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Wrong is wrong, even if everyone does it, even if nobody dares speak against it.

Right is right, even if no one is doing it, even if nobody dares support it, even if naysayers say yes, but ….

But this is not what current ethics are preaching.

Modern ethics dislike the firmness and inconvenience of principles, what is right or wrong, and instead they call for a more flexible and convenient way, the “practical” way of settling things. Say in a two-party conflict, they seek outcomes that, irrespective of who is right or wrong, can accommodate both sides so that both will appear to come out of the dispute with some kind of benefits euphemistically called ‘’winning’’.

At the level of national disputes, for example, if an aggressor invades another country (usually a weaker), the so-called ethical solution will be sought not by demanding that the invader be expelled out of the other country’s territory, but by allowing the invader to retain his gains upon agreeing not to expand further. The afflicted side must, of course, accept the new forced status quo and will receive assurances of avoidance of further escalation and losses. Both parties, declare the ethics, “have won”: Gains for the invader, and no further losses for the afflicted.

The problems:

The laws of the jungle: The stronger takes it all, or rather not quite all; arrangements are made to permit the beleaguered victim to retain more than what its power could protect by forsaking part of its lawful rights.

The silence of the herd: Those not attacked or out of the conflict consider their selves as outsiders and become silent bystanders. They argue that by their silence, they are preserving the bridges of communication and by their appeasements are helping to avoid the worse consequences on the afflicted party.

The avoidance cost: This will always tip the balance in favour of the stronger as this is a threat that is monetised by the stronger against the weaker even if the latter has every right in his favour.

Opening the appetite: Having seen that his strength and aggression can bring gains without much or serious consequences, the aggressor will want to gorge himself on more and more and will turn to a policy of repeatable aggression.

Equilibrium of power: An equilibrium, however, in today’s power checkerboard when not built on just principles, creates the potential for future instability when tomorrow’s power relationships change.

Can we do better? Are there lessons from the past that can guide us on a different path?

Winston Churchill faced with a dilemma in the second world war, chose not to surrender to the powerful invader and save the lives of his people, but to uphold the principles of a free world and fight, against odds, the evil power of the aggressor.

Was Churchill’s thinking and prioritising unethical when he placed more importance on the principles that should govern humanity than on saving the lives of the people of his country?

Present-day ethics have not helped to reduce conflicts, not suffering, nor injustice. Only they have offered the logic by which they are made to appear more acceptable in the eyes of the general populace as the ethical or rather the political way of settling things. But appeasing the powerful aggressors to mitigate the harm they cause or to lessen their spoils is by no means what the people would in the long run accept or their conscience would come to terms with.

The tangled state that the world is now in, the muddled confusion of thinking of those who we call leaders comes from what we have come to regard as ethical; the act of balancing according to the present power of things irrespective of whether it is fair or may be changing in the future.

It is therefore no wonder that ethics based on the balance of interests have failed the world society; they are found leaning to one side that of the powerful. It is time to give their place to ethics based on principles.

Without principles to govern our actions, we are witnessing the prevailing of the “resourceful” powerful upon the weaker causing injustice, bitterness and world instability that remind us of the events and leadership behaviours that preceded the last world war.

Perhaps, we need another Churchill to stem the rising short-termism mentality of the present-day ethics of convenience!

 

About the author: Panikos Sardos is the Managing Director of P&E Sardos Business Solutions Int., a management consulting firm that offers advisory services, coaching and training. You are welcome to communicate with us by email: psardos@sardossolutions.com or telephone: +357 99640912, or visit our site at www.sardossolutions.com