Friday, October 21, 2011

Larry Summers: Conscience is the Knowledge That Someone is Watching. How Do You Define Conscience And Morality?

Let’s end the week with something to think about.  That is, the essence of morality.  No one is perfect.  I am not talking about the infrequent poor choices that everyone may make in their lives.  I am talking about what exists within the core being of a person.  What only you know about yourself. 

This plays a very substantial role in today’s economic system and the virtues embraced by those in leadership positions.   These virtues or lack thereof, then trickle through to society.  They determine what behavior is acceptable in business, politics, religion and other man-made institutions that have leadership positions.    Often, especially in economics, these virtues determine the baseline for what is acceptable and even if someone doesn’t agree with particular values, in order to survive economically, one must embrace them.    This is part of the aberrant behavior and outcomes of trickle down economics. 

Let’s pick a relatively benign topic as an example; although I could pick many that are not benign at all.  If I run a business in a particular industry and the industry leader has now decided that it is no longer going to pay for health care, then it becomes almost a necessity for other competitors to follow by jettisoning their health care in order to remain economically-competitive or in many cases, to remain in business.   We could apply this to pensions, offshoring, collective bargaining or any number of dynamics.  Make no mistake.  These decisions are not business decisions.  They are moral decisions.  They represent the values embraced by those in positions of leadership. 

A link to this set of videos came into my email inbox.  The last video has Larry Summers quoting the title of this post.  That is,  conscience is the knowledge that someone is watching.  Although Summers does not ask the question as I do in the title link.  He simply makes a statement of belief.  A belief I find highly disturbing and completely erroneous.

Now this is often a generally accepted belief amongst many.  It is foundational, and might I add, very incorrectly so, to what religion has often become for many.  That is, if God is watching over your shoulder, you will be guilted or shamed into making the right decision.   And then as long as you made the right decision, regardless of whether it was made out of guilt or out of genuine compassion or love, the end result is considered virtuous regardless.  Meh.  One is based on control and the other is based on truth.   They aren’t even remotely the same. 

Summers applies this same logic to economics.  In other words, he believes we need to have more eyes on decisions so that people will make just and virtuous economic decisions.   While I agree with him, I do so not because of the reason he cites.  I do so because there can be no trust in leadership when they believe as Summers believes that conscience is the knowledge that other people are watching.   Is this the definition of morality we really want our leaders to embrace?  Because there are plenty of times when no one is looking.  But this is surely representative of where we are today.  We have people in positions of leadership who must constantly be monitored out of fear of what they may do otherwise.   There can never be any trust between society and leaders with this definition of morality.  Do I actually need to say how effed up this is?  

This is the typical disturbing belief system regarding morality of those seeking leadership in the United States today - politicians, Wall Street, senior executives in business and even many who seek authority in religious institutions.   America’s economic crisis is directly a result of the belief system on morality that is accepted by those in positions of leadership.  And, as a consequence, these people have taken leadership positions of service and have turned them into self-gratifying positions of authority.   

It’s often fawned upon when billionaires leave their fortune to the benefit of hospitals or nonprofits or whatnot.  But those decisions were made when someone was watching.   Those decisions were made for ego-driven reasons.   I find it dubious that anyone who truly cared about the world around them would need to acquire such massive sums of money and power in the first place.   In other words, I’m not sure how people live with themselves when their lives are defined by such excesses then somewhere around 25,000 people die each day due to starvation.    Well, I actually do know how they live with themselves, but you get the point.  These are not compassionate people.  These are people who are disconnected from the community of life.  They give their fortunes for their own self-gratification, to ensure they are place in history is rewritten favorably, to atone for the guilt for accumulating such enormous wealth or over concern of what others must think if they don’t.    In other words, for a multitude of dubious reasons they give their fortunes because someone is watching. 

A value system derived through decision-making when someone else is watching isn’t authentic.  It is driven by ego and essentially, on some level, a foundational immorality.  If you have to be consistently monitored by others to make the right decision, then your sense of self is incredibly unstable and you are completely disconnected for your core inner being and the world around you. 

People who are intuitively and genuinely tied in to the community of life make decisions about the world around them not because someone is watching but because of the authentic connection they share with all living things.   They make decisions because they have truly heart-felt empathy and compassion for their fellow man.  Because they have a great respect and love for the planet and all of life.  They are connected to their core being and recognize they are a part of community and they value and respect the relationship with the world around them.  

I think it says something about leadership in our society today when one of the economic leaders in the Clinton and Obama administrations remarks that conscience is the knowledge that someone is watching.  I always thought conscience was derived from the authentic compassion, love and respect we had for ourselves and for the world around us.   And part of that is the acknowledgement that we all make mistakes and then being granted forgiveness for suffering from the human condition. 

The crisis in leadership continues.

posted by TimingLogic at 11:27 AM

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