Morality vs. Societal Values in the 21st Century

Introduction

Morality is no different in the 21st century than it was in any of the centuries past.  Morality has always been based on the right thing to do.  The right thing to do has remained the same over the millennia.  It is embedded in our conscience.

However, societal values and laws relating to ethics interpreting the right thing to do are different today than they were centuries ago because these moral guidelines fluctuate with the government, ruling class, free time, and the education of the citizenry.

Let’s start with determining what “the right thing to do” is.  Whenever you feel that hiccup before you take an action or whenever you feel a tinge of guilt while taking an action, you know this is not the right thing to do.  Remember Jiminy Cricket in the Walt Disney movie, Pinocchio, and how he and Pinocchio were instructed to always let their conscience be their guide?  Even when we know the right thing to do, we can rationalize or talk ourselves out of doing the right thing with little difficulty.

But society interprets “the right thing to do” through laws and ethical codes.  So how does society determine what the right thing is?  I believe that a fair and just society can use either one or both basic methods for making this decision.  The first is what individuals think, and the second is what others think.  Ideally, the law should coincide with one or both of these ethical perspectives, but that is not always the case.[1]  Many governments, including totalitarianism, impose arbitrary and capricious laws and codes on citizens.

Subjective ethics are relative to the individual.  This theory is common in America, a country of immigrants from a variety of cultures with differing ethical values; however this subjective theory has inherent weaknesses because of our humanness.[2]  Objective ethics, also called rational ethics or moral absolutism, deems actions right or wrong based on a consistent objective test.  It imposes a duty on all citizens to refrain from violating the rights of others.[3]  Sometimes, it is the better approach.

The closest objective test in law I could find was included within the elements of negligence.  A legal duty must first exist between the parties to establish liability through negligence.  As mentioned above, the duty in objective ethics is to refrain from violating the rights of others.  The next element is a breach of that duty.  This requires the actor to meet the standard of care, which in many cases is what a reasonable person would or would not have done under the same or similar circumstances.[4]  In other words, would a reasonable person believe this was the right thing to do?

For example, you are shopping at Kroger’s and you haven’t eaten for five hours, so you are tempted to take a grape and pop it in your mouth.  Nobody would miss one grape.  What is the right thing to do according to 21st century society?  Well, let’s apply the subjective test.  The majority of people in today’s society would not have a problem with this.  Most would rationalize that nobody would really be hurt by the loss of a one grape.  The store would still sell the bunch of grapes, and the purchaser would never know the difference because each bunch of grapes had a different amount of grapes anyway.

In earlier centuries, stealing a grape would have been different from stealing a horse only by the value of the item taken.  But clearly, the moral and right thing to do would be to not take the grape no matter what century you lived in at the time of the decision.

What happens when we utilize the objective test in the 21st century?  Let’s employ the quantum of proof required for negligence just like we learned in law school.  In a civil case, the burden of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence also known as “more likely than not” and “greater weight of evidence.”[5]  A case under the Civil False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 2729, somewhat analogous to our determination whether an act is the wrong thing to do, also uses this burden of persuasion.[6]

Let’s first examine the preponderance of the evidence test.  If the scales are just a little lower with the weight of evidence on the side of this being the right thing to do, then it is the right thing to do.  We would have to examine all the evidence and place it on the scales of justice to see where the scales tip.

In this case, we have evidence indicating that taking the grape would be good for the decision-maker because it would stem the hunger until the groceries paid for get home.  We also have evidence that there will be little to no harm to Kroger’s or the ultimate purchaser of the grapes.  The theft of a grape would not be worth prosecuting since the value is so low.  Where do the scales tip in this instance?  A reasonable person would not consider the taking of a grape as the wrong thing to do or, in other words, the decision to take the grape was the right thing to do after examining all the circumstances.

In certain situations, you may find that the scales seem fairly balanced.  That is when we examine the “seven steps.”  These seven steps should be taken to determine if any of them tip the scales.

The magnificent seven are:

  1. Examine your “gut” feeling.  The NCIS “Gibb’s gut” is used.  If your “gut” tells you that the action is not right, then more than likely it is wrong.  This “gut” feeling could tip the scales for you on the side of deciding not to take that action.
  2. Take the “CNN test.”  You can substitute any newspaper or television news report for CNN, but you need to determine if the action could create “bad press.”  If you fear the action could lead to a problem with the media, you should, at least, run it by your public affairs experts.
  3. Examine the pragmatic angles.  If the action is not practical, then why gamble with it?
  4. Res ipsa loquitur – “the thing speaks for itself.”  This is an evidentiary rule that permits some degree of evidence from an inference of a breach by the outcome.
  5. Burden of persuasion is on proving that it is the right thing to do.  A tie goes to proving that it is the wrong thing to do.
  6. Err on the side of avoiding gray areas in the law.
  7. Avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

In this case with the single grape, how would the application of the seven steps work out?  Examine the seven potential tipping points.

