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What is the moral obligation of a citizen of an unethical society (abu ghraib, the patriot act, etc)

Ethical Theory

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Mar 13, 2007, 8:10pm Top

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Edited: Mar 13, 2007, 11:54pm Top

Answer: To be ethical (obviously).


(1) What makes a "society" unethical? The behavior or beliefs of some of its members? Most of its members? All of its members? Those of its governing group? Is there a difference between a society and its government?

(2) Do the unethical actions of some ever obligate others? Why?

(3) (From a snarky libertarian/conservative) if Abu Ghraib--a relatively minor set of prisoner abuses if compared with those of Vietnam, World War Two, World War One, The Civil War, the Crimean War, The Seven Years War, the Thirty Years War, the Hundred Years War, etc., etc., etc., etc., or of the typical experience of a drug smuggler in your typical middle-eastern prison (see Midnight Express)--is the standard for defining an unethical society, can you name a society anywhere at any time that should not be defined as "unethical"?

Mar 14, 2007, 8:16am Top

Depends a bit on your definition of "ethics"!
Bt my way of looking at it - entirely based on my experiances and without reference to scholarly works -
A society can't be "unethical". A society decides what the ethical conduct for its memebers is, probably not in a formal manner but through some form of consensus that this is acceptable and this isn't. Hence only individiuals can act un-ethically meaning they break the unwritten laws that define the ethics of a society that they live in.

#2's point 2 " Do the unethical actions of some ever obligate others?" yes - from the above definition if memebers of your society break "the rules" of your ethics then you are obligised to protest in a very loud and clear manner that such behavior is un-exceptable, and enforce such punishments that are deemed appropriate for such a contravension of acceptable behavior and remind all persons that this is not how "we" wish to be seen. If as a member of a society you don't follow this obligation, you become likely to end up living in a society with different ethics to the one in which you would wish to live.

Which leads to questions - how does society choose its ethics, what happens and what do you do if they are the "wrong" ones, and how do societies with different ethics interact reasonably?

To which I don't have the answers.

Edited: Mar 16, 2007, 10:40am Top

Response to message 2.:
1. I say a society is unethical if the unethical behavior of some of its members goes unpunished (lapd, ku klux clan, abu ghraib, etc).
2. Yes, the unethical actions of some obligate others-orphans and abandoned children should be cared for humanely by others.
3.-the degree of unethical behavior, using common sense, says that the Nazi treatment of the jews was more unethical than the american treatment of the negro because of the numbers killed in a given period were larger.

All situations of injustice and cruelty are not of the same magnitude. An example of an unethical society is the american south when lynchings were common, everything was segregated and the ku klux klan flourished. The laws of segregation were unethical; the behavior of the implementers of segregation was unethical, and the violence perpetrated against the protesters-birmingham, selma, the assassination of King-was unethical. What was done about it all took a hundred years and continues.

I'm not sure we have a hundred years now to clear the world of nuclear weapons, calm the inflamed jihadists, stop global warming and pollution, disarm the jinjaweed and protect the darfurians from further rape, murder and starvation to name a few problems. You ask if i can name an ethical society? I think there was a primitive tribe called the Arapesh that was non-violent according to Ruth Benedict, but her research may have been flawed. Some mini-societies like the Shakers, the Amish, and the Bruderhof are ethical in the sense of non-violent, but unethical in the restriction of individual freedom.

I think the U.S. government is unethical both at home for the unequal distribution of wealth , the prohibitive cost of higher education, and the lack of universal access to medical care, and abroad for its destabilization efforts is other countries for one example.
I think the U.N. is unethical, because the force in Darfur is not large enough or armed enough to protect the non-combatants and disarm the combatants. The enormity of it all is overwhelming to me. What is my obligation?

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