Ethics


It occurred to me today that one of the reasons so many people want socialized medicine, is that they don’t want to have to pay the price of their own choices. Just like the bailout of sub-prime mortgages, because people bought more than they should have and could afford, life-choices the majority of Americans make incur higher health care costs. Just research the skyrocketing increase of adult-onset diabetes. If we had more self-control to eat fewer carbohydrates, we wouldn’t be gaining as much weight as a people, and diabetes wouldn’t be the problem it is.

One of my weaknesses is Cinnamon Toast Crunch. The product really should be banned.  🙂  I do have the self-control to only buy it now and then; I just don’t have the self-control to make the product last more than 24 hours. I’ve been working on my self-control over the past few months, and as a result I’ve lost weight. I’m down lower than I have been since 2004 – for only a few weeks – and prior to that, possibly 2000.

Because of this paragraph, “I know whereof what I speak.” I know how hard it is to push away from food we shouldn’t eat, and make wise decisions when it comes to finances, lifestyle, etc. But we as a nation must start to exercise self-control, or we will be in for a world of hurt before too long. The entire population will not be able to be supported by the “rich.” We can’t keep living beyond our means and expect some magic pill of the future to solve the problems we’ve been making. Or as Albert Einstein said, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”

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Because of another book I’ve been reading, I’ve done more investigation on post-modernism. The book, Postmodernism 101 by Heath White, is a really good introduction to the concepts and thoughts flowing around out there today. If most of what you’ve heard is the traditional arguments against postmodernism, I’d suggest you read it to get a better understanding of the mindset. I don’t agree with all the concepts, but some of it does have merit in today’s world.

It’s funny, I think we all have various aspects of pre-modern, modern, and post-modern thinking. Sort of a buffet approach to the concepts and thoughts that fit your mental assessment of who you are, society at large, other people, and how things work. While I was raised in more of the modern era and thinking, I found that most of my religious thoughts are probably more pre-modern than anything. I own a systematic theology and other research tools, but I do not think that pure thought and reason can bring me closer to God. One of my favorite phrases that I use when people are struggling to understand God is, “If we could understand God, we would be Him.” An ant can anymore understand us than we can understand God, and He is infinitely higher than us than we are higher than the ant. His Spirit will reveal Himself to me when and how He wants. Pure logic just won’t cut it. That’s not to say that the Holy Spirit won’t reveal some of who God is by researching, but it’s a “spiritual” approach also. He works with us where we are, not by formula.

One of the chapters I enjoyed the most was on language and thought, and how the postmodern mind looks at these concepts differently, even playfully, where the modern mind considered the precise use of a phrase or word. We all have frames of reference through which we view the world, and language is one of them. A metaphor I might use would seem totally out of place to someone else. There is no right or wrong metaphor. And the more you have interacted with people of different cultures or countries, the more you realize that.

In my opinion, one of the frictions in the modern/postmodern debate is how each culture views themselves as being right, especially if you’re old enough to remember 8-track tape players, 45’s, and rabbit ears on TV’s. But for the younger crowd, they have grown up in a world immersed in different cultures and new technologies. For them, their home culture may not be viewed as always being right. Witness the explosion of Starbucks in China, a country “steeped” in tea. Because of that, language, morals, authority, all might be a mix of different aspects of different cultures. This “divorce” from your home culture has probably caused a lot of consternation in older folks…such as myself, and probably why I fought it without trying to understand it…at first.

There is a lot to postmodernism I don’t agree with, especially being a follower of Jesus. And there is a lot of postmodernism that I don’t think even adherents agree with. Afterall, if there truly was no moral authority or moral absolutes, why would Amnesty International exist? Why would the world have put pressure on South Africa to end apartheid. Isn’t a culture supposed to define their own morals? Why would PETA care if I kick my cat (which I down have one by the way, and I wouldn’t kick if I did have one) since the cat lives in my world and I’m allowed to build the morals in my own world. So the idea of no moral absolutes isn’t really the case, I think the real situation is they don’t want to have to admit that maybe they are on the wrong side of a moral debate. Maybe deep down they know that living a life wholly dedicated to self-pleasure isn’t fulfilling. And it is through our own actions, the involvement of Christians in the community, truly living out the life of Jesus, we can show them that true happiness does exist, and where the source of that true happiness comes from.

