Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ethics Versus Law [Article]

moral principles, as of an individual: His ethics forbade betrayal of a confidence.

law  (lô)
1. A rule of conduct or procedure established by custom, agreement, or authority.

Among many people, you find the idea that Man is divided in (more or less) three different parts: A uniquely human rational part,another part that is derived directly from the animal world with all the things that entails: elemental lusts, the desire to kill, etc., and another part that is supposed to decide which one wins.

Think Freud’s Superego, Ego, and Id. Or Plato’s conception of a tripartite human soul: Logical, Spirited (willpower) and Appetite.

Truly, without that Ego and Super-ego, without that Logos, we are all wild beasts. We become an unstoppable force of destruction, an unrivaled and untamable hedonist, a beast so savage that lions, wolves, and tigers seem like puppies and kittens in comparison.
“Man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world.” - Albert Camus
Truly, without that Ego and Super-ego, without that Logos, we are all wild beasts. Indeed, we become an unstoppable force of destruction, an untameable hedonist, a beast so savage that lions, wolves, and tigers seem like puppies and kittens in comparison.

What I find interesting about the usage of the word “Ethics” is my belief that Ethics is something different from Laws.

A Law is something external decided upon by either tradition, agreement, or authority. It is backed up by systems of justice like the police, jails, etc.

Ethics, though, is something internal. It’s that inner policeman that always watches you and gets you to stop and say: “Hang on, is this right? Am I being true?”. It is your own natural ability to deduce an action that is morally right versus an action that is morally wrong. In short, it is conscience in action.

I believe that every human being has the ability of Ethics: to naturally discern a right action from a wrong action, because we all desire goodness. However, I also think that, much like a muscle, if this ability is never used it is virtually useless and because of that you would be forgiven for thinking that it didn't exist at all. Because of the fact that not all of us have exercised this faculty equally (in much the same way not all of us are equally muscular), we invent Laws to ensure that everyone acts in a way that is determined to be ethical, and that people are rewarded or punished justly based on them.

However, there is an intrinsic push-pull with Ethics and Laws. There is a huge danger in Laws becoming draconian, overly bureaucratic, and, very banal. Lao tzu says it better than I can:
"The more laws there are, the more criminals there will be" - Lao Tzu 
The harder we try to control everything, the more out of control everything seems to get.  Worse of all, in outright contradicting the ideals of our ethical minds such as Justice, Equality, etc.

And He said to them, 'The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. - Jesus Christ (Mark 2:27).
Jesus illustrates what I mean very well: The pharisees are demanding that Jesus not help a sick man, because the law says he is working on the Sabbath. But helping the sick man is the right thing to do. Sometimes, doing the right thing is against the law. Sometimes the law is doing the wrong thing.

However, we can't deny the necessity of having laws, because everyone relying on there own natural sense of ethics is too ideal of a situation, and of course without laws we would live in an anarchistic society where there would be nothing to prevent someone from killing and raping everyone in sight.

Right now, I believe that Laws are currently winning the tug-of-war with Ethics. This is bad, because more Laws actually result in less Ethics and, in the end, more suffering for us all.

Why? When we rely on regulated procedures rather than our feelings to determine what is right, we start to lose track of rather or not those procedures are even effective and people become more immoral because they don't try to be good people in there day-to-day lives. When we rely on systems of surveillance 1984-style to ensure that everyone is acting in order we all have to put up with the burden of being watched 24/7: No one can be trusted because we've put too much trust in Laws to ensure people will be doing the right thing as opposed to putting that trust in ourselves.

The best way to solve this problem is to ensure that you are ethical in your day to day life. It's impossible, I think, to 100% fulfill any ethical ideal, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try - trying is the whole point!