To Vote or Not to Vote

In many countries there are elections looming and consequently articles and activities tend to be centred around the polishing up of candidates, who in turn try to blacken each other, while simultaneously trying to get the interest of all those people who have not yet shown much interest in voting – to encourage them.

And the social media are a popular way of doing so: There is currently a message going around Facebook that reads: “Not voting is not rebellion, it is surrender”.

I don’t know who coined that slogan, but they seem to imply that people who do not vote do so because they want to rebel against authority. That in turn makes me think that this message is probably intended for the young people who are generally believed to be rebellious and who in today’s climate are less politically active than those during the last decades of the twentieth century.

And who can blame them?

But I don’t want to discuss the hopeless future or details about specific political actions or countries; I want to talk about the sentiment behind this message.

By using terminology associated with wars, like “rebellion” and “surrender”, the message implies that voting equals fighting for democracy and if you do not do so, you are giving up your right to having a say – your voice – in the decision making.

The message appeals to moral duty – that you owe it to your country to participate – and exactly because of this choice of words, this message strongly resembles that with which governments ‘convince’ young people to join the military: they paint the picture of an enemy to which surrender means losing your freedom and equality and this message is usually accompanied by the idea that the alternative is tyranny, where people have no such rights.

But let us consider those ideas for a moment.

Rebellion is protest against authority, but in a true democracy the people are the authority and thus should have no cause to rebel.

And rights, like the right to life, freedom and equality are human rights – each human being acquires them by virtue of being born. So where do politicians get the idea that they can claim them as theirs to hand out as they see fit? Why should we be grateful to them? And where are those rights when a government resorts to conscription during a war or when they make voting compulsory?

The belief that a vote equals a voice is instilled in young children from the moment they set foot in school, so that, by the time they are at the age where they can vote, most have internalized that as a truism that is not open to consideration.

You have probably heard the question of whether a tree that falls in a forest when there is nobody there to hear it makes noise. Similarly, we can ask: If somebody shouts in the middle of a forest or a desert and there is absolutely nobody there to hear it, is it still a voice? Is there any use of expressing your freedom of opinion, if nobody can hear it?

And we can turn the question around and ask: If I shout in the middle of a cacophony of other noises, so that what I say gets drowned in the onslaught, is that having a voice? Is that having a say in the running of a country – which is what democracies claim: that of rule by the people for the people.

If I have an opinion and I express it, but nobody can hear my voice, am I really contributing to the rule of the people, or just to the general noise levels? Is a voice actually a voice in a deaf world?

Now, there are two manners in which democratic countries promote the idea that voting equals having a say. If you vote in a referendum you are allowed to say yes or no to one idea. The context, details and alternatives of that idea are not considered; you say yes or no, after which they count the votes and then decide whether or not to pay attention to this majority input: thus yes a vote, but not a voice.

If you vote for a politician, you vote for celebrity. They make all kinds of promises that are intended to win your vote – they openly admit that. After the elections, the votes are counted so the greatest celebrities get a seat in the government, which is composed of representatives of different political parties, so that all issues are reconsidered, regardless of any promises made, because the assembly as a whole has different priorities and will decide on new laws without consulting the people and there is no mechanism in place that allows the people to call the politicians on their promises or to remove them if they fail. Again yes vote, no voice.

To equate a vote with having a voice is buying into a deception.

To have a voice in an honest democracy, would mean being able to express your view, to be able to explain it and get a considered answer on it – to be treated as an equal instead of a number and take part in the discussion process. A voice without somebody to hear it is not having a say and such a vote is equal to putting a pebble in a jar.

Voting for candidates is equivalent to voting in a Miss World contest – they also get to say what they would do to make the world a better place in order to make the best impression.

And who, in reality, is this enemy we cannot “surrender” to by not voting?

Is it a foreign nation ready to invade? Is it a tyrant with grandiose ideas? Is this enemy we invite by not voting an enemy from outside?

Or is it coming from those who won the last popularity contest? Is it those who held a referendum about some important issues and then ignored the results? Is it those who sell the nation’s natural resources to multi-nationals that use dangerous methods of extracting them? Is it those who will gladly stick the nation’s money into buying military supplies instead of providing for the poor? Is it those who forcibly remove children from homes if the parental methods are not in line with the latest fashion? Is it those in power, who employ the police to force people to stop protesting against such measures?

In short, against whom are we defending our right to a voice, to equality and freedom if we vote in elections?

The enemy implied are the politicians – the same celebrities who need our vote to get more popular. Those who benefit by keeping a political system that relies on elections.

Politicians, of course, are ridiculed plenty. Douglas Adams called them lizards and asked why we keep voting for lizards. The answer is that we have the choice between lizards and lizards.

In the meanwhile, these lizards happily share in the ridicule, because the jokes only add to their celebrity and in the end they get to sell out the land, take away the children and send the police after those people who protest that. And if you call them on that, they turn around and say, “you had a voice, so shut up already”. In the end, when things start falling apart because of the consequences of their choices, they get to retire and write their memoirs, because they are celebrities. In the end only their voice was heard.

