(Warning: This is a blog that will get deeply philosophical on your ass and probably should be the summary of a book and not a blog. If you are of the non-philosophical variety, you may want to forego this one and do some fun reading with this one!)
I always attempt to be as blatantly honest and forthcoming as possible in my blogs. I believe that people resonate with what is true, realized by the use of specific examples (names, dates, situations, etc.). An “intense” issue has been strong and central on my mind recently and I REALLY want to openly write about it -complete with names, dates, and situations. However, writing about the topic in a totally honest and non-discreet fashion may put some others in a potentially negative light. I realize I have no trouble making myself look bad or like an ass when the truth needs to be realized, yet my personal value system (yes, I have one of those…we all do) dictates that I not put others in such a potential negative light -I have the right to make myself look bad, and, unless you are a traffic cop, very few others.
Therefore I write the following as specifically as possible without the use of any specifics. By omitting names I accuse no one of anything and, not coincidentally, any libel suits from happening. You will just have to trust me this is really happening.
I will break this down as simply as I can.
I serve with a group that currently needs to make a very important decision in the near future. This decision will affect lives and, potentially, a lot of people. In a recent discussion with another member of this group that also plays a part in this important decision-making process, I asked “him/her/it” how “his/her/its” (from now just lovingly referred to as “it”…it could be an alien) decision may go if we had to make the decision today.
I asked “it” this question because “it” is a purveyor/believer of all things “ethical.” It is a religious it with a strong moral code and its opinion was of great interest to me. I not only really like this it a lot and have great respect, I really desired an honest and reflective opinion.
When it responded that it is not going to play a part in this decision process by recusing itself, this was of great surprise as a lot of people could be affected by the decision. Though I paraphrase when I write its reason for recusing, “I cannot be a part of it because it may jeopardize my job,” I was taken aback.
“So,” I thought to myself, “You are not going to take part in an extremely important decision that may affect MANY lives because it MAY have negative implications for you personally?”
Wow. I mean, I get it. I understand it. Yet I would empathize far more with that response from the local narcissist who cared little for the universal whole, but from this “it?”…an “it” with morality and integrity?
This has me thinking about the larger underlying issue at play here. Thus, I blog about the issue of integrity. What is it? Who has it? Is it contextual? This situation really has me thinking.
At the risk of a dangerous oversimplification, it seems to me the world breaks “integrity” down into two general areas -and the two have only slight concentric overlapping.
“Personal Moral Codes” integrity vs. “Public Moral Codes” integrity. In other words, the former are those who would place their personal belief system as their guiding light for decision-making; while believing this personal system would also be best for society at large –usually a personal system driven by a code of conduct, holy book, philosophy- as the basis for public decisions (i.e. personally I am against homosexuality therefore I will vote against gay marriage). The latter would be the group who would put public interest first and foremost -a philosophy called Utilitarianism- before personal conviction (i.e. I am against homosexuality though I do not want to deny basic civil rights to a large group of law abiding, tax paying citizens of this country, thus I am for gay marriage).
I believe both processes are ethical and have their merits.
Perhaps the issue of legalizing prostitution is a good example to distinguish between personal vs. public integrity. One with a set of personal moral codes may believe that prostitution is wrong and should remain illegal because of a set of personal moral codes generated by said religion, personal conviction, or a general set of personal values. However, one who views the collective, public welfare first and foremost may see this as the “world’s oldest profession” and that consenting adults have the right to engage it in a professional and lawfully protected manner, though they personally do not engage in it or believe in it.
Do I judge one any better than the other? Hell no. Though I personally take the “Public Moral Codes” position, I completely respect both views of integrity as they originate by a sense of right and wrong and what is best for this world; perhaps for different motivations and with strong different orientations to how they perceive the world, though both sides practice thinking beyond self.
The lack of integrity issue arises when thinking beyond the self is lost and things go terribly selfish. So, let’s say, prostitution becomes legal and subsequently it is very lucrative to be in the business of whoring. I would take issue with the person who has a personal moral code problem with prostitution yet, if and when legalized, elects to open a brothel because it may benefit them financially—at the expense of their own personal convictions or even voting record.
That is called hypocrisy…plain and simple.
