No Illusions Podcast #61 – Politics & Ethics

My guests again today are J. David Markham, my regular co-host on the much-loved Napoleon Bonaparte Podcast, and his friend of 35 years, a regular guest on this show, Doug LaFollette, the Secretary of State of Wisconsin.

This week I try to get down to basics – how do we form our political beliefs? Is government really about ethics? What political ethics do we want our society to strive towards? Are psychopaths screwing up the world? Do they make up a large percentage of the 1%?


Aristotle, politics, ethics

3 thoughts on “No Illusions Podcast #61 – Politics & Ethics

  1. Gentlemen,

    Another stimulating and interesting podcast. I feel compelled to make some points. I have long been a fan of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but it pays to remember that the tip of the pyramid is the Self Actualisation level. For me, Self Actualisation is about freedom, the freedom to not be bound by a workplace, the freedom to fill my days as I see fit. However, I can understand that for others, self actualisation maybe making as much money as you can. So, whilst I am a fan of Maslow, it doesn’t always have an ethical basis per se.

    Secondly, I take up the point that was made in the podcast that fear and greed is corrupting the system. I have long thought hard about competition. Basically, I think it is a good thing as it makes me organise, rehearse and prepare to be my best when I take on an activity, but I do often see the bad side of competition (sometimes within myself, it must be said), and that is the blind, negative, bring down the other side, to ensure I win, mentality that competition may engender. I think that just as studies have shown that people feel happy about their financial status until they hear their neighbour has a little more, bad forms of competition are at the heart of the fear and greed that we see. The whole mentality of red team versus blue team pervades our society. Republicans versus Democrats, Walmart versus Target, Shell versus BP, Yankees versus Red Sox, it plays to a section of the mind that breeds intolerance, anxiety and ultimately fear and greed.

    Incidentally, I think professional sports has a lot to answer for fostering that mentality in our society. An Australian study showed that the most common characteristic of male CEO’s was that they had been captain of the high school football team. The most common characteristic of female CEO’s was that they had overcome adversity in childhood, usually a sever illness. And that, my friends, is why there aren’t as many female CEO’s as their should be, because the dominant paradigm in our society is professional sports, which is male, combative in a negative, win at all costs way, and with strategies and paradigms that suit the alpha male. But I digress.

    Cam, I don’t think a charter of ethics will make a brass razoo’s bit of difference to the political system. Look at the US with it’s Constitution and Bill of Rights. They get twisted to suit whichever argument is being prosecuted on the public. Arguably, the governments of democracies without charters of Rights, are better than the US. I don’t see too many gun toting idiots in Canada and have access to largely free health care.

    On a side point, as much as I don’t like them, I think that targeting the Republicans as a group and holding them up to ridicule (whilst fun) serves only to drive out the moderates. If you kick a dog it learns to bite. It is also a symptom of red team/blue team competition mentality, which is ultimately a rat race benefitting no one. I would rather invert the thought process and ask, why are they doing this and how can I benefit from that knowledge?

    As an aside, the podcast does not lack for much, but something it might benefit from is a counter point of view. The classic reason given why the one percent oppose a minimum wage, or raising wages, (apart from flat out avarice) is that less workers get jobs. This argument can be pulled apart, but it was not countenanced by your guests and it does bear examination.

    To the point of institutional psycopathy, my thoughts are that institutions are unemotional organisations, the needs of the institution is agnostic to the needs of people. Again, this argument can be pulled apart, and a lot of good people are approaching institutional leadership from an ethical perspective, but I have witnessed that even in charities their are some pretty strange leadership behaviours. However, I think that the majority of organisational leaders are probably good people. Remember, that people are frail and sometimes malfunctioning beings. I think an interesting metaphor for the institution is the gene. The selfish gene that doesn’t care about the host, as long as she reproduces and the genes move on. The same with institutions. Maybe it’s genetic 🙂

    A good point was raised about income inequity, and my thoughts are that going back to Pareto, all random distributions, be they incomes or heights, should follow a bell curve. The bell curve distribution if it is “normalised” (probably not a statistical term, but I mean a bell curve that is not too thin and tall, or short and fat, and where the standard deviations fall roughly at 1 third intervals away from the centre) should show an 80/20 distribution. The famous Pareto Law. In other words, 80 percent of the wealth should reside in the hands of 20% of the population if income is distributed across a normalised bell curve. I don’t know what the distribution is today, but clearly it is skewed to the top end. The most likely way to get it back to normalcy is taxation, but this is unlikely given the forces bolstering against this. And, I have to add personally, given the amount of tax I pay, I feel foolish calling for an increase. But potentially, it is also the way that taxation is levied that can be improved.

    So given that democracy has been hijacked and the vast majority of voters are largely tricked into voting against their own self interests (try telling a politician to run on a campaign of raising taxes), we come back to our old discussion, Cameron, the only way to affect change is through education. “How we going to make the black nation rise? Got to agitate, educate and organise.” When the media is largely controlled by right wing interests, that education has to come from the independent media. One blog at a time. Keep up the good work.

    1. Tony, thanks for the long, thoughtful comment. I don’t see how having a consistent, national discussion about a “charter of ethics” can possibly be a negative thing. At least the US, with their “Bill of Rights”, has an ongoing discussion about rights. Granted – certain members of the discussion seem to be of the view that the BOR should never be updated, challenged or changed, and this isn’t productive. Maybe that gives countries without a 200 year old BOR an advantage.

      Anyway, I’m still struggling to write down how it all should fit together, so I don’t know what I’m talking about. 🙂

  2. Wonderful shows gentlemen…thanks for them. Please do many more and often. Two points:

    1. Could you start from or discuss how this false set up of a two party “system” in the US may be at the root of a underlying “bi-polarity”? An almost good vs evil dichotomy that causes all sorts of social tension as well as the ability for some to leverage through whipped “majorities” and shameful filibustering unregulated control over the intentional balance of the powers. As you’ve stated it defiantly allows for a “lesser of two evils” at the voting booth. Who are the people keeping more parties out of our Houses and how do we fire them? They are like a group of hidden controllers are they not? How were they assigned this power and how can it be removed? Perhaps it should be against federal law to have under say…5 parties at any one time on any or all ballots? Our founders disliked parties as a rule. We need that as default stance to protect the masses in a juggernaut such as ours. And Cam I beg you not to play devils advocate here as you’ve tended to lately…you would only be proving my point..though David’s been countering quite well I must say…Plus we need you on our side! See now I’m doing it.

    2. Cam on psychopathy, as your guest and the specialist a few shows back stated “we don’t want to get into labeling people”…may I ask your view of what it is to be “human” and a human psychopath? If you intend to show that selfish and successful people are psychopaths, and that psychopaths are evil, therefor there is a correlative, I would like to point out I think there cam be moments when almost anyone could act psychopathic, and that it can be for good or evil. it’s not the person, but the person and the events they are in. You could say almost any hero of visionary was psychopathic in their mission to do good, and many of them did good or great things. Crazy things. yes there could be the rare few born true “psychopaths” as we’ve come to know the term, but in most cases nuance and degree play a larger role and stereotypes should be avoided. You could be heading in this direction forgive me if I’ve mischaracterized your stance thus far, please discuss, and cheers!

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