Remember the Past to Protect Our Future

Welcome veterans and active duty to our Memorial Day program … “Remember the Past to Protect our Future.”  This is your day.  You and all the fallen warriors are to be honored this afternoon.

How many of us in here today know how much freedom is worth?  I think all of us have our own idea.  It’s probably like that ad you see on TV when you learn that something is priceless.

We are honoring veterans from WWII and the Korean War, fought by a generation known as “The Greatest Generation.”  Would those veterans please stand or, if you cannot, please raise your hands.  These GI’s didn’t want recognition, but they were willing to die in the fields with their band of brothers to protect our fragile freedom.  They made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom, but wanted nothing in return except to know that they were making America safe and free for their children and grandchildren.  Thank you (applause).

We also are honoring veterans from the Vietnam War, fought by “The Marred and Scarred Generation.”  Would those veterans please stand.  The stories that you  heard about these veterans returning home and being spit on by fellow Americans are true.

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was a problem both over the pond and back home as these warriors received a double whammy as they were shot at in Vietnam and then came home to unwelcoming arms.  Our freedom cost these veterans more than most.   Hopefully, this program today can help bring you peace, knowing that this audience greatly appreciates what you did for your country.  Thank you (applause).

We are also honoring veterans who served in the Middle East.  Would those veterans please stand.  You stood tall in serving your country in Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan.  You know that freedom came at a cost as you watched your fellow-soldiers crash to the ground, bleeding on foreign sands.

You know that America was at the top of its game in the First Gulf War.  President Bush stated the goal of getting the Iraqis out of Kuwait, and he gave this singular assignment to the military to get the job done, which they did after losing several hundred soldiers against the fourth largest army in the world at that time.  This may have been America at her best in wartime.  But any loss of life was a high price to pay, but these heroes never complained.  Thank you (applause).

We also want to honor those active duty military who are here today.  You keep us safe at home, while fighting on foreign soil.  Would you please stand to be honored.  Thank you (applause).

Finally, we veterans want to thank the First Responders… those policemen and firemen from our communities who serve and protect our families when we are overseas.  Are there any policemen, firemen, paramedics, or family members here today?  We want to thank you since you stand tall every day serving your country in a different way.  Your comrades have also died saving lives.  You know the cost is very high, but you do it just the same.  Thank you again (applause).

Please give a standing ovation to all these great American heroes.

As I said, the presentation today is:  “Remember the Past to Protect our Future.”  Quite frankly, I borrowed this idea from Confucius who said: “Study the past if you would define the future.”  In effect, if you learn from the past, you may avoid prior mistakes and build a brighter future.

However, you needn’t dig up our peaceful past and study it, because times of peace are not as valuable in forecasting our future.  Of course, peaceful times are important, and analyzing these periods can show changes and patterns, but they typically don’t help us in protecting our future.  Why?  Because hard times present the true challenges to our integrity and beliefs.  It is easy to support your beliefs in peacetime, but it is more difficult if somebody is shooting at you because you support those beliefs.

The older generation generally worries about the younger generation losing moral ground.  Decade after decade, older generations shake their heads and wonder what the future will be like with the younger generation in charge.  Elvis, the Beatles, acid rock, heavy metal, punk rock, and rap made older generations think that each succeeding generation was worse than the last.  History tells us that moral values deteriorate more during peace time, so one theory is that America’s loss of values occurred during decades when either there was peace or no war on our soil, much like what led to the fall of the Roman Empire.

On the other hand, the younger generations thought the older generations were in the way of progress… their progress, and should not be trusted after age 30.  But these past events probably will not matter that much in the future scheme of things.

It is wars and hard times that seem to matter the most.  We must remember and study past wars and depressions and revolutions in order to protect our future.  Analyze how we made it through those hard times.  How did we survive the tough tests of life?  Remember that saying:  “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”?

These difficult times typically had battle lines drawn by two major forces:  (1) self-serving interests and (2) community-serving interests.  And we need to study the past so that we can ensure that community-serving powers overcome and are never controlled by self-serving interests in the future.

The bottom line for the past is summarized in a question:  Were the generations that went through those hard times willing to die for their country?  In other words, were they willing to die for what they believed was the right thing?

Then the most important question for future generations will be:  will they be willing to die for their country?  In other words, will they first believe in something and secondly will they be willing to die for those beliefs?