I also would also have issue with the person who believes prostitution would be good for the larger whole of society (safer working conditions, less sexually transmitted infections, etc…) though elects to vote against it because there is word they may open a brothel next door to their house if legalized. He or she concedes it may be good for the whole…though not in their backyard.
That is also called hypocrisy…plain and simple.
To crystallize another scenario, I personally experienced such a conflict of interest. In the 2012 California election there was Proposition 30, an initiative that proposed to raise taxes to help fund public education. Personally, I am fiscal conservative that possesses the conviction that the government wastes a shitload of money and raising taxes only exacerbates problems. However, I am also a California Community College professor who would personally benefit greatly from the passage of this proposition –not only might I see a raise I would also be granted some nice job security for a time.
I like to think I am a person of integrity thus I voted against this initiative. Sure it would have benefited me personally though I believe it would have damaged the public whole…thus I needed to be consistent.
It is consistency, even at the possible expense of self-gain and benefit, that is the cornerstone of integrity. It is thinking beyond self and doing what is best for the whole. I believe both personal and public moral code individuals can both practice integrity as the morality of both is ultimately driven from thinking beyond self. The “beyond self” for the private person may be in the form of God or religion, while the public code individuals are driven by what is best for society at large.
Do I have an integrity problem with one who voted for the measure who believes that raising taxes is generally a good and healthy course of action? HELL NO. Why? Because they are consistent…even if I may personally disagree with them.
The initiative passed (hey, nothing I could do about how others voted) AND my conscience was not violated because I voted with my “Public Moral Code” first and foremost, even at my own potential personal expense. I could sleep at night…and, fortunately, still have a job to go to in the morning as well.
Please know I am not tooting my own horn (well kinda) but realize that is the way I interpret integrity…and I am open to competing points of integrity views.
Therefore that is the problem I have with “it.” As an advocate of public morality, I find it hypocritical and self-centered to potentially harm the public good for the sake of keeping the self safe and secure…i.e. covering your own ass at any price. Yet, to be fair, I have not yet had the opportunity to have a follow-up discussion with it over this issue as I am sure it will offer me a sound philosophical reason why this action is justified…we shall see.
I also believe the great majority of people stand for what benefits them personally first and foremost; therefore I do not find this position at all unusual. The world is full of the, “I’m-fine-with-it-just-not-in-my-backyard” crowd as well as the “I’m-against-it-unless-it-benefits-me-personally” contingent.
I guess I have always held a different definition of integrity, and most things I suppose, throughout my life.
Well, I warned you I would get all philosophical on your ass. At least I’m consistent.
Consistency, that’s a word that goes hand in hand with integrity. To see a person’s true nature, and to see how consistant they are in their decision making. I have to believe the average American votes on what would be best for them, the public moral is for the few. They may not even understand the implications of their actions, but hey they voted. Right? It truly is up to greater minds to help run the se decisions in the right direction. Kudos on keeping your public moral!
First, I want to thank you for writing this post. I always enjoy your anecdotes and the way you frame issues, but this particular post is so absolutely needed—I wish every person could read this.
You mention the word consistency quite frequently in this post, and I think you’re onto something… but I also think consistency only scratches the surface of what integrity is. Integrity is character; it is who you are to the core, under the most trying of circumstances. Integrity is not only honesty; neither is it keeping in mind the public good, alone. Integrity is not just virtue, just consistency, or just justice. Integrity is all of these things wrapped together. If you consider integrity in another light, you might say that a structure has integrity if it remains in one piece after an earthquake. Integrity in a person then, is consistency of forms, these forms being virtue, justice, honesty, goodness, etc. even when a person’s world quakes around him.
In terms of the public good, one might say that integrity requires an approach to problems from the original position. Now, I’m not sure that I completely buy Rawls, but if in general you are fiscally conservative because you know that no matter where you sit financially, you will still believe that the government is not supposed to play Robin Hood, then you’ve been true by voting no on Prop. 30. I commend you for this even though I know you didn’t use that example for the accolades. But you’re right, THAT is integrity. You remained consistent in your values, even when there was a potential for your world to crash down around you.