Now, as explained in other posts, I am not saying that politicians are by definition corrupt or liars or power mad – It isn’t that simple. Most politicians start with the best of intentions and that is exactly the problem, because it is very difficult to convince a person who is totally immersed in his faith that the system may not work. But we need more than intentions to save the Earth from pollution and the people from another war.

To start with, we should stop calling politicians “leaders” – they are not. A few years in university and a popularity contest don’t make a person capable of insightful decision making, of understanding the long-term consequences and of selflessness – the natural traits of leaders – on the contrary, a system that relies on popularity invites exactly those who look at the short-term future, who make decisions based on how popular an idea already is and withdraw from public life when things don’t work out.

Note that I am not and never will be in favour of tyrannies, where power hungry self-important people threaten and abuse their population. But to believe that it is the only alternative to a democracy is to believe in a fairy tale. Obviously, there is no system where every person will be completely free, but honest leaders admit this and don’t deceive their people.

So, is not voting surrender to the enemy? No, not if the enemy are those people who help your country to economic and natural disaster. Not if the enemy are those people who will take away your kids if they don’t like your parenting style. Not if they are the people who will not take any definitive actions to save the Earth, because it may make them unpopular. Not if they are the politicians that get their power through elections.

Voting is surrendering to the dictatorship of the mob. Not voting is a principled stance against a deceptive system and a call for honour: if we want to have a voice and freedom and if we really want to save the Earth, we need a change of political system. We need leaders who are in it for the long-run and who own their decisions instead of buying them. A captain doesn’t jump ship – a true leader does not retire.

If the majority of people would refuse to vote and make a stance to demonstrate that, would demand answers to their concerns and their voices to be acknowledged, and would demand the immediate dismissal of any politician who doesn’t come through on the promises made during the elections, then we could start talking about having a voice; until that time, the slogan is a deception.

Not voting, en masse, is the only way to change the system from party politics to true democracy and more equality and freedom. As long as we keep voting, we keep putting celebrities where leadership is required and no decisions will be made, because their only concern is for the amount of votes in the next election.

I must mention that the stakes in Scotland are different at the moment, since the people are actually voting in a referendum for freedom from an outside ruler and their referendum question is a closed question that can be answered by yes or no.

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The Last War Celebration

In Australia and New Zealand next week is ANZAC day. Officially a memorial day for and in honour of the soldiers that died fighting in World War One and Two: the ANZAC soldiers. In reality, like the memorial days other countries have for their wars of the past, it is a celebration of nationalism and war heroes, with many families honouring members of their families they believe fought in those wars – although a recent news report said that many of those heroes never really existed – and politicians appearing on TV holding speeches.

November 11th, also named “Poppy Day”, is a more worldwide memorial day for those same wars, in which those who want to honour dead soldiers wear red poppies on their clothing and those who want to remember civilian victims wear white poppies. Of course, apart from the people of Darwin, Australia and New Zealand did not have many civilian casualties, and they also don’t have much of a history – other than colonialism, which is unpopular – so they put everything they have into these celebrations.

I will not go into a long discussion about the rights and wrongs of war. I did that last year in two posts: http://judgmenthurts.wordpress.com/2013/05/07/heroes-and-cowards/ and https://nonentiti.wordpress.com/2013/05/07/lest-we-forget/

In this post, I merely want to focus on the big 2015 celebration – the 100th anniversary of the First World War – that is coming up next year. I believe that it is about time, in light of the continuous environmental threats we are living with, that the people of this Earth start getting serious about wanting peace – as opposed to just paying lip service to the idea, because that is the popular and politically correct thing to do.

I am not sure whether people can even live without war – it is certainly not easy with overpopulation and crowded nations – and the cause of that may lie deep in their psychology, but that is not a reason not to try.
The very first step in that is to start acknowledging what causes and perpetuates wars: that celebrating soldiers as heroes is telling the next generation that killing other people because your government says you must, is celebrating servants to the tyrant, not heroes. That celebrating your dead ancestors as heroes is celebrating that they lost their one young life long before their time instead of mourning that wasted young life. That this same message, if expressed in front of your children, is telling them you would value them more dead than alive, would the situation call for it. That saying you want peace, while simultaneously honouring soldiers, is hypocritical.

And for those ready to attack me for this post:

No, I didn’t live through the horrors of those wars – Did you?

No, I am not related to ANZAC (or any) soldiers, so I cannot possibly feel the loss as you must.

I am merely the descendant of a Jewish family that lived in Holland during World War Two, and of which very few members survived. Those who did – my parents and grandparents – preferred not to talk about it; they wanted to forget. They certainly never saw a cause for celebration in memorial days. I don’t want to end up like them and I don’t wish such horrors on my children. I also don’t wish these horrors on the millions of children who are living with war today.

So I call for those people who are serious about wanting a future without war for their children and grandchildren, to use the next year to voice their concerns and organize an answer to the big hero worshipping celebrations the governments are planning. Instead of using war memorials for telling how wonderful wars are, because they produce heroes, we should use those days to remember why we need peace.

Soldiers don’t exist because there are wars; wars exist because there are soldiers. (In the Real World). That is all there is to it.