Some of you might argue that younger generations form their moral codes and beliefs in times of peace, so that peace is an important time to analyze their development or lack thereof.  Even though this is true to a certain extent, the hard times are much more important for analyzing the human spirit.  I have seen criminals and nere-do-wells change into powerful leaders during hard times.

Just because people appear to have no backbone or moral standards in peaceful times does not mean they will not fight for their freedom to the death.  In fact, terrorists are examples of young people who will die for a cause.  But there is a significant difference between dying for your personal beliefs and dying for somebody else’s beliefs that have been imprinted in your brain.  But I will save the discussion on brainwashing for a little later in the presentation.

Let’s first analyze WWII.  We were very lucky that two self-serving interests, Hitler’s right-wing totalitarian society and Stalin’s left-wing totalitarian society, did not prevail against our Band of Brothers.  So how did the community-serving side win the war?

To answer that, I will rely on my dad’s experiences.  I remember waking up in my early years with my dad screaming because of his nightmares from WWII.  My dad served in combat under General George Patton for almost three years.  Let me repeat that.  He was shot at for almost three years.  So, he knew the answer as to why we won the war.

He told me that we won because of the “DC rule.”  The DC rule is when the leaders in Washington DC are finally motivated to Delegate and Cooperate.  The generals in the Pentagon delegated decision-making powers to the soldiers in the field, while Hitler demanded that no troop movements be made without his approval.  The Band of Brothers then cooperated by making excellent tactical decisions, while the Nazis waited for a self-serving dictator to tell them what to do.  We need to focus on what is best for our community and not on selfish pursuits in order to protect our future.

The Korean War was more of the same.  The selfish totalitarian forces of China and North Korea lost out to the powerful teams of soldiers formed through delegation and cooperation, working together to defeat a common enemy.

The Vietnam War showed us what happens when selfish interests overpower community interests.  The American soldiers were never given the green light to do what they needed to do to win the war.  Politicians held them back based on their self-serving interests.  There was no delegation and cooperation.

But we learned from our mistakes.  In the First Gulf War in 1991, Papa Bush as President told the military to remove the Iraqis from Kuwait.  He then delegated that mission to the military, allowing them to do their jobs.  America cooperated with many other countries.  With United Nations Security Council sanctions, we formed a coalition of 34 countries, including eight Arab countries, to remove the Iraqi army from Kuwait.  At that time, the Iraqis had the fourth largest Army in the world with the vaunted Republican Guard, which had over eight years of experience fighting the Iranian army.

Since the Iraqi army had the advantage of being dug into solid defensive positions, we expected to lose about two to three times as many soldiers as the Iraqis would in the ground warfare.  As it turned out, we only lost 148 troops, while the enemy had 20,000 to 35,000 killed in action.  That was amazing.

What made for this unbelievable result?  Primarily, it was because of Delegation and Cooperation.  Our military made decisions in the field while the Iraqis waited for guidance from Hussein.  We also were patient and waited until we had built up worldwide support to remove the Iraqis from Kuwait.

We also cooperated by following international law or the Law of War, which is the civilized rules for fighting a war.  One of the important rules of war is that you should minimize civilian casualties.  Hussein ignored this rule and it hurt him on the international front and in the press.  Hussein just plain didn’t care, so he used civilians as human shields for his military and he placed his military in schools.  How do you think we handled this?  We bombed the military at night after the school day was over.

Did you ever wonder why President Bush didn’t go into Baghdad and oust Hussein?  Many in America thought it was the right thing to do, but this was based on American selfish interests and not the needs of the communities in the Gulf to maintain stability in the region.  Bush, who had many years of international experience, including being Director of the CIA, knew Hussein’s value in Iraq was that he controlled the diverse and fractionalized religions and cultures.  If you removed Hussein, the area would become a powder keg.  Iraq also was the neutralizer of Iranian power in the region.

Bush knew that the international community and coalition forces had agreed to remove Hussein from Kuwait, and to go further than that would have been a violation of international law.  You can only secure your military objective and you have to stop.  If you go beyond your military objective, then you are in violation of the Law of War, which has not only international implications, but also carries sanctions.

If we had not followed international law, we could not have maintained the fragile coalition.  If President Bush had gone into Iraq attempting to oust Hussein, he would have been going beyond the military objective.  To go after Hussein would have been a breach of international law.  Bush was experienced enough to know the consequences of that.

“Didn’t have to do it.  Didn’t have to go to Baghdad.  Only had to get ‘em outta Kuwait.  Did it and did it quick.  Followed the rules.  Followed the law.” 

