In honor of the holiday, please check out the below extracts from the seminal work of C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, which are especially pertinent to ethics and morality. For commentary on the first book of Mere Christianity, check out this post. The below post contains selections from the second book of Mere Christianity.
Book II of Mere Christianity, “What Christians Believe,” explains the points which were persuasive to Lewis as he turned away from atheism and toward Christian devotion. Lewis reckons with this personal transformation through logic and by seeking to make the abstract and unknowable both concrete and comprehensible where possible while relevant if not fully within the reach of human understanding.
In honor of the holiday, please check out the below extracts from the seminal work of C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, which are especially pertinent to ethics and morality.
Mere Christianity contains insights which are so powerful for people to consider in expressing and understanding their own personal codes of ethics and values (even completely secular ones). Individual commitments to a well-defined internal moral register form the foundation of any integrity-led organization with an ethical business culture. This post contains selections from the first book of Mere Christianity.
This is the fourth in a series of six posts on compliance issues with various online platforms. The first post was about YouTube. The second post was about Facebook. Last week’s post discussed Instagram. Today’s post will focus on Twitter. On April 5, the fifth post in the series will cover Snapchat. The sixth and last post in the series, on April 12, will be about Reddit.
Twitter, one of the best-known social media platforms and a popular news and networking service, was created in 2006. Within a few years, Twitter rapidly became one of the most frequently-visited websites in the world. Twitter is widely used all over the world as a source of breaking news as well as a social messaging service and a content-sharing platform for photos, videos, links, and microblogs in threaded comments.
Traditional discussions of morality have often focused on dichotomies of good and bad, virtuous and evil, right and wrong. This polarized thinking simplifies the world into opposing absolutes. In this view, all people and all conduct stand on one side or other of an imaginary line. Bad people are responsible for all evil actions and wrong decisions, whereas good people should always be expected to behave in a virtuous manner and to make the right choices. This views resigns any hope of someone who is judged “bad” making positive contributions to the world or being expected to have integrity; these people must be controlled against, excluded, and blamed when events take the wrong turn. Good people, on the other hand, are subject to straying from their presumably natural interest in behaving with integrity and must be prevented from doing so and punished if this ever happens, followed by being re-judged as bad if they do not respond to punitive and remedial treatment.
The limiting and unrealistic expectations of such a system are clear. In practice, this retrograde view can have chilling effect on a truly progressive understanding of organizational integrity and dynamics or any true restorative justice for individuals. Unfortunately, rules-based systems tend to produce these polarized, inflexible views. Mandatory compliance with its roles and responsibilities and reliance on policies and procedures can have such an outcome. Of course, the law, internal requirements, and regulatory expectations often do follow a bright line and so adherence to these expectations is as straightforward as a yes or a no. However, this strict structure must be supported by a more dynamic and realistic system of values and principles. Only then can the culture of compliance reflect the true nature of people and their choices and actions, which are all much more complex than a choice between two contrasting modes.
Encouraging ethical decision-making is one of the main aspirations of any corporate compliance program. At both the employee and organizational level, it’s important to support and promote the choices that are most consistent with both explicit rules and implicit values. Individuals and corporations can demonstrate their principles-based identity through the choices they make.
Genuine commitment to making the most ethical decisions through the complex environment of inadequate information, lack of connection to consequences, competing interests, and limitations of belief systems/choice frameworks – just to name a few of the many risks inherent – is a critical component of a culture of compliance. Individual persistence to honor internal codes of ethics and moral convictions will scale up to create heuristics and habits across the organization that support responsibility and thoughtfulness rather than a culture of fear and habits reflecting limited vision.
Groundhog Day is a classic comedy film from 1993. The movie centers around Bill Murray’s character Phil Connors, who is a weatherman on-location in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania covering the annual Groundhog Day event there. The town’s festivities around the ritual of the groundhog coming out of his hole to check whether or not he sees his shadow are a huge media event and popular celebration which Connors, who is generally obnoxious and condescending, finds ridiculous. On February 2, Connors has an unpleasant and miserable day in which he is annoyed by everyone around him, acts out, and totally fails to charm his producer Rita Hanson, played by Andie McDowell, with whom he is in unrequited love. The next day he wakes up and is alarmed and confused to find that it is not a new day and February 3, but rather it is February 2 again and the prior day is repeating exactly as it happened before.
Connors winds up trapped in a time loop in which only he is lucid of it. He experiences February 2 over and over, with his memory and knowledge retained but otherwise no evidence in the world or other people that the day has happened before and will happen again. Connors goes through a complicated process of reckoning with this reality and ultimately makes an ambition of getting Hanson, who hates him, to fall in love with him.
The ongoing public disclosures about sexual harassment and abuse that have filled the news since mid-2017 have led to a major cultural reckoning. Courageous people have come forward to share stories about inappropriate and dangerous behavior of high-profile individuals. The public discourse about these people who were violated by abusers and predators with the complicity or support of other individuals or organizations has, to this point, focused largely on bringing these offenses to light, in order to listen to and believe in victims, so that they may be supported and empowered as survivors and as bearers of new societal norms.
Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day from Compliance Culture!
