Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Ethically speaking

The present call for our MPs to be given 'ethics education' is not without merit. In a previous incarnation I had a little to do with facilitating discussions about ethics and I found it a little difficult.
One thing that I am sure of is that a 'code of conduct' does not make people 'ethical' any more than a system of laws makes people law-abiding.
The first lesson any ethics course will teach is that ethical is not the same as legal
Even though I blogged before about the need for a protocol when the Slipper & Thomson affairs have quietened down, I still think the point is worth making. The law does not make you behave well. It shows you when you have behaved badly.
St Paul observes that the law does not make people behave well, it rather points out when they have transgressed. (see for example the developed argument in  Romans 5-8)
I once got into trouble for suggesting to a group of professional people that it was the professions (like lawyers and accountants) which had extensive documentary codes that seemed to have the most trouble with ethics. My point?  The documents, their weight, length or what ever....won't actually enable ethical behaviour.
The trouble...there was sitting in that group someone who had spent a long time writing such a code.
But, Ethical behaviour is rather about the way people choose to behave than the way they avoid breaking the rules.
If for example we look at a person who owns a dog:

  • You can choose to train the dog thoroughly, show it affection, give it your time 
  • or you could choose to ensure that you don't get prosecuted for animal cruelty, but not do much else.
  • There is little doubt which one would provide better environment for the dog, and indeed would be  more ethical.

This is a relatively minor example (unless you happen to be a dog!) but is what occurs over and over again in many and divers circumstances

My point from my previous blog is perhaps a little sad. While it would be good to be able to teach ethics to MPs and then to get them to comply, I am not optimistic. A code of conduct may actually encourage nit-picking and unhelpful legalism.
What we need is a that instead of all the political posturing. And, I would suggest, pseudo ethics; we could not grind to a standstill...or run round and round in political circles.

I suggested at that time
When all this is over, next term of Parliament, for heaven's sake Federal Parliament (and the State's too) work out a clear protocol about what is going to happen when someone is genuinely accused of a crime.If they can sit in the Parliament until such time that they are convicted then let it be so!If they are to be stood down until such time as the matters are heard, then let it be so!Anything to stop the incessant nitpicking which has little or nothing to do with truth, and everything...but everything to do with political advantage. And it stinks!!!


picric said...

A code of ethics is useful. It sets standards up to which MPs are expected to measure. A protocol follows. The two are not either or. The test you propose (will it make people good?) is not helpful. You need to know what the standards are, and what happens if you violate them. The deterrent values of the code will depend on the protocol which is to be followed to enforce observation of the code and the sanctions which are to follow a guilty verdict.

stephen clark said...

This is not really my point..."what the standards are" is not defined by the code...the code simply tells you when you have failed. Even if the code is couched in normative or positive language
For example should use double entry accounting...the net effect of that is that the consequence is only apparent when you don't do it