“It Only Takes One Thing”
What a World it is – What a world it could be…
It only takes one thing: “The Golden Rule”
The Golden Rule is “Ethics”. It stands irrefutably, indelibly and infinitely – on its own. Devoid of the need for support from culture, religion or politics…
It is agnostic, theist and antitheist seamlessly strung together in perfect sympathetic union, as it is no respecter of personal dogmas. “As such the Golden Rule – is Ethics personified: The Common Denominator that merges diversity into unified form: The true ether of sentient conscience.
Nobel Prize laureate Albert Camus said that “Integrity has no need of rules.” I understand the ethical intent of his point, when based on the golden rule. But to even be more precise I would say that the “Integrity of ethics has no need of rules.”
What a world that would be…
The reason I added the word “ethics” in the quote above, is due to the fact that the derivation of “integrity” comes from the Latin, meaning “individual”. The inference being that an “individual” is not subject to changeable fair-weather conventional thinking, but is first and foremost “independent” and therefore can be trusted, simply because social-conditions will not change a true individual. But clearly – they can be trusted to be both good or bad – based on ethics. In contrast social-conditions will often change a person, who lacks integrity, whose beliefs and behaviors are based on outside sources, fads, whims, cultural, religious, or political dogma’s. Hence Integrity and Ethics must be in union to effect goodness and disband the need of rules. As George Bernard Shaw would have stated it: “People are not moral, merely conventional.” An individual or someone with “integrity” can be trusted, as in contrast, a conventional person would be less reliable. Hence ones ethics would be respective of their conventional or individual (integrity based) dispositions.
Clearly as a result of the importance of integrity and an understanding of the issues I will explain in the following paragraphs, the only moral absolute or ethic, I can, with logic, envision is the “Golden Rule”, as that is a principle based on circumstance or context, rather than fixed dogma.
I believe that integrity and the golden rule are in lockstep in order for sincere virtue to manifest itself. As they are the embodiment of our core ethical or spiritual teachings central to our most decent and altruistic leaders throughout history, coupled with the personal nature of sentient knowledge within our stand-alone individual selves.
All other moral absolutes, that are written as one-dimensional concepts, such as “Thou Shall Not Lie”, are based on strict un-equivocating and unyielding adherence to a principle, a rule or law. Such absolute concepts that ignore the value of context, or the variables and nuances of actions or circumstances, all fail to define the true facts of actions or events, with results that derail the presence of truth and promotion of human dignity. For instance, the premise of “Do not kill” is a moral absolute, however, I believe pragmatically that killing may become the less of two evils, if by my actions of killing one person, I can save millions of lives. I must out of moral duty; relinquish my moral position of not killing someone, for the good of the many. This type of killing is not born out of the vices of revenge, or selfish motives, but out of charity and kindness. Such actions are only executed out of the fundamental notion of the Golden Rule.
A simple example of this type of moral action would be: If I was a pacifist, but was told that I had the opportunity, without any other options, to pull the trigger on a rifle that was fixed on a terrorist, who was only seconds away from pushing the button to blow up a hotel with a 1,000 innocent lives in the balance, I would have to pull the trigger and kill.
As a result of the example above, I am in practice – executing the principle of “the one for the many”, while at the same time I am sacrificing my pacifist absolutism. This is an act of pragmatic judgment, incumbent upon ethical sentient beings. Therefore any personal, cultural, or religious opposition to this ethical position should be discarded from all human discourse.
This position does not set well with those who operate by way of singular ridged positions, suggesting that Honor is Honor or the Law is the Law, without the notion of give and take. In other words: Absolutes are unequivocally Absolutes: Or in the vernacular of our current day: “Zero Tolerance” is commonly stated as the only acceptable approach to address a particular situation.
