article: The Need for an Ethic Based on Global Consensus

THE NEED FOR AN ETHIC BASED ON GLOBAL CONSENSUS

Commentary broadcast on KPBX Spokane Public Radio, 2/29/00
by Lester A. Shepard

In Austria – the country where Hitler was born – a new political party is emerging at the polls as number one. Its charismatic leader, Haider, has openly praised the Nazis. Haider’s rise to power shows numerous parallels with Hitler’s. My own formative years were spent in the shadow of the Third Reich and were marked by the havoc it subsequently unleashed. I therefore speak from personal and, I might add, agonizing, experience.

Supremacy, command, and leadership were the keywords German propaganda showered on us in those years. The master race was going to rule the world, just as the Fuhrer ruled the master race. And nearly each European country in succession had its prospective copycat dictator promising dreamland in return for blind trust and obedience. Instead, they reaped a harvest of destruction and death.

The lesson I learned is a healthy distrust of leadership inasmuch as it rests on heeding someone who has magnetic personal qualities rather than making up one’s mind on the merits of a case based on objective fact. This should not be taken though as an endorsement of either libertarianism or anarchy. Government in our complex, technologically oriented society has an indispensable role to play. But its structure will have to change. Obviously, it will have to serve the citizenry instead of imposing oppression as is the case under authoritarian regimes. Yet even democracy is of scant value without an informed electorate. Democracy requires high standards of education and truthful media. It is not in itself a panacea, but experience shows that the will of the majority generally steers clear of extremism.

For me, the current presidential campaign is a reminder that there is too much emphasis on leaders and personalities even in comparatively equitable societies. The system we have tempts candidates to make unfulfillable promises and favors the selection of contestants with the largest campaign funds. I am confident that future developments will favor more direct participation in the decision-making process. Hopefully such innovations will eventually spread to every country.

We are faced with a situation where, on the one hand, few governments adequately represent the interests of their citizens and where, on the other hand, globalizaton is practically irreversible. As a result of our advanced technology, calamities can be huge and instantaneous. The single almost universally recognized organization protecting the interests of the peoples of the earth, including their human rights, would be the United Nations. But while the UN has carried out some highly praiseworthy activities, it suffers from the congenital flaw of being an association of governments, many of which are authoritarian and extremely corrupt. “United Nations” is in fact somewhat of a misnomer; more accurately it should be called United Governments.

What in my opinion we need therefore is grassroots action to formulate an ethic acceptable to all humans. It will have to be a free association of equals independent of commercial or governmental involvement. The chiefs of hierarchically structured top-down entities, whether elected or self-appointed, claim to represent followers, subjects, members, whatever, but once people are at the top they tend to betray those at the bottom, regarding them as mere pawns. Today the technical knowhow is available for polling and consulting billions of the earth’s inhabitants directly. The information age has huge untapped democratizing possibilities. Large numbers of people expressing their consensus, while not seeking the overthrow of any regime, and even without military might to back them up, could exert moral suasion for preventing governmental abuses and establishing higher standards of tolerance, understanding, and mutual support.

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