It would be a start if we could get more people wearing white poppies than red ones: more people wearing a symbol of peace rather than of blood. It would be a true achievement if we could get most countries to agree that 2015 will be the last war celebration. We have a year. If you really value life and the lives of your children, please share this message and start doing what you can to make 2015 the very last war celebration. One hundred is enough already.

All Together Now

we either all get serious or we all perish together

A wonderful documentary, Chasing Ice by James Balog, recently aired on National Geographic. What the filmmakers did was provide visual proof of the speed with which the ice is retreating from glaciers and from the poles, and that global warming is real – which, they say, many people still doubt. This proof, and the TED lectures they held to support their view, are an effort to create awareness in the hope of influencing people to change their lifestyle and so stop or slow global warming. They dedicated the film to their children and voiced the wish to be able to tell them fifty years hence that they did everything they knew how.

Similar messages come from other programmes, such as Extreme Weather, showing evidence of the already changing weather events – increasingly severe hurricanes and typhoons and extreme winters and heat waves – that are a result of global warming.

Then there are the sustained efforts of Greenpeace to protect the arctic and other natural habitats from drilling for oil, fracking and other potentially hazardous human endeavours. Each of these tries to entice individuals into changing their habits and calls for voluntary action.

And like the above, there are countless other projects, all more or less on the same track in trying to create awareness and generate support in either helping the Earth, halting poverty and disease, helping kids be safe, stopping abuse, and creating tolerance and peace; each with their own ideals and beliefs about causes and goals, and all are started somewhere by a few motivated individuals, because not just filmmakers, writers, artists and activists, but most people wish to be able to tell their children that they did everything in their power to make life better for them.

Yet all of the above are global problems, all of them in part due to the amount of people this Earth is trying to accommodate, and all of them influence each other, so that we are not talking about isolated events but about a global emergency we are trying to avoid.

Sure, creating awareness is a good thing, but I believe that the awareness is already there in many people – in enough people to start making a difference, at least. However, just awareness doesn’t lead to sufficient action. As said, each project does its own thing and each focuses on a specific area or problem, and since democracy is said to rely on civilians speaking out and being active, which can only work if those civilians are important to the politicians because they can generate enough support to influence the polls, there is a need to work together.

Yet I understand why so many people prefer to start their own little project rather than joining existing organizations: Those already established have a (usually bureaucratic) infrastructure and are often reluctant to listen to individuals with slightly different viewpoints – just like the politicians ignore them and just like many academics tend to ignore new insights from those without credentials in their field.

So we know the idealism is there, the will is there, the knowledge of how to go about it is also in part there, and the insight is there (although not always in the right place), so that our ability to influence the current trend toward disaster is not a question of unwillingness or a lack of awareness, but of a lack of global organization. On a large scale, people keep driving their cars, keep burning their fires and keep buying luxuries; abuse keeps happening, poverty and disease are on the increase, as is violence, and we still have wars.

The global problem, the big picture, is simply too big for most people. To say that most scientists agree that global warming is real and that weather related disasters will get worse and more frequent, is saying that most scientists are repeating what is the currently held belief about the climate, but that doesn’t help if most people simply don’t have the means to change where they buy their food, how they keep warm, and what transport or communication devices they use – they are forced to accept what is available to their means – so that warnings of experts in Earth sciences, as long as they don’t understand social or political human behaviour, are not going to generate the needed action.

Rich people may be building “green” houses, but as long as they still buy each of their children a car, they are not really helping. Politicians may support their local environmental project, but as long as they are willing to compromise for votes, they are not doing it for the right reasons. Heads of state may proclaim the need for peace, but as long they keep pointing the finger at other nations, they don’t really work to create a better world. As long as every person keeps insisting on their rights to equality and freedom based on the belief that they are intelligent enough to make decisions in every topic, they do not really understand the problem.

The problem is that if we keep accepting the dogmas of the last generation, we will not be able to save the next: It simply no longer matters whether global warming was caused by human habitation or a natural event aggravated by us. It simply no longer matters whether the US or China is the biggest polluter. It simply no longer matters who started a conflict; the only thing that matters anymore for the people of this Earth is how to stop the environmental disaster we are facing.

And as long as the different inborn talents of different people are not acknowledged, the cooperation needed to achieve global change cannot happen. Typology explains why most people have trouble picturing the future as differently from today – they see a picture of familiar things, like jobs, homes, holidays and shops and they cannot envision something entirely different. This picturing is a personality function – some people simply need a bit of help because their natural talent lies in seeing practical solutions for the here and now, and people who are attuned to here and now cannot see the there and then. This group of people whose big picture is not quite as big as they believe it to be, includes most democratically elected politicians – as I have many times explained in other posts and books.

Therefore, if we are truthful about wanting to do everything in our power for the sake of our children, we must begin by creating a socio-political situation that allows new insights and that is ready to take action rather than sit back and wait. This requires a sacrifice from all of us – a sacrifice that begins with the acknowledgment that we don’t know it all and that despite being conditioned to believe that ability is merely a matter of choice and university diplomas, people have different natural talents, insights and interests and thus that “scientists” may understand the ecology and earth science, but in order to motivate people, they need to understand human psychology (not their neurology). We need to acknowledge that politicians may have studied societies in school, but that doesn’t give them the personality traits to be leaders, and that voters may all have equal rights but that doesn’t all give them the same insights in the global problem.

