Ethics in politics

We should start with creating the playing field for this chapter. Though, we take a quick look at the AGABE principle (aim to do good). Ethic decisions based on 4 categories:

  • Facts: what’s nowadays known
  • Values: weighting professionalism, logic, sociocultural and moral aspects, aesthetics
  • Principles: philosophy, modes and profound models, ethical reasoning
  • Loyalties: first, second…

The importance of the theme becomes clear when you look into global justice movements stepping in where politics don’t cover.
For instance, multinational corporations operate in the vacuum between national laws. Profit maximization without respect for workplace safety, poor labour relations and compensation, environmental ruination – undermining democracy. (S. Springer) Or:

We have discussions in other sectors, like the current ethical debates related to digital technology and how it affects humans and the world. Then you realise the lack of ethical discussions in relation to politics (Spanberg/Mythe). Try, for once, following the line which politicians stepped down the last – say – 10 years, what their ethical standards were. And then look which politicians with major mistakes just kept on going.

Ethical terms, such as the common good, no harm, social interests, and social responsibility you might find in coalition papers. And afterwards? Daily actions are completely different.

  • The European Union is making a death sea of the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Refugees kept in regional camps in Africa for decades, founded by western countries.
  • Turkey is paid to keep boarders closed, despite the mayor violation of human rights in the own country.
  • Berlusconi is running for the European election.
  • European leaders are dining with Putin, because of ‘economic interests’.
  • Trump stepping out of international contracts seems to be completely acceptable.

Media is rather talking about car accidents and minor criminal activities than about what really is concerning the wealth of planet and the people, luckily it starts to change, again! The guardian dog is (still, a bit) sleeping, also the movie The Post should be a great inspiration.

A few more words about coalition papers. The major aim seems to be to create a majority in elected chambers. On the way, most urgent items – which got politicians and parties elected in the first place – got lost in de bargaining rounds. Next thing is, discussion proposals in parliaments or city councils becomes meaningless, because voting is aligned affront. Not at all contributing to a  real democratic process, where smart thoughts and arguments matter. It’s more and more becoming a theatrical act, for the alibi.

Forbidding coalitions might get back some real democracy in de current system.
But more likely, the structure should be recreated, to become useful to society, again.

History and key points of democracy

In a direct democracy, the citizens self form a governing body and vote directly on issues, like in Swiss.
In a representative democracy the citizens elect representatives from among themselves. These representatives form a legislature.
In a constitutional democracy the powers of the majority are exercised within the framework of a representative democracy, but the constitution limits the majority and protects the minority.
(You see the slide downgrading of the influencing power?)

The uncertainty of outcomes per theme is inherent to democracy, because of sometimes-conflicting interest. (Wiki)

Just let us look shortly into early developments of different kinds of democracy.

Ancient Greece

Western democracy is generally considered to have originated in city-states such as Classical Athens and the Roman Republic, where various schemes and degrees of enfranchisement of the free male population were observed.

Democracy consists of four key elements:

  • a political system based on free and fair elections;
  • active participation of the people in politics and civic life (concerting point, nowadays);
  • protection of the human rights of all citizens (concerting point, nowadays);
  • a rule of law for all citizens.

The political system of Classical Athens, for example, granted democratic citizenship to free men and excluded slaves and women from political participation. All democratic governments, democratic citizenship consisted of an elite class. (And has this touch not complete lost, yet.)

Nevertheless, these oppositions, inherited from Greek philosophy, became ambiguous because contemporary governments have mixed democratic, oligarchic and monarchic elements.

Lekgotla and Ubuntu

The classical European version is not the only model for democracy.

Lekgotla is an African ‘meeting circle’ linked to the African concept of ‘Ubuntu’. Ubuntu means ‘I am because we exist’. Tribes judge together with the elders about each issue and item what is experienced as relevant; including the majority in the decision-making process. Tribal traditions ensure that each gets the chance to give his or her point of view during the circle. The goal is that all members subordinate their individual goals and aims to the wider interests of the group so they can survive successfully as a unit. Lekgotla includes the power of stories, art as a source of inspiration, supporting the structure and dynamics of the Lekgotla and the roles of the elders.

And this is just one example for non-western, well-working democracy models.

Shortfalls of nowadays politicians

I really do not like to spend to much time on negativity. But sometimes it’s needed to make a point. Though, I keep it short.
Politicians loosing trust, not because democracy is failing, but because of their very own actions:

  • Working with lobbyist, based on interests, ego (arrogance), leading to protectionism;
  • Ignoring impact of their very own decisions
  • Focussing on growing GDP- só 19th/20thcentury!
  • Avoiding public discussions (restricting even
  • Making secrets of lots of public issues, having closed door meetings, regularly fact-finding committees (surprise, surprise!)
  • (non)-available information while legally required
  • low intent on major issues, high overload on non-issues, like filters to prevent to much noise on real important decisions.

Basic values of public government

Loosing trust in politicians starts to lead to loosing trust in democracy. People loosing trust in governmental institutions also, creating resistance and negative expectations about most of the decision processes. People regularly don’t trust to be fairly treaded – an elite will take the most of profits and interests.

The government should apply rules equally to everybody. This already shifts, when local governments expect certain regional impact by gaining access for more powerful organisations.  The same, you see at national and international level.

To govern also means to look smartly into existing rules: do they still fit? What harm might come from (still) applying them?

People are equal, but not the same.
Regularly, you meet civil servants, which do not understand the difference of those two. Rules have to be applied equally, not ‘the same’ without paying attention to relevant differences. Smart decision-making is an art, cut out by procedures and account rules for social processes. Think once deeper about that!

Civil servant
Another distinction, quite often missed, is between being able to explain, why something happened – following procedures – and really feeling the responsibility to rule smartly. The independency of the brain and the mind is a sensitive one in governmental bodies, exercising old-times hierarchal principles.

But also let me say this: In each governmental body, each public institution, you definitely find people, who certainly know and feel the differences, trying to change what’s in their power, trying to find same-minded colleagues. And that is exactly what gives hoop! People matter, people are able to change what’s needing change. And that’s what counts, in the end!

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