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Archive for December, 2020

This morning I am thinking about two ethics — humanistic and authoritarian.  By definition, the criteria for each are fundamentally different.  For example, in authoritarian ethics an ‘authority’ states what is good for me-you-us and provides us the laws and norms of conduct.  In humanistic ethics humans themselves are both the norm and law giver and the subject of the norms and laws. 

Pause.  It might be helpful to clarify my understanding of the concept of authority.  The challenge for me is to discern what ‘kind’ of authority exists.  Consider that there are two types of authority — rational and irrational.  ‘Rational’ authority is rooted in ‘competence.’  For example, the person whose authority is respected functions competently in the task entrusted to him/her.  This person does not need to intimidate others with his/her authority nor does this person need to seek to be admired by those affected by his/her authority [as long as and to the extent to which this person is competently helping and serving others rather than exploiting others]. 

Moreover, rational authority insists upon and requires constant scrutiny and criticism of those who are subjected to the authority.  This authority, by its nature, is temporary; part of its acceptance is dependent upon the ‘performance’ of the one in authority and part of it is ‘role-defined’ — it is not ‘person-defined’ [the soldier salutes the ‘role’ not the ‘person’ — some officers forget this]. 

The root of “Irrational’ authority always involves ‘power over others.’  This power can be physical, intellectual, emotional or spiritual in nature.  People who submit to this power experience anxiety, if not fear, and powerlessness, if not helplessness, in response to this authority.  The bookends of this type of authority are coercion and fear (actual or implied).  Scrutiny and criticism are forbidden. 

Rational authority is also rooted in the equality of both the ‘authority’ and the ‘subject,’ which differ with respect to the degree of knowledge or skill in a specific field [think, ‘teacher’ and ‘student’].  On the other hand, irrational authority is rooted in inequality [physical, intellectual, emotional and/or spiritual].  [Note: given this, humanistic ethics is NOT incompatible with rational ethics]

Authoritarian ethics can be distinguished from humanistic ethics by the following criteria, one ‘formal’ and the other ‘material.’  Formally, authoritarian ethics denies one’s capacity to know what is good or bad; the authoritarian norm giver defines what is good and bad; this authority is always seen as transcending the individual.  This system is not rooted in reason and knowledge but in awe/fear of the authority; it is also rooted in the receiver’s feeling of weakness/powerlessness and dependency needs.  The authority’s decisions/actions can and must not be questioned. 

Materially [i.e. according to content] authoritarian ethics answers the question of what is good or bad and does so primarily in terms of the interests of the authority; the interests of the receiver do not matter.  Even though it is exploitative, the receiver may derive considerable benefits — physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual — from it.  If you, the receiver, are ‘good’ you will be rewarded and if you are ‘bad’ you will be punished.

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TWO ALTERNATIVES – AT LEAST. . .

Consider that in many ways we have become the master of nature AND have also become the slave of two things we build with our own hands: the machine and technology.  With all of our knowledge of matter, machines and technology we seem to be ignorant with regard to the most important and fundamental questions of human existence: Who am I?  Who are you?  Who are we? Why are we here?  Where are we choosing to go?  Why are we choosing to go there? 

The Enlightenment offered us two guides to help us engage these fundamental questions: Revelation and Reason.  Today we seem to be without the guidance that both provide.  We are left with a relativistic position which proposes that value judgments and moral/ethical norms are exclusively matters of taste and arbitrary preference.  Yet, we cannot live without values and norms and so our relativism makes us easy prey for irrational value systems and self-serving norms. 

The demands of powerful organizations including the ‘State,’ our desire for our leaders to give us easy answers and their unwillingness to name the ‘King’s clothes’ that we are wearing [that life is truly complex and there are few problems to be solved and many, many, many more paradoxes to be embraced, polarities to be engaged and dilemmas to be held/dissolved/resolved], plus our slavery to machines and technology, and our lust for material success become the sources for the norms that guide us and the values that support us. 

Are we — you, me, us — to leave it at that?  Are we simply to consent to relativism and turn our backs on revelation and reason?  Are we going to choose to believe that the choices between freedom and slavery, between love and hate, between truth and falsehood, between integrity and opportunism, between life and death, are simply the results of so many subjective preferences? 

There are at least two alternatives, Revelation and Reason. Both are sticky wickets — Revelation continues to be the stickiest of the wickets, for me anyway, Reason, a bit less so.  So, I will focus a bit on Reason. 

Given our understanding of history we ‘know’ that valid ethical and moral norms can be formed by our reason.  We humans are capable of discerning and making value judgments as valid as all other judgments rooted in reason.  All of the great humanistic traditions in the West provided us with deep tap roots for value systems that support our ‘freedom/autonomy’ and ‘reason.’  These systems tell us that in order to know what is good or bad for man one has to know the nature of man.  

