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Reflections on Ethics 84
Slogans and codes are not a substitute for morality

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There are two quotations that have long bothered me.

“My country, right or wrong.” Senator Carl Schurz

“If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” EM Forster

Both had validity in their original context, but both as generally used are removed from context, and in the case of the Schurz quotation, the meaning rendered the exact opposite of what Schurz was arguing. Both quotations stand there as simplistic slogans for blindly following either nationalism or friendship rather than thinking about the underlying moral issues.

Parents and teachers inculcate this simplistic teaching into children when they tell them: Don't be a tattletale! This is just a cop out on adult responsibilities, when what needs to be taught is which issues the child should be able to solve for herself, and which merit bringing to the attention of an adult. Instead, the simplistic Don't be a tattletale! is a free license for bullies.

Further, as children get older, Don't be a tattletale! evolves into Don't snitch! And that's a free licence for gangs, thieves, and murderers. The result is increasingly dysfunctional communities.

Loyalty may be seen as a virtue, and the slogans quoted above all represent forms of loyalty, to country, friend, schoolmates, or gangs. But loyalty is only a virtue when it contributes to the good. Loyalty which contributes to wrongdoing is not a virtue.

We can't be slaves to simple slogans and codes. We have to be aware of what is truly right or wrong. And we have to act on what is truly right. That takes thought, not blindly following.