  1. Your “gut” may be telling you that there are no real consequences to third parties.
  2. There will be no “bad press” because there is no potential for this being a violation of criminal law.
  3. Practical value of eating this grape to satisfy hunger is greater than problems encountered even if caught.
  4. A single grape makes little noise for itself.  It carries little significance in the scheme of things.
  5. The preponderance of evidence is that a reasonable person would do this and consider this the right thing to do.
  6. There is no legalistic gray area.
  7. If this appears to be a problem, then it is a problem.  This is where the 21st century ethics will not find this as even appearing to be a problem, while earlier centuries would find that the theft of anything would create the appearance of a problem.

And here is the tough part.  Even if the scales are level, the burden of proof has not been met, and you cannot take or recommend taking that action.  In other words, you cannot say that it was a “tie,” allowing you do nothing.  It doesn’t work that way.  Even if the scales are barely tipped to the side of not taking the action based on your “gut” feeling, the decision has been made, and you must argue to not take that action.

Who Makes the Final Ethics Decision?

Is there a judge or jury to decide the case for you?  Or is the decision entirely up to you?  Wouldn’t that be great if you could decide what the wrong thing was?  You could rig it so that you could never do the wrong thing.  All your choices would be spot on, dead center, right on target.  But if you “ain’t the king,” you are going to be second guessed by everybody.  Do I really mean everybody? Yes, I do, including: your supervisor, your co-workers, your secretary, your friends, your parents, your wife, your kids, and even your dog on bad days.

If your supervisor came into your office and asked you to change your opinion because it went against what the company wanted to do, how would you handle it?  Would you comply or would you refuse to change your opinion?  Would you apply the subjective test and rationalize that it wasn’t that big a deal to cave in to the boss?  Live to fight another day.  Or would you examine the situation using the objective test and present a logical argument to take to higher officials within the company, including checking with Public Affairs on their take on the issue?

When I was teaching the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) as an Air Force JAG to combat pilots, I always asked them to make their decisions after employing the “CNN Test.”  You can insert any news media in place of CNN, but CNN was big back during Desert Storm.

What did I mean by the “CNN Test”?  Any choices by pilots to fire or not to fire would be examined under the scrutiny of world opinion or the “CNN Test.”  What would the world think about this decision?  How would it appear in the newspapers tomorrow?  There was always the thought that in war, “you gotta do what you gotta do.”  We wanted the pilots to return safely from every mission, so if somebody were attempting to obtain a firing solution on them, they needed to fire immediately.  But if they had time to think through situations like in selecting targets, they should think about the consequences of world opinion.

Now, why should we care about what other people thought?  We are number one aren’t we?  We are more important than other people.  Who cares about other people’s opinion?  Well, we should care because society benefits from people doing the right thing.  We should place a high priority on doing the right thing and following laws.

 21st Century Decision Making

An eighty-year-old grandfather told his grandson that there was a battle going on between two wolves inside us all.  One was an evil wolf, filled with anger, jealousy, hate, greed, resentment, lies, and a huge ego.  The other was a good wolf with joy, love, peace, kindness, humility, truth, and empathy.

The grandson asked which wolf would finally win.  The old man leaned back and smiled, “The one you feed.”

I present 21 questions for the current century.[1]  I will first give the societal value answers of this century and then I will provide what I believe the moral answers should be.