The key with integrity, however, is something we often miss. I think what I’m about to write has roots in my libertarian persuasion. We need to be careful of turning I into we. Jihadists might believe that it would be Allah’s will to eliminate states and force their take on Islam onto every individual. I suppose there’s integrity in this; they are consistent after all… The problem here is that this extremist group has taken I, personal beliefs, and turned it into we, public goals. This is where the competition between personal and public moral codes comes into play. Integrity doesn’t necessarily mean that we ought to implement and force others to behave and believe as we do, but instead it means that even when legislation, public opinion, and every soul we know is doing something that we believe is morally wrong, we do not follow suit. We keep our integrity—we remain true and consistent in our form.
Anyway, there’s my two pennies 🙂
OMG!!! If you did not respond to this blog I was going to hunt you down…I REALLY wanted your opinion, and VOILA…you respond. GREAT point about the Jihadists, though, in a scary sense there is something about their evil that possesses a form of integrity if you follow my line of thinking. I suppose I was coming at it from the point of view that most people are somewhat fair minded and are not of the fringe Jihadist mindset. Though, in the extreme, you are absolutely correct. I may have to reconsider my position (this is called evolving, not waffling). If I do adopt your line of thinking I can say the same evil thing about the Mormon church. The church essentially passed Prop 8 which single-handedly, potentially denied many their basic civil rights. I could declare they are “evil” though I personally do not think that position came from a place of hate, I believe it is a sincere belief in a doctrine… (I really am not that type that likes to villify those who disagree with me) just as the Jihadists have their sincere belief. So, I shall reform my position. Integrity is consistency…though not at the expense of denying others their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (right now there is waving American flag behind me while the national anthem plays softly).
MURRICA! haha! I’m flattered that you’d hunt me down for my response!
In all reality, I WOULD liken the LDS Church’s involvement in Prop. 8 unto the Jihadist movement–I really would. And I don’t think that’s a flawed argument! There’s integrity in putting your money (or votes) where your mouth is, but this discussion has led me to think that perhaps there’s a prioritization of integrity, that is, is it first my duty to protect others’ civic rights, or is it first my duty to infiltrate democracy with doctrine? I personally would go with the former of the two because it has more to do with the public good. Mormons will argue that it is in the public’s best interest for traditional marriage to be the only definition of marriage available, but that stance turns I into we. If instead you turn we into I, the position becomes more honorable (and I think that’s what you did). I see that it’s best for everyone’s civic rights to be protected, and in turn, I can trust that my own civic rights will be protected. Oh shit… is this John Stewart Mill meets Ayn Rand meets John Rawls?
I guess this is what it comes down to: How devoted are you to justice and truth (or fill in the blank)? Are you devoted enough that you’d sacrifice your own position? Because if you aren’t devoted enough, then I can’t take your position seriously. I’d probably say all of that to the “it” that is in your group.
I want to present a question about this last one though, concerning the two different types of moral codes. I get your frustration with the lack of integrity in modern culture. In my personal opinion, it’s due to relativism – hypocrisy within morality, as you said. “I believe N, but you can do whatever you want.” Or “I believe N” but act in a contrary manner.
My first concern with your two definitions of moral codes is that they are, in a clear way, distinct from each other. I either operate on the basis of personal codes which I derive from relgion, philosophy, etc., or I operate on a Utilitarian code, maybe even despite what my personal beliefs are. Ex: your example of homosexuality.
Shouldn’t the personal code and public code be one in the same? Would it make sense to have a personal code but then throw it away for the perceived “public good”? If all we have is the “public good” committee, how do we constitute, and who constitues, what is right and wrong? Whoever has the biggest guns or the most money or the most influence/power? Do we base right and wrong over what will shut everyone up?
Before we talk about integrity within moral choices, shouldn’t the origin of morality itself be clear? Otherwise, if there is no clear origin of morality, then why bother with integrity at all? If the source of morality is unapparent, integrity ceases to exist, as man has no true reason to hold on to what he says or believes. He has no reason to be honest with himself or others, for honesty implies that there is some concrete, truthful morality by which he must make choices and live his life accordingly. Otherwise, I could claim that murder is morally wrong, but as soon as someone ticks me off enough, I could internally change my mind, kill the man who ticked me off, and also make out as morally honest with myself – integrity. And, the man who abides by the “public code” may object this saying that murder is, of course, not in the best interest of the public good. My rebuttal to him would simply be, “Says who? Says what? The ‘majority’? A man-made Bill of Rights?” In 1914, when Britain warned Germany not to invade Belgium because of their neutrality gained in the Treaty of London, the German Chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann Hallway, said that Germany would not be limited by a mere “scrap of paper”. Previously, Germany had signed off on the Treaty of London, but changed their mind and went into Belgium and “raped” the Belgians, killing thousands. Their actions were within the definition of integrity: they believed in the “best interest” of Germany, deriving from the personal codes of the minority, and acted on their beliefs. Is that integrity though?