We NEED to understand that despite being brought up with the belief that equality means voting in elections, most people simply follow the going trend without understanding the bigger picture and therefore such votes are not going to generate the needed change.

Imagine a fire crew being called out to a house fire. When they get there, they all assess the situation and then sit down in a circle so they can vote on the needed action, because they are all equals. I hope it isn’t my house they are trying to save. Democracy CANNOT work in an emergency.

If that sounds harsh, then I am sorry – it is another inconvenient truth. Emergencies require leadership and leadership comes with people who are born to lead. A leader has natural insight in the big picture, the ability to both listen and make decisions and no selfish interests. You may argue that power corrupts, but from a psychological perspective, that is only true for those people who are not meant to be in power, so that those types of people who proclaim this are simply projecting their own tendencies or repeating the story they have been fed from the moment they went to school, which proves this lack of insight.

First of all, it isn’t true. There are examples of absolute power that generated peace and prosperity for most people in a society: Rome was on the brink of disaster when Augustus took over. Without him it would have, without any doubt, crumbled and the ordinary people would have suffered.

Secondly, there is an alternative, an in between. It isn’t either democracy or tyranny; there are other political systems possible. Just look at how businesses are run – and they do take action where it is needed.

Thirdly, we have no choice. You call it freedom because you have been told that having a vote once every four years guarantees you that, but where is your freedom when the politicians ignore you, push laws for their own benefit and people are living more and more in fear? And just having a vote is not having a voice – voices are listened to.

Democracy is neither a guarantee to freedom nor a solution to our environmental emergency and the sooner we are willing to acknowledge that, the more of a chance we have to saving our children.

If you are willing to give up your democracy and your car and some more luxuries, and if we are all willing to give up our nationality and our stupid little wars and prejudices, we may actually be able to save the Earth.

Just saying that people need to be aware is a feel good gesture, because most people will NOT change their habits voluntarily, if for no other reason than that they simply cannot see how. Like it or not (and I don’t like it either) we need leaders to make them do so.

Without radical change we WILL see a major global environmental disaster within the next decade. Without radical change we WILL have a total disintegration of all civil laws or a major world war. Without radical change we WILL destroy the future of the entire next generation.

Life is not a dream: wake up. There is no time left.

So for the sake of our children and grandchildren, let us make sure we can tell them fifty years hence that we DID turn it around for them. That we got together and put our small differences aside for them; that we all gave up some of the things we didn’t think we could dispense with. Let us be able to tell them that we all together ensured them many a Happy New Year.

Employment, Discrimination and Human Rights

I was lucky when I was young and just starting my first job – there was plenty of work. Besides that, I worked in healthcare, so I didn’t need to apply in response to advertisements. I simply wrote to the hospital, told them what I could do for them and that was it.
Today’s young people are not that lucky. There is massive unemployment – I don’t have to go into detail about it.

My concern in this post is with the recruiting. As my children are applying for jobs, I read job descriptions and get feedback on interview procedures and it does nothing for my confidence in the process.

Just like the housing market can be a buyers or a sellers market – and accordingly each can make (outrageous) demands that influence the value of property and so change ‘reality’ – so the job market is one of supply and demand.
Today recruiters and employers believe they have the power to bend reality to their wishes. Nine out of ten times, the job descriptions listed seem to be a compilation of desirable looking personality traits and talents – that do NOT come in the same type of person – which contain all the fashionable slogans, and which they clearly gathered by going ‘shopping’ on other websites and put together as a sort of (pages long) wish list.

What they don’t realize is that unlike property values that are an economical statistic, people are real and you cannot change the psychological make-up of a person. Therefore, they are not doing their business or organization any favours when trying to artificially alter the values for the suitable employee.
For example, if you are hiring for a proofreading job, you do not need all the extraverted qualities that make for an “outgoing team member”, because those tend to not be very proofreaders.
At the same time, the potential candidates are made to feel unnecessarily nervous and inadequate, because although they might easily be able to perform the actual tasks required for the job, they feel that they cannot match the fantasy personality wished for in the description.

That results in either one of two scenarios: Employers can’t find anybody suitable when they do interviews and then start complaining that it is so hard to find “good” people. This then gets reported to the media, who spit the information back out, so that those looking for jobs are made to feel even more inadequate.
Or they hire a person who seems to have all those wished for traits in one person, because some people can bullshit their way in, which then leads to disappointment in performance.

Now employers may simply be naïve about human psychology, but recruiters should know this. Of course, recruitment agencies are institutions that have sprung up to mediate where supply outnumbers demand, claiming to be able to help employers pick the right candidates, with the intention of striking up a bit of profit in the process.
Many employment agencies, claiming to test for personality, use one-off assessments – ignoring the fact that personalities are not one-off events. Most of those tests are pre-programmed in a computer and adjusted for the expectation that people exaggerate (or lie) when applying for a job, and are consequently biased to the programmer’s interpretation of human personality. The people interviewing candidates usually have no understanding of the psychology behind the test other than to stick it in the computer and read out the result.
This has led to a gross falsification of personality traits and pre-emptive dismissal of suitable candidates. For example, an ISTJ – the most dependable and punctual of all human types, who would never exaggerate or lie about his skills – is being turned down for being “unreliable” as a result of the test having assumed they would lie and so doesn’t get the job they are best suited for. And the employer doesn’t get the candidate that is best for the job, because he trusted an agency that is incompetent.

