A morally flexible culture

Be like a postage stamp. Stick to a thing till you get there.

Josh Billings, American humourist

Ethics, from ‘ethos’ – Greek for “character” – encompasses honesty, respect, integrity and professionalism. It’s defined as standards of moral behaviour or professional conduct which helps one to act in a certain fashion in order to conform to some standard of moral or professional behaviour.

That definition tells and spells the paradox that morals and professionalism are inseparable twins. That team spirt is a brand by itself. Are you as a professional willing to be morally flexible for all the right reasons, or are you a morally inflexible professional for all the right purposes? Albert Einstein quipped that relativity applies to physics, not to ethics.

Imagine a society where these twins are the gold standard. More often than not mankind has developed a passion for a morally flexible culture where one eye is legally, politically, economically and culturally shut. Every aspect of Western culture needs a new code of rational ethics as a precondition of rebirth, observed Ayn Rand. Applies to the East, too, where all the major religions sprouted.

Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do, said US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart. The clash of rights written a few hundred years ago may have absolutely no bearing to our present pretentious culture. Thus, a constitutionally entrenched right must experience the crucible of time galvanised by tests, trials and tribulations.

Many national politics suffer from the incurable disease of moral flexibility. This prompted Mark Twain to declare that “once in a while an innocent man is sent to Washington” who is a veritable pain in the neck for others in politics where sinister ambitions are developed and fashioned.

The Dewan Rakyat must introduce an all-encompassing Morals & Ethical Activities Control of Uniform Lawlessness Prevention Act 2022 (MEA CULPA): “Be it enacted for the public interest that morals and ethics shall be observed, applicable and enforced at all times with appropriate sanctions for evident breach in public and private sectors.” This catch-all statute to catch and punish crooks should become the norm, pith and substance of Malaysian jurisprudence.

The American law that criminalises the deprivation of the intangible right of honest services is codified in Title 18 United States Code section 1346. If implemented MEA CULPA will augment Order 1A and Order 92, r.4 Rules of High Court 2012 .

Integrity – the choice between what’s convenient and what’s right – is terrifying for those in authority inexperienced in exercising power but nevertheless propelled onto the pedestal by puppeteers. The plague of the morally flexible culture is accepted if not expected as the inescapable modus operandi in many national politics.

A learned man once invited a debate with some of us law students as to why we need lawyers when the learned in the law judge could render a binding bulletproof decision if presented with all the relevant facts, applicable laws and principles of law. Litigants thus receive the right to honest services without legal eagles hovering over others’ nest eggs.

Many of us duffers replied that we want to become lawyers to seek a comfortable and pecuniarily rewarding professional life. We were promptly chastised for improper use of the word “professional.” We didn’t have a clue. He explained that professionals without concern for ethics and morals are professional pariahs.

So, we pressed on with why the college was offering law classes and issuing law degrees in the first place. His quick response left us in awe. He extolled the virtues of teaching law since his seven years of penance (law practice) was a total sham that left his sensibilities in utter shambles. He turned to teaching for permanent contentment.

Years later we realised we were extremely lucky for being taught by a 20th century Socrates.

Asking government to protect you is like asking a peeping Tom to install your window blinds. Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair. Polarisation of ethics and morals from professionalism is the beginning of decay in society.

The rakyat must be wary and not get weary of apathy or indifference by government. Talk to assemblymen and MPs who must listen to their constituents as is their calling. There is enough time in one week to spend at least two hours with our elected officials even if they feign interest and enthusiasm.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune. 

Previous articleBuddhists to mark Wesak Day tomorrow
Next articleSix abstract artists to showcase work