  1. Why be good?
    21st century: There is no good reason to be the good wolf, so do what you want.
    Morality: Your conscience is a moderate, moral compass, telling you to be good.
  2. Is it ever permissible to lie?
    21st century: Yes, lying is permissible in many cases.
    Morality:  Your conscience permits lying only in moderate amounts, when it is beneficial to the listener.
  3. What’s wrong with gossip?
    21st century: Nothing.
    Morality: Your conscience tells you it is wrong when it is not done in moderation and harms others.
  4. Do you have an obligation to be healthy?
    21st century: No, you can do what you want.
    Morality: Yes, your conscience lets you know that you should live a temperate life and remain healthy so you are not a burden on others.
  5. May I take a grape while shopping?
    21st century:  Yes, because it doesn’t hurt anybody.
    Morality: No since quantity is not the issue in morality; moderation does not permit murdering of an infant because of their size; theft is theft and murder is murder.
  6. Is it wrong to make as much money as I can?
    21st century:  No, although this is changing as capitalism loses out to socialism in this century.
    Morality: you should live modestly and make as much money as you need to survive, avoiding greed.
  7. What are my obligations to the poor?
    21st century: None, although this is changing as capitalism loses out to socialism in this century.
    Morality: You should take care of the poor by teaching them to fish rather than giving them fish.
  8. Can we do better than the Golden Rule?
    21st century: Do unto others before they do unto you.
    Morality: Do more for others than you would do for yourself.
  9. Why can’t I just live for pleasure?
    21st century: You can.
    Morality: Your living for pleasure must be moderated by your conscience.
  10. Why can’t I date a married person?
    21st century: You can as long as the relationship is consensual.
    Morality: Because adultery runs afoul of your conscience and is not temperate sex.
  11. Are jealousy and resentment always wrong?
    21st century: No, these are human emotions that should be accepted.
    Morality: They are wrong when they are not controlled and you keep feeding them.
  12. What are the rules for respecting privacy?
    21st century: You have little privacy under capitalism and no privacy under totalitarian rule (socialism generally degrades into totalitarianism); both extremes in government take away your privacy.
    Morality: The Golden Rule applies to rules of privacy.
  13. What do I owe my aging parents?
    21st century: Nothing.
    Morality:  Your conscience will guide you to providing what your parents reasonably need.
  14. Should I help a suffering loved one die?
    21st century: Yes, if it means one less person on social security and an early inheritance.
    Morality: No, find a way to relieve their suffering other than killing them; murder is murder.
  15. Is “genetic enhancement” playing God.
    21st century: There is no God.
    Morality:  No, it is playing Hitler; genetic enhancement is a dangerous tool that extremists could misuse.
  16. Is conscientious objection a moral right?
    21st century: Yes, anybody can claim this right.
    Morality: It is a reasonable right based on our freedom of religion and convictions, but this right cannot be claimed for spurious and disingenuous reasons; conscientious objection must be done in moderation, following the conscience.
  17. Is it always wrong to fight back?
    21st century: You have the right to fight back as long as you aren’t going against the government.
    Morality: No, you can even go against the existing government if it is a bad government that does not support the citizens of that country; non-violent revolution is permissible.
  18. Should the death penalty be abolished?
    21st century: It should be permitted, especially for revolutionaries and crimes against the state.
    Morality: Yes, it is murder and thus is not permitted by our conscience.
  19. Is torture ever acceptable?
    21st century: Yes, it allows the government to obtain important information.
    Morality: No, it goes against the very fiber of our morality.
  20. Do animals have rights?
    21st century: No, humans are more important than animals.
    Morality: Yes, humans are animals, and your conscience tells you that all animals have rights.
  21. Why should I recycle?
    21st century: Because it is what everybody else is doing.
    Morality: Because it is the right thing to do.

 Conclusion

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 to get their books published.  Extremists also have better sound bites for television interviews.  Furthermore, extremists make better headlines and will sell more newspapers and books.  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, my conclusion is that people should 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 heart of virtue ethics.

The 21st century societal value answers to the 21 questions were not moderate.  But the morality answers tended to be more balanced.  That is not to say that the morality answers were perfect.  Any human answers are flawed by humanness, which is found in us all.  But moderation is perhaps the best goal that we as humans can utilize to achieve a heightened sens of morality.

Unfortunately, a revolution generally does not lead to the reinstatement of morality.  Typically, it leads to a new government with new laws, which more than likely will be based on something other than morality, subjective ethics, or objective ethics.  The new leadership will have its own self-interests to serve.  Even communistic revolutions, promising power to the people, have ended up with totalitarian governments taking away everything from the people, including their lives.

Perhaps, this is why morality should be the choice of the people rather than societal or governmental values.



[1] Gordon W. Brown, Paul A. Sukys, and Mary Ann Lawlor, Business Law with UCC Applications, 8th Ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995), 3 and 8-9.

[2] Brown, 4.

[3] Brown, 7.

[4] Richard A. Mann and Barry S. Roberts, Smith and Roberson’s Business Law, 9th Ed. (New York: West Publishing Company, 1994), 175.

[5] 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), 93.

[6] Brian C. Elmer, et al., Fraud in Government Contracts (Washington, D.C.: Federal Publications Inc., 1993), 3-15.

[7] Many of these questions are found in “Moral Decision Making: How to Approach Everyday Ethics” by Clancy Martin, a professor of Philosophy at the University of Missouri – Kansas City.  The answers are my own.