This is a human rights issue, because this recruiter is actively discriminating against honest people – discrimination on the basis of personality.

The Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, which is the moral code most countries claim to adhere to, states that

Article 22
Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensible for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23
(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Okay, so it doesn’t actually say that employers are not allowed to discriminate for personality when hiring. But since in our society both “dignity” and “social security” rely on having a job, and everybody is “entitled to realization…of…. the free development of his personality”, should that not include respecting each personality equally?

Additionally, today discrimination goes a lot further than simple ignorance about psychology.
There are an increasing number of employers that insist that their employees reveals their social media connections. Presumably this is because they don’t want people to play on the internet during work, but this is a direct and purposeful violation of article 12 of the Human Rights Act.

Article 12
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

They may argue that there is no forced interference; that people submit this information freely, but that is a deception in a climate where jobs are scarce and thus, people are forced to submit to the (outrageous) demands of employers in order to have any chance at all. So this is coercion at the very least.

Then there are recruiters (and possibly employers as well) who under the misconception that bullies don’t have friends – which is actually not true; they tend to have hundreds of wannabe followers – will actively select their candidates on the amount of Facebook friends one has or on having a Facebook account at all.
What they are effectively doing is discriminate against victims of bullying, who don’t have Facebook accounts –as those are used to bully them – as well as against introverts, who wouldn’t go chatting during work time and who tend to be less interested in gathering hundreds of ‘friends’.

In Australia some well-intentioned people started a black-list of names of known school bullies, so as to prevent employers from hiring people who could turn out to be bullies in the work place, but again, this is based on a false belief: the belief that schools can provide those names. But most schools are not aware of who is involved in bullying because bullying tends to be a group event (many bullies against one victim) and most schools send the victim to the counsellor – not the bullies, who tend to be the popular kids.
So employers and (especially) recruiters, because those make it their job to select for sociability, use the social media to actively discriminate against personality types, and in doing so they favour bullies.

If you recognize these tendencies, please forward this post on to any recruiter, employer or anybody else who is currently involved with recruitment, writing job descriptions or looking for a job, and so help me create awareness and a more honest and fair employment market.

Thank you for reading.

Freedom of Belief and Human Rights

A few years ago, a relative of mine was called for jury duty. In the summons there was a clause stating that those people who had objections for religious reasons could file for an exemption. My relative had no organized religion to call her own, but she did have ethical objections to participating.

When I wanted to continue home educating my children after moving countries, I had to register with the ministry of education and give my reasons for wanting to forfeit traditional schooling. The options given were “religious convictions” or “other; please explain”.

Just the other day I read an article in the news, stating that public child care centres (in NSW) are allowed to ban children who are not vaccinated, but there are exemptions for those parents who refuse to vaccinate their children for “religious or for medical reasons”.

Now, organized religions are moral institutions with their own moral values and rules that may, indeed, require of their members that they refuse to participate in state organized activities (such as jury duty, schooling and vaccinations) if the moral values of the state differ with those of their own belief system. A state, after all, despite being a social institution, tends to have a predominant culture and that culture tends to set the moral standards. In some eras the state will be very intolerant to other beliefs; in others eras there is more cultural mixing.

Today we live on the tail end of such a culturally mixed society and in that light – needing to present themselves as ethnically and culturally tolerant – most western countries will claim religious freedom. It is based on that claim that exemptions are granted.

The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and all such documents are also an expression of moral values. A declaration is a set of moral laws that represent the belief system of the writers – in this case many countries:

Article 18

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

So, article eighteen refers to thought, belief, conscience and religion, which implies the ethical and moral values a person holds, while article nineteen refers to the expression of such values to others.

Now, public institutions (like a state, school, church or group representing a certain belief or cultural system) have these sets of moral laws because they have certain beliefs and want their members to act accordingly. If you choose to join a group, you choose to accept its moral rules and the members of the group generally reserve the right to call each other on their actions would they stray. Moral rules therefore have to do with behaviour, which can be observed.

Conscience is a belief a person holds within, usually about being good or bad, and generally not clearly definable. In other words, if you ask somebody why he considers something good or bad, he either refers to the moral laws that describe the behaviour that represents that sense of good or bad for him – he may have internalized his conscience from the beliefs of his environment – or he cannot exactly say why, “It just is” or “it feels that way”.

Conscience therefore is about ethical values (not moral ones). Ethical values are about the sense of what is good or bad in a person or what makes a good person, while moral values are about right or wrong action.

What people feel inside (their conscience or ethical sense) cannot be objectively measured or defined, but public actions usually can.

For example, if you punch somebody in the face your action will be considered wrong by many people, but others may consider your motivations and consider it right, but their judgment is about the right or wrong of the act; nobody will argue about the act itself: it was observable.

If you punch people in the face regularly, then some people may judge you to be a bad person based on your wrong actions. But there will still be others who understand your troubled youth and argue that yes, the actions are wrong, but the person isn’t really bad. This inner person cannot be objectively observed and therefore cannot be measured to any standard.

