So, finally, what should a person do, be an ethical person or be a good person? At this point, the only solace I have is that I am not alone in not having an answer. The working class hero Albert Camus spent a serious part of his unfortunately short life asking various forms of this question in such writings as The Fallen, The Plague, and The Rebel, but even he was never able to answer it. In the end, all he could say was “The slave begins by demanding justice and ends by wanting to wear a crown.” The problem with the question is the subtlety of the problem that like the tip of an iceberg hides the enormity hidden beneath consisting of a defect in the human soul.
As I have written before, the power of law and the classism it maintains and enforces seems to be a necessity part of reality because of humanity’s inherent struggle for survival with the natural world trying to kill us. In this battle to exist with the universe, humanity needs to be organized in an efficient hierarchy in the same way any community involved in a battle would need to be organized to win. This need for efficiency is the foundation and source of all of our historical, material, and economic progress. This was Plato’s argument against state rule in the form of a democracy: it is simply too slow and cumbersome to work efficiently when democracies are confronted with tragic problems of survival, and thus democracy will eventually become anarchy and then tyranny. So far, history has not falsified his theoretic predictions for the path of democracies. Fine, so we will always have laws and a legal system to maintain the necessary injustice in life of social and economic classes regardless of whether it be a democracy or a tyranny or anything else. Thus, for workers the question of whether to be law-abiding or a law breaker is analogous to asking whether one should or should not comply with the orders of someone holding a gun to one’s head. It is a question of how suicidal your situation has become or of how lucky one feels. For workers and for everyone except for the minority at the top of any society’s class structure, it is an obvious problem with obvious options: work or go to jail.
With ethics, the problem begins with the first thought of it being a problem: questioning ethics implies you are a bad person, even when the ethics is simply a fabricated set of rules by a small group designed substantively only to maintain that small group’s power with little or no connection to any pragmatic reality except for maintenance of that power. Ethics is a religion that denies being a religion which makes it worse than a religion. At least with the major Western religions, a person can be virtuous and moral by good intentions though they do not act upon the knowledge or intent. “Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum” (Love the sinner but hate the sin). — St. Augustine, His Letter 211 at 424. This is not enough for ethics. Ethics is personal. It is a scarlet “E” placed upon sinners indicating to all one is unclean.
Ethics is a choice of work or no work that in some ways is worse than jail since individuals trying to be and to do good in life need either work ties or social ties to give meaning to their lives. Karl Marx saw work as a source of alienation for workers, however, being unemployed because one is “unethical” with no resources to strive, to contribute to society, or to enjoy one’s leisure time by some form of creativity is a mental prison for good persons as bad as imprisonment and worse than any alienation caused by work. Furthermore, ethics is enforced not by the hacks that visibly and directly make up the legal system and therefore are an enemy one can see and fight but by fellow workers — again just as is a community’s religion. It is a Western form of being made an outcaste only without a formal caste system and thus without the social support of other outcastes. Thomas Sowell’s book “The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy” calls this modern ethics based view on what should be pragmatic considerations a “vision of the anointed”; he calls it a cosmic view of virtue as a basis for policy decisions instead of using the reality of dealing and solving problems. He directs his accusations to the American liberal intelligentsia but it could just as easily be applied to the right except for the fact that the polemics of the right are at least honest about their cosmic visions of virtue being religious.
A simple answer would be to comply with any given rules of ethics, keep one’s job, and do not make trouble. Following orders and doing what one is told to do without question, there is an answer that has always worked out well for being a good and moral person — not.
My only answer is: empathy. Unlike the thousands of new laws enacted and enforced upon us anew each year in addition to the libraries of law already out there by the Inner Party and its Outer Party house servants, ethics is enforced by workers upon workers. In our modern Technological Society rule of law, the average person commits three felonies a day without even knowing it. (See generally, “Three Felonies A Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent”, Encounter Books (June 7, 2011.)) Any time the law wants to get us, any of us, it can. We are all in the same unethical boat. Remember this next time you want to look with disdain about the “unethical” practices, conduct, views, or acts of fellow workers regardless what may be the employment, social, or political situation. More than ever, if we are to be judged by a secular religion called ethics, the religious advice “he who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone” is more important than ever.