The Application of Ethics and Justice in Politics

By batsman 

I know I am sticking my neck out, but I’d like to tackle this tacky issue as a response to RPK’s A matter of ethics. It would seem from the comments that most are in disagreement with RPK. This would make most MT commenters a clearly unethical lot. heeheehee 

I submit that in most cases, the concept of ethics like the concept of justice must be divorced from real life for either to make any sense, but since politics clearly has everything to do with real life, ethics and justice should rightly be divorced from politics too. Such a conclusion would support the above contention that most MT commenters are clearly unethical and unjust.

This is of course bad PR, so the best I can say is that ethics like justice is a 2 edged sword that cuts both ways. They therefore have to be handled with extra care, not that one can afford to get careless with single edged swords. Again some comparison can be made with an equally matched 2 party political system. This system also cuts both ways and must be handled with extra care. 

Those who rush blindly into these things often find that in the end, they come away with a sense of betrayal or at the very least disappointment after getting hurt. 

Does this mean then that ethics, like justice, like the 2 party political system is useless for application in politics? 

I wish to submit that these things just have to be handled with extra care since ethics, justice and the 2 party political system can be applied to the individual as much as they can be applied to the whole community. Since there are some contradictions between the individual’s interests and the community’s interests, the same conflict can also be found in ethics, justice and an equally matched 2 party political system. This is the whole crux of the matter. 

In fact since there is also bound to be contradictions between the interests of different individuals, ethics and justice will also face the same types of complications. This is why justice tries to solve the matter by having laws. Anyone who is caught breaking the law even if he has justice on his side will be penalized. This not only reduces justice to a mere technical matter of the law, but gives superior advantage to those who have strong connections among the technicians of the law (the judges, lawyers, police, MACC, etc.), and of course the makers of law as well. 

(You realize of course that what I am saying is that the Statue of Liberty is a big lie in trying to portray justice as blind. In reality, what is blind is the law and since the Americans worship the law, what happens in most cases when the Americans get involved is justice is usually never served) 

Justice therefore becomes perverted just by having laws especially if the law is extremely forceful as opposed to persuasive such that it becomes an instrument of oppression by the state or by a political party which thinks it is the state. This is one of the anomalies of real life. This is why I stress the “equally matched” part in a 2 party political system. It is no use if a 2 party political system is vastly one sided like it is at present in Malaysia. 

The same goes for ethics. Ethics is more refined than justice as it strives for fairness and even handedness in the daily actions and decisions of individuals. Unfortunately such refinement is not uniformly applicable in real life where millions of individuals act according to their own ethical values in a zillion situations which again may be in conflict as much as the interest of individuals conflict and ethics therefore does not usually have the force of law in most cases. An unethical or immoral act (considered to be by society or by some other authority) can be completely legal under bad laws and so will go unpunished – sadly not just unpunished in many cases but rewarded with dirty advantage or dirty money. In such cases, the whole culture and environment in the country quickly becomes sinful and immoral and very unpleasant indeed especially if society also sucks up to money and power. 

Link ethics with morality and the element of religion is introduced, but let me not digress too much in this new area and limit any discussion of religion to the observation below. 

What gives certain ethical notions strength? If the majority of voters do not think it is unethical to use religion to hurt rather than to protect individuals or minorities, then what is the use of appealing to ethics even though religion itself says such a thing is bad? Such an appeal can have relevance only if people remember this appeal over long passage of time such that the bad effects of using religion to hurt and oppress minorities is felt, proven and accepted in the end by the majority of voters. Otherwise it is reduced to fear of what may happen in the after life. 

Many great minds and philosophers have already discussed the question of ethics in exhaustive detail which is why I merely limit the discussion of ethics here to its application in politics. 

Application of ethics in politics must take into account the weight of numbers otherwise ethics becomes divorced from real life. It is of course unethical if one person is treated unfairly and is cheated of a position he contested for by manipulation of votes. However if such unfairness is ultimately used to question and then to destroy the whole political party and its reform programme, can it be said that this follow-up action is ethical – when not only a whole relatively honest membership of such a political party is deprived of their chosen avenue for expression and action, but the completely innocent  rest of the country itself is deprived of the chance of political reform in the next GE? 

Which is more unethical? Cheating a person or a few persons of positions in inner party power struggles or cheating the whole country of a chance for reform in the next elections? Is the one related to the other or are they completely unrelated issues? Can ethics be clinically cut off into bits and pieces and dealt with separately in a surgically antiseptic manner? Doing this would be to treat ethics as an academic issue and completely unrelated to real life. I submit therefore that ethics cannot be applied to politics in such a clinical manner. 

Ethics cannot be reduced to automated application in the same manner that justice is reduced to automatic application of law. What is clearly unethically in one situation (cheating a person of a position by manipulation of votes) continues to be seriously unethical if this excuse is used to destroy a whole party in a follow-up action that may hurt the interests of  large numbers of people who were not involved in such cheating in the first place. 

Of course there is no guarantee either way – that because of inner party power struggles, the loser may not go on to greater achievements by forming a new party and winning the next GE any more than the possibility that the reforms that the old party champions can ever come to fruition even if that party wins in the next GE. 

The whole concept of ethics revolves around fair play and even-handedness – that the punishmnent for the dishonesty of a few vote manipulators is not visited upon the innocent many. Even in a 2 party political system, the concept of ethics must involve fair play and even-handedness. It may be argued that UMNO has a lot more members than PKR, therefore ethics must support the interests of the bigger UMNO since more people are served if UMNO is served. 

However, fair play and even-handedness is not served in that the 2 parties are no longer equally matched and a healthy political system requires that there are viable checks and balances. 

Ethics therefore is multi-layered. There is layer after layer of ethics to be considered. In the end, it must be that ethics must serve the practical considerations of making things better in the country. 

In the past, it was the ethical thing to do to help a poverty stricken Malay community to catch up. Now, such a policy has been hijacked by a corrupt and abusive layer of autocrats taking advantage of the old ethics to the extent that the public service now serves corrupt autocrats rather than the abused and cheated people and the living environment in Malaysia is becoming more sinful and more corrupt by the day even without the help of PKR. 

It may now be the ethical thing to do to forget personal injuries and insults and to forgive PKR for its small inner party sins of power struggle and arrogance towards old colleagues in the hope that the bigger corruption and abuse of power may be checked for the good of the country. In a way I believe this is a risky application of even-handedness. 

Such a proposal may be difficult to swallow and sticks in the gut as we may be dealing with the devil we don’t know. This is the risk we must take. If there is another viable alternative, pray tell.