Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Right and Wrong

In the film Clear and Present Danger, one of the president's henchmen who has engineered an unauthorized war in South America angrily confronts CIA chief Jack Ryan for questioning the operation saying "You are such a boy-scout. For you, everything is black and white, no gray areas." To which Ryan replies 'not black and white, right and wrong.' It's a scene that gets at the heart of what happens in the political world when standards are swept aside and replaced by ill-chosen, short-term remedies devised by partisans without conscience.

Decisions these days are rarely made according to principles that define right and wrong. They're all about outwitting political opponents, taking partisan advantage of situations where morality is the last thing under consideration. "Free markets" today are the bellwether of social values and any who dare question the premise are branded socialists or communists. Never mind that free markets are often the end game of unscrupulous manipulators of our fiscal condition, a name given to make what is venal and corrupt seem decent and honorable.
~ from Forget Ideology: Conservatives Need to Develop a Basic Sense of Right and Wrong by Ann Davidow ~
On one level, I wholeheartedly agree with Davidow. Too many legislators view governance as a game. Just like in baseball, the goal is to outscore your opponent. If you can do it within the rules, good for you, but if it takes a little cheating to come out on top...well, everybody cheats!

Besides the holy grail of besting the opponent, the other factor in the current equation is how to enrich yourself through wealth, power and status. There are many legislators who would push their own mother in front of a bus IF they thought it would curry favor with this or that corporate special interest. In their mind's eye, the worst thing in the world that could happen to them is not to get reelected or, if stepping down, not to have golden parachute waiting to soften their landing in the outside world.

On another level, however, Davidow's point about right and wrong is unrealistic. There is no one definition of what is right and what is wrong. It can't be objectified because the determination is made by subjective beings.

This world is anything but static. What might be universally right this very moment may be horribly wrong tomorrow. What is right for me may not be right for you. What is right for one aspect of life may not be so right for another.

This offers one of the key reasons why philosophical Taoism is so appealing to me. While the Judeo-Christian perspective is all about ironclad lists of right and wrong, the chief thrust of Taoism is harmony.

Harmony is not about balancing x amount of right to offset x amount of wrong. Equations like that always land humanity in hot water because we grant ourselves or our tribe a wide latitude of right, while shrinking the longitude of right for those not in our circle. Of course, those in the other circles are playing by the same damn rules, so it always ends up being an all out, no holds barred war as to whose right will prevail.

Synthesis -- a non-adversarial system -- is the key to harmony. You try to ascertain how all participants will benefit from any act or deed. Right vs. wrong stresses winners AND losers. Harmony tries to create win-win-win situations and outcomes.

That's the way I see it, at least.

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