There has never been more talk about ethics than today, not only in private lives, but also in government circles, in business boardrooms and in the media. That is because most people realize we are living in a very corrupt period. In 2009, the United States ranked 19th in a worldwide corruption index, way below New Zealand (1st) or Denmark (2nd).
Indeed, more than three quarters of Americans believe that we are living at a time of declining moral values. A recent Gallup poll found that 76 percent of Americans think moral values in their country are getting worse, while only 14 percent believe they’re getting better. This would seem to be paradoxical, since other indicators show that the United States is getting more religious and pious. More religion and less morality?
For instance, it has been observed that teen birth rates are the highest in the most religious states. That may be because poor people tend to be more religious compared to the rich and tend to be less educated and less well informed. Consider also that it has been observed that religious people are more racist than average.
Morality is a complex issue, but that is no reason to sweep it under the rug of indifference … //
… The contradiction between modern problems, new scientific knowledge and the inadequacy of our prevalent source of morality or of ethics, led me to ask what kind of values would be required to face the new challenges. What would our civilization look like if we were to adopt them?
In such a such a civilization:
- All human beings would be equal in dignity and in human rights.
- Life on this planet would not be devalued and seen as only a preparation for a better life after death, somewhere beyond the clouds.
- The virtues of tolerance and of human liberty would be proclaimed and applied, subject only to the requirements of public order.
- Human solidarity and sharing would be better accepted as a protection against poverty and deprivation.
- The manipulation and domination of others through lies, propaganda, and exploitation schemes of all kinds would be less prevalent.
- There would be less reliance on superstition and religion to understand the Universe and to solve life’s problems and more on reason, logic and science.
- Better care of the Earth’s natural environment—land, soil, water, air and space—would be taken in order to bequeath a brighter heritage to future generations.
- We would have ended the primitive practice of resorting to violence or to wars to resolve differences and conflicts.
- There would be more genuine democracy in the organization of public affairs, according to individual freedom and responsibility.
- Governments would see that their first and most important task is to help develop children’s intelligence and talents through education.
Yes we can, if we try.
Drawn from notes for a conference by Dr. Rodrigue Tremblay at the American Humanist Association’s Annual Meeting, San Jose, California, Friday, June 4, 2010. For the complete text of the conference, please click HERE.
(Rodrigue Tremblay is professor emeritus of economics at the University of Montreal and can be reached by e-mail. He is the author of the book The Code for Global Ethics).