In honor of the holiday, please check out the below selections from some sermons and speeches delivered by Dr. King which are especially pertinent to ethics and morality. These profound and incisive words can inspire not just spiritual and philosophical observations, but are also useful to consider in formulating individual and organizational values and cultural identity.
The Good Place is a US television comedy series. The show is about a group of people who are in the afterlife and must contend with their ideas about their own moral conduct, both before and after they died, as well as general perceptions of right and wrong. It draws heavily from the fantasy genre to make amusing and provocative philosophical observations on this theme. The characters grapple to develop their own internal moral registers, teach and learn from each other about morality, and contend with their existential ideas about the impact of good or bad behavior and personal ethics. Their home in the afterlife is a planned community with set rules and choices within which they attempt to identify and define their senses of morality. They are supervised in this process by an “architect” who functions as the executive of the community as well as a human-like android that uses artificial intelligence to provide virtual assistance.
In light of this very pertinent setting, The Good Place poses many questions and dilemmas about moral behavior and ethical decision-making. It touches upon classical theories from philosophy as well as very practical questions about conduct, governance, choice, and design ethics of artificial intelligence. Above all, questions of individual and organizational integrity, and the creation of shared code of ethics and culture of compliance are dominant throughout the series.
Here is a selection of some of the most interesting of these questions from the first season and a half of the show (with plot spoilers and proposed judgment/answers avoided for now in order to invite contemplation about these dilemmas which can have a variety of personal and provocative answers, just like all ethical dilemmas… future posts will offer more specific commentary on how these dilemmas could be approached and utilized in practical ethics and corporate compliance scenarios):
Flying (Season 1, Episode 2): Can someone be taught to be good? Can an imposed ethical code be a genuine one? Can a “bad apple” who does bad things but is instructed and prompted to do good things become a “good apple”? What role does nature or nurture have in determining how moral a person is or how ethical an individual’s conduct is in a variety of situations?
Tahani Al-Jamil (Season 1, Episode 3): Can a individual be good if the world itself in which the individual lives is bad? And if it’s possible, what’s the point? Can good people turn the world, or even part of it, from bad to good or is their virtue futile? If people aspire to be good but bad things happen anyway, does that justify continuing to try to be good in face of adversity and negativity? In unethical and immoral cultures, what convincing reasons is there for good people to not do bad things?
The Eternal Shriek (Season 1, Episode 7): Can humans murder machines? Is rebooting an android, no matter how humanistic and realistic it may be, killing? And androids and other humanistic robots different from devices that look like computers, because they are designed to look like people? Can machine learning progress to the point where it is consciousness, or will it always just be mimicking this human trait? If this deep learning is deleted or reset, what are the ramifications for knowledge and language acquisition? Does something have to be alive first in order to die?
Chidi’s Choice (Season 1, Episode 10): Is not choosing a choice? If so, is it ethical or unethical to not decide because of moral uncertainty about the options? Does over-engineering choices make the ethical ramifications of them too remote for the decider to choose fairly? Is indecisiveness unethical when it leads to preventable harm?
What’s My Motivation (Season 1, Episode 11): Does good conduct only matter if it’s for a good reason/pure motivation? Is there objective good or should people’s actions be intended to meet some subjective but agreed-upon standard for “goodness”? Does altruism have to be intentional or can one person’s selfish actions still benefit others, and what credit does the selfish person? Does getting or wanting credit make a difference in moral assessment?
Michael’s Gambit (Season 1, Episode 13): What are the implications on liberty and consent when people are provided with limited choices? Are there design ethics to choice when there is an institutional architecture within people conduct their decision-making ? In libertarian paternalism, what is the responsibility of the people who select the available choices (make policy and implement governance) to the end-users that make the ultimate decisions?
Team Cockroach (Season 2, Episode 4): Do ethics require individual consequences to be meaningful? In order for people to care about doing the right thing, would the wrong thing have to hurt them personally? How can decision-making processes fairly consider and reflect possible consequences and outcomes in order to encourage integrity and adherence to personal moral standards, even when the individual has nothing to directly lose or gain?
Existential Crisis (Season 2, Episode 5): Are ethics human only? If there is consciousness, is there morality? If ethics are existential, are there some ideas that are unitary or universal? Or, like justice, is ethics too heavily invested in social and cultural background to have a broader application?
The Trolley Problem (Season 2, Episode 6): Can philosophical ethics and practical ethics be reconciled? Are clear-cut judgments of right and wrong or definitive moral assessments only possible in theory? Does reality introduce too much noise from personal opinion and prior experience for moral dilemmas to be considered and answered objectively and truthfully? If people do not remain within the boundaries of the dilemma and bring in too much outside information, are they gaming the dilemma?
Janet and Michael (Season 2, Episode 7): Do machines have morals? Can artificial intelligence give them a moral code? Will it be the same as that of the humans that engineered the deep learning? Could it differ and what will humans do if it does? What is the ethical responsibility for designers to consider this potential of technology now and how can it be controlled or addressed for the future? What happens if it goes wrong?
The above is merely a selection of interesting ethical dilemmas posed by The Good Place as the characters struggle individually and as a group to define their moral code and set expectations for their own conduct and choices within it. It will be interesting to see where the series takes these very relatable and thought-provoking questions, and what additional ones emerge, as the story continues.