Friday, June 04, 2010

A soldiers or policeman's guide to ethics

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The Sept 11th terrorist attack elevated the importance of firemen, police and military personnel. Politicians everywhere were praising the courage, skill and servitude of these people. Do you believe them? I really don't think our politicians say anything which can be taken at face value. It is all political spin. Not just their evasive remarks to escape some embarrassing folly, but also their praise. The reason I would suggest this is the following:
1. The military, the police, the fire brigade is a job like any other. Perhaps the most challenging aspect is the amount of information you need to know. Particularly the police; but then if they end up doing mostly traffic infringements, and there are specialists dealing with any serious problems like a bank robbery, then I guess this also ceases to be true. If all of this is true, then this is really false praise for these servicemen.
2. The police and military pose a risk to the government. We saw in 2008 the overthrow of the Thai government in a military-led coup. The military in this case displayed loyalty to their commanders. Why? Because they are trained to take orders. From whom? Their military commanders or the government. Its difficult to listen to the PM when he is in exile.

From these examples it ought to be apparent that the military and other servicemen are open to moral questions. More interesting is that propensity of the 'political system' to actually discourage them from having any independent thoughts. They are required to simply follow the hierarchy of command. This is a problem...because this is entirely the type of dogmatism and anti-intellectualism that we were fighting in Germany....indeed most wars. Soldiers should not be amoral in the execution of their job.
The strongest defense for the 'chain of command' argument is that soldiers don't have time to think, so they simply need to follow orders. This is not a compelling argument for several reasons:
1. This dogmatism is displayed in peace time as well as war time
2. This dogmatism is displayed up the chain of command, so apparently none of them have the mental efficacy to question policy or strategy.
3. Opposition in most contexts favours better decision-making. We ought to have a primary respect for facts and reality. If, as leaders, we are not getting that feedback, we are inclined to become aloof, arrogant and insecure. This can only result in self-righteous action, and the needless death of servicemen.
4. Repression of ideas is unhealthy. I once asked a soldier how he would feel about fighting a war he did not believe in. He did not have an answer. This is precisely why many war veterans return home with a plethora of mental illnesses. Serving in the military is indeed a supreme sacrifice. Sacrificing your mind is the gravest sacrifice you can make. Its not a point of pride.

Clearly there is a context in which soldiers need to simply follow orders. i.e. On the battlefield when urgent, life-threatening decisions need to be made, there is good reason to subordinates to withhold their opinions until the matter can be dealt with. A subordinate ought not be obliged to fight under a leader whom they lack confidence in, and they ought to have the opportunity to have their opinions tested, whether its to weed out poor leaders, or to identify new ones.

The role of the police and military is not simply to protect a country from foreign invaders. It is also to protect the people from internal corruption. Most wars are the result of civil immorality. It is much easier for a leader to justify breaches of national interest than invade a foreign country. The same can be said of physical abuse. Rape is far more common among people known to the offender. The reason is that:
1. Its easier to justify
2. There is greater reason to expect no consequences

There are of course a number of different or competing elements to government:
1. Executive - The part of government which executes the administration of government
2. Legislature - The part of government which enacts laws. In Australia, we have the folly of the executive being part of the legislature. This is folly, as is any system which allows their affiliation.
3. Judiciary - The part of government which interprets the law. The judiciary is criticised for 'making law' with some controversial decisions. The reality however is that it too has the capacity to make law. Any interpretation of the law is in effect making law, as its applying the law to a particular context. I would suggest that the judiciary fails in this regard because it is not protecting the spirit of the constitution. i.e. Reason as the standard of value.
4. Police & military - The part of government which preserves government and the sovereignty of the nation through the enforcement of the law.

There are important moral questions about who the military ought to follow? In a civil crisis, ought the police and military side with the executive, the courts or the legislature, or do they adopt their own agenda. My view is that they ought to have no particular allegiance other that to their own moral conscience. I would hope that they have one, but the culture of the military appears to be one of unthinking servitude, which is destined to serve immorality rather than morality.
Reason ought to be their standard of value, whether it lies with the judiciary, the executive, or the parliament. The reality is that society only descends to this point because the competitive regime in which government has functioned has broken down, i.e. reason has ceased to be the standard of value.
The problem with government is that it is based on 'numbers', so reason has never explicitly the standard of value. Government has become about extortion. It was always about power. Before it was about physical power - who controlled the military. Today, its about symbolic power because power is dispersed. Taxing powers, media power, financial power, etc. Even foreign governments and corporations can weigh into debates. The lone logical individual counts for nothing. A vote is s symbolic gesture. It counts for nothing. This is why I don't vote, and instead attempt to educate. I don't even both educating for the sake of changing your vote. That would support a bad system. My intent is to educate those organisations which count...those with the ability to influence:
1. The judiciary - I want to encourage judicial activism, as we have seen in India. Difficult because they are creatures of tradition, even if traditions were ill-founded centuries earlier.
2. The media - Difficult because they are mostly lefty liberals with no respect for objectivity
3. Business leaders - Difficult because they are not great conceptual thinkers. Their practicality stems from their willingness to work with anyone. They offer concessions to government if they cannot vote with their feet.
4. Military leaders - Difficult because they have this arbitrary power from a legacy of dogmatism. So they are not destined to be great thinkers.

Anyway, progress is slow.....I am destined to be overwhelmed because there are simply too few people in the world who think, and few practical benefits in preserving an honesty perspective. The only prize is my own self-respect. :)
Andrew Sheldon

ConvinceMe.Net - Anyone up for a debate?