In my mind, Papa Bush was the best war president we ever had.  He knew the national security interest, announced the goal, and then stood back and let the military do its job.  And the military did its job extremely well, always following the law.

I served as a JAG in both the Army and the Air Force during the wars in the Middle East.  JAGs and military attorneys were even used to examine the targets to avoid violations of the Law of War.  As an example, these attorneys told Gen. Colin Powell and Secretary of War Dick Cheney that they could not bomb a triumphal arch in Baghdad because it was a cultural object just like the Washington Monument.  Powell and Cheney were not happy and shook their heads that attorneys were running the war, but they scratched this target from the bomb list.

International law is that important in cooperating in the world today.  As an example, Bush’s son did not fare as well as his dad did in understanding international law.  When he used water boarding at Guantanamo and other torture at Abu Ghraib, he probably was in violation of international law.  We lost world respect and, more importantly, fiscal and physical support and cooperation from other countries.

I taught the CNN Test to the pilots who were going into war environments.  I told them to see if the targets passed the CNN Test.  In other words, how would that target look on the news the next day?  For example, we advised Gen. Powell not to bomb a statue of Hussein because it was a cultural object and did not have much military necessity… not enough to risk getting a CNN story about how our pilots risked their lives to bomb a statue.  The media supported the First Gulf War and it was used very effectively to obtain worldwide support.

By issuing general orders and delegating the details to your troops in the field, you enable soldiers to think outside the box.  I worked in the Pentagon and I believe that most of the people I worked with thought that thinking outside the box was coming up with new excuses for not coming to work.  And when you did run into people who thought outside the box, they were still touching the box.

One of my favorite Pentagon stories involved one of those meetings with all the big whigs and mukety mucks and the big brass.  And at this meeting, the generals were handing out new emergency plans to evacuate the building in case of any emergency.  After the meeting, I took the map and followed the directions right into a dead end.  The staffers who had prepared the map had not actually walked the course.  They based it on the old blueprint.  To me walking the course is not even thinking outside the box.  It is just simply thinking.  You should at least get out of your office and check out the course before handing it out to people.

It is interesting.  When you place bureaucrats in the field to face hard times, assuming that you can ever get them there, they actually think differently.  They quickly get outside the box and start thinking much clearer as bullets are whizzing and bombs are bursting around them.  War is surrealistic.  It makes people think and sometimes makes them think differently.

I served in four military services over four decades.  Let’s go back in time to the early 1960’s when John Kennedy was president.  I started my service in the Viet Nam war.  It was a difficult war for those of us in the military and also for those who were at home.  President John Kennedy first sent our troops into Viet Nam as trainers.

“I uh, was not certain that we were doing the right thing, but I couldn’t just stand idly by and allow the communists to overrun the country.  So, I sent small military teams over there to train the Vietnamese to fight.”

The Viet Nam war continued and we sent more and more soldiers overseas, but our leaders would not allow the military to do what they needed to do to make it a short and victorious war.  President Lyndon Johnson took most of the heat for the political bureaucracy that bogged down the military.

“Mah fellow Americans.  I come to you tonight with a heavy heart.  Ah think it’s that dadburned chili I ate.  I want you to know that ah nevah lied to you about Viet Nam.  I may have kidded you a lil’ bit, but ah nevah lied to you.”  

I remember when we finally pulled out of Nam, our military leaders met with the Viet Cong and angrily told them that we had won every battle that we fought with them.  The Viet Cong leaders quietly told them, “Yes, but that was irrelevant.”  The point is that you have to think differently than the selfish bureaucratic leaders in order to win the war.  You can even win all the battles, but if the leaders in DC don’t delegate and cooperate, you can still lose the war.  President Richard Nixon finally brought our troops back home.

“Let me say this about that.  I was the one who brought our boys home.  Give me credit for that.  You may kick tricky Dicky around for other things, but I brought our troops home from Nam.”

I remember President Jimmy Carter was on the television show, “What’s My Line?” when he was Governor of Georgia, and the panel didn’t know who he was.  He was elected president a short time later.  His inexperience hurt him when he tried to deal with the Iranian hostage situation.  It was another failure to delegate and cooperate.

“Hidy, hidy.  I relied on experts around me, but I didn’t have many experts with military experience.  I had served with the Navy, but not in combat.  I wanted to work things out with the Iatolla, but I had to learn the hard way that you can’t negotiate with fundamentalists.  I did better with Sadat and Begin because I learned to delegate and cooperate.”

