Developing a code of ethics is the most important thing a person can do. Such a code is necessary for humans because of our capacity to reason. Our ability to apply rational thought to the conduct of our lives is what makes mankind more than just an animal with an interesting thumb. These rational thoughts could very easily lead us to terrible acts, for what is in our best interest is often harmful to others.
However there is another ability, peculiar to humans alone, that keeps most of us on the right path. Our ability to know what is right and what is wrong. It is our beliefs on this subject that make up our ethics. And the best way to know what those beliefs are is to develop a personal code of ethics.
My own code is one that defies definition by the standards of most of the well-known ethical theories. It consists of four simple and straight forward rules, rules that do not alter or change with the shift of society’s values or the passing of time. The four rules are easy to remember but may need a bit of explanation.
1) Mine first.
2) Serve the greater good (unless it violates rule number one).
3) Serve justice and obey the law unless the law does not serve justice.
4) Respect the divinity of Mind.
The first rule…MINES FIRST sounds harsh and egoist and to some extent it is akin to enlightened egoism. What this rule means is that my wife and daughter and what is best for them comes before any other consideration without exception. This dedication to family is not a popular idea in these IT TAKES A VILLAGE times. Today, people seem to have bought into the idea that there will always be someone else around to take care of our responsibilities if we fail. The government, charities or strangers on the street, many people today feel that their responsibilities are those of someone else as well. But there is no room for such ideas in my life. I do for mine. If that means that others must do without so that my family can prosper, than that is how it must be.
Suppose my daughter wanted a Tickle Me Elmo Doll this Christmas. And suppose I found myself at the door to Toys-R-Us, next to a wheelchair bound woman who was also trying to purchase an Elmo for her child. The two of us know that there is one Elmo left in the store. When the door opens, what do I do? To be perfectly honest I run as fast as I can and grab the doll. It would not matter to me that the woman was in a wheelchair and unable to race for the doll. My daughter wanted the doll and I would put her wishes above anyone else.
Of course, this is a silly example but it illustrates how this rule works. The action would be the same if it were the last morsel of food in the last remaining open store in a city buried in ten feet of snow. I do what is best for my family even at the cost of others. I do not feel that this is egoism. I truly feel that by applying Kant’s categorical imperative I can show that this is utilitarianism. If everyone strived to do what was best for those they loved, wouldn't society be better off?
Wouldn't we have better provided for and happier children with a greater sense of self-worth? Wouldn't we have a closer knit family unit, something that our society keeps claiming is lacking? With everyone doing what is in the best interests of their own families, wouldn't we have very little need for welfare or charities? And wouldn't such family dedication, if it were all encompassing, serve to better society by eliminating the need for government assistance in the raising of children? This rule is utilitarian in nature and coincides with the second rule of my code.
Serving the greater good, part of the foundation of utilitarian ethics, is a rule that everyone should have in their own personal code. Society is home to all of us. We are all here together. So those things that we do that serve to better society, serve to better ourselves as well. So we should always strive to do things that serve the cause of society.
So does this mean that I give money to homeless people on the streets and support programs that give money to the poor? No. It is my firm belief, based in libertarian ideals that people must be allowed to live their own lives even if they live them poorly. The greater good of society is not served if we encourage people to live off the sweat of others by continuing to give them handouts. Every quarter given to a homeless person adds to the bottom line of what he will expect to collect the following day. Soon he will come to feel that he is entitled to that amount as he is increasingly led to believe by modern social programs.
It is only by forcing people who are able to fend for themselves that society can be bettered. This is not to say however that people should not help each other. For instance when a friend comes up short on the rent and needs a loan, I will give him the money. If another friend needs help moving into a new apartment, I will help. Or if a stranger is broken down by the side of the road and I am able to help (and feel safe in doing so) I will. It is these small acts of human kindness that serve to better society by improving a person’s attitude about its members.
Of course, rule number two includes the caveat of not allowing this rule to interfere with adherence to rule number one. So, if the friend needed a loan for the rent but my daughter needed shoes or school supplies in the same amount, my friend will have to do without. If a friends moving day fell on the same day as my daughters swim meet, the friend would just have to find someone else to help move. And if my daughter was in the car as I passed the broken down stranger, no matter how old, frail and disabled that stranger was. I could not take the chance of my daughter being harmed. The stranger would have to wait.
Rule number three is another rule that should be universal. As a devout atheist, I feel that the law is what society has devised to keep its members on the right path in the absence of god. As such, the law becomes The Law, a very serious matter to me in exactly the same way that the teachings of Christ are important to other people. Obeying that Law is not only a legal matter, but to me, a moral one. Mankind has gone and educated himself out of the god mind set. We have explored the heavens and he wasn't there. We have split the atom and no god was found. We have cut and probed the deepest recesses of the human body and found no soul. God is dead and we are the killers. The law is all we have left and it should be treated with the appropriate respect.
So does this mean that I would have been one of those rednecks who arrested Freedom Riders and dragged black people away from lunch counters? Would I have been in favor of returning escaped slaves to the south because it was the law?
Of course not. Rule number three also includes a caveat. It states that if a law does not serve justice, it should not be obeyed. So this sparks the question "how do I know if a law is just?" The answer can be found in rule number four. The last rule of my personal code of ethics is the most important because it is the measuring stick by which the variables of the first three rules are measured. This rule requires that the human Mind be respected for its power and its supreme value, a value greater than that of anything else in the universe. Respecting the human Mind means believing in the principle that people are worthy of respect. Holding reason and intelligence as divine above all other considerations, leads to just thoughts and actions. Respect of Mind requires the discounting of those factors that cause prejudice. Reason and intelligence has no color, religion or sexual preference. Mind is sexless. It is classless.
And it is not susceptible to the fickle human idea of physical beauty. But how to know if a law is just? If it serves to protect, promote and respect the human Mind. If a law or an act works against the cause of Mind than it is unjust. Such laws must not be obeyed and indeed must be worked against. But how is one to know the extent of such civil disobedience? In my case, the answer is found in rule number one. So long as I do not put my family at risk of losing a husband and father, justice must be served. It is through this kind of meshing of the four rules that ethical quandaries can be answered.
Noticeably, the rules of the code while existing to serve the cause of good and avoid evil…do not make it clear how to know which is which. There is no specific rule that gives a clear definition of what is good and what is evil. This is because the rules, when properly applied to an ethical problem, will lead to the action that is good. So then what is good? What is evil? Good is somewhat easier to define in that it is directly related to the last three rules of the code.
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