Where Is the Social Security Trust Fund?

Do you know where your Social Security Trust Fund is located?  Where is the $2.6 trillion trust fund that has been collecting Social Security taxes for decades and is considered to be “untouchable” by Congress?  This question might be similar to the questions about where the Loch Ness Monster is hiding or where the Yeti is living?  Did the federal government place this trust fund in Area 51?  Where is it?

Well, it doesn’t exist or at least not in the typical way we expect to see trust funds invested.  If you and I were to start a savings or trust account, we would have cash and securities or something physical funding the account that we could touch and withdraw if we needed the savings.

The Social Security Trust Fund has no cash or securities.  This trust fund receives I.O.U.s from the federal Treasury, which takes the daily Social Security taxes and includes them in its general fund.  The “untouchable” Trust Fund is funded with “special-issue securities” from the Treasury, which are loans that the Treasury must repay.

In effect, the Social Security Trust Fund is a “fairy tale” account that not only is a fiction, but the $2.6 trillion dollar fund promised to the public was spent many years ago.  There is nothing left of this fund, but “smoke and mirrors” of the federal government.  Each year, Social Security has to obtain money from the Treasury in order to fund its cash-flow deficit.  If the Treasury does not provide the cash, there is no fund to cover this amount.

This makes a very interesting lie that the government has foisted on the public.  The government has told us for decades that the Social Security has a dedicated revenue stream and a separate “untouchable” trust account that should not be considered as part of our budget deficit.  The truth is that the Social Security funding should be part of the federal budget deceit and deficit.  It should be included in our federal budget deficit because it comes directly from the Treasury each year just like any other federal payments.  It is no different than any other non-funded Treasury expense.

America’s Future is All That Matters

America is going deeper and deeper into debt.  The media talks about the “fiscal cliff” as if we can do a few things and take care of our problem before 2013.  That’s not exactly correct.  We have to Cut federal government Immediately, Permanently, and Substantially (CLIPS) in order to protect America for our progeny.  America will still fall over that cliff if we only make small changes.  We all (emphasis added) must give up our current comforts because only the future matters.

America’s future should be our only focus.  The past is past, and the present just became the past.  Only the future matters.  We add more than a trillion dollars to our debt each year.  The only way to save America is to cut our government by 50% or more.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if after cutting our federal government in half if our government became a better government?  We could have local governments and privatized groups fill in any critical openings left by the federal government cuts.  And we could hire former CEOs and CFOs of corporations to monitor the federal government, eliminating Senior Executive Service (SES) employees who only manage their careers.

I was an acquisition fraud attorney for the Air Force, Navy, and Marines, and I was astounded at the amount of fraud, waste & abuse in the federal government.  It is time to eliminate this fraud for our future.  Cut the government in half.  I worked in all four military services and found rampant fraud, waste & abuse.  All four services might be paying the same company for exactly the same research.  It was a waste of taxpayer’s dollars.  We train jointly and we fight jointly, so why do we spend money separately.  We should combine the four services into one “purple” joint military.  We could easily save 50% of our defense budget if we became a joint service.

The federal government will never monitor or manage itself, so we must erase the problem – which is the federal government.  The federal government does not have a capitalistic bone in its entire body, so it must be substantially reduced in size and expense to protect the future of our democracy and freedom.  Americans do not need such a huge federal government.  We are not that weak.  But we will be weak if the federal government continues to drain our resources.

I want to see all the federal retirees, including myself, receive no Cost of Living Adjustments and receive reduced pensions.  I want to see all existing federal employees stepping up to receive reduced pensions and benefits.  I want to see Congressmen doing the right thing by reducing their salary and benefits.  I am asking everybody to make the future brighter by shouldering a part of the burden.  We all have to assume that burden.  Nobody gets a free pass, not even those, including myself, who are on Social Security.  We must fix Medicare and Medicaid.  Everybody has to work together to save America from going over the cliff.  Unfortunately, right now that is our future.

We all have to lose weight and tighten our belts for the future of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  The future is much more important than your present salary and benefits.  The future of America is all that matters.

America’s Real Federal Deficit

It shouldn’t surprise Americans that their government has not told them the whole truth about our federal deficit.  However, the “USA Today” on May 24, 2012, unveiled a more accurate accounting telling us how deep we are in debt… and it’s about four times deeper than we were told.