As described in my book, a number of psychological types are more inclined to equate ethical and moral values; they internalize the moral values of their environment so strongly that they equate the behaviour with the goodness of a person, while other types feel a strong distinction between the two. This is not a choice people make, but part of their inborn psychology and therefore neither viewpoint is right or wrong, but we have to be aware that the other perspective exists.

Also be aware that, as a result of the people who organize society usually being of the former types, the term “ethics” (as in work ethics) actually refers to moral values, since they refer to a code of conduct.

Apart from distinguishing between ethical and moral values, I personally also distinguish “moral values” from “morality”, in which the former refers to the above mentioned considerations of right and wrong action and the latter to the peer pressure exercised by the majority of the members of a group in order to force people with different values to comply. They tend to do this with gossip, bullying, exclusion, disdainful looks or comments and so on.

I have no issue with moral values. In fact, a group’s identity relies on them, but I strongly object to morality.

The next step after morality is, of course, legality, in which the authorities of a group enforce their own moral values using the penal system.

Now, like I said above, we still live in a culturally diverse society and the authorities claim to be tolerant to different belief systems (different moral codes) and this is why they allow exemptions for people with regard jury duty, healthcare and schooling.

But what about ethical values or principles?

Why is it that my relative had to explain in a letter that she objected to being part of a jury on an ethical basis and that being forced to participate would influence her sense of objectivity?

Why is it that I have to choose between claiming a religious belief I don’t have or try to explain an ethical sense (which by its very nature is not objective) and risk not being allowed to home educate my children, while people who belong to an organized religion can simply tick a box?

Why is it that religious institutions have the right to protect their children from vaccines that may be potentially dangerous, but I cannot do so on ethical grounds?

Why is it  that people who object to military service on principle either have to do community service or go to prison? Why is it that people who cannot claim an organized religion are being chased by the police if they don’t want to expose their child to the poisons of chemotherapy?

Why is it that people with moral beliefs based on an accepted institution are allowed such privileges or exemptions, but people who do not belong to an organized religion are expected to be without values (except those of the state)?

One explanation could be that the authorities rely on publicity and being seen as tolerant. They don’t want to risk the wrath of an entire group of people – that isn’t good for their public image – but they have little concern for the individual.

So what happened to “everyone has the right”?

What happened to “alone or in community with others and in public or private”?

What happened to “without interference”?

The other, more likely explanation is that the authorities have no clue about the difference between ethical and moral values, because of the types of people they are, so they cannot see that they are in effect discriminating against inborn personality types.

I am not affiliated with any religious order, whether big or small, traditional or new and whether western or from anywhere else. Yet I have very strong ethical principals, which are not negotiable and I want respect for those. It consider it an insult that I am expected to submit my child to mass vaccinations, send them to traditional public school and submit to the legal system, because my beliefs are not considered legitimate unless I belong to a religious organization.

Sure, if I insist – write a letter explaining my philosophy – I do get exemptions,  but I want respect for the idea that people can have moral and ethical values without any outside authority having imposed them. I want my human right acknowledged by the government of a state that claims tolerance to individual opinions and beliefs.

Lest We Forget

Recently, in Australia and New Zealand “Anzac Day” was celebrated in honour of those soldiers who went to Europe to fight in World War One – although, of course, the day also commemorates soldiers of later wars.  Usually, during the Anzac Day week (as for the November Remembrance) I do a special book offer for my book, In the Real World (http://tinyurl.com/98c78ve) , that despite being set in a modern suburb in peacetime, is a young adult fiction that deals with war.

The book begins on an Anzac Day weekend, but the reader can fill in any war memorial day, any remembrance and any war of their own history; it makes no difference. The story is not about the actions of war, but about the emotions of it; those emotions that cause people to forget their humanity.

The period around such memorial days is usually punctuated by TV shows about historical events and ex-soldiers recalling the time they served, usually stories about friendships and heroes, while the media reports on the ceremonies with the inevitable “Lest we forget” to be followed by “the Anzac Day spirit is still alive”, which they base on the turn-out of people attending the official service – many of those being young school boys wearing their great-grandfather’s medals.

But what does it really mean that so many people attend the ceremony? Do they do so to remember the horrors of war, so they won’t be forgotten? Don’t we see the same turn-out on any patriotic event like a football match or a royal coronation or wedding?

I can imagine that families have made a tradition of memorial and remembrance days. They dig up old photographs of ancient relatives, retell the war stories to the younger members of the family and make a day of it.

I can imagine that there are people who say that we have to remember the wars, so they won’t happen again.

I can even imagine some people thinking they need to instil a sense of patriotism in their youngsters.

And I do understand that governments need these kinds of ceremonies to guarantee them soldiers for the next time – those that parade in the medals of their ancestors dreaming of being heroes – but is that really what the people want or need; the people who will deliver those next soldiers, just so they can set up the next memorial for them?

