2016 was a year of ups and downs in ethics
Fresno Bee, December 31, 2016
This was a stimulating year for ethical reflection. Incivility marred the election. Scandals emerged. And haters continued to hate.
But good Samaritans took risks to help others. Just this week, two students, Emily Elmerick and Sydney Antles, rescued crash victims from drowning in a canal on Highway 41.
Such courage should be applauded. We should also celebrate the steadfast decency of the majority of people who worked hard and paid their taxes.
Common decency often goes unnoticed. Nor do we notice the steady progress we are making toward alleviating poverty, improving health and advancing literacy around the globe.
Instead we fixate on hot button issues. This year, transgender rights and Black Lives Matter grabbed headlines. Assisted suicide became legal in California. Some states restricted abortion rights. And marijuana legalization was in vogue. Any of those issues will provoke heated conversation.
SELF-DRIVING CARS NEED MORAL ALGORITHMS TO GUIDE THEM. BIOTECHNOLOGY IS OPENING A NEW WORLD OF GENETIC ENGINEERING. THE SIXTH MASS EXTINCTION IS BEING CAUSED BY POACHING, POLLUTION AND HUMAN POPULATION PRESSURE. GLOBAL TEMPERATURES AND CO2 LEVELS ARE AT ALL-TIME HIGHS.
Major moral problems loom on the horizon. Self-driving cars will require moral algorithms to guide them. Biotechnology is opening a brave, new world of genetic engineering. The sixth mass extinction is being caused by poaching, pollution and human population pressure. Global temperatures and carbon dioxide levels are at all-time highs.
Despite these new challenges, some things don’t change. California voters retained the death penalty. War, crime and terrorism continue to afflict us. And men continue to disrespect women.
This year, we heard Donald Trump brag about grabbing women’s genitals. Anthony Wiener sent more lewd photos. New allegations emerged against Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes and others.
Meanwhile, the White House’s glass ceiling remains intact. Some blamed misogyny, racism and xenophobia for Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential bid. Others saw conflicts of interest in the Clinton Foundation, dirty deeds in the DNC and that pesky email scandal.
The sports world was a welcome distraction from politics. The Cubs inspired hope, as did Olympic champions. The moral highlight of the Rio Games occurred when Abbey D’Agostino helped an injured Nikki Hamblin complete the 5,000 meter race.
But the Olympics were marred by Russian cheating scandals and fear of Zika. Social unrest in Brazil haunted the Games just as racial tensions in the U.S. prompted Colin Kaepernick’s flag protests.
Sex scandals emerged in USA Gymnastics and in British soccer clubs. And in Rio, Ryan Lochte got drunk and vandalized a service station. He lied about it and got caught, demonstrating that the cover-up is often worse than the crime.
NEPOTISM AND GREED ARE A VOLATILE MIX, WHICH IS KEEPING ETHICS WATCHDOGS ON ALERT AS DONALD TRUMP HEADS TO WASHINGTON, D.C. CRITICS WARN OF POTENTIAL CONFLICTS OF INTEREST.
In addition to liquor and lust, greed also caused moral disaster. Several corporate scandals emerged this year. Wells Fargo opened phony accounts for 2 million customers. The scandal has spread to Prudential insurance. Thousands of employees were fired, and CEO John Stumpf stepped down.
Profiteering was a problem for makers of the EpiPen, whose price rose by hundreds of percent in recent years. The CEO of the company that makes the EpiPen is Heather Bresch. Her father is a U.S. senator. Her mother headed the National Association of State Boards of Education, which urged schools to purchase these devices.
Nepotism and greed are a volatile mix, which is keeping ethics watchdogs on alert as Donald Trump heads to Washington, D.C. Critics warn of potential conflicts of interest. Others, such as Newt Gingrich, argue that a billionaire president should not be bound by customary ethics regulations. Meanwhile, prosecutors have blocked Trump’s attempts to close his charitable foundation, since it is under investigation.
So what have we learned this year? Most scandals involve the same basic causes: sexual desire, drunkenness, overweening pride, a penchant for secrecy and deception, conflicts of interest, and the unbridled pursuit of profit.
The basic lessons of ethics are simple. Keep your ego in check and your pants on. Value sobriety and self-control. Tell the truth. Keep your promises. Don’t cheat. Respect people and treat them fairly. Don’t enrich yourself or your family at the expense of others. And apologize when you do something wrong.
As we enter the new year, let’s resolve to be moderate, humble, honest and kind. Let’s remember that decent people and good Samaritans do exist. Let’s celebrate the progress we have made in improving ourselves and our world. And let’s be slow to blame and quick to forgive, since everyone is tempted by pleasure, profit and pride.