Well, I would say both: yes and no, depending on context, to such absolutes and self-righteous moral rhetoric. That is the fundamental reality and conundrum that language seems to confine us to: (Yes and No, Either/Or, and Black or White), seemingly fixed positions, but only if we allow it to be so. Ideally, we must make judgments about our moral positions that sometimes conflict, with our so-called moral positions in order to truly be moral. In other words, to stand pure to a belief, that restricts pragmatism, and the exercise of human judgment, is to relegate humanity to being no more than thoughtless drones, devoid of integrity or virtue. Virtue is self-sacrifice, even the sacrifice of moral conviction, if it means that the outcome will benefit goodness in the end.
With our basic common sense we know an honest person and a dishonest person, a loving action and an unloving action. Sometimes both decent and deplorable actions – require guile and disguise, sometimes they require humility and raw truth from our behavior to secure decent results. (White lies and lies are actually different, but again, that does not set well with a moral absolutist, whose honor is based on a strict code of one-sided conduct. Hence:” thou shall not lie.”) This type of moral absolute position is fatal to the ultimate premise of decency given the fact that there are distinctions in the function and purpose of a lie. That simple. For instance: Some lies can ameliorate the unnecessary harshness of facts that would unnecessarily make someone who is emotionally ill even more despondent and potentially cause them to harm themselves or others or even to commit suicide. This type of lie is no less a lie, but its intention is kind and moral.
However what happens when you try to convince the politically correct, a true red-blooded-brain-dead-bureaucrat, or someone with deep personal, cultural or religious absolutist-zealot tendencies of this type of measured judgment and decency that must be applied to human thought and action? Often very little. But we all, I believe, should continue to try, because without uplifting the education of the world to thinking-critically, in the moment, rather than relying on the traditions of the past, we very well may condemn and destroy all of us, and at the very least will indirectly cause harm to the many innocent, who are killed by fanatics – through our otherwise inaction.
We all see it today with suicide bombers, maiming and destroying in the name of Allah, and we have seen it in the past centuries as well from various religious and secular structures. But with one grave difference, there were no weapons of mass destruction from centuries past. Give it some thought…
And give this quote some thought as well: “The only good is knowledge, and the only evil is ignorance.” – Socrates
The current ignorance that is so endemic in our global social fabric, is born from the past abuses of power and from mankind’s early mythologies and superstitions used as poor substitutes for knowledge and science to make sense of the fundamental unknowns of our universe. In today’s world such ancient early foundations for truth and knowledge continue to dismantle “goodness” by way of such ignorance. Tragically with a world of new technologies that contain weapons of mass destruction – it only takes one individual, (one bit of ignorance) to harm us all.
Technology has changed the balance of power.
It is no longer an advantage for an aristocrat or a king or queen and the powerful and mighty of this world to indulge in keeping the masses ignorant or pacified in order to manage with hopeful and wishful calm. Ignorance today has within its control – the power of the mighty and powerful of yesterday, but with less to lose. So the ignorant of today will commit to mutual destruction, unlike those of the past whose knowledge, wealth and means, kept them relatively less committed to mutual destruction.
Such absolutists, and bureaucratic policy-fixed thinking, or in other words, rigid thinkers, that do not value the context of an action are the province of many groups; such as the politically-correct, often of the naïve, immature, or a secular and religious fundamentalist, who will rally to an issue to an extreme whereby all rationale is lost.
It is also important to recognize that conversely and ironically however absolutists are sometimes equally honorable sincere people too, who simply hold to altruistic goodness.
As such we live in a confounded world of paradoxes. Language (words) keeps us consorting with all sorts of strange bed fellows (people & principles), seemingly defined by the same terms, when we communicate with one another. This very truth, this reality – is a vivid and insidious contrast for the wise to understand; and for the unwise and selfish to demagogue about, through rant or rage – to ad nauseam, and to the ultimate destruction of moral ethos.
