Rethinking our World – Ethics Really Matters

Reading Aldo Leopold blew my mind a few decades ago – the grace and cadence of his words, the context and logic of his arguments, his recognition of respectful harvest as part of who we are and must be, and his deep and personal connection between people, and between land and community.

His own ‘seeing’ of the world shifted from seeing it as an object, and favouring utility – the deer over the wolf – to ‘seeing’ it as a system where every part has its place in the whole. “The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to keep all the parts.”

And his take on ethics was more than the dryish study of Aristotle, Kant and Bentham. He summed it up in other ways – the limitation of freedom of action, distinguishing between social and anti-social conduct – and ethics as interdependent things evolving modes of cooperation.

Isn’t that so very different from treating everything as disconnect, as apart from oneself, as competition, as valuing a thing through a narrow measure of utility (in dollars), as us and them, as either-or, as “sensible balance”, as “progress”, as self over others, as the rationalisation of degradation and mining of slow-churning and finite systems – soils, forests, fisheries, waters, climate – because my discounted cash flow says that is the ‘profitable’ thing to do.

The myth of progress.pngWhich highlights two things.  How you see the world – as mechanical device with people and land as measured cogs, or as a system of mutual interrelationships and necessary cooperation – is one.
The other is that ethics – as Leopold saw them (social conduct and rules of cooperation) – really, really matters.

Chris Perley

Candidate for Hastings District Council
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5 Responses to Rethinking our World – Ethics Really Matters

  1. jmcveagh says:

    Thanks Chris – a great reminder of what is important.

  2. FHW says:

    Aldo Leopold – a deeply reflective pure voice. Appreciate this. Thank you for raising and reminding. So give me more;
    What of the relationship between democracy and ethics? Are we progressing an ideal or living in empty rhetoric?
    Are capitalism and ethics antithetical?
    With the diminished binding forces of community, family and religion ….where do we put the ethics now? I may be free’d but to what end.

    It really does matter…but help ?!…left wondering whether capitalism will eat democracy (Varoufakis) or if the democracy we have is too compromised to deliver?

    Great to have your written reflections Chris. It’s a voice on the wild side.

    • cjkperley says:

      Thanks FHW. I think capitalism unconstrained will eat democracy. It will lead to plutocracy and the buying of influence. Adam Smith himself warned us of this. Neoliberalism as an economic dogma delivers the unconstraint of power, which then leads to that rapid erosion of democracy. That is why corporations – the powerful – so support neoliberalism as a religious creed.

      Ethically, we have since the rise of Modernity favoured a quantified ‘calculation’ of ‘utility’ as a guide to ethics. Philosophically, utilitarianism – especially if ‘happiness’ is attributed to a dollar – leads to injustice. My increase in wealth is more than fair trade-off for your poverty. GDP has grown (i.e. there is more ‘happiness’ in the world) even though I got 7 billion units of happiness and you lost your pathetic salary of 50,000 units. Or taking the classic argument against utilitarianism as an ethical framework, 1000 white racists are really happy about the lynching of the innocent black man, whose unhappiness doesn’t ‘measure up’ to racist euphoria.

      Ultimately, we need a return to virtues, duties and rights. Utilitarianism – and that means the foundation of our approach to economics – has long had it’s day. So look for virtue-based or right/duty-based approaches to economics.

      Chris Perley

  3. FHW says:

    Ahah Chris, you’re putting a name (utilitarian) to it. Now I have no trouble in seeing it in operation! Assess a calculated value on say human life or civil privacy, and from then on, discount against. A cunning plan** It goes alongside ‘trade-offs’ and ‘externalities’ – which is double speak for we are going to do it anyway.

    Is it not true though that a large chunk of ethical debate (the constant reasoning, listening and positioning to find OUR truth) has been taken OUT of the political system? Relocated beyond the reach of any democratic debate. An example: who’s decision – Facebook/Google should pay no tax or that the US surveillance body, the NSA, should be allowed access to a global population of personal data. Is that utilitarian, or unregulated and unethical power beyond democratic control?

    The blogs are thought provoking & very worthwhile – thank you. Good luck with the HDC election.

  4. Pingback: Rebuilding our Relationship with Land – And the Emerging World View | Chris Perley's Blog

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