“… If people are only told of the heroes and friendships of war it’s going to attract young people. They are going to war with the idea that they’ll come back heroes, but soldiers used to go to war with the expectation that they’d die there. Not too long ago that was the desired way to go – for the Romans, for example. Many young boys, some indeed not much older than you, signed on to fight in the Great War. As far as I know, in this country no person was conscripted who had not reached the age to vote, but it isn’t like that everywhere. Anyhow, they went because they believed they’d be on a great adventure and would have a chance to show off their bravery. That was the dream for most of them. Everything they encountered came as a shock to them. Many couldn’t cope and they did remember the horrors at first when they returned, disillusioned, often mutilated, wounded and shell-shocked. They remembered the fears, the lost friends, the dirt, the lice, the rats and the stink of decaying bodies. But when they came home they didn’t get asked how bad the smell was. At best they were asked how many bad guys they’d killed and after a few years of war people are no longer interested in the politics.

 “The situation at home after a war is often one of economic decline as the war industry collapses. For a while the old life has to be built back up, but soon the soldiers find themselves without a job, without benefits for their injuries and in relative poverty in comparison to those who stayed home. After having told their horror stories once they don’t get much sympathy anymore and what is a medal on the wall if you’re being derided in the street?

“So they start longing for the good old days, the days of close friendships in the trenches, the day general so-and-so inspected the troops, the days they were still convinced they were helping their country and those at home would be proud of them. It’s those times that are recalled for the younger generation because those stories are more eagerly listened to; those stories are what are accepted by publishers because those are what people will buy and slowly the horrors can be truly forgotten.

“Having a parade, a get-together, once a year to remember that they were once important is all that’s left for them. Therefore the dilemma is this: Do we rob them of this last ritual to deter young boys from dreaming of war or do we let them continue and instil in the population the belief that wars can be won and a country protected? Remember that rituals are the quickest way for people to feel safe; rituals and belief. Do you want to take that away from people?”

Mr Fokker looks at me with that question.

“Yes, because that way you eventually keep people from having to forget those horrors, don’t you?”

“Now you’re jumping to conclusions,” he answers. “You say that remembering wars doesn’t stop a new one from happening. I agree with that, but does not remembering wars stop new ones from happening?” (In the Real World)

Do we go to a war memorial for the tradition or to prevent the next war?

Does “lest we forget” really mean what we are made to believe it does? Are we better off not forgetting than forgetting the wars? And what exactly of those wars is it we need to remember if we want to prevent the next one from happening? Is it the hero stories or the horrors? Do these ceremonies help remember the actual events of war or our idealized picture of it?

Considering that psychologists are now admitting that people don’t all remember the same details, not even a day after an event, do we really remember the war as it was or only that part that has been selected for reasons of patriotic propaganda? “So governments can trick stupid young boys into becoming soldiers,” Grandpa Will says.

People talk about “war ethics”. People say there is good reason for countries to go to war. People say, “we have to support our government”. Governments say, “we have to protect our people”. But when you look at all the past wars, did any of those benefit the people?

Artists across the warring nations still admire each other; scientists still work together or wish they could; women still feel for the children of all people. In the end, it is never the people governments go to war for, no matter what excuse they use.

So is there an ethic to war? Does not one person’s war impose on another person’s ethic of peace? Is it not freedom to be allowed to speak and act freely as long as those words and actions do not encroach on another person’s freedom? Doesn’t the government that engages in war encroach on the freedom it promised its people?

The UN Declaration of Human Rights, written in 1948, is a moral law.

Article 3

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

I say that a state of war is in violation with the provision of liberty and security of person for every soldier who is conscripted against his will, as well as for every civilian whose life is endangered as a result of attacks by the enemy due to this state. Since a dead person does not have freedom, the value of life itself has to take prevalence over liberty. Therefore, a government who cares for the safety of its people remains neutral or surrenders.  

Article 4

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

I say that soldiers who are trained to obey orders without having an opinion of their own and to do the dirty work for their leaders are servants of the state. If conscripted, they are “held in slavery” and sending them to foreign lands makes that slave trade.

Article 5

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

I say that for some types of people – and this is part of their inborn psychology and not a choice – it is degrading punishment to be treated as a number in a army of identical beings and to be forced to wear a uniform.  

 Article 20

Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association… No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

I say that an army is an association and it is not a peaceful one.

I understand that there may be situations in which is necessary to fight back, but each person will have to make the decision whether something is necessary for themselves; nobody can decide necessity for somebody else without invading on their privacy and freedom.

Ethical decisions are individual decisions. As long as there is no congruence about what is right or wrong, good or bad – and there never has been nor will there even be congruence, because not all people are psychologically alike – the imposition of one view upon others is itself an act of oppression.

So is it true that remembering dead soldiers will stop the next war? Did it help the last thousands of times? Is it true that we need brave soldiers to fight the next war? Isn’t the next war much more likely to be automated?

When I asked a peace organization if they would consider advertising my book,  they replied that they could not possible do so because they had to “support our soldiers”.  But can people really say they want peace and yet glorify war – or the symbols of it – without being hypocrites?

I will keep saying this: To portray soldiers as heroes – even if some of them were – is not helping peace, because it sends the wrong message. See my other post, Heroes and Cowardshttp://judgmenthurts.wordpress.com/2013/05/07/heroes-and-cowards/

The government tells people it wants peace but actively supports war and peace organizations repeat this message without giving a second thought to what they are actually saying.