We cannot begin to ‘know’ ourselves as human beings unless we look at ourselves ‘holistically’.  This includes our need to intentionally and purposefully search to find ‘answers’ to the fundamental questions I listed earlier and it also includes our need to discern/discover the values and norms according to which we ought to live. 

Consider that the values and norms that we need to guide us as human beings can be found within our human nature; that these norms are rooted in our inherent qualities and that their violation results in violence that we do to ourselves and to others.  We are, by nature, living paradoxes.  We are good and evil, we are virtue and vice, we are light and darkness AND we have choice.  But we can only choose wisely if we ‘know’ who we are. 

Consider that any organized collection of human beings is also a living paradox.  One trap we fall into is that we believe that a person, a collective, a community, a race, a nation, a religion is either inherently good or inherently evil.  The beauty of this is that it makes life simple.  If we accept that we are, in these many guises, truly paradoxes then it all becomes quite complex indeed.

Gentle reader, what are your responses to these fundamental questions: Who am I?  Who are You?  Who are We? Why are we here?  Where are we choosing to go?  Why are we choosing to go there?  In reflecting and responding to these questions, what guides your search – Revelation, Reason or…?

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A FEW THOUGHTS. . .

By experience, we know that a negative atmosphere (environment, climate, culture) moves an organization (family, team, department, community, congregation, etc.) toward destruction.  As we do when speaking of an individual’s character, we can also speak of the character or ethos of the ‘group’ [ethos is the characteristic spirit of a culture as revealed in its beliefs].  It is a challenge, if not outright difficult, to describe or analyze an ethos; yet most of us immediately sense its power and effect when we enter into most any group environment. 

We know, many of us as a result of direct experience, that when the ethos is ‘positive’ or ‘healthy’ that wonderful things can and do happen.  We find it a joy and a privilege to come to work when the organization’s ethos is ‘positive’ or ‘healthy.’  We love rising in the morning as we look forward to ‘going to work.’  The atmosphere (climate for some) is warm, full of positive energy, and people are welcoming (hospitable) and caring.  Creativity seems to wash over folks like a positive tsunami. 

On the other hand, we also know what it is like when the atmosphere (climate, environment, culture) is negative, if not outright destructive.  We dread waking up in the morning.  We seek to leave part of ourselves at home or in the car (which is why some of us keep a car window cracked open a bit so the part of us that we leave in the car can get some fresh air).  Before we enter the building we cross an imaginary threshold and our spirit wanes — some become Lazarus-like, or zombie-like.  They become the walking dead. 

Many years ago W. Edwards Deming (the grandfather of the Quality Improvement Movement) said that most organizations do not pay attention to the most important aspect of ‘quality control’ and that is the ‘culture’ of the organization.  Negative cultures sap our energy.  The leadership motivates by criticism and coercion.  People are frequently bullied or demeaned and dignities are compromised (so is integrity).

Consider that one of the reasons much of this occurs is that we give our power over to others.  When I am invited to be of service to people who are members of an organized group I frequently invite them to engage the following exercise: Quiet yourself and then ask yourself what image you have of those who have ‘power over you.’ 

It is my experience that when people feel powerless in the face of those who lead them, one way to begin to experience their own power is by framing certain types of questions.  These questions open pathways and invite reflection.  This type of questioning is gentle and persistent [the questions come from a place of not knowing — this helps people engage the questions rather than defend against them].  People that rely on coercion and manipulation can actually be influenced, if not persuaded, by powerful questions [see the Quaker, John Woolman, who influenced the Society of Friends in the 1700s so powerfully that as an organized group that they realized that it was immoral to own another human being and so as a Society they stopped being slave-holders]. 

So, Gentle Reader, those of a few of my thoughts this morning.  What are you thinking about this morning? 

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DUALISM, PART IV. . .

Love one another as I have loved you. –God

What are the stages that help us understand ‘Pathological Dualism’?  Gentle Reader, I invite you to consider the following stages.

Dehumanization.  In order to guilt-free harm another (think: physical, intellectual, emotional and/or spiritual harm – from isolating to genocide) we must first dehumanize the others.  There is a paradox in the phrase ‘crimes against humanity’ – the crimes are committed against those we have deemed are not sharing our humanity.  What are the subtle – or not so subtle ways – you and yours, Gentle Reader, dehumanize the other(s)? 

There are many examples, if we search for them – they are not hard to find.  The Nazis were masters at dehumanizing the other(s).  Recently I overheard a group of good Christian men dehumanizing Muslims.  Here is one sentence: ‘They are a cancer that must be cut out of our nation.’  This was followed by: ‘Let us pray!’  Thank God for ‘Good Christians.’

Victimhood.  As we are robbing the others of their humanity we must also discover a way of giving up our responsibility for the evil we are about to inflict.  An easy way is to label ourselves as ‘Victim!’  Thus in harming the others we are simply defending ourselves.  We must utter this claim over and over and over until ‘we’ believe it (Hitler was a master at claiming victimhood; so is our current President –he moves easily from strong-man to victim).  Pathological Dualists are masters at embracing both ‘being extremely powerful’ and at the same time ‘being the exemplar of victimhood’ (thus, for example, a Jewish population of less than 1% was a threat to powerful Germany and to the entire World Order). 