And it is not a matter of Republicans vs. Democrats.  Unfortunately, both parties carry bad and selfish records into wartime efforts.  Both Bill Clinton and George Bush, the son, did not understand or appreciate international law.  First, Bill Clinton.

“Hillary, have you seen the latest polls?  I want to find out if I need to take more military action in Bosnia and Serbia today.”

Presidential decisions should not be made based on public opinion.  Decisions should be based on protecting national security interests while complying with international law.  Gen. Colin Powell, recommended allowing the European powers to handle the problems in former Yugoslavia because America had no national security interest involved.  We should have delegated and cooperated with other countries.  Clinton got America involved in the Bosnian-Serbian war based on opinion polls and not America’s national security.  Presidents must be civil servants protecting our national interests, not securing votes for the next election, a selfish interest.

Next, George W. Bush.

“Those are evildoers out there in Iraq.  They tried to kill my daddy!”

Presidential decisions to attack a country cannot be based on emotion or a personal vendetta.  Again, these decisions must be based on national security interests while in full compliance with international law.

After 9/11, Bush went on the offensive in Afghanistan going after the terrorists.  That was a reasonable response to the bombing of the Twin Towers.  It was similar to a policeman’s “hot pursuit” policy when chasing a criminal into another jurisdiction.  We definitely had a national security interest at stake, and the international community understood our response and considered it appropriate.  But we should always have an exit plan.  We need to get in and then get out.  The longer you stay, like in Vietnam, the worse it gets.

But what was our national security interest in invading Iraq?  There were several reasons given:  (1) Hussein was an evil dictator, (2) Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, (3) Iraq needed democracy, (4) terrorists were being protected in Iraq, and (5) Iraq was one of the countries in the Axis of Evil.

I don’t really need to talk about any of these because they were all distortions of the reality of Iraq’s role in the Middle East.  No matter what you thought of Hussein, Iraq was a great counterbalance to dangerous fundamentalists in Iran.  By removing Hussein, we allowed both Iraq and Iran to become a serious threat to peace in the Middle East and to our national security.

It’s really not an issue about which party you belong to, but it is an issue about following the path of what is best for our community or nation.  Sometimes, the two-party system creates two extreme positions, neither of which is helpful for our country.

I was raised in downtown Louisville in the 1950’s.  It was a time for the Jets and Sharks.  Gangs were a way of life.  I remember that those gang members who were extremists never became leaders of the gang.  The leaders were assertive, but not aggressive.  Whether you are fighting in a gang or as a soldier in a war, if you are aggressive, you will get yourself and your friends killed.  The best leaders in war are assertive.

I remember my dad telling me that the new soldiers were ignored because most of them were too aggressive and would get themselves and anybody around them killed.  The combat hardened soldiers took their time and never jumped into the fire.  They were assertive, but not aggressive.  They actually adopted an approach to war that avoided aggressive, self-interest actions, but focused on group-assertive activities.

If your friends pressure you to take an extreme position, do you conform or do you think for yourself?   If your boss tells you to do something that is illegal, do you do it?  If you join a terrorist group and you strap a bomb to your back and blow yourself up, did you do this because it conformed to your belief or was it somebody else’s belief?  Generally, the terrorist leaders who instruct followers to blow themselves up, rarely strap any bombs on themselves.

An experiment was conducted at a university using students being directed by a person in authority telling them to administer shocks to test students.  Initially, it was thought that about 1% of the students would actually shock their fellow students under the direction of an authority figure.  They weren’t under duress or offered money, it was just simply somebody telling them what to do.  It turned out that 65% of them shocked the other students, even to the point of causing severe pain.  And the painful sounds made by their fellow students didn’t deter them.  Of course the students receiving the shock were hidden behind a screen and were only faking it, but the students administering the electric current didn’t know that.

The actions taken at Abu Ghraib and at Guantanamo Bay were based on instructions from above.  Nobody questioned the authority from above.  These were Americans torturing people in violation of international law.

During the McCarthy hearings and during the witch trials and during the rules of Stalin and Hitler, most people did nothing to stop these extremist positions.  You may be afraid of consequences to yourself if you say anything, but the worst consequences are from doing nothing.  Do you think Hitler would have stopped with the Communists?  With the Jews?  With the Catholics?  With the Protestants?  You can keep silent until your group comes up for annihilation.

