BlogEthics: Politics and Ethics in the Blogsphere

   If I say, "People will not stand for it," I make a pragmatic political statement. If I say, "People ought not to stand for it," I make an ethical statement, with the introduction of the "oughtness" statement.

   People may stand for something, allow the heinous act, if they lack information about the act. Information about atrocities is atrocious by nature; so bystanders may reject information. The American system of a free press, however,  guarantees the right to disseminate atrocious information, if that information is newsworthy and accurate. Unfortunately, a lot of garbage flows downstream along with the valuable (atrocious) information a news source can bring us.

   When "ethics" are introduced (again, each time the "ought" word appears, or is suggested as a principle), the "argument" moves to a higher level, that of interpretation. No thinking person, without coercion, will stand for a holocaust-genocide event; nor should any thinking person tolerate a genocide or apartheid in his midst. Politics are often the prisoner of pragmatism, however, and no political system guarantees an noble ethical standard. Ethics are educative, learned behaviors that usually swim against the tide of popular opinion. Politics demands a system of applied power. Ethics necessitates a thoughtful prophetic voice willing to die for a more noble cause than the politician engenders. The first ethic of the democratic politician is this: "Get elected." To act on oughtness may prevent election.

   Nor do ethical statements always provide depth of thought or nobility of purpose. In the 1850's much of white America just knew blacks ought to be slaves. In the 1950's, a large portion of white American knew blacks should not be slaves but felt with equal strength blacks should not vote or be educated equally or eat or swim with whites. These were statements of "oughtness" and so "ethical" in nature, in the sense that each word spoke to how things "should" be. Still, these "ethical" statements were immoral even though popularly accepted.

   In its better angels, an ethical statement should modify nobly the political statement, "People will not stand for this," with the deeper thought, "And they should not stand for it."

   The politician learns to pick his battles. The moral crusader flails around himself wildly, slashing adversaries and would be allies alike. The ethicist performs the work of the surgeon, i.e., acting on the knowledge that  to cut is to cure and everything stops bleeding eventually.

   The nobler argument of the ethicist creates friction over frisson. The ethical application of information, blogger or print or broadcast journalist or novelist or essayist or lecturer, ought to come from accurate reporting married to a generous, though righteous, spirit. If the application emanates from inaccurate information or from an unkind spirit, the application itself may still be both noble and worthwhile but must surely debase the fallacious reporter or condemn the dark spirit personally. If the information one receives is accurate and the spirit generous, the application may still be less than noble or just flat wrong. At the very least, the ethical proposition, by its "nobler" nature asks for change from a less noble stance and so may be inconvenient.

   One's reply to the ethical proposition does not necessarily attend to the accuracy of the information (observation and reporting alter reality by means of secondary perception). The "heart" of the messenger is indiscernible, in fact. For this, neither the message, nor the messenger nor the recipient may be faulted.

   To err is human. To misconstrue is part of human errancy. The ultimate solution of errancy is divine (unconditional) forgiveness.

     Unconditional, divine, final forgiveness does not imply we may not learn. Errancy requires correction.

    For instance, we may certainly learn the natural response of the advocate, the opposer and the bystander. Each is present in almost any political argument. Each will, at some point, remark on the noble ethics of his position/candidate and the baser instincts of the other. Each of them will be right in his own eyes.

  The advocate will always overvalue his own position/candidate. The opposer will always underestimate his opponent, causal or personal though it/he may be. The bystander will question the reliability/effectiveness of both positions/persons but may be so bloodless as to scarcely matter. An actual dialog may require all three positions, advocate, critic and bystander, to pursue truth and produce something "noble blessed."

   So, as painful as it may seem, to attack a blogger's analysis because she has inaccurate information in some particular, may in no way speak to her nobility of purpose. Her logic in writing may have a content all its own, transcendent of mere factual truth. The bystander, arguing for a cessation of hostilities, does not buttress the "noble blessed" argument. The ethicists who argued no cause was worthy of armed conflict condemned the American slave to continued servitude and the European gypsy to the gas chamber for the sake of neutrality. A prisoner melting in one of Saddam's acid vats could hardly be expected to "take the longer view."

   If, then, I am to blog from the "noble blessed" standard, I must naturally take into account the moral/cultural setting in which is set the hero/cause, in order to pardon or condemn. If a "great" man/woman must be offered leniency because of preternatural stress, what does this say about the responsibility in which they have willingly set themselves? If the "greater leader" does not give court to the better angels of his nature, is he/she not worthy of a greater course of culpability?

    Every Friday during the Civil War was known around the White House as "Butcher Day." On that day, soldiers who had deserted, fallen asleep on duty, struck an officer or disobeyed an order in combat, were marched out to be shot. Hundreds were condemned during the years of war. Lincoln, burdened by the stress of office, sat on Thursday with one or more of his young assistants, Hay or Nicolay, to review every case in detail, in order to determine if "there were any cause to pardon the offender." His underlying "blessed noble" thought was to spare the offender if there were any way to do so. Hundreds were still shot. Hundreds more were spared, if any reason could be found to spare them.

   The blogger may condemn with a word, as the politico does with an act, or with the omission of an act. Our underlying "noble blessed" standard might better be to spare when we can, whom we can, while we can but to always proceed to a higher plain, oblivious to the baser plaint.









2 thoughts on “BlogEthics: Politics and Ethics in the Blogsphere”

  1. These were statements of “oughtness” and so “ethical” in nature, in the sense that each word spoke to how things “should” be. Still, these “ethical” statements were immoral even though popularly accepted.
    I thought that was worth repeating!

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