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Much is being discussed about “ethics” in business, finance, government, education, etc. The biggest misconception of all is to attribute ethics to institutions. Ethics is human, not institutional. An institution cannot be blamed for unethical behavior, their leaders and employees can.
Definition of Ethics:
Many people confuse ethics with social morality, as in religion, belief or cultural behavior. One of the more useful definitions of ethics is provided by wikipedia in the names of members of the foundation of critical thinking: “a set of concepts and principles that guide us in determining what behavior helps or harms sentient creatures”.
If fact ethics refers to “the conscious way we interact with our environment, human and living nature, in a constructive or destructive way”. Ethics is complex as it demand from us the conscious reflection about our progressive behavior and its consequences. Progress has always a destructive and constructive element, when initiated by human beings as well as evolutionary progress within nature. It opens up a large array of philosophical thinking on the extend of responsibility of the human impact on its environment. How ethic is it to destroy a certain natural landscape for our infrastructures, housing, industrial processes or even agriculture? Where does human progressive dominance end to allow room for other species to evolve or is human dominance and its effects on other species part of their own evolutionary challenge? Hasn’t the competitive crises in the human species stimulated our self-awareness in such a way that we became more creative and competitive? Hasn’t the anthropocene affected life of other species in such a way that new genetic variations have appeared that adopted perfectly well to the human dominance and even to human pollution? Isn’t humankind on its own a challenge for nature to react with destructive force to create balance again in living progress? How ethical must the human species be with its environment and what ethics can we expect from our environment?
When we look at the effects of humankind on its environment then this can be considered very high, especially now, in the era that we live in today. On the other hand we see that these effects are lethal for the long term human sustainability. It is expected that climate changes and pollution will eventually reduce humankind to a much smaller population then we count today. Within 40 years humankind may well implode to a size of little more than 1 billion people (as opposed to more than 7 billion today).
Ethics has hence nothing to do with the way we influence nature itself. This will bounce back to us with equal force as what we did to nature. Nature has this unique ability to find balance in all kinds of extremes, even against humanity. So when we refer to ethics we need to reflect on the way we affect nature in the short and long term to produce effects on us. With this type of ethical consideration we place human evolution within the meaning of sustainable human progress. In this sense we do not dominate nature as we affect our surroundings but assume an adaptive attitude around the effects of nature on us. Nature seeks natural balance no matter what effects this has on humankind. We however seek balance with our consciousness (learning process) about our surroundings to provide us infinite evolutionary chances using the environment properly. We become adaptive partners with our environment for our own benefit. Ethics then refers to the level of reciprocal balance we create with our universe in which we assure our health and security at all times by respecting nature for what it is.
So when people debate on institutional ethics we need to get to terms what an institution really is? From an operational point of view an institution is a specialized group of people performing to reach some predetermined team objective. There are many types of institutions that all perform different types of tasks in a human community. From an ethical point of view we can now look at the institution and determine what impact it has on our sustainable human progress from an environmental point of view? The problem we face is the paradigm in which such evaluation takes place.
Institutions have been traditionally registered and founded to become a legal entity that behaves according human, not natural laws. An institution is a legal instrument that allows the grouping of people around certain objectives protecting the integrity of the people against failure of the institution, while allowing the people involved to share the benefits of it. The institution can hence do things that people would maybe not do themselves from a moral point of view. What motives would an institution have to do what it does and can ethical values be attributed, and by who? Yes, we can, but not to the institution, to the people giving direction to the institution. Why?
The institution is a piece of paper. When no-one does anything with that piece of paper it will not do any harm or good. It is just a number. An institution becomes instrumental in the hands of the human being. It is the human being that deals with the institution that needs to be confronted with the ethics of this usage. The fact that an institution is constituted according to certain human laws does not liberate the user of the instrument from applying moral awareness and consider the ethics of its positioning or functioning. In our current society based on capitalist economics the morality of human progress is expressed in financial means. Within this paradigm ecology and human progress are considered a cost. Ethics are valued against the price one needs to pay and the material benefit one gets in return. The overall holistic picture of a universe reacting back to us is not considered tangible enough to be attributed to the ethics of a single institution nor of its leadership. It is the human system that is unethical because it shows a scientifically proven damaging track record against nature itself and especially our own expectations for a healthy future. What is then unethical? The financial system? Money? Capitalist economics? Consumption? Industrialization? Manufacturing?
None of this is unethical because for every system an alternative system can be chosen. The fact that humankind has self-aware choices makes the usage of instruments that have an unethical impact on our environment unethical. It can be compared with a word. The word itself can never be attributed an emotion or value. It is the context in which the word is being used. The same goes with money. Money has no value, it is the value we attribute to it in a certain context. We can compare it with a hammer. The hammer is a tool that can be used in a constructive way to create a chair. It can also be used to kill. In both cases ethics can be applied, not to the hammer but to the hand that uses it and the purpose it is used for.
So instruments like words, coins, hammers or registered pieces of paper have absolutely no ethical meaning until they are used by human beings for one or another purpose. Right now the ethics of humankind is extremely off course. We are all to blame but those who claim leadership and intentionally keep up the system that is so destructive, should be brought to justice. The problem we have is that ethics has not found its way yet sufficiently in our systems of human laws and that is what is urgently needed. Sustainocracy can be help because it provides the tooling necessary to make a natural selection. It also helps institutions to transform while they still can. The excuse is still that they did not know better, had no choice and were not aware of a new paradigm. Soon no-one will be able to hold with such excuse because new standards are being set. These standards are based on true ethics. When people have a choice they immediately are at fault when their choice is contrary to a true ethical paradigm such sustainocracy. At this stage humankind can not afford to accept unethical leadership or behavior anymore whether we like it or not.