Need a good reason to study postmodernism? I think Francis Schaeffer said it best with this quote:

Every generation of Christians has this problem of learning how to speak meaningfully to its own age. It cannot be solved without an understanding of the changing existential situation which it faces. If we are to communicate the Christian faith effectively, therefore, we must know and understand the thought-forms of our own generation” (Schaeffer, 1968, pp. 11-12).

— White, Heath. (2006). Postmodernism 101. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press.

— Schaeffer, Francis A. (1968). Escape from Reason. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books.

There’s a good article on Fortune this week called “Wall Street Whiners.” Read the whole thing, but I really like this section of the article:

The various reports may have gotten one big thing right: Many argued that a broad, principles-based approach to both accounting and regulation would work better and cost less. But living according to principles requires a certain maturity and a long-term view of where one’s self-interest lies. Right now, Wall Street seems like a child who can’t keep his hand out of the cookie jar, even when the cookies are going to make him sick (¶ 9).

Good advice for Wall Street…and Main Street.

— McLean, B. (2008, April 1). Wall Street Whiners. Fortune. http://money.cnn.com/2008/03/31/news/economy/wall_street_whines.fortune/index.htm.

Suppose your doctor gives you a prescription for a drug, say Motrin 400MG, you take it to your drug store, and they offer you a generic equivalent for a lot less money. Depending on your insurance, the drug, and the pharmacy, it could be a difference of $4 for the generic drug versus $40 (or more) for the brand. But there is a move afoot by pharmaceutical manufacturers to get legislatures around the country to mandate the use of brand drugs with certain steps required in order to dispense a generic. Here is the text of a Michigan law designed to do just that.

Sec. 17769. A pharmacist shall not interchange an antiepileptic drug or formulation of an antiepileptic drug that is prescribed for the treatment of epilepsy or the treatment or prevention of seizures without prior notification of and the signed informed consent to the interchange by the prescribing physician and patient or the patient’s parent, legal guardian, spouse, or other legal representative.” [Bold added by me]

“Interchange,” as used here, means to substitute a generic equivalent…a chemically equivalent formulation of a drug…THE SAME THING! The only difference is it costs us (and insurance companies) less. If I was epileptic and lived in Michigan, I would be seriously upset with the representatives who submitted this bill. And according to the friend who sent me the story, Tennessee has already passed a similar law and other states are considering a similar bill.

As my friend said, “This is the latest ploy by Pharma to try to offset the growing use of generics.  Not surprisingly, certain popular anti-convulsive drugs will soon go off patent, so this is clearly a sleazy strategy to prevent pharmacies from dispensing generics.”

If this bill passes in Michigan like it has in Tennessee, it’s likely to be tried by more pharmaceutical manufacturers for different classes of drugs, and in different states. So the time to stop it is now!

In my opinion, one of the travesties of American state governments is that of the lottery. Currently, 42 states and the District of Columbia operate lotteries. As has been shown by numerous studies over the years, the primary people who play the lottery are those who can’t afford to lose the money. And while they are eager to point out that the money goes to education, they certainly aren’t lowering tax rates to give us back the tax money they have replaced with lottery income. (Yes, I know, our current tax rates might be higher had a lottery not existed, but is that just speculation?)

But overseas, where they operate lotteries, they also allow what are called “Prize-Linked Savings accounts.” These savings accounts pay interest, but also feed the innate desire in people to win something. The accounts offer prizes, to double your balance up to a certain amount, or just bonus prizes of preset amounts. In South Africa, over 750,000 accounts were opened and resulted in 1.2 billion Rand being saved (p. 4) in just two years! That’s equivalent to $154 million! One credit union in Indiana, Centra Credit Union, offers a “PLS” savings account. Kudos to them!