According to our executive and legislative branches, our federal budget deficit was $1.3 trillion in 2011.  The actual amount was $5 trillion after counting liabilities for Social Security, Medicare, and other federal retirement programs.  There is no logic in ignoring these large amounts except that it shows that we are deeper in the hole than we thought.  It is interesting that federal law requires companies to report retirement commitments in their financial statements, but the federal government exempts itself from this requirement.

This deficit would equal to $42,054 per household.  The last Census indicated that the median income per household was $49,445, leaving us all a whopping $7,391 to pay for our house, car, groceries, gasoline, utilities, health care costs, and other household expenses.

And don’t blame the Democrats or Republicans.  This is a “twofer” special where both parties share the blame.  Over the years, it hasn’t mattered which party ran Congress or the White House.  Both parties used the same accounting system to avoid counting the retirement benefits.

In case you planned on buying a home or car in the future, you should know that each household in the United States owes $561,254 of the federal debt.  I wonder if we can file for bankruptcy.

Let’s Kick the Can Down the Road

I remember a saying when I was younger, “Let’s kick the can down the road.”  When I was older, I heard leaders say, “Not on my watch!”  Both of these quips have the same mean meaning.  They refer to the propensity of leaders to find ways to just get by today, and let somebody else solve the really hard problems sometime in the future.

The latest news on Social Security is that it will run out of money in 2033.  Medicare is in worse shape.  Its hospital insurance fund will run dry by 2024. With lower payroll tax receipts, both of these insolvencies probably will occur even sooner.

Is the current President or Congress going to take any action?  Don’t count on it.  Are they going to kick the can down the road?  Count on it.  Most of our leaders, if you want to call them that, hope they can reach retirement before any of this happens.  They want to make as much money as they can before this nightmare hits our country like a Yellowstone mega-volcano.

Is it smarter to take action now before our funds are exhausted?  Of course, but then that would require real leadership… the type of leadership that America found in George Washington, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson… the type of leaders that don’t exist anymore.

 

Retirement in 2050?

What will retirement look like in 2050?  I wrote a futuristic movie script about this very subject.

The following shows the plot of the screenplay.

My generation will be dead.  The middle class will be dead.  Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid probably will be dead.  Will the economic landscape look anything like today?  Probably not.

Taxes on estates, income, real estate, personal property, sales, gasoline, state income, and municipal income will all increase to such an extent that most of people’s income will go to taxes.  Gasoline prices will escalate, causing all other consumer costs to increase accordingly.  Inflation will reduce the value of the dollar.  Printing more currency will further reduce the value of the dollar.

There will be no stock market since the government had to take it over after its crash.  There will be no IRAs or savings accounts because most banks will be closed and people will need every penny just to pay for necessary items.  Malls and businesses will be closed because non-food and non-essential items will be rarely sold in stores.

There will be three classes:  (1) government rulers and the elite, (2) government workers, and (3) the  poor.  World leaders will form a totalitarian block that controls everything, consisting of:  (1) the Americas, (2) the Eur-Af-Asia, and (3) the Islands.  Anybody disagreeing with this united totalitarian system will be killed.  Anybody over 50 disappears and is never seen again.

In effect, there will be no retirement.  You will work until you die or you disappear, whichever comes first.

Does this sound surrealistic?  It was good fodder for my science-fiction movie.  Does it sound similar to “A Brave New World” or “1984″?

Moral of this movie:  only intelligent people rising up and refusing to accept “Big Brother” government and it fraudulent purpose can prevent this from happening.

Is Federal Government a Communist Organization?

In order to determine if the federal government has become a communist organization, we must first define communism.  According to Wikipedia, communism “is a movement to create a classless, moneyless, stateless social order structured upon common ownership of the means of production, as well as a social, political, and economic ideology that aims at establishing this social order.”  That’s a mouthful, but in short, communism is the opposite of capitalism, since it has no incentives or rewards for those who work hard and excel in their chosen fields.  Communism is its own reward.  In effect, everybody but the communist leaders share in the country’s poverty.

Many Americans believe that the federal government has been moving toward embracing socialism for years with such programs as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and many federal grants and disbursements.  The income tax structure is set up to tax the wealthy at higher tax rates.  Social Security is set up so that if you make more than a certain amount of money, you will receive less social security payment and you may have to pay higher premiums for your Medicare.  You receive dental benefits on Medicaid, but not on regular Medicare, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, or Tricare. Continue reading

I’m excited about my first book!

This is the book cover for my first book, coming out in November 2012.  The book is about Col. John Boyd, a famous jet pilot, whose unique approach to thinking can be employed for traditional wars like the First Battle of Manassas and for non-traditional wars like the War against Terrorism.  Hopefully, this book will challenge you and make you think differently. Continue reading