Pluralist Society is an Unethical Rabble

I am increasingly reminded of that famous biblical story about Sodom and Gommorroh, Genesis 18:20 – 19:30, in which Abraham tried to intercede on their behalf with God, until he couldn’t find any righteous person, and so the cities were destroyed. It is a common pastime in western democracies to blame the government for all the inadequacies of a nation. And certainly the men and women who sit in government seats must take their share of the blame for the inequities within a nation. However increasingly I have realized that the person living in my street is likely to be twice a corrupt as a politician. And the person in my street works for a pharmaceutical company, manages a building company, is a financial adviser, is a doctors union, an advocate lawyer, a scientist, or just a person who doesn’t care a damn about their neighbours. There seems to be very few people who have self-regulating ethical decision-making process.  Pharmaceutical companies provide false evidence so they can sell more product. Building managers charge exorbitant, really exorbitant amounts of tax payers money, to build small school infrastructures. Financial advisers, yet again, get carried away with greed driven propaganda and severely damage many people’s lives. Doctor’s unions let people suffer of disease and injury while they fight an paranoid protectionist war for their income and social status. Advocate lawyers hide the truth of their own involvement in political decisions, befriend capitalists on one hand while decrying them on the other, chastising other advocates for upholding concerns that they then promote as their own.

And if anyone was to ask these people, the cause of their behaviour, they would tell that it is because that is the way business and politics has to be done in these modern nations. They would say, “this is the way of a pluralist society, the secular society.” “Oh, yes”, they would say, “it is not right to break the law.” “But after all, the law is all grey, so it is hard to tell when I am breaking it. So I just test it out until I get called to court, and then, if the court tells me, then I know. And if I never get called, then I don’t have to give a damn.”

And so this rabble of millions of people require a watch dog over everything they do, to make sure they are not going to steal from the tax payer or the sick person, their neighbour’s quality of life; or kill someone; or put them in a poorhouse. This rabble has no ethical education nor any commitment. They do not learn the lessons of yesterday’s generation, nor develop any new insights for today’s problems. Because their religious leaders became corrupt, they failed to learn any of the valuable lessons of the great educators, becoming as corrupt as those they decried. And into the ears of the politicians, they harp and complain, placing before the politician, the most great temptation, to win power by ensuring problems are never quite solved. In not quite solving problems in a pluralistic society, the politician can always say, “Oh well, it was because the divers voices couldn’t all be made happy.” In providing solutions that fall over, the politician can say, “Oh well, that is the outcome of all the various consultations we had, so how can we be blamed if the other parties gave us bad information.” And the final fallback in the Australian political system, “Oh well, we could’nt get the States or other political parties, to agree on a better solution, so it is their fault.

So, yes, it is indeed, their fault. It is indeed our fault. Everytime a contractor charges an unfair price, everytime a neighbour ruins another person’s quality of life, everytime a financial advisor gets carried away with greed, everytim a doctor union undermines the ability for a nation to build a better health system for their own benefit, every time we believe the only way to go ahead is to undermine rather than co-operate, every time anyone of us need a watch dog to ensure we do the fair thing by others in our society, we are the fault for an inadequate governance in our democracy. If our need for a watch dog continues to increase as it seems to need, nations are eventually not going to be able to afford both progress and the watchdogs.  At that stage, democracies will stagnate and fall.

With luck, as dogs-eat-dogs amidst the chaos of nation-state failures, a transformed mind-set will be raised. But how many lives will need to be lost. The small warnings of the last 30 years have done little to stop people repeating the mistakes a mere decade on. Only the great wars have managed to significantly change the mindset of nations.

While atheists hold conferences, proudly and sarcastically deriding lesser mortals, thay do nothing from their ivory towers, about the lack of ethics education across the nations. From them we hear only words. Words, and sometimes, an advancement in knowledge and technology, sometimes, scientific frauds, sometimes, just theft through pluralism, sometimes, just nothing of any cultural advancement at all.

There is no leadership out there in pluralist society, just a cacophony of voices asking, unfairly, for more for themselves. There has been only one voice, one example, that I have found ethically pure in word and deed, and therefore worthwhile following, over the last 200 years. That is the voice of the Bab and Baha’u’llah, the founders of the Baha’i Faith, and Abdu’l-Baha, the successor and leader of the Baha’i Faith after Baha’u’llah. I say one voice, because they indeed, were of one voice, one understanding, one ethic, one transformative teaching, one perfect example. It is they who the phenomenologists and the theologians, the secularists and pluralists avoid study. For it is they who put their lives for the whole of their lives, on the line for an ethic of equity and human progress. It is their example who no-one can make excuses against. It is they who every failed state will need to turn to find redemption.


