Blog Post: [Part 2] Power, Vested Interest, and Prejudice: On the Need for Critical Thinking in the Ethics of Social and Economic Development

Richard Paul Archives
Mar 17, 2022 • 149d ago
[Part 2] Power, Vested Interest, and Prejudice: On the Need for Critical Thinking in the Ethics of Social and Economic Development

{"ops":[{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"[Missed Part 1? "},{"attributes":{"bold":true,"link":""},"insert":"Read It Here"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"]"},{"insert":"\n\n\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"There Are No Practical Incentives for the Powerful to Comply"},{"insert":"\n\nIf actions speak louder than words, then the powerful nations and groups (for example, international corporations) tell us that there is no reason to limit the pursuit of their vested interests, profit, and advantage because of the demands of ethical principles.\n \nThe overwhelming majority of nations have condemned the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, for example, but this condemnation has not persuaded the Soviets to withdraw. The overwhelming majority of nations and the World Court have condemned the U.S.-sponsored invasion of Nicaragua, but the condemnation has not persuaded the U.S. government to desist. Amnesty International and other organizations have documented the extensive use of torture, assassination and terrorism by many nations, but have failed to significantly reduce these ethical violations. Although powerful nations and groups attempt to maintain a positive image in the world press, clearly this image-fostering has little to do with ethical scruples or a willingness to respond to ethical critique. Furthermore, powerful nations spend a great deal of money on covert actions of their intelligence wings, enabling them to evade responsibility for much of their own unethical behavior. Hence the fact, for example, that Idi Amin was brought to power by collaborative efforts by the CIA, MOSSAD (Israel), and the MI6 (Britain) is not common knowledge, even though scholarly documentation is readily available. Consequently, nations can easily take a strong public stand condemning terrorism while financing it with a lot of money and technical expertise.\n \nThe amoral and immoral activities of powerful nations and groups, whether overt or covert, are often at odds with the social, political, and economic development of less powerful nations and groups, so there is a crucial link between the manner in which power is obtained and used and the problems of third-world development.\n\nDo not assume I am implying that the leaders of powerful governments and groups are self-consciously or deliberately amoral or immoral in the formulations of their policies and decisions. This I do not intend or believe. Rather my view is that many who rise to political and economic power have highly developed their capacity for rationalizing their vested interests and ignoring viewpoints or lines of reasoning which question what they do. Most discussions over pressing policy decisions focus on ways and means for advancing specific interests; to raise ethical issues in such discussions would seem to the participants “irrelevant”, “idealistic”, or “hopelessly philosophical”. If nothing else, groups vying for power would hesitate to restrict their own use of power, based on ethical considerations, while competing groups, in their view, are not so restricted. Furthermore, since competing groups, in their view, tend to drift toward considering the competing “other” as the “enemy”, restricting their activities based on ethical considerations appears to them as “folly”.\n \nJerome Frank has described this tendency with respect to the phenomenon of war in the following way:\n\nThe power of group relationships to determine how the members of groups perceive each other has been neatly shown by the vicissitudes of this image, which always arises when two nations are in conflict and which is always the same no matter who the conflicting parties are. Enemy images mirror each other — that is, each side attributes the same virtues to itself and the same vices to the enemy. “We\" are trustworthy, peace-loving, honorable, and humanitarian; “they\" are treacherous, warlike, and cruel. In surveys of Americans conducted in 1942, the first five adjectives chosen to characterize both Germans and Japanese (enemies) included warlike, treacherous, and cruel, none of which appeared among the first five describing the Russians (allies); in 1966 all three had disappeared from American characterizations of the Germans and Japanese (allies), but now the Russians (no longer allies, although more rivals than enemies) were warlike and treacherous. In 1966 the mainland Chinese, predictably, were seen as warlike, treacherous, and sly. After President Nixon’s visit to China, these adjectives disappeared from our characterization of the Chinese, whom we now see as hardworking, intelligent, artistic, progressive, and practical."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"insert":"The image of the enemy creates a self-fulfilling prophecy by causing enemies to acquire the evil characteristics they attribute to each other. In combating what they perceive to be the other’s cruelty and treachery, each side becomes more cruel and treacherous itself. The enemy-image nations form of each other thus more or less corresponds to reality."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\nOf course much of the use of economic resources is motivated today by considerations seen as crucial to the “cold war”. Economies and economic and political policies are deeply tied into the role nations and groups appear to play in relation to this struggle between the U.S. and its allies and the Soviet Union and its allies. The superpowers try to prevent anyone from remaining outside of their strategic decisions and policies.\n \nMost citizens find it very difficult to make reasonable ethical judgments about questions of development, when most of their information comes from the public media which are heavily influenced (when not overtly controlled) by a perspective on development of powerful groups.\n \nThe picture I am painting is as follows. The leaders of powerful nations and groups are involved in an intense struggle for power, within the context of which ethical principles seem irrelevant or somehow intrinsically embedded in their own vested interests. On the other hand, the majority of citizens in the world are provided with information from sources that are tied, in large part, to these same powerful vested interests. Thus, neither the leaders of powerful nations and groups nor their “followers” are likely to analyze or apply the ethical principles relevant to development in a way likely to do justice to those principles. The thinking of the leaders verges toward practical manipulations, rationalizations, and narrow ways and means analysis while the thinking of the followers tends toward naivete and closedmindedness fostered by their restricted sources of information, limited access to education, and traditional ethnocentric prejudices. The misinformation and disinformation fostered by the vested interests shape the media representations making the question of development a puzzle to most.\n"}]}

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