Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Lessons of Ethics and "Ethics"

Society exists because we have trust in our most basic institutions and transactions. We assume when we buy an item from our local store that money doesn't go to support illegal activities. In our jobs there is a natural belief that working hard leads to promotion and more opportunities. Ethics and "ethics" come to define the glue that holds our basic business assumptions together.

Ethics is an ideal form that must exist in society if we will continue to be a society. The rules of the road and natural assumptions learned in school and embedded into our fundamental value systems must be maintained. Without mutual agreement with these these basic societal functions we cease to have a nation at all.

"Ethics" is the unwritten codes and rules that pale in comparison to true ethics. It is practical justice and actual outcomes that may have little to do with the needs of society. As "ethics" takes hold it continues to test what is acceptable and unacceptable in society. It is the real life end result of ethical and unethical behavior resulting in rewards and punishments.

We learn from game theory that when people act together they have the highest possible outcomes. Society is a collective of people that act together to form great cities, states, and nations based on shared principles and values. According to game theory the more dominance strategies the players take the more everyone looses when their actions no longer reflect the needs of society.

Ethics tells us we should be honest in our dealings with others and work to fulfill our written and spoken contracts so that business can continue unimpeded. Ethics would have us believe that if I work an hour I get my full pay for that hour. "Ethics" results in additional criteria that is not based on the expectations agreed upon. Ethics is open and honest while "ethics" is a spin and manipulative output.

The problem is that things get pretty complex in real life ethical situations where lawyers and big money get involved. Whistle-blowers learn the lesson of ethics and "ethics" quickly when the reporting of wrongdoing quickly turns into something more like a lynching. People engaged in criminal activity don't often admit their behavior and seek to scapegoat others to deflect their personal responsibility.

The problems don't stop there. Most white collar crimes are punished through a fine which is likely written off as a "business expense" and isn't much of a deterrent at all. Despite the legal structure, the whistle blower must move forward unsupported, unprotected, and in many cases under heavy political, social, and legal scrutiny. Those who do right often suffer the consequences of having a conscious.

My biggest concern is the next generation which will need to test their idealism with the practical realities of the world. As a moral generation that seeks to maximize human potential and eat the fruit of life Millennials will inevitably be plagued by a need to have ethics conform to the belief in a "just" world where people have an actual stake in the outcomes of their community.

We can teach them about ethics in the classroom but few can forewarn them of the "ethics" that plague the system.

Perhaps it is best to keep their innocence for a while so they can run face first into the reality we created. With any luck they can make it budge where we made compromises!

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