Wouldn’t it be in the best interests of the population of the United States (which is what the state governments are supposed to be thinking about), to encourage banks, S&L’s, and credit unions to offer these accounts and to disband the lotteries? The product would encourage savings in the lowest income groups of the population and possibly in higher income groups as well. When you consider that in 2007 over $90 billion was spent on “legalized” gambling (p. 10), wouldn’t it be better to channel more of that money into the savings pipe which could be used by businesses and government to grow our economic base? And in the process we would be enabling those at the lower income levels to start a savings plan and teach them that it is possible to better their economic situation through savings and hard work.

— Tufano, P., Maynard, N., & De Neve, J. (2008). Consumer Demand for Prize-Linked Savings: A Preliminary Analysis. http://www.hbs.edu/research/pdf/08-061.pdf.

Have you ever heard someone argue that we in the U.S. shouldn’t tell citizens of another country what is right or wrong, that the society in the other country has to decide what is right for itself? Or even one state or city shouldn’t tell another state or city what is right for it? This is an example of the “conventionalism” ethics argument. The problem with this argument is that it is “…impossible to criticize another society’s practices, no matter how bizarre or morally repugnant they may seem to us” (p. 50). If this is true today, why did we prosecute the Nazis at Nuremberg? The majority of that society believed in “The Final Solution” to exterminate the Jewish population (as well as homosexuals and gypsies), so if society had decided that extermination was appropriate, why the trial? The conventionalism argument can be extended to any length to include (insert the most repugnant act you can think of) and still, supposedly, be “moral.”

Some like to argue that there is a “higher good” that all people ascribe to. In other words, all people have decided that murder is immoral so murder is therefore immoral and therefore illegal. But according to conventionalism, why? If a group of people who believed murder was morally allowed, bought an island somewhere, moved there, why shouldn’t they be allowed to dispense with what other people believed and live as they see fit? Although the population most likely would dwindle down to one before too long.

Without a base morality defined by an authority higher than humankind, there is nothing that is immoral or unethical under conventionalism. “If there is no law above society – no external standard – then that society cannot be judged” (p. 50).

Thankfully, people of previous eras didn’t ascribe to this philosophy, or the work of William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, Jr., Corrie ten Boom, and those seeking religious freedom from England would not have accomplished what they set out to do. How many people today owe their freedom to the work of people who believed in a higher moral standard?

– Beckwith, F. J. & Koukl, G. (1998). Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Consider the definition of a sociopath:

“sociopath [(soh-see-uh-path, soh-shee-uh-path)]
Someone whose social behavior is extremely abnormal. Sociopaths are interested only in their personal needs and desires, without concern for the effects of their behavior on others.”

Now consider the definition of moral relativism:

Moral relativism states that there is no objective moral truth, that each person is responsible for developing his or her own ethical rules to live by.

Does anyone notice a correlation between these definitions? “…interested only in their personal needs and desires, without concern for the effects of their behavior on others.”

I like the way Francis Beckwith and Gregory Koukl describe it in their book, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air, “Another way to assess the validity of a moral system is to see what kind of person it produces. Given a particular standard of morality, the person who is most moral is the one who practices the specific system’s key moral rule consistently” (p. 30). “What do we call those who most thoroughly apply the principles of relativism, caring nothing for others’ ideas of right or wrong, those who are unmoved by others’ notions of ethical standards and instead consistently follow the beat of their own moral drum?” (p. 31).

So why are people surprised when business executives behave in a manner that is “unethical?” Aren’t they operating by their own set of ethical values? Isn’t this the perfect example of ethical relativism? I would say business executives have learned only too well what moral relativists have been espousing all along!

— sociopath. (n.d.). The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Retrieved February 19, 2008, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sociopath

— Beckwith, F. J. & Koukl, G. (1998). Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.