3.5  Ethics and Political Institutions             last revised/edited 11/2010, 4/2018

3.5.0 Summary
3.5.1 Politics and ethics in history
3.5.2 People’s rights versus obligations
3.5.3 Precedence, established rules and influence of money
3.5.4 Problems with enacting ethical behaviors

3.5.0 Summary
Historically, political institutions were hardly concerned with ethics. Only in the 19th and 20th century have broad ethical issues been a major consideration in plitics.
Ethics in political institutions is not the high priority it deserves. Priorities within institutions are usually such that ethics in a broad sense is usually not a primary issue. Narrowly focused discussions about ethics in political decision-making are important but largely unrelated to the central issues.
Since WWII, human rights have been considered a foundation of good governance but no country has adopted all rights as described in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (U.N. General Assembly resolution, 1948.) There are obvious problems with ‘rights’: fulfilling declared ‘rights’ is often impossible, and some ‘rights’ may be incompatible. Equal rights and declaring that people are equal is problematic since individuals are very different; men and women as groups differ in may regards; their needs differ. Religious freedom must be limited since practicing a religion often includes rights violations such as abusive ritual procedures and discrimination against women. Biases and bigotry are very widespread, often subtle, and readily reinforced by group discussions and group actions; thus “a right to protection against discrimination and any incitement to such discrimination” is impossible to enact and/or monitor without intrusion into people’s privacy. Freedom of expression has to be limited and monitored.
A significant issue is that people should have less ‘rights,’ one person’s freedom interferes with another’s freedom and rights for protections are often impossible to enact. Instead people’s ethical obligations are most relevant. Education and entertainment must be ethical and teach ethics. Politicians must be pragmatically ethical.
Politicians and officials usually consider following precedence and rules as being professionally ethical. Obviously, an ethical mission of any agencies should always override bad rules, regulations and particularly precedence.
Today, directly and indirectly the priority of economic growth and money from large corporations greatly influence lawmakers and other politicians and officials, education and the population at large. The poor, the environment and basic internationally declared rights tend to be ignored, or officials may distort facts to fit their goals.
There are rarely effective means to rectify unethical decision-making by legislators and governmental agencies. If ethics questions are addressed, scopes of investigations and consequences of findings are usually very narrow. In most countries, there is little political will to broadly address ethics in government. Neither are there significant efforts to prevent ethics violations.

3.5.1 Politics and ethics in history
The deeply ingrained “us-versus-them” thinking has led humans to be unusually violent towards members of their own species. Wherever political power was consolidated in larger groups and states, intermittent warfare was common. When in conflict or competition, men butchered ‘enemies’ without scruples. The perverted nature of warfare, which rarely led to beneficial outcomes worth its material and psychological costs, has hardly been noticed, and the notions ‘war crime’ and ‘genocide’ did not even exist before 1900 and WWII respectively. The German Holocaust was like a wake-up call: Germans, who fought in WWI, basically indistinguishable from non-Jewish peers and generally among the most educated and ‘cultured’ people, were, for no obvious reason other than Hitler’s orders, abused and murdered by the millions. Others were also ‘exterminated’ by the Nazi and there was the Armenian genocide during WWI, but that was those crimes were not noted like the genocide of the Jewish people.
Humans appear to have a propensity to not only accept but glorify the slaughter and abuse of ‘enemies.’ Even girls played with lead soldiers and women may enjoy boxing matches and violent movies or participate in the stoning of a women. Resolving conflicts with wars or strong states ‘moving borders’ and colonialize neighbors was considered honorable; most cities treated their agricultural surroundings like colonies.
One problem is that humans are naturally docile, comparable to animals that are easily domestication. Humans are trainable with negative reinforcements; when severely abused, humans work hard in a ineffective attempt to decrease the abuses; and humans stay fertile in conditions of extreme abuse and exploitation.
With the consolidation of power in states, leaders abused the docile nature of people. Until very recently, there were hardly any acknowledge ‘rights’ other than enforcement of one’s power. Exceptions include limited rights of male citizens in a few nascent democracies such as Antique Athens, republican Rome and, since the Middle Ages, some European countries. There were hardly any considerations for ‘enemies’ and slaves; women, children and indentured laborers had hardly any rights or protection. Religions may have taught limited compassion but usually also supported the present status, and there was no enforcement of taught morality.
There was also a complete lack of considering the future, protecting animals from abuse and eradication, etc. Landscapes and ecosystems were destroyed; from Stone Age to present, animals were hunted to extinction.
Incorporating ethics into politics is a novel notion. Much work will be needed to adequately revise all political institutions.

