Ethics Quote Of The Month: Professor Jonathan Haidt

This is longer than the typical featured ethics quote. It comes from NYU Professor of Social Psychology Jonathan Haidt’s 2017 Wriston Lecture to the Manhattan Institute on Nov. 15 , excerpted by the Wall Street Journal.

Today’s identity politics . . . teaches the exact opposite of what we think a liberal arts education should be. When I was at Yale in the 1980s, I was given so many tools for understanding the world. By the time I graduated, I could think about things as a utilitarian or as a Kantian, as a Freudian or a behaviorist, as a computer scientist or as a humanist. I was given many lenses to apply to any given question or problem.

But what do we do now? Many students are given just one lens–power. Here’s your lens, kid. Look at everything through this lens. Everything is about power. Every situation is analyzed in terms of the bad people acting to preserve their power and privilege over the good people. This is not an education. This is induction into a cult. It’s a fundamentalist religion. It’s a paranoid worldview that separates people from each other and sends them down the road to alienation, anxiety and intellectual impotence. . . . Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Week: John Adams, 1814

“I dare not look beyond my Nose, into futurity. Our Money, Our Commerce, our Religion, our National and State Constitutions, even our Arts and Sciences, are So many Seed Plott’s of Division Faction, Sedition and Rebellion. Every thing is transmuted into an Instrument of Electioneering.”

—John Adams, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, Feb. 1814.

To add some perspective.

Of course, John was always a Gloomy Gus.

Clearing the Ethics Palette of Despair, Finding Hope

The accumulation of depressing stories and news items is making me despair again.

Our leaders will not exercise courageous leadership, and Americans seem unable to accept any sacrifices at a time when sacrifice is essential. I watch the pathetic Greeks riot because their country has gone broke allowing them to be irresolute and irresponsible, and I find myself feeling ashamed of my Greek heritage and wondering if the citizens of the land of my birth will behave any better.

When I search for Ethics Heroes to balance the many, many candidates for Ethics Dunces, I find myself increasingly drawn  to the obituaries of World War II heroes who are dying by the hundreds every day. Yet those are dead heroes, and we desperately need living ones.

Meanwhile, the continuing economic crisis plants seeds of ethical contempt, fertilized by national leadership that shows itself willing to cut corners and warp the truth in the name of expediency. The bombing of Libya is not a hostile action. Sure. The strategic oil reserves are being released because of a national emergency, not as politically-motivated manipulation of gas prices. Tell me another.

Legislators too cowardly to pass needed tax increases are instead willing to expose the nation’s values to rot, pushing initiatives to legalize recreational drugs and on-line gambling to acquire ill-begotten government revenue from those least able to afford it,  just as state governments took over the numbers racket. What is next? I’m afraid to guess. Ethical standards are more important than ever in a crisis, but they are also at their most vulnerable. When the going gets tough, I say, the tough get unethical. And that is what we are seeing now in our society.

Patrice Roe, a dear friend, a wise woman and an occasional reader here sent me this story, about a father who gave his life to rescue his Down Syndrome son under remarkable circumstances. Today it was just what I needed to read, to clear my ethics palette of some terrible tasting tales that generated too many toxic thoughts. It reminded me that out beyond the greasy ethics smog of Washington, D.C. there are people who do the right thing when it matters, more than we know.

I feel much better having read it, and perhaps you will too. You can find it here.