Any philosophically or religiously or rationally sound person could agree that the source of morality – and thus integrity – is not found in the “self”, obeying one’s own personal code that they make up for themselves. Rather, it is found outside of ourselves and formed in our minds via meditation and/or revelation. (Granted there are many philosophers or religious people who don’t argue this, and they would be deemed relativistic) Even ancient philosophers, who came to “new found” philosophies to live by, concluded that a sound philosophy already “existed” but was merely discovered – Aristotle’s 4 Causes theory for example.
I guess what I am getting at is this: distinguishing two different moral codes to live by – personal or public – and having no quarrels with what one actually believes is best for one’s personal or public good, is fundamentally flawed. It’s flawed to believe that Hitler had integrity as he sought to destroy all “inferior” peoples. Yes he acted on his own personal code, and damn near made an entire country reflect his personal code as their public code because he had the biggest guns. He was honest with himself, but not with the Truth that all human life possesses dignity and worth. His philosophy was not unblemished and in accord with morality, or even the greatest public good – mankind’s good of survival. The same can be said of Margaret Sanger who started planned parenthood to root out inferior races, or of the 19th century white southerns who supported slavery for economic reasons and because they truly believed that blacks were an inferior race. Yes, according to your definition, these people all possessed integrity. They carried out what they believed. But none of them possess integrity in relation to the Truth that human life possesses innate worth and dignity, a Truth that doesn’t need to be told to anyone. But one can never come to a conclusion like that, or any conclusions regarding integrity for that matter, if we don’t first examine the source of morality. We must ask ourselves, “What is the source of my personal/public code? And why must I be true to it?” For if an unmoved mover of all morality is not found, or even looked for, then integrity doesn’t matter and our complaints of these inconsistent people are just white noise.
Just a thought. I’d like to hear your thoughts, if you have time.
If I could greatly simplify what you have just argued (you said quite a bit and I am searching to find your major theme) perhaps it is your final thought: “ But one can never come to a conclusion like that, or any conclusions regarding integrity for that matter, if we don’t first examine the source of morality. We must ask ourselves, “What is the source of my personal/public code? And why must I be true to it?” For if an unmoved mover of all morality is not found, or even looked for, then integrity doesn’t matter and our complaints of these inconsistent people are just white noise.”
I would take issue of attempting to find “an unmoved mover of all morality.” What if one believes said mover does not exist, or, for that matter, does not exist in reality? A lot of people have justified some serious fucked up shit in the name of an “unmoved mover of all morality.” I would suggest that searching and attempting to find… and then subsequently believing to have found…. this mover poses potentially extremely dangerous consequences. It can lead to a rigid and dogmatic view of the world that has the potential to justify behaviors that are reprehensible (not different from modern day Isis). Where does right and wrong come from? It has evolved as humanity has evolved. Some of the most fucked up shit in history comes from an “unmoved mover.” Whether it is orders from the unmoved mover to slay and kill innocent people in the name of reclaiming their land, killing homosexuals, adulterers, etc…that is as fucked up as it gets. This type of behavior would not stand today because we have evolved as a species to a much more humane and civilized existence….and where it does (said Isis) we call it for what it is…evil. Why do I have the right to call it evil? Because evolution tells us that killing each other is not a good idea for the propagation of the species. It makes sense not because of some divine law, rather it makes sense because it threatens the human instinct for survival. Where do instincts come from? Our evolution that provides us with the greatest chances for survival.
We live in an existential realm that we create our own meanings out of life. If there is an objective, moral “plan” it has yet to be revealed to humanity -as any movement in history acting in the name of unmoved mover…has failed. Integrity always matters because it is going to propel the species forward.