So how do we get a handle on this diverse melting pot of contention between adversaries, or philosophical opponents? Well we may never. But that does not mean we should not continue to try. In other words apply the ethic of the golden rule, when confronted with an obstacle, a dilemma, and a conundrum. Think about how you would operate if held to that standard. The standard of wanting to be treated with altruism, with goodness, with understanding first and foremost. Then proceed with your judgment or hopefully understanding that is then manifest at that point in your analysis, and thus your behavior.
Understand that both virtuous or infamous principles are not always black and white. Common sense, and sound pragmatic action, sometimes requires behaviors or actions that are nuanced or mitigated, not absolute. While absolute principles such as love and hate are fundamentally black and white positions, they require the common denominator of Reason to measure how we apply them to a given situation.
Simply seek out and find companions in this world – who understand life, not the ones who judge it – and you will find the infinite – indefinable essence of goodness and justice within humanity. Know that words cannot do justice – in always defining justice. Perception and actions combined are the purest measure of a decent person – of justice itself.
As you look to the law and written values to define behavior, look to the nature and constructs of balance that have been added to law, such as the principle of “jury nullification”, or the “doctrine of equivalents” within Patent law, as well as other balanced mechanisms that attempt to arbitrate law through judgment, not through cultural, moral or technical rule-based absolutes. These constructs, such as “jury nullification” or the “doctrine of equivalents”, allow for the superseding of the “rule of law” to be subordinated by the arbitration of duly appointed arbiters, should fairness and justice be better served. In other words, the law ideally is written to be addressed when the “intent” of the law is violated, not the “letter” of the law. To determine this distinction requires one to arbitrate wisely, hence use balanced judgment – and nothing less if you expect the law to emulate fairness and truth. Law based on rules only – is harmfully shallow, empty and wanting, when justice is the goal.
Differently said, balance is the key to success in all things, not commitment for the sake of commitment and adherence to technicality. That is the road to war, not to union, not to productive communication, not to understanding, and not to humility that bears all things decent. In other words, laws, and rules, in their wisest application, are used as guidelines, that hold to the “intent” of the law or rule, rather than to the technical “letter” of the law or rule.
We as a species are so much more than the sum of our words, we are the sum of our understanding which stretches beyond the confines of mere words. As words by themselves are a finite vehicle that have lent themselves both to good ethical behavior, but as well – to artfully pandering shamefully in the name of truth through demagoguery or cultural, and ideological paradigms. Simply because something sounds good or obvious, or traditionally true – does not make it so…
Do not let words wrap you up into one-dimensional boxes. Words often have far more to express – through a broader understanding of their definitions – than by holding onto a myopic view of what a word or words singularly and theoretically appear to mean. Words are often multi-dimensional, not one-dimensional. For example, it is often brought up in religious or theological conversations that “truth” is either fixed or it is relative.
I would argue that truth is both fixed and relativistic; the two are not mutually exclusive. What is true yesterday, and today is also true tomorrow. But that truth is based on how a set of circumstances impact an event. [ Please refer to the example above in paragraph 8 that looks at the principle of “Thou shall not kill or lie”, and yet may be required to accomplish the pragmatic fundamentals of the Golden Rule.]
My point is that words can tie us up into illogical knots, and as such, unethical behavior, if we allow them. Words are tools, not fixed absolutes. When we use the often one-dimensional notion of words, as a truth descriptor to try and describe situations – that are actually multi-dimensional when viewed within context – we do an injustice to the actual event or situation being described. Words at their best are actually multi-dimensional when we apply measured judgment and reason and understand the full context of a situation. The truth is words are not the “thing” (situation/event) described, words only represent. (This is fundamental to understand.) Unambiguously we must be wise in our application of words, and the weighted values we afford them, if we are to judge accurately and fairly in this life.
The nature of words (etymology) is both precise and imprecise, based upon an individual’s perceptions, and this variability will bear both fairly and unfairly on the truth. Certainly words are society’s organizational tools, and certainly the tools of any decent social structures foundation in law. The wrinkle in this reality is that the facts of law and the necessary understanding of words – are often variable in both intent and meaning.
