In conclusion…let me take a moment to talk about the main reason I actually travelled to the Southern USA… (and I need to confess that while I am writing this I am also listening to a wonderful version of Bach’s Mass in B Minor presented by the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul in Montreal — you can too if you go to the church’s website and then click on the appropriate reference which takes you to the YouTube site!!)
Back to the prime reason for this Chapter: probably my favourite professional association is the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE) which meets late winter every year somewhere in the United States of America. This year’s site was Atlanta Georgia and while I have been to that city before I have never spent much time in it as I was usually passing through to some other destination. This time I had five days there and found it to be a delightfully friendly city, surprisingly integrated and full of energy. The hotel where the meetings were held was the Sheraton Downtown, a nice brisk walk from where I stayed so I was able to experience the city in the morning, late afternoon and in the later evening. I was glad for the opportunity.
The conference itself was, as usual, very dynamic. As opposed to last year’s hotel, this one had a great bar so that there was plenty of opportunity for informal conversations and this year it seemed there were more younger participants interested in joining in these off-hours times. I am not going to dwell at length on the various sessions or even say much about the keynote and plenary lectures. You can check it all out on the APPE website if you are deeply interested. I also participated in the Ethics Bowl again – as a moderator. This is one of the highlights of each APPE conference; the student teams that make it to the nationals are all good, often younger, but always bright, articulate and focused. I always learn a good deal just being in the room when they are debating. I also get some tips on where current applied ethics thinking may be moving when I hear the questions and comments by the judges – there were three on each of the two panels I moderated. This year I did not have any serious quarrel with the various winners; even the scoring seemed somewhat closer than in years past.
There was one intriguing presentation on Ethics for Not-For-Profits. While the presenter used bioethics as the basis for the framework the applicability The first issue was the need to accommodate autonomy, dignity and religious beliefs. Then deal with the harm reduction factor which will require considering two additional principles: community (the sense of…) and charity (human rights/social justice). The importance of autonomy was described as composing beneficence (or at least non-maleficence) as well as justice. These four are the key components for an ethical framework re not-for-profits.
But how does this get operationalized? It was suggested there is a five-step approach: organization, stakeholders, principles, weight these, make a decision!! In addition some consideration should be given to who gets the benefit of a tax deduction? Questions can also arise as to what is autonomy and how extensive it might be. For example: can it be grass roots? It was then suggested that it might be so partially, depending where the organization sits in the larger system. As the presentation wrapped up I was left with a niggling question: how is this really any different from either public or private sector organizations and does it actually go far enough?
The next session that caught my attention addressed the idea of corporate culture and leadership. The presenter introduced the concept of an Organization Cultural Assessment Instrument OCAI) and illustrated it by a bit of a matrix. There are four quadrants: (starting from the top left and going clockwise) CLAN / ADVOCACY / MARKET / HIERARCHY. The north/south axis is freedom (flexibility) / stability (& control) while the west/east axis is internal/external. Applying my background in ethical reasoning all I can say is that:
• Clan may tend to be more Stage 3 in reasoning, though perhaps with shades of 1 & 2.
• Hierarchy would seem to be more Stage 2 – the deal with shades of 3
• Advocacy seems to suggest a more Stage 5 type reasoning base
• Market Driven was described in terms somewhat akin to Stage 4(5) but with some 3.
But again as it wrapped up I wondered: so what is the overall linkage?
A more enlightening session focused on Come to the Movies led by a very energized prof from Brigham Young University. Perhaps I liked him because he has been using movies in his ethics classes for thirty years. Nevertheless his approach is well-grounded and he attempts to get his students to consider ethical issues from three perspectives: opportunity / rationalization / pressure. Films are used to examine neutralization, moral disengagement, ethical fading and self-deception. He pointed out some of the conundrums that Lincoln faced it abolishing slavery while trying to unite the south and north. He also brought forth Wilberforce (Amazing Grace) and his use of unethical actions to move society towards the abolition of slavery. And then he actually taught me something: the Bogg’s (1836) Missouri Extermination Order – to kill a Mormon. In moments like this decision-makers use rationalization as we like to see ourselves as being a Good Person. And we come by this quite easily. And while I could see a noticeable parallel to the U of Texas’ Ethics Unwrapped vignettes, he then gave a number of films as examples that he uses to point out a vast array of ethical failings:
• denial of responsibility
• denial of injury
• denial of victim
• condemnation of the condemners
• appeal to higher loyalties
• moral ledger
• distorting consequences
• defence of necessity
• claim of normalcy
• denial of negative intent
• justification by comparison (claims of relative acceptability)
• use of euphemisms
Often within most of our less than stellar ethical choices, there is an element of truth. We become dismissive (it’s not really bad) or deflective (not really my fault). He then suggested two good films to use to get students to pay attention to the conundrums: Code Breakers (the way things are done around here) and Liar/Liar (filled with examples). His concluding suggestion was that we recognize the need for more moral humility – it’s hard to be moral!! Ironically, now that I will be teaching at least much of my summer session course via on-line this year, I will likely take some ideas from this presentation to incorporate into the re-make/revision of my more group-centred curriculum.
Saturday afternoon I was privileged to chair a session which addressed two very intriguing challenges of contemporary democracies: the fake threat and fake news. Both presenters were interesting and the conversations were lively, The study into fake threats is not only interesting but should be shared. I intend to contact the presenter in the days ahead to see if there is more information he can share. As for fake news we need to be aware that today it can be more than propaganda and even misinformation; it can actually be disinformation (fabrication of stories that deliberately intend to take us to wrong conclusions). It was driven home to me the next morning at breakfast when the hotel had both CNN and FoxNews on the screens in the dining room – all I could wish for was three more screens with CTV, Global & CBC and then I would really be informed or not.
The sessions, the speakers (especially the business ethics luncheon) and the informal conversations in the bar all made the trip more than worthwhile – and I actually moved my knowledge meter a bit more, Hopefully it will show up in better courses going forward.