And please do not insult Margaret Sanger…she is a beautiful woman who was attempting to solve the incredibly pathetic situation of death and poverty among the very poor. She was an advocate for birth control (illegal at the time thanks, apparently, to an unmoved mover) and her role in eugenics must be understood in the context of her time period and the problems it was trying to solve. Yet, she is a good example of how we evolved as we now see this as hurtful and destructive even though her intent at the time was very admirable…we cannot judge people outside the context of their time and the information and resources they have available to them. To compare her with Hitler at some level? That is just ignorant.
You have played the Hitler card which is the ultimate card to play when attempting to defend the exceptions. You can attempt to deride any argument when you drag Nazi, Germany into the equation. There has been, essentially, nothing quite like it before (yes, some things have close…the Armenian genocide) and we may never see anything like it again. So to use it as somehow normative is not quite fair. Why was Hitler wrong both on the personal and public level? Because our evolution informs us that attempting to wipe out entire cultures of people is bad for our progress and development.
You wrote: Shouldn’t the personal code and public code be one in the same? No, not in all cases. I personally do not believe in smoking though I believe others have the right to make that decision for themselves. Would it make sense to have a personal code but then throw it away for the perceived “public good”? Yes, at times it definitely would. See above. You may be against adultery though I would not support public legislation to make it illegal. I believe people should have a choice to engage in behaviors I may personally disagree. If all we have is the “public good” committee, how do we constitute, and who constitues, what is right and wrong? Essentially the majority determine what is right and wrong based off what is best for the evolution of the species. You may say use WWII Germany as an example of public and private integrity gone rogue…yet they were eventually overpowered and brought to justice. The majority would not stand for it because it went against our human progress. Whoever has the biggest guns or the most money or the most influence/power? Perhaps for a time, those these regimes eventually fail. Do we base right and wrong over what will shut everyone up? I do not think it is possible to shut EVERYONE up. What we base right and wrong on constantly changes over time. In the 1950’s it was a “righteous” act to discriminate against gays, for example. Now it is not for most people. What changed? The unmoved mover? No, humans have evolved and determined that, essentially what was once right is now wrong. Integrity and morality are fluid and must always be reexamined, questioned, and critiqued. Denying people civil rights does not move humanity forward.
That’s all for now….look forward to hearing back!
We talked about this subject before you wrote this and I actually feel I have a much better understanding of what you are saying having read this post! Solid opinion overall to be very honest and I wouldn’t disagree with anything you said on the shallow end of all of it. I say shallow end just including the idea that moral/ethical codes are very complicated and are never easy to decipher. If they were we would not require so much of our judicial system, we wouldn’t need a panel of 12 to decide the fate of a person. If moral/ethical codes that were the foundation of our laws were easy to interpret, then the judicial system would also be very simple.
I do agree with you that being hypocritical is bad, but the interpretation of hypocritical is near impossible at times. Lets take the Brothel example of “not in my back yard”. Lets just say the person started to realize what kind of harm it would do to someone’s back yard because it started to effect their backyard and they wouldn’t wish that on “anyone”, not just themselves. Then seeing that information they vote no. It would be very easy to interpret that act as a selfish one, but they are actually looking out for the group as a whole. Just a possibility! Who knows!
Also I would argue if that person were to say that exact phrase “don’t care, just not in my yard.” to some degree that is the definition of “tolerance”. It’s the “I don’t care what you do, just don’t let it effect me” view point that Christians hear all the time. It’s the “I don’t care what your personal convictions are, just stop standing by them”. See how that were to backfire? Just saying I hope you don’t say things like that (I know you don’t, but people who support you would).
That was more of a side-note than anything.
Back to the main point though; like I said, I really do agree with the core basic thought behind integrity, I just see the actually implementation of this thought and philosophy to be very challenging.
I also remember you talking about “it” and I remember having another thought about it that I never communicated. Just having a moral code and having the conviction to vote one way or another, you are still weighing cost vs. benefit. Maybe the “it” doesn’t feel strongly one way or another, should that person engage in something they have no strong conviction on just to jeopardize their job? I know I personally don’t vote often because I don’t feel I have the proper understanding I should have to take on the responsibility of voting. Not going to say that is a good thing, it really is laziness; I just know that is how I would operate in its position as well. Maybe I don’t see that vote as vital, maybe I don’t see either side of a real benefit over the other. Moral code isn’t the only variable when it comes to choosing a side/voting.