When I worked with Exxon, I made a two-hour Power-Point presentation to the president.  After it was over and questions had been answered, the President asked, “Is there any way I can do nothing?”  And that’s what he decided to do.  And by doing nothing, there were environmental consequences.  Yet, I was the only one in the meeting who spoke up.  If others had said something, he might have actually done something.

An 18th century philosopher Edmund Burke believed, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”  How many times have we done nothing after we saw that something was wrong?

Many politicians are self-serving, doing nothing for their constituents.  It’s very difficult finding politicians who are more interested in doing the right thing than in getting elected and then re-elected, but hopefully they will come forward, especially if times get really bad.

Many people today are like the politicians… out to serve themselves.  But if times get tough, I wonder if Americans will take action to defend our beliefs.  If we recall the past things that awakened America, Pearl Harbor and the Twin Towers come to mind.  These were actions that awakened the sleeping giant.

I see where military bases have stepped up their security since ISIS is taking actions in the United States.  I believe that at some point, ISIS will awaken the sleeping giant.  It may be an attack at a mall or an elementary school, but there will be a line that they will cross that will bring out the Hulk in America.  ISIS will go too far and awaken America from its slumber just like Pearl Harbor and the Twin Towers did.  And when it does… watch out!  When these tough times reach our soil, that is when I believe young and old Americans will unite against the enemy.  As we transition from peace to war, the genetics in Americans that is found in our ancestors who were tough immigrants and hard-core pioneers will reappear in an independent spirit of America.

When we reach that point, we will need to be smart.  We need to follow the past recipe for success:  “DC” – delegate and cooperate.  The political leaders in DC need to delegate the details to the military and law enforcement officials, who then need to share information and cooperate in a coordinated attack.  It might even be our cells against their cells, as we form Terrorist Tactical Teams throughout the United States combining specialists from federal, state, and local levels for the teams.  And all the different agencies must share information and cooperate.

Reasoning with SO-SO Loops

Is it better to reason with subjective (a priori) logic or objective (a posteriori) logic?  Many philosophers have picked either the Descartes subjective side or the Bacon objective position.  Why not use both?

SO-SO is the acronym for Subjective Objective – Subjective Objective.  Please examine the SO-SO Loops included below.  You start with the “Instinct” or Deductive Reasoning on the right-hand side of the circle with the top-right Subjective “I Feel” and work clockwise around the circle.

This cyclical movement ensures that many inputs and sources are considered before making a decision.  And it is important to run through this reasoning process at least twice, thus earning the name SO-SO Loops.  If you just utilize this cycle once, your decision would be just “SO-SO.”  This thought process is designed to lead you to making enlightened and more moderate decisions.

 As I said, the Loops are “SO-SO” if just utilized once, but your decisions will improve exponentially if you repeat the process at least twice.  After you have worked through the loop once, do a “gut” check and run it through the cycle again.  This is the circular path that can assist you in making moderate choices.

Have you ever looked for a book on moderation?  There aren’t many.  Have you ever wondered why?  My guess is because the extremists are the squeaky wheels who are always getting the grease.  Extremists have better sound bites for television interviews.  Extremists make for better headlines and will sell more newspapers.  Extremists excite you, energize you, and win you over to their powerful magnetic force. 

Moderates are boring because all they want to do is stay in the middle of every argument.  They are the weak force.  But have you ever thought about how difficult remaining neutral really is?  When you have two extreme forces tugging at you, it is actually extremely hard not picking a side.  As the magnetic field strengthens, you generally are drawn to either the north or south poles.  No wonder the world is becoming more polarized with moderates becoming an endangered species.

When we make decisions, we are generally influenced by extreme positions.  Our two-party political system is an example of how two opposite sides polarize America.  Moderate parties generally do not win elections.  However, I am suggesting that you utilize moderation in making choices in life.  The “Golden Mean” of Aristotle, the “Middle Way” of Buddha, and the “Balanced Order” of Confucius are the “ABCs” of virtue ethics.

We all make difficult decisions every day.  That is our job at work and at home.  Don’t shy away from it.  Embrace it.  Come to work excited to be challenged by these choices. 

And when you run into a really tough decision when it looks like the scales are balanced equally… when it looks like you can argue the case either way, then go to your gut and ask yourself, “What is the right thing to do?” Not what is the easiest thing to do… not what is best thing for my career, but what is the right thing to do?  The right thing is usually the hardest thing to do and not for the faint of heart.

