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Archive for August, 2012

“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia.”

—George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”

For some time now it has been my personal philosophy seeing personal relationships and political relationships with equal regard. I draw correlations between the two and it seems they share the same ethical questions, albeit with differences in degree and responsibilities. Many if not most ethical standards between the two just might be the same. I am skeptical seeing the two kinds of relationships mentioned as inherently distinct from each other.

Being honest is a choice to show or hide information. Sometimes that choice might be decided with impulsiveness or with deep consideration, but it is still a choice. It seems making that choice to be honest with others always involves a choice to be honest to oneself. It seems everyone, myself included, is constantly making decisions, especially ethical decisions, in a process of reflection of what we ourselves believe which will govern our decision-making. Just the other day I was confronted by a customer service experience at work involving a choice to tell the customer a flat out lie to ensure a sale or being honest with her which could have ended it. I choose the later on the grounds that I can still persuade her to buy the product. Notice I did not say “it was the right thing to do.” That egotistical decision, although was a bad motivation, had a good consequence (the customer based her decision on an honest interaction). What makes it all even more complicated is that the choice I made can actually be parsed whether it was truly ethical or not. Take notice of utilitarian philosophy (a form of normative ethics), which emphasizes consequences, and Kant’s categorical imperative (a form of deontology), which emphasizes principles over consequences. Under utilitarianism, I made the right decision, although my decision was grounded with egoism. However, under the categorical imperative I did not make the right decision. For the reason I made the choice to be honest was not for honesty sake but by my confidence in persuading her to buy what I offer; this is not something I wish to be a universal law. In other words, my decision that day is based on my confidence of persuasion and if I did not have that confidence I might had had told her a lie. The correct act, under the categorical imperative, would had been to tell her the truth because lies are harmful. Period.

Ethics can become much more complicated and the realm of politics is all about decision-making . Undoubtedly there are many unethical politicians but also keep in mind people may have ethical differences. Some will emphasize consequences and some on principles. Most probably morph from one ethical system to another depending on the topic, the circumstance, etc. But many unethical politicians, like many other people, probably tell themselves lies and believe themselves true; believing that what they do is necessary in some “rationalized” fashion. Perhaps these are why Orwell included schizophrenia in the quote above.

So it does seem clear language and sincerity can go hand-in-hand. Making an ethical decision to be candid comes from the willingness to present one’s real aims in a naked fashion, undisguised and transparent. As I listen to politics I look for that nakedness, that willingness to show details, however discomforting, and listen to not only its intellectual merits but its emotional merits as well. I believe putting your emotions on your sleeve is a great way of being sincere which unreservedly shows what is and who should be considered. I remember listening to Catholic officials years ago defending the Church’s stance against condom use and their argument tended to focus on bodily purity and religious freedom. In their arguments I rarely heard concern for those harmed by AIDS/HIV, unintended pregnancies in impoverished families, and victims of rape and incest. The officials showed concern for their own values (in their God’s values they would say) over the needs of the victims, as if they where the ones harmed, and in the cases of rape and incest, as if they where the one’s violated. So, after being thoroughly disgusted, I would change the dial because people who do not consider others will lose consideration from me.

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