Connecting the dots on West Papua, Part 2
The residues of war that linger to this day

The diabolic forces who inhabit our politics

The corrupt and the goodPHILIP FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY – The cynics among us have always known that political ethics and personal ethics are not similar or indeed compatible.

It has been naively said that political ethics comes from the head while personal ethics comes from the heart.

By that is meant that political ethics are based on what seems practical while personal ethics are based on what is fair and right.

In other words, perhaps, cold-blooded pragmatism versus warm and cuddly emotion.

As I see it there are also other sources of ethics.

There are those that come from the stomach (as opposed to the gut) which are neither emotional nor pragmatic. They are grounded in naked greed.

Further south in human anatomy, another kind of ethics comes from the nether regions and have a sexual bias.

Then there are business ethics. Volumes have been written on this subject but they invariably come down to platitudes thinly couched in feel good justifications for what is essentially ruthlessness.

And I am not forgetting religious ethics, a hybridisation of high minded ideals tainted by a sense of superiority and hypocrisy.

Personal ethics stem from nature, nurture and experience: who we are; how we were brought up; and what we have learned along the way.

Ethics are supposed to be standards and practices that guide our actions in various situations.

The problem with political ethics is that, no matter how well-intentioned politicians may be, they operate in an adversarial environment where power is the ultimate goal.

Survival in power is the pre-requisite for putting intentions, whether good or bad, into practise.

As private individuals, most of us want to cultivate harmony and peace in our lives.

On the other hand, politicians faced with the need to achieve power, are constantly always tempted to abandon any semblance of harmony and they may find it necessary to adopt any means possible to attain political power.

In Australia an example of this type of politician is the current leader of the federal Liberal Party and former policeman, Peter Dutton, a divisive personality.

In the USA, we see the aggressively unethical Donald Trump emerge as a national leader, breaching his own nation’s constitution to gain power if he has to.

In his renowned 1919 essay, ‘Politics as a Vocation’, the German sociologist Max Weber who wrote extensively on authority and power pointed out that force, violence, envy, conflict and the exercise of power are inherent in politics.

Weber termed these “diabolic forces”.

Opposing the diabolic forces was his ideal polity and bureaucracy that upheld rules and regulations and which strictly adhered to protocol.

Curiously, Weber didn’t specifically mention corruption among politicians, except to say that most people regarded politicians as naturally corrupt and most likely liars and thieves.

That’s an attitude that remains pervasive still. We expect public servants to be ethical but not politicians.

An adept politician, therefore, is one who can get away with many misdeeds and misdemeanours without getting caught.

A thought worth dwelling upon is whether it is better to have politicians who act largely unethically and get things done, or those who are ethical and fail to achieve.

Unfortunately, it seems that finding politicians who are both ethical and who achieve a great deal for their countries are very hard to find.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Lindsay F Bond

How adept are politicians in Australia, regarding integrity of distribution and equity?

Paul Oates

It's all to do with power and personality, Phil. Most people have some power but choose not to extend it beyond their ability to cope.

Those that seek power for their own benefit are then caught up in a web of their own making.

The traditional power of individuals was moderated in the village due to tribal councils and the need to be supported when as an individual, you couldn't do everything required.

As soon as someone gravitates past the need to keep their 'wantoks' on side, it becomes a slippery slope to keeping and maintaining any power over others.

What we as a species need to concentrate on is the natural checks and balances that are available to stop the abuse of power. Therein lies the problem.

Most people are just too self interested and lack the motivation to stand up and work for the common good.

Where does that leave us? Exactly where you have said. It's not politics per se that is the problem. It's people and their lack of motivation to stand up for the common good.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)