Reasoning

Subjective                   Objective

Deductive (a priori)              Inductive (a posteriori)

(self-evident propositions)             (observed facts)

Instinct                                     Logic

Start

1. Subjective “I Feel” – My conscience, intuition, or “gut” feeling

2. Objective “They Feel” – Reasonable person’s laws, mores, society

3. Subjective “I Think” – My logical conclusion

4. Objective “They Think” – Reasonable person’s logical conclusion

Then loop back around and go through the process again.

 

Moderation in All We Do

Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) taught the Middle Way[1] about the same time that Confucius spoke of the “Balanced Order”[2] over 100 years before Aristotle started discussing a “Golden Mean.”[3]  Even though, the philosophers of East Asia and of the western world were separated by time, distance, and cultures, there were interesting similarities that seemed to meet in the middle.

Buddah and eastern religions had a somewhat different perspective, examining the world externally as if everything were connected, more circular.  Buddah said, “Nirvana remains incomprehensible in the vulgar whose minds are beclouded with worldly interests.”[4]  Buddha worked hard to find the middle path between the extremes of sensual indulgence and dangerous denial of his physical needs.[5]  Confucius instructed, “To go beyond is as wrong as to fall short.”[6]  But the eastern philosophers saw this moderate path as a connecting force in a circular pattern.

Buddha hoped that man could find a right view or perspective so that he could take the right action.[7]  Again, Buddha was trying to do the right thing.  Moral conduct was a prerequisite for nirvana.[8]  And the moderate approach was the preferred way for both Buddha and Confucius.

Ethics derived from the Greek word for customs.  Plato wrote in the Republic that ethics is nothing more than manners or conventions.[9]  Plato believed that if you knew the Good, you would do it.[10]  He believed that people would lead a moral life whether or not it made them happy.[11]  Plato also held that “excess” violated proportion and made bad ethics.[12]

Aristotle, a student of Plato, believed in morality and virtue following the “golden mean.”  Temperance and moderation was a moral virtue that could be learned.  Virtue must have the quality of aiming at the golden mean.[13]

Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics stated that “… excess and defect are characteristic of vice, and the mean of virtue.”[14]  This famous Greek philosopher, born in 384 BC near Athens, Greece, branded ethics with moderation and temperance.[15]  Aristotle shared Plato’s conviction that there was an objectively determinable answer to moral questions.[16]

Mean was defined to be a middle point between extremes.  Aristotle explained that virtue, which he claimed should be an end goal for man, is like the mean since virtue also “aims at what is intermediate.”[17]  The western philosophers saw life as a linear path with the golden center lines in the highway as the moderate guideposts for leading a righteous life.

Aristotle spoke of the power of reason in man to reach a virtue or excellence through “clear judgment, self-control, symmetry of desire…”[18]  Aristotle envisioned a road to excellence, saving many detours and delays:  “it is the middle way, the golden mean.”[19]

Aristotle taught that doing the right thing, “making us better men,” was following the man of prudence.[20]  For example, if there are two extreme behaviors like being aggressive and passive, then the median approach should be selected, which would be being assertive.  Thus, doing the right thing involves assertive, not aggressive behavior.[21] 

Christianity also pursued temperance.  “Let your moderation be known unto all men.”[22]  Christ blessed the peacemakers, who followed a moderate path.[23]  St. Augustine studied the Greeks, but substituted “God” for Plato’s “Good.”[24]  Augustine battled the two extremes of good and evil, saying in the City of God that these two traits of man are coexistent.[25]  In order to be righteous and do the right thing, Augustine recommended following the path of God.  St. Thomas Aquinas bridged the worlds of Athens and Jerusalem by saying that God gave us reason to discern from right and wrong.[26]  In other words, we can do the right thing through both intuitive and logical reasoning.  Even though this involves our conscience, we also have objective tests provided by the Bible available to utilize in conjunction with subjective ethics.

Many philosophers believed that man, making subjective decisions, would not be perfect.  However, there also was an objective basis for ethics.[27]  These objective approaches for determining what was right or wrong could be applied universally.[28]  Thus, the reasonable person test could be applied anywhere. 

