Saturday, June 05, 2010

Ethics, Blowback and Why Shit Happens

Banksy nails it, doesn't he?

This is a perfect illustration for blowback. When shit happens, it rolls downhill. This is the thing people do not understand about ethics. It's NOT about morality; the concequences of all actions manifest in the here and now, regardless of any afterlife payout, and it's certainly not about assigning blame. It's about avoiding harm to others. 

The current oil spill happened because BP was trying to cut corners, to save a few pennies by doing things on the cheap, avoiding best practices because, of course, a company's first duty is to maximize shareholder value.

One wonders what proportion of their shareholders will be directly or indirectly impacted by loss of value in other investments in aquaculture, tourism or complete loss of personal livelihood.

While it's certainly a good idea to lay down a few extra layers of Moral Fibre to strengthen one's resolve against doing the wrong thing or taking a stupid risk for the sake of convenience, the essential argument is simple. We act in ways to minimize the risk to others, and we act to maximize the rewards to others for putting up with the slight, but inevitable risks that remain. Then we insure ourselves against the liability for those risks. 

This understanding - that reward is due those who share risks and not due those who profit by offloading costs and consequences on others - is the heart and soul of civilization. 

When most people act to avoid harm to others to the best of their ability, there is less harm done overall. It is always in your own interest to act ethically. It's the single best protection there is against the unforeseen. All law, regulation, good government and every word of your insurance policy comes from this understanding - and those who's living depends on a general failure to understand.

When you do not understand this, shit happens. And if you are in the vicinity, it happens to you. 

When you refuse to deal with the shit you happened to cause, and if perchance you manage to put off paying for the clean-up by gaming the system - you put the entire system at risk. A system that everything you know and love relies upon. 

If you wish to parse through history to see examples of the rich and powerful acting without regard to the consequences to people they thought powerless to affect them.. well, I'd suggest starting with the French Revolution. There are many others, but one will serve for most. In the end, one set of bastards heads ends up on a decorative array of pikes... brandished by another set of bloody bastards.

Banksy sees as far as the most likely outcome - which is better than most oil executives and politicians, who for greed and lack of foresight, generate an opportunity for their likely successors.

The real trick is to avoid buying into the whole drama of "regime change to achieve change" drama, for so long as we do, nothing will change. Rather, we must each choose "To become the change we wish to see."

Fortunately, this is not difficult.

When someone tells you that so and so is responsible for your misery and pain, that they are your personal and lifelong enemy - check it out. There are two good reasons for this. First, you want to absolutely ensure that your enemy is who you think, doing what you expect, at the time of your intended retribution. The only way you can be sure of knowing these things well enough to take action against them is to know why they became your enemy in the first place.

But this does open up a frightening possibility - realizing you both fell for the "It's Bobby's Fault" gambit.

You see, very often the person, group, company or nation would very much like to divert consequences onto someone who is barely involved. Of course, once you have taken revenge upon them, they will be your enemy, and whoever is actually responsible tiptoes away in the night, giggling. 

Blaming Iraq for 9/11 was a masterstroke of misdirection - as was blaming the US financial system for the social plight of the average person in the Middle East. 

We should all be embarrassed for falling for it, and it's human nature to prefer to be wrong in a crowd than to be right alone - but you don't have to call attention to your new-found cynicism. You just need to stop acting as if the powers that be have your best interests at heart, when that bet costs you money and puts your livelihood at risk.

The single best thing you can do to bring peace to the world is to stop listening to people who have a vested interest in sustaining a conflict. 

The second thing is only a tiny bit more difficult. Start thinking about reducing your energy footprint. Take the tiny steps first. Weather-stripping. Insulation. It's not a sign of privilege to live in a draughty home! Paint your roof white. ONE afternoon can slash your cooling costs by 20 percent over the life of the coating, and almost certainly, you need to do it anyway - it's the chore EVERYONE puts off until the roof starts leaking. So pick the WHITE bucket instead of the BLACK bucket. It's just that easy.

Get into the habit of checking to make sure your tires are properly inflated.  Take the bus or the train when it makes sense to do so and vote for sensible public transit, even if you will never use it. Think of it as a really good way to take other people off the road. 

Stop listening to people who's argument boils down to the moronic idea that wasting money is the hallmark of the American dream. I bet you could think of a lot of things you would rather waste money on than a power bill. Check out LED lighting - it's even more efficient than compact fluorescents.

Are you a national security voter? Well, there is one thing that you can do to help ensure national security - and that's securing your nation's energy independence. Demand that any power generated by you surplus to your needs be purchased at a priority by the local power grid. Germany did it. Now, they say it's because being green is a national priority, and no doubt they are sincere in spots - but all nations have history, and lessons they learned about it. 

Germany learned in WWII that you cannot win a war for energy. It's always cheaper to blow up your supply lines than it is to keep them secure. The other lesson is this - if you have an enemy who wants to really, really hurt you - that enemy doesn't have to attack you - they merely need to deny you what you need to live. This should have been a lesson learned in 1972 - with the OPEC embargo. 

But the people who control the distribution of energy are in control of policy - not those who produce it, and not those who use it. Insecurity on both ends translates into money in their pocket. 

But this is where ethics comes in - for ethics speaks to us of human nature, of right actions, and knowing when doing the right thing will bring the greatest reward.

Paint your roof white - and while you are up there, check to see if it's suited for a solar array or two.  Once you have secured your own energy independence - help your neighbour do it. Then each of you help a few more - and soon your neighbourhood will be secure. Talk about it. Blog about it. Other neighbourhoods will follow, and for damn sure, soon politicians will be right there, pretending that it was their idea all along. Some may even be reasonably sincere about it. 

But never pin your hopes on a political figure doing the right thing for you. Even if they sincerely want to, "politics is the art of the possible." And that is a statement of politics under ideal circumstances. More usually, political figures are sponsored by powerful interests or even more powerful fears - and if you wish them to do something in particular, they must be persuaded that it is something that will enhance their influence and prolong their careers.

Before you sneer - when  was the last time you did the "right" thing when it might cost you money or damage your career?  Well then. Let's stop demanding magical transformations from people no better able to achieve such change than you are. Take the steps you can most easily take. Change those light bulbs. Use cloth shopping bags. Shop in a way that minimizes the number of trips you take to haul stuff home. 

Expect no more - and no LESS of them. Take ten minutes to think of something useful for a politician to do that would be politically beneficial to them. Make them aware of it. Give them all the glory - and remind them of it when you need them to show up next time. 

The best form of payback is the sort that you can be absolutely sure will punish the right persons in direct proportion to their greed, without having to think about it. And if feeling mildly smug is not enough reward for you - you will be saving enough to buy that plasma TV sooner than you might think.

Save ten percent on your fuel costs, ten percent of your heating costs, ten percent of your cooling costs and factoring in the fact that a plasma consumes less energy than your old tv... and yes. Yes you can.

After you paint the roof. 


FishHawk said...

"Graphictruth" has been included in this weeks A Sunday Drive. I hope this helps to attract even more new visitors here.

what is acai berry ? said...

I agree fully that if people act responsibly in the first place, they would do a great deal in the long run to prevent disaster to themselves and to others. Thanks for sharing your words of wisdom.



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