3.5.2 People’s rights versus obligations
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN General Assembly, December 10 1948 describes broad goals of equal freedoms and rights, including protection from major ethical transgressions, for all people. Constitutions of many countries essentially contain many of the outlined rights; none includes all. Definitions of human rights are quite comprehensive, though concerning some issues somewhat vague if not contradictory.
An emphasis on equality and justice is not realistic since every person is, from birth and throughout life, individual and different from everybody else. Males are as a group, quite different from females. Many persons are physically and/or mentally disadvanaged, suffering and partially disabled, and/or they have very bad luck. Society cannot compensate for their suffering. Every person receiving the same punishment for a specific offense does not constitute justice as different people are very differently affected. Punishing a poor lawbreaker may be most detrimental for his/her family. Laws and legal systems can hardly rectify human failures and ethical transgressions.
An emphasis on ethical “human obligations” is more valuable than the converse perspective of “human rights”:  we have an obligation to treat the mentally retarded humanely but they should not have usual rights, particularly no right to vote, marry and procreate, etc. In a disaster, capable people have an ethical obligation to help as much as they can, but victims do not have a right to be treated in accordance with local or international medical standards, when the care system is overwhelmed. Particularly when there is a shortage, health care has to be distributed in an ethical, not necessarily egalitarian, way. Women need many rights and considerations that are never or hardly needed by men.
Politicians must address priorities, particularly economic and social conditions, and medical care pragmatically and humanely. Goals must be high and much resources must be allocated to further services for the poor and ill. However in any change, benefits and negative effects must be weighed; a focus on AIDS patients must never result in rural health workers abandoning their under-served populations to work in urban AIDS clinics. Human rights or ethical obligations of societies also consider unethical traditions, particularly the requiring or condoning of any cruel ritual treatment.
Ethics, as opposed to cultural morals, demands that cultural norms be continuously questioned from viewpoints of sympathy and compassionate empathy towards all concerned beings. Ethics may not demand equal or “just” treatment, however, it must demand humane treatment.
Politicians must deal with ethical problems concerning human rights, including:
– Due to bigotry that has been transferred through generations and to inherent fears and distrust of ‘others,’ subtle forms of discrimination are the norm; free expression, particularly in assemblies, tends to exaggerate these tendencies and ‘incitement to discrimination’ may happen inadvertently.
Rather than a right of protection from discrimination, people have an obligation to learn compassionate empathy and work against their propensity to discriminate. People are also naturally judging any person they encounter, first concerning sex, age, apparent health status, ethnicity and socio-economic status, etc., but we must learn to stop valuing others, judging their seeming intentions, etc. And protecting vulnerable people/potential victims must involve some invasion on privacy.
– Freedom to ‘practice’ one’s religion is particularly problematic: religions beliefs are, by definition, intolerant – one’s own religious belief and a contradictory belief cannot be equally valued by the adherer of either religion, and many religions have included a duty to cruelly punish ‘sinners,’ particularly one’s own children. Religions usually mandate or condone discrimination, even abuse of women.
Privately, people may hold on to some belief, but practicing the religion must be limited to artistic rituals, teaching-discussing broad ethics and cooperating in ethical project. Religious practices must not include mutilations and other cruelties, declaring normal and pathological behaviors as sinful, or teachings of cruel punishments in hell after death.

3.5.3 Precedence, established rules and influence of money
In governments, there is an appearance of ethical decision-making when politicians follow precedence and established rules, but politicians often ignore the crucial questions of ethical goals and of foreseeable consequences. Ethical decision-making considers whether an action is in itself basically ethical (in accordance with cultural morals, virtues and standards of natural or global ethics), whether the action’s goal or purpose is essentially ethical, and whether data regarding foreseeable consequences and possible alternatives were adequately reviewed and considered. Moral laws or commands must not be absolute but regard all aspects of ethical decision-making.
In political decisions, increasing the wealth of the most powerful corporations is usually part of the objective.  Foreseeable devastating effects on the poor of Third World countries and on the environment are typically ignored, and, when pointed out by scientists and journalists, hypocritical responses or denials are frequent. Corporate interests directly and indirectly influence public opinion, media, teaching at all levels, and politics. Well-meaning politicians rarely have adequate access to objective analysis. Even if some experts believe that weapons sales to autocratic Third World governments are justified, a balanced discourse is averted. There appears to be no willingness to properly evaluate and research issues that may be at odds with short-term economic interests.
The universal declaration of human rights and corresponding parts in modern countries’ constitutions are rarely considered priorities. A frequent way of denying rights of the poor is refusing to budget what is legally required, leaving government agencies powerless, even if competent people try to fulfill an agencies’ obligations. Not funding legal systems and medical facilities for the indigent, and denying people reasonable access to gainful employment or unemployment and disability compensation are the most blatant ethics or human rights violations perpetrated by politicians in most countries.

3.5.4 Problems with enacting ethical behaviors
In modern constitutions and legal systems, there are no established ways to rectify governments’ disregard of rights of the poor, international contracts, etc. Elected politicians consider themselves responsible to their constituents, not ethics or international law. The responsibility to uphold the laws and constitution is, in many cases, insincere. Courts can mandate but not fund programs. In addition, constitutions are usually interpreted to approve the status quo and present trends, for instance, when the constitution was written, indigenous Americans, slaves and women were not considered citizens; freed male slaves were given theoretical rights that women did not get for many more decades. Programs to prevent victimizations are chronically neglected, underfunded and often in conflict with older laws and rules.
Ethics panels and committees, established to stop excesses by elected or appointed officials, have usually extremely limited scopes. There is an urgent need to expand ethical checks on officials. Ethics panels should even review political decisions that may benefit constituents but ignore scientific evidence and have predictable adverse outcomes.
Most conflicts, involving personal lives, businesses and governmental agencies, can be ethically alleviated or solved, if there is a tolerant, honest, respectful, and generous attitude. Steps of finding compromises and resolutions include by society facilitated mediation and, if mediation and negotiation fail, arbitration. Societies have an ethical obligation to avoid adversarial decision-making, violence, and punishment. In case of obvious, particularly repeated, unethical acts, society may have to remove a perpetrator from his present function and/or limit freedoms of the perpetrator, but society’s main ethical task is to prevent the development of perpetrators with interventions during childhood and adolescence.
Ethics demands that societies create favorable environments in their communities, particularly for children, and that local governments take care of the basic needs of all individuals, giving them a meaningful role, including access to appropriate work, art, social support, etc. Ethics teaching should include adults, particularly adults in influential positions. Politicians and their constituents have an ethical obligation to evaluate how their institutions are to be improved, how ethical behaviors and decision-making is monitored and how remedies can be found to repair and/or compensate where mistakes led to damage and bad outcomes.

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