has the gold makes the rules’, and the corollary intended to form greed into a vicious circle with power, ‘he who makes the rules gets the gold’.
These Guys of the Eastern Philosophy School are beginning to make sense to us in the 21st century world–Holistic Thinking
Given all these difficulties with the Golden Rule, I personally, like Confucius (551-479BC), Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and doubtless many other philosophers, vastly prefer the Silver Rule: do not unto others what you would not want them to do to you.
While superficially this seems just a negative version of the Golden Rule, the crucial difference that becomes clear on further examination is that, while what we want for ourselves and others tends to be impossibly vague and various, we’re far more sure what we definitely don’t want and thus should not inflict on others, or, for that matter, on other others.
In other words, the Silver Rule in both theory and practice sets us free to aspire and strive toward the most golden of our aspirations by equally denying us the right to kill, rob, abuse, persecute, impoverish or otherwise disadvantage each other in ways that anybody in his or her right mind would possibly want.
And, thank goodness it’s largely the Silver Rule that forms the basis for our systems of ‘religious’ and secular law.
UMNO’s Strategic Thinker
Unfortunately, however, laws and the systems of ethics underpinning them have always, as today by Islamic State, Boko Haram and similar rogue organisations, along with allegedly criminal ruling regimes in countless countries ranging from Russia and Syria to Zaire and Zimbabwe, not to mention Malaysia, been supplanted by the deathic variously known as the Law of the Jungle or the Iron Rule declaring that ‘might is right’.
And under this deadly deathic it is possible to discern a good many subsidiary ones that might be called, for example, the Steel Law that apparently grants the potentates, or in the case of Malaysia, the UMNOputras, the power to take what they want from the people; the Copper Law that decrees that the regime owns the police; and the Rubber Law designed to render the constitution and laws of the country sufficiently flexible as to always protect the regime and its cronies and to punish its critics and opponents.
But thankfully there are finally some signs that UMNO-BN’s Steel Law is getting rusty, its Copper Law terribly tarnished, and its Rubber Law perished beyond repair. And that there are so many good, honest, courageous and truly ethical Malaysians who are hell-bent on finally destroying this deathical regime that it’s finally and deservedly doomed.