So, do we really want more government money to be spent on war memorials, so the politicians can lay a wreath every year and be applauded for it?

I say “no”; enough is enough. The First World War is nearly a century in the past. If we want to give peace a fair chance, it is time that we stop deceiving our children with hero stories that are based on fantasy and on memories that are fictitious, or they will be the next soldiers to be brought home in body bags.

The PM who today lays a wreath at a war memorial represents the PM who sent those soldiers to die. If a politician today does not believe in war, he should not be at the ceremony.

And what about those medals?

How is it that those who have no voice, those who identify by a uniform and shout “yes sir” to a superior, those who kill on command without any regard for life itself,  those who cannot possibly be called “individuals” in any definition of the word, can get medals with their name on it as if they somehow acted on their own?

They didn’t. An army has no place for individuals. Soldiers who don’t follow orders are punished – in times of peace they may be kicked out, but in a war situation they face death and, lest we forget, hundreds of soldiers in the First World War alone, were killed by their own superiors (not by the enemy) for being disobedient.

InTheRealWorld

The State, Human Rights and Marriage

There has been a lot of attention lately to the topic of same sex marriages, so, in light of my focus on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights  (U.N. 1948), I thought this might be a good topic to explore.

Personally, I know many same sex couples and I have friends who have successfully raised healthy families, friends who are now grandparents, so in my mind this debate was over a long time ago and it is about time the world caught up.

The reason why some countries seem to lag behind others when it comes to accepting laws that stray from the traditional are to be found in how much their government identifies with the accepted religious beliefs of its culture.

That is because legal laws are made on advice of ethical committees, which are composed of representatives of the dominant belief systems of a country; either its ruling religious institutions or in the case of countries claiming secular values and religious tolerance, the representatives from many different religions and members of (traditional) academic institutions.

In that light, and keeping in mind that this paper is almost 65 years old, let’s have a look at what the Human Rights Declaration actually says about marriage.

Article 16

 

(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as a marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Now, “the family” as the “fundamental group unit” is defined in different dictionaries as either “a group of people sharing a household”,  “a social unit consisting of parents and their children”, or “a group of people closely related by blood”, but no matter which definition one chooses, nowhere does it mention that these parents have to be of a specific gender when founding this family.

Opponents of same sex marriage could argue that under 16.1, where it mentions “without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion”, gender is not specified so that a government has the right to make a law without violating the rights of its citizens.

This is true, but religion is specified and most of the objections against same sex marriage are based on religious arguments and religion is separately mentioned in the Declaration:

 Article 18

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

If everyone has this right, then one entity (including the state) may not impose its religious views on its members.

So, it isn’t enough to just look at the article that deals with the topic of discussion, in this case, marriage; we need to see it in the context of the entire Declaration and ask whether the state (the writer of the legal laws) and the church (the writer of the moral ones) have more rights according to the Declaration than do individuals.

We need to ask whether the purpose of the state (or the church) as a social or cultural institution is to protect its members or is it also a moral judge?

Article 29

  

(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

(2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms and others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

(3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

To begin with, 29.1 does not say that the duties of the individual are to obey the moral teachings of the community but rather that the community is there to ensure that he is able to be free and develop as a person. The “personality” of a homosexual person cannot develop fully if he is asked to oppress his nature.

According to 29.2, the state is there to make laws to protect the rights and freedoms of its people and to ensure public order. Outside of this, the state has no right in the daily life of individuals or to dictate their beliefs or lifestyle.

Therefore, if “only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of… the rights and freedoms of others and… public order…” then any limitations (prohibitions) shall have to be justified by their interfering with the freedom of others or with public order, and if not, they are in violation of human rights.

And seeing that the only difference between a heterosexual couple and a homosexual couple is to be found in the bedroom – which is a territory that neither the state nor the church have any business entering – and which in no possible way disrupts the public order, the prohibition of same sex marriages cannot be justified.

Article 12

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.  

A state that poses as a moral teacher is no longer protecting individual rights. In all of history, those that stood out as dictatorships were those that interfered in people’s private lives, took over the rearing of the children and told people what to believe and how to live. The moment the state oversteps its limits as protector of the individual’s freedoms and rights within the community, by dictating their beliefs or lifestyle, it has become a dictatorship.

The only angle left, and the one used by every government or church opposing same sex marriage (and any other such alternative lifestyle), is to claim that this opposes “meeting the just requirements of morality”(29.2).

And here lies the weakness of the Human Rights Declaration itself, for “morality” is an abstract term that refers to a notion of right and wrong behaviour as interpreted according to the perspective of the reader. This means that a state (or church) can impose its interpretation of morality on its members and make legal laws claiming to be in accord with human rights, while, in fact, the individual’s rights and freedoms and his perspective of right and wrong are ignored.

So, despite the UN Declaration, as a moral law and not a legal one, claiming human rights on the basis of its democratic views, in fact the interpretation of its articles is subject to the accepted beliefs of every nation that signed it.

The reason for this lies not so much in the religious views themselves as in the idea that the church (or the state) has the right or duty to set the moral values for its subjects. And it is in that belief that I think it contradicts the very foundation of the UN Declaration: that of “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family”.

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