Rene Descartes, the father of subjective philosophy, declared, “I think, therefore I am.”[29]  Descartes also could have said, “I feel, therefore I am.”  This would have embraced the full force of subjective reasoning, utilizing both logic and instinct.  Some subjective philosophers, such as David Hume, said, “Just because everyone else does it, does not make it right.”[30]  To which, Aristotle might have responded, “Everyone is not following the golden mean.  Unfortunately, it is only a handful of us.”  Christ also said that the middle path to righteousness was narrow and few would find it.[31] 

Sir Francis Bacon, the father of objective philosophy,[32] believed that customs, religion, and laws “reigned in men’s morals.”[33]  Since people have free will, they will be constantly bombarded with choices.  People can make decisions based on subjective desires, objective demands of society, or a combination of both.  “The subjective rights of conscience could still be countered in public by the claimed objective claims for truth.”[34] 

Moral virtue should have a quality of aiming for the middle between two extremes, between the vices of excess and dearth.[35]  For example, even if you enjoy wine, you probably should avoid drinking ten glasses of wine, but there should be no problem with drinking a glass of wine at a party.  If you like wine, you would be missing the mark if you abstained from all wine.  However, if you were an alcoholic, drinking even one glass of wine might be a bad decision. 

The moderate path, which is determined on a case-by-case basis and may vary because of individual differences, leads to pleasure and righteousness.  You should moderate your behavior based on both self-control and outside pressures, including laws and religions, imposed by society.  Aristotle, leader of western philosophy, primarily emphasized the individual and self-control focused on a straight-and-narrow line.  But the eastern world focused more on the social organism in the cycle of life.[36]  It is interesting when we combine the two primary world philosophies, incorporating the linear western philosophy in daily life, but utilizing the eastern philosophies as a lifetime goal. 

Good decisions are made after weighing all the circumstances.  If you are the designated driver, then you probably should not have any glasses of wine as your duty to the group.  If you are driving home after the party, you probably should limit yourself to one glass of wine early in the evening.  If you are already home, then you may consume several glasses of wine.  But you will know your limitations, and you need to impose them on yourself based on both your self-discipline and on what a reasonable person should or should not do under the same circumstances.   Earlier when we were determining whether or not to bomb a statue of Hussein, we found that utilizing both subjective and objective ethics could be beneficial in the decision-making process.   

Sometimes, it is referred to as “doing the right thing.”  We should constantly improve ourselves so that we make better choices.  We should seek moderation and balance in all that we do.  Society offers laws, religions, customs, mores, and peer & family pressure, but we also have our own sense of balance within our conscience.  We must use all the tools (nature and nurture) to find peace and harmony in the righteousness of ethics.  You have arrived when you follow the moderate path.  You do the right thing when nobody is looking because it is the right thing to do. 

Moderation is included in Homo sapiens genetic makeup.  Otherwise, our species would have gone extinct centuries ago.  Extreme approaches to life would have placed mankind in jeopardy, exposing us to larger and stronger predators.  Man had no hard shell or claws or speed or dagger teeth.  All we had was our ability to reason and a propensity to follow a moderate path.  Both of these qualities saved us from extinction.

We learned temperance from bad experiences that established better habits.  Since a lion ate our friend yesterday who jumped down from a tree without looking around, we learned to survey the area around the tree before climbing down.  We also adopted moderate habits from societal pressures, mores, and laws which imposed consequences.  Thus, our moderate innate and instinctive nature works together with all our experiences, leading to logical reasoning that makes us a better person overall.

So, why do we make bad decisions?  Well, we have free will.  We can do anything that we want, and most people want to satisfy themselves.  Sometimes, we hear people admit, “It’s not about you; it’s about me.”  Extremes occur more often in today’s world because we do not have the leveling effect of large predators outside our doors waiting for us.  In fact, the predators of today’s society are our own species who will take whatever you have if they want it.  And these predators come in all shapes and sizes.  Some are Chief Executive Officers of corporations, some are politicians, some are religious leaders, and some are criminals locked up in jails.  It is difficult maintaining a moderate existence around these people.    

But there is hope.  As long as you are making an effort to follow the moderate path and live a righteous life every minute of every day, then you are making progress and should continue that course.  We hope to do our best. 