8 thoughts on “Pluralist Society is an Unethical Rabble

  1. we live in a pluralistic universe… there is not just one kind of tree, one kind of flower, one kind of river… but many. it has been mankind’s great tragedy not to see that there is more than one kind of “way”, one kind of people, one kind of vision… and… just one leader (mine!)

    when the world gets too noisy, i go for a walk by the river. it seems that nature has a way to let me sense its overwhelming oneness.

    • Thanks Aforcier for this. Indeed, moments in nature are our great reprieve. And likely the more time, more of us can spend in nature, the more we are susceptible to moral, cooperative behaviours. And yes, at one level it does appear that there is great natural diversity, yet the beauty of that diversity only exists when it is in a state of unity and harmony. Even leaders worthwhile following or educators worthwhile learning from, show the best way for all humanity in unity, up the mountain of human progress, and soar in the same atmosphere of knowledge. Others less worthy, may at best be like small flares that briefly light up the edge of the pathway and then waft away. But the cacophony of egos pulling this way and that without adequate moral training, are not finding harmony nor unity and are as like to strand everyone half way up the mountain, even cause some to fall to their deaths. Just as well they make for such ugliness that we know by their demeanour that ‘there be demons, that way.’

  2. I disagree profoundly.

    Pluralism is here to stay: the alternatives required to eliminate it are too terrible to consider. That means that we have to think again about how the whole (‘society’) and its parts fit together, and where the ethics come from. If a society has one culture, as was once the case, that culture nurtures the virtues which the state needs. But no society now or in the future can have one culture, one set of common values, yet the state still needs most of its citizens to be law-abiding most of the time, it needs virtuous citizens. So how can we have virtuous citizens without common values? I think we need to envision the sub-systems such as religious and ethnic communities, school systems (private, public, faith-based) as providers of virtuous citizens to the state. That means that the state has a stake in fostering those that do in fact produce virtuous citizens. But it doesn’t matter to the state what values produce the virtues. I think of values as a ranking of virtues: for instance, Christian values give a high ranking to forgiveness, Sikh values give a high ranking to courage, the Boy Scouts movement gives a highh ranking to helpfulness and preparedness, and so on. This diversity – the lack of common values – is an asset to the state, for in different contingencies different virtues need to be prioritised. An all-absorbing war does not demand the same set of social values to be practised as a deep recession, or a bouyant-to-bubbling surge of prosperity. Common values therefore are a liability, while a diversity of virtuous citizens are an insurance policy.

    The lack of ethics you comment on is not due to pluralism in society, it is the legacy of the modern era in which the state itself tried to be a producer of virtuous citizens, by creating a common culture (national education, radio, a national language), by outright nationalism, or by making one or other ideology the state ideology. All of these have failed, partly because mobility and freedom of choice mean that a mono-cultural society is now impossible, but more profoundly because the core business of the state is the security of all its citizens, which requires it to be the monopoly provider of coercion. I pay my taxes willingly – so long as I know my neighbour will also do so. He feels the same. We have established the state as a provider of coercion precisely so that we both know the other won’t cheat. So coercion is the core product, in the state’s core business, which limits the state to work according to a certain kind of logic. ‘Reasons of state’ really are different to “reasons of the heart” or “market logic” or “the logic of science.” Now the product “virtuous citizens” — that is, citizens who are self-actuated to behave ethically, at least most of the time — demands the absence of coercion. Virtue, to be a moral virtue, must be freely chosen; what the state needs is not just pliable citizens, but self-actuated citizens who freely choose to be ethical, and preferably altruistic. So we see that the path in which the state attempted to produce its own virtuous citizens was as much a dead end as the paths in which the state tried to manage the economy, or direct the workings of science. This has left us with the legacy of an “unethical rabble.”

    It is the cultural providers, with ethnic and religious communities in the lead, who have the continuity to pass on the lessons of one generation to the next, who offer the role models and mores to elicit not just virtue but also altruism. To assist them, the state needs to see clearly why it needs them, and the state has to embrace multiculturalism, and see the leaders of civil society as its partners and the suppliers of its most crucial resource: virtuous citizens. It needs to work with the ethnic, ethical, and religious communities on the basis of that need; that is, not because one ethnicity is the leitcultuur and must be protected, or one religion is favoured for historical reasons, but for transparent and equally applied “reasons of state.” Something like the “lemon test” (see wikipedia) must be formulated for government partnerships with the communities in civic society. Such a model of pluralist partnerships between the state and civil society also requires that the ethnic and religious communities bury any hatchets there may be between them. At it requires an input from the various communities of interest to the legislative process.