Altruistic Evil Enacted.  Once we have integrated the first two stages – they have in a true sense become second nature to us (as our President’s being a victim has for millions of Americans) then it is a small step to enact what Jonathan Sacks calls ‘Altruistic Evil.’  We present our position as profoundly moral (Think of the ‘Good Christians’ I overheard).  Our task is to purify – to redeem ourselves (think: White Supremacists).  Hitler declared that ‘in exterminating the Jews I am doing the Lord’s work.’ 

These three stages require us to name and become our fear.  They require us to tell lies, over and over and over and to inject the dis-ease of paranoia into the chosen ones.  This universe of illusion then becomes our reality.  If one strives to break away from ‘us’ he/she is deemed to be one of ‘them’ – as another of our President’s noted: ‘If you are not for us, you are against us!’ Dualism at its finest.  Again, our current President is a master when it comes to ‘If you are not for ME, you are against ME.’  History tries to teach us – over and over again – that when we move from ‘commitment’ to ‘loyalty’ and when we become caught in these three stages and integrate them into our beings that there is, then, little hope of escape. 

Today, once again, it is crucial that I-You-We believe that, at our healthiest, we are living paradoxes of good and evil (light and darkness or virtue and vice).  We are integrated ‘both-and’ – we are not ‘either-or’ dualities.  We have powerful guidelines – our faith traditions and our constitution – ‘all of us are created equal.’

As I conclude these four parts, I am thinking of the most often quoted statement in the Abrahamic traditions (it is, because of our tendency as humans to move to ‘either-or’ thinking and hence become vulnerable to pathological dualism and altruistic evil that this statement is necessary).  Three simple words:

Be Not Afraid! [To love one another as I have loved you] –God

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DUALISM, PART III. . .

Love your neighbor as I have loved you. –God

Why, I asked in PART II, is Pathological Dualism dangerous?

Pathological Dualism is dangerous because to is a pathway to regressive behavior and has engendered some of the worst crimes in history: crimes committed during the Crusades, the pogroms, the witch hunts, and the mass murders that have occurred in so many countries. 

Consider that Pathological Dualism engenders three things (there are more, but for my purpose I have chosen three): It allows us to guilt free dehumanize and demonize the ‘Other(s’); it gives us permission to commit altruistic evil – guilt-free killing in the name of the God of Life; guilt-free hating in the name of the God of Love; guilt-free practicing cruelty in the name of the God of Compassion.

Pathological Dualism corrupts our moral sense.  For example, dehumanization destroys empathy and sympathy; it blocks the emotions that help prevent us from doing harm.  Pathological Dualism infects us with victimhood and allows us to deflect moral responsibility; it allows us to say, guilt-free, ‘It wasn’t our fault, it was their fault!’  Altruistic Evil recruits good people to an evil cause and it transforms good people into people who murder in the name of a great cause. 

Nazi Germany taught us how good people can be corrupted by Pathological Dualism and Altruistic Evil.  Lest we forget: The people who gave Nazism its intellectual affirmations were among Germany’s most outstanding intellectuals.  There was little resistance to the Nazi ‘programs’ on the part of the German intellectuals.  The lesson: Almost no one is immune to this type of dualism and this type of evil once it takes hold of a Culture. I am concerned that the Cult of Trump is rooted in pathological dualism, tribalism and sectarianism – the seeds were sown years ago, the tap roots have been nurtured and today Trump is the fruit that is spreading the seeds. 

Nazism is the perfect model of pathological dualism and altruistic evil.  The children of light were the Aryan race and the children of darkness were the Jews and those who were not ‘pure’ in the eyes of the light-bearers.  Even though the Jews represented less than 1% of the German population – a population that was growing in stature, power, and world influence – the Jews were deemed to be the ones so powerful that they could, and did, manipulate not only Germany but the world.  Germany had the power and was also the victim – talk about paradox.  In our country Trump consistently presents himself as all powerful and also as the victim of the not-powerful; dualism in action. 

In order to galvanize ‘us’ we need to identify a ‘them.’  ‘We’ must be the light and the victim; ‘They’ must be the dark and the perpetrator.  For the Turks it was the Armenians.  For the Serbs it was the Muslims.  For Stalin it was the bourgeoisie.  For Hitler it was the Jews.  For Trump it is the immigrants and the free press (you might remember, Gentle Reader, he has consistently labeled both as ‘Evil’). 

Once the ‘We’ is embraced and the ‘They’ is identified and fear is spread amidst a common threat the most primitive part of our brain is activated (the amygdala) and our defenses kick in.  We become the victim and we must protect ourselves from ‘them.’ 

In PART IV we will explore how all of this comes about.  There are ‘stages’ that will help us understand (that is, if we are searching to understand). 

Let he who has ears listen. –God

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