Philosophers typically emphasized either subjective or objective ethics.  There were some subjective philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche, who believed that individuals should not regret prior acts in their will to power.[37]  But Nietzsche’s philosophy was adopted by Adolph Hitler, and we know where that went.  There were other philosophers who employed subjective and objective simultaneously.  Immanuel Kant argued that objective experiences should be processed by subjective reason. He also argued that using reason without applying it to experience only leads to theoretical illusions.  Kant believed not only in an innate moral sense, but also in a logical morality developed as a code of conduct for group survival.[38]

The most interesting philosopher to me was Soren Kierkegaard, the Father of Existentialism.  Kierkegaard emphasized subjective ethics,[39] but also believed in a God, who was capable of all things, while we were capable of none.[40]  So, according to Kierkegaard, even though he emphasized the individual, needing God and objective ethics would be the highest perfection for man.[41]

Kierkegaard did not accept the objective reasoning found in traditional church doctrine.[42]  Instead, he relied on his “highly personal, subjective, passionate and freely chosen commitment to believe.”[43]  In other words, he didn’t allow the church bureaucracy to dictate his beliefs.  He came to God on his own terms, as an individual face-to-face with eternity and God.[44]  By isolating man from the crowd, this forced self-examination.  Only when man was alone could he face eternity and God.[45]  I consider the individuality of Kierkegaard as being similar to lightening, which when combined with objective ethics, creates the thunder.  Even though they are entirely different, one being light and the other sound, they actually do go together. 

In a trial, the burden of persuasion belongs to the party attempting to convince the trier of fact.[46]  One might argue that our individuality remains intact since we are both the party with the burden of persuasion and the trier of fact.  We, in effect, are trying to convince ourselves that the action being reviewed is a good thing.  There is no reason for us to be distracted by outside forces in this process unless we allow this to happen.  Thus, we subjectively apply the objective burden of proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Many philosophers and religious teachers have pointed us in the direction of organizing society in a harmonious way with philosophy, religion, laws, and mores that follow objective ethics.  Whether you call it the Middle Way, the Balanced Order, the Golden Mean, Christianity, or the reasonable person test, they are all focused on providing guidelines for mankind to know the right things to do throughout life.



[1] Deepak Chopra, Buddha – A Story of Enlightenment (New York: Harper One, 2008), 269.

[2] Lou Marinoff, The Middle Way (New York: Sterling, 2007), xii.

[3] Gordon Marino, ed., Ethics – The Essential Writings (New York: Modern Library, 2010), 73.

[4] William Corlett and John Moore, The Buddah Way (Scarsdale, NY: Bradbury Press, 1979), 66.

[5] The Everything Buddhism Book, Arnie Kozak (Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2003), 23.

[6] Marinoff, 105.

[7] Chopra, 268.

[8] Michael D. Coogan, World Religions (New York: Metro Books, 2012), 185.

[9] Marino, xi.

[10] Marino, 5.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, ed., The Collected Dialogues of Plato (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1973), xxii.

[13] Marino, 73.

[14] Marino, 74.

[15] Renford Bambrough, ed., The Philosophy of Aristotle (New York: Signet Classics, 2011), 312.

[16] Bambrough, xxxii.

[17] Marino, 73.

[18] Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy (Garden City, N.Y.: Garden City Publishing Co., 1927), 86.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Bambrough, 306, 312.

[21] Lt. Col. Hinds, The Cincinnati Enquirer, June 9, 2011, Guest Column in Opinions.

[22] King James Version The Holy Bible (Nashville, TN: Kedeka Publishers, 1976), Philippians 4:5.

[23] Bible, Matthew 5:9.

[24] Marino, 109.

[25] Marino, 118.

[26] Marino, 121.

[27] Mel Thompson, Understand Ethics (London, UK: Hodder Education, 2010), 47.

[28] Thompson, 49.

[29] Durant, 166.

[30] Thompson, 51.

[31] Bible, Matthew 7:14.

[32] Durant, 166.

[33] Durant, 135.

[34] John A. Coleman, ed., Christian Political Ethics (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2008), 30.

[35] Marinoff, 117

[36] Marinoff, 119.

[37] Gary Cox, The Existentialist’s Guide to Death, the Universe, and Nothingness (New York: Continuum, 2012), 75-76.

[38] Durant, 313-314.

[39] Cox, 153.

[40] Howard V. Hong, ed., The Essential Kierkegaard (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980), 87.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Cox, 152-153.

[43] Cox, 153.

[44] Soren Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing (New York: Harper One, 2008), 15.

[45] Kierkegaard, 16.

[46] Roger C. Park, David P. Leonard, and Steven H. Goldberg, Evidence Law, A Student’s Guide to the Law of Evidence as Applied in American Trials, 2nd Ed. (St. Paul, MN: Thomson West, 2004), 92.