This variability of words has become the laws, and a lawyer’s tools, as they try to define contexts and circumstance, underpinning a behavior or action. Sometimes lawyers use words to tie truth up into a fixed, seemingly immutable, box while their counter-part may argue with the same words but with different frames of reference to clarify their perceived truth and expand that same so-called immutable box of facts.
Again, words are not the truth, only events are the truth. And to understand events we must use words to communicate, but balanced with the mathematics of human intellect, based on objective values founded by the “golden rule”, to affect justice. In order to actually experience and know truth.
Jurisprudence in its highest and most noble of forms understands this principle behind the specter and shadow cast by the circumscribed nature of words. Hence the notion and beauty of arbitration emerges, which attempts to bridge this breech between the words of the believed-obvious (perception) and actual balance of reality. Arbitration is our ultimate means of delivering thoughtful and proper justice. Ironically arbitration can be used through words to deliver the opposite result as well. But, I would defer to educated objectively trained arbiters, and intellects – for a lack of better terms I suppose, before I would defer to traditional rules or the dogmas administered by ideologues in all matters of value and objective truth whenever we use words as our truth seekers or descriptors of un-biased cultural humane values.
This is the foundation of the Golden Rule and why integrity, not conventionalism or tradition is incumbent upon every individual to personally define and operate by, as long as it is premised on the Golden Rule. Traditions are invaluable, but they are only hopefully sound building blocks for behaviors, not always ultimate panaceas.
We are the actions of the sum of our parts, of our histories and traditions. Ideally those actions produce goodness through the golden rule, rather than selfish gain that has been often bred through the so-called goodness of ideologues, religions, or cultures behavioral absolutes. However you do not need culture or religion to operate by the integrity of the golden rule. There is no other conscious constant in the universe to live by – if you choose to be decent and loving – beyond this single and humble truth, called the Golden Rule, which all sentient beings are knowledgably endowed with. If you believe anything of “Maslow’s” studies of human motivational hierarchy, then at a survival level, perhaps many humans behave as selfish animals, but at the higher modes of psychological functions we are enabled quite consciously with the humanity of the golden rule.
All great decent leaders in history and current times lived by this non-hate, non-warring notion whether of ancient past great religious names or of our contemporaries, such as the current Dali Lama, or Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King. We would do well to follow such ancient or contemporary leaders, in their wisest moments, by way of their loving altruism. As to do so, would be to follow and embrace the truth of decency, genuine generosity, rather than selfish centered judgment, and thereby manifest genuine goodness, rather than political correctness or static ideological fundamentalism disguised as goodness.
To follow any other edict in life beyond the golden rule, such that would do unnecessary harm to others, is to follow evil and unnecessary destruction, which will never enable you to embrace the sincerity and holiness of truth, or the power of forgiveness and goodness.
In other words, we as a world community need to commit to goodness not destruction, not to dictators, or religious ideologues, or to ancient perhaps well-meaning cultural traditions, but rather first and foremost – commit to ourselves to care for others – rather than harm them. To find our integrity, in order to do right. There is no other way.
No other way – to be sincerely kind or decent… And all who will tell you that there is another way – are wrong, perhaps, well intended, but they are wrong.
Again as I think of the great and decent loving leaders from our history and those from our current times; and you all know their names, which embodied love for others, by turning their cheek, or insisting on goodwill toward others. They first and foremost where not slaves to the leadership of their contemporaries foolish, selfish, or destructive dogmas. In fact some of these leaders were thought to be heretics by the secular and religious establishments in their own times – due to the fact, that they were leaders, who broke with convention, as they implicitly and foremost operated with their integrity by way of the Golden Rule.
Hence if we lived by their guidelines, we would no longer be the hypocrites we are or harm others in the name of God, Allah, religion, culture, politics, or tradition.
What a world – that would be.
It only takes one thing…
Russ Otter 2008