Ian Welsh had a piece on ethics this week in which he defined the difference between morals and ethics as, “…morals are how you treat people you know. Ethics are how you treat people you don’t know.” I rather liked that definition at first reading, even though it sounded a little bit “too good to be true.” The more I pondered it, though, the more it held up, and I came to like it very much indeed.
His discussion regarding the definition is well said and and makes some good points. Like most of what he writes, I recommend it as good reading.
He also, in this piece, resonates with my thinking regarding a major breakdown in our governance that has been a burr under my saddle for a long time and which no one ever talks about. That is that our legislators keep thrashing around in a misguided efforts to arrive at moral legislation, such as abortion and gay marriage, and have abandoned completely any effort at ethical governance, as is revealed by their oft-repeated statement that, “My responsibility is to serve the best interest of my state/district.”
Actually, we should have no laws regarding the moral issue of abortion, either permitting or banning it, and the ethical responsibility of a federal legislator is to represent the principles of his state/district in serving the best interest of the nation as a whole.
The voters, of course, contribute to the ethical failure by reelecting incumbents because they want to “maintain seniority in Congress.” What that actually means is that they want to assure that their representation has sufficient “pull” in Congress to secure the maximum amount of pork for their state, and they vote for legislators based on the amount of pork which the representative is able to bring home.
During the Civil War it was said that “a nation divided against itself cannot stand.” That was at a time when this nation was divided into two halves. We are now divided into fifty greedy, self serving states, each trying to suck the maximum resources from the federal coffers for its own benefit and each willing to throw the nation under the bus in order to gain a “leg up” over its 49 competitors.
Whenever I bring up this concept in discussion, especially in liberal discussion, I am roundly slapped down and told that the true and proper role of a federal legislator is precisely to serve the best interest of his state/district. “If they don’t serve my interests,” I am asked, “who will?”
It never occurs to them that in matters of national governance perhaps their parochial interests should not be served at all, by anyone.
The rise of the Tea Party was actually a triumph of principle over greed, because for the first time the voters were in significant measure willing to elect legislators based on the principles they espoused rather than on what they could do for the district’s parochial self interest. Whether those principles represented valid governance is beside the point, the Tea Party was not based on “I’m going to bring federal money into your area.”
Yes, there was an element of self interest in voting Tea Party, in wanting lower taxes and smaller government, but it was not parochial self interest. These legislators were elected based on principles of national governance.