    Baha’u’llah writes:

    “O people of God! Give ear unto that which, if heeded, will ensure the freedom, well-being, tranquillity, exaltation and advancement of all men. Certain laws and principles are necessary and indispensable for Persia. However, it is fitting that these measures should be adopted in conformity with the considered views of His Majesty … and of the learned divines and of the high-ranking rulers. Subject to their approval a place should be fixed where they would meet. There they should hold fast to the cord of consultation and adopt and enforce that which is conducive to the security, prosperity, wealth and tranquillity of the people. For were any measure other than this to be adopted, it could not but result in chaos and commotion.
    (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 92)

    “The purpose of religion [in general, not one particular one!] … is to establish unity and concord amongst the peoples of the world; make it not the cause of dissension and strife. The religion of God and His divine law are the most potent instruments and the surest of all means for the dawning of the light of unity amongst men. The progress of the world, the development of nations, the tranquillity of peoples, and the peace of all who dwell on earth are among the principles and ordinances of God. … It behoveth the chiefs and rulers of the world, and in particular the Trustees of God’s House of Justice [the leaders of the Bahai community], to endeavour to the utmost of their power to safeguard [religion’s] position, promote its interests and exalt its station in the eyes of the world.”
    (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 129)

    Abdu’l-Baha writes:

    “Universal benefits derive from the grace of the Divine religions, [note the plural] for they lead their true followers to sincerity of intent, to high purpose, to purity and spotless honor, to surpassing kindness and compassion, to the keeping of their covenants when they have covenanted, to concern for the rights of others, to liberality, to justice in every aspect of life, to humanity and philanthropy, to valor and to unflagging efforts in the service of mankind. It is religion, to sum up, which produces all human virtues, and it is these virtues which are the bright candles of civilization.”
    (The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 98)

    I should add one caveat about this pluralist model of state-community relations. It is not the same as the millet system which applied in the late Ottoman empire, and similar systems elsewhere, in which the state delegates some of its coercive and judicial powers to sub-communities. In those systems, Jews would enforce Jewish law on Jewish subjects, Christians on Christian subjects, and the various communities would also be taxed as communities, paying through their community leaders. The postmodern state has to treat citizens as individuals and not as members of a community, for two reasons: because people today can enter and leave communities and be members of multiple communities — a freedom they will not surrender — and because a non-ideological state exists to foster the development and serve the purposes of the individual.

    • Hi Sen, love the comment. Not sure, though what your disagreeing with in the initial statement. You seem to be saying that pluralism is okay as long as there is a process for moral training. I am saying that the pluralism I see in real life is unable to provide moral training and, in fact, is increasingly avoiding it, with the outcomes that I mentioned. And, having worked with NGO’s at Federal government level in Australia, I know full well that pluralist governance is more about leverage and less about communal problem-solving, so the strong get more, and the weak miss out more. Even supposed moral gatekeepers such as the takers of the hippocratic, at an organisational level are more interested in maintaining their place in society than in solving health problems. Yes, the diversity of opinion and capacity is a feature of life we must be sure to harness as well as allow run free within certain constraints, in part so that new innovation develops that the whole of society can benefit. However, I don’t see this happening in the increasingly immoral pluralism that currently exists. Indeed if it wasn’t for those small islands of moral training that you mentioned, and the weak social conscience it supports, we would have already failed much more seriously. It is yet to see if there is yet 10 good men in human society to shore up the appropriate behaviour of the masses, enough so that there is not heavier destruction in the future. Pluralism as it exists doesn’t give us the leaders that, I think most people want. Rather the outcome of the pluralist bun fight is to give us people who are largely orientated towards the most powerful institutions, rather than the best problem-solvers for the whole nation or world. These leaders therefore, cannot greatly improve the society, but reinforce the moral ineptitude. Therefore I do not seek in them my leadership but rather, as you have so succinctly demonstrated, that sole voice of moral example and consistency: Baha’u’llah.

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  5. Own59 said

    I am saying that the pluralism I see in real life is unable to provide moral training and, in fact, is increasingly avoiding it,…

    The pluralism I see in real life has nothing to do with (mostly non-existant) moral/ethical training. The endless emphasis on self-determination (generally material) without emphasis on other aspects of life leaves self-determination as the only virtue recognized and acted on by most individuals, and groups including religious institutions and governments.

    • The concept of self-determination is an interesting one and probably a misnomer in the modern world. Usually, what is really being asked for is a share of sovereignty from the larger communal sovereignty, mostly just in a bigger influence in the decision-making process. A more moral stance would be independence. Independence means that the person or group stands where they are not at the bidding of the larger commune, but rather live to enhance the whole. True independence means that you are prepared to risk everything for a greater society.

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