We may believe that some political parties, economics systems or types of government are inherently more moral or pragmatic than others. This essay will not be refuting that claim. Rather, I argue that regardless of the organic value of various economic and political systems, they are all eventually doomed to corruption, oligarchy and failure if the people involved in them are not ethical. In other words; ethics always come first.
According to Aristotle, the Nichomachian view is that we must look at virtue and character in politics. Governments, political parties, communities, and economic systems are extensions of us. They reflect our values and our behaviors. Ethics is the lynchpin on which everything in human society depends. If we are unethical personally, and if society is unethical in the aggregate, then of course we will never have a moral system, no matter how authoritarian or anti-authoritarian, capitalist or communist, left or right the system is inherently.
Changing the system as a whole won't solve the underlying problem until we get at the root of the specific causes; namely our own behavior. People who are unethical will continue to be unethical regardless of political party, after a revolution, change of government, or in an alternate economic paradigm. We must treat the disease itself, not just the symptoms. We are the source of the problem, and as such, we must change. Consider the following quote from The Matrix, "It is not the spoon that bends, but yourself."
The solution is to change yourself. Adopt and practice a balanced code of ethics, educate yourself and others, and act locally in your own community to effect positive change.
Why Systems Become Corrupt
This is true because of the interconnected nature of life on Earth, and because of cause and effect. One or two unethical people won't corrupt a system at first, but the more unethical people there are, and the more a critical mass begins to collude and step on others in pursuit of their own power, then sooner or later the system will fail.
We could spend all year arguing about whether various capitalist systems of economics, a Bolshevist system, or a decentralized anarchist community can succeed and so forth. However, such a debate ignores the fact that in all cases, a system or community is only as pure and ethical as its members are, in the aggregate.
In the United States, a once free market capitalist system of economics has become cronyism. An unethical corporate cleptocracy has assumed power. People within government, businesses, and the public have colluded to make this possible, perhaps because they personally benefit financially, or because they have become ignorant and self-centered. Too few people spoken up about fraud, coercion, and infringement of rights. Individuals at the top and the bottom of the current hierarchy are not acting ethically.
If you look at Russia after the Bolshevik revolution, both Lenin and Stalin allowed top party officials to live richly off of the largess of the proletariat. They clearly thought that Marx’s equalitarian system did not apply to them personally. And they murdered millions of their own citizens. Peasants informed on their neighbors, who were taken to the gulag. People lacked ethics in the aggregate, and the system eventually collapsed.
Even anti-authoritarian communities can become corrupt when just a few people lack ethics. A group is only as ethical as its members are in the aggregate.
The more unethical and restrictive system is, generally, the quicker that system will fail. The more you deny people their inherent rights and free will choices, the more you provoke revolt and retaliation.
One of the reasons that we lack ethics is that many people are solipsists. Philosophically, the term refers to someone who does not believe in the existence or reality of other minds. Colloquially, which is how I am using the term here, a solipsist is someone who is extremely preoccupied with their own ego, desires, or needs. In other words, a self-centered person.
Practically speaking, solipsism is not doing humanity any good. If the self is the center of the universe, then society becomes selfish. Personal survival is perceived as the only important thing. Solipsism renders the individual’s needs primary, often to the point that many people forget that their rights end where someone else’s rights begin.
It is one thing to have your rights respected. It is another to ignore or infringe upon the rights of other people. A balanced philosophy of ethics takes both the self and others into account. When you are in a state of balance, you treat others as you would like to be treated.
The practical incentive for ethical behavior is self evident. If you respect other people’s rights, and if you treat others how you wish to be treated, then practically your behavior will generate good will, positive relationships, and lack of suffering. Conversely, if you harm others, or force things on others against their will, you will generate anger, unhappiness, and chaos. It seems incredibly straightforward to me.
If we both believe and act on the fact that all people have equal inherent rights as humans, which derive from nature, then we tend respect others, and others tend to respect us as fellow humans. We also tend to be cognizant of the interconnectedness of nature and the environment.
Such a philosophy can broadly be called naturalism, animism, or natural-rights libertarianism. Naturalist and animist ethics are as old written history, and they have existed in many types of societies, both tribal and hierarchical.
2. Educate yourself and others. Adopt, and act on, a consistent, balanced code of ethics. You want your actions to mirror your thoughts and emotions, so that you do not behave in contradictory or harmful ways. Value your own rights and freedom, as well as the rights and free will choices of others. Don’t use your free will to harm or coerce other people, and don't support systems that do so.
3. Get involved at the local level doing something you care about, and preferably which benefits others. Most of us can only effect change on the local and community levels, so focus your efforts where you live and where your actions will have the biggest impact. There is next to nothing you can do about the government of Zimbabwe unless you go there and get involved.
You really can’t do anything help the situation on a global level, but you can change yourself, your relationships, and your own community. As more individuals do these three things, the more that the world will positively change in the aggregate.
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