Ethics / CSE – 2016 – Governance, Good Governance & Ethical Governance

Governance, good governance and ethical governance are not the stand alone terms rather could be seen as lying in a continuum as follows:

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Though definitions vary slightly but a wide variation is seen in terms of practice and the overall systemic arrangement of a nation. In this perspective the three terms can be defined as:
Governance can be defined as the exercise of political and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. One may notice that the definition is “form of government that is State neutral” and thus covers all States, democratic and authoritarian. It is a bare minimum requirement for a State involving no value judgement while Good Governance is the result of an assessment of actual governance made by the stake holders and the independent judgement of outside agencies like the UN on how effectively the state has been able to perform regulatory and development functions. However, what matters most is the citizen’s objective perception of how their government is functioning; and this critically depends on the form of Government. Here objective perception is important, as a government not in line with the principles of good governance could be perceived as ‘good’ if it serves the short term goals of the citizens as a common entity – for example ‘ Commons Dilemma’.

In a democracy with periodic elections the citizens enjoy the power to change the ruling party and influence making of laws, regulations and policies which is not there in an authoritarian State like Saudi Arabia. A similar situation is observed in States classified as ‘extractive’ like some African and Latin American States which are primarily run for resource extraction by the ruling elite. Hence, democratic state stands better chances to have an overall ecosystem supportive of good governance mainly because without citizens participation and freedom to choose between several options governance has no meaning as Amartya Sen has rightly defined ‘ development as freedom’. From this perspective the elements of good governance can be defined as:

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As regards ethical governance, what we can say is that it is not “only about ethical objectives but also ethical means” by which it is achieved. Though in real world, there is no State in the world that can claim for such governance. The backbone of ethical governance is not only ethical principles in formulating policies, building institutions but also ethical display in behavioural terms by people manning those institutions and working in them. It seems to be utopian idea and time immemorial nations and leaders have tried to achieve what is called ethical governance. While more or less efforts remain only in name but a closest effort is that of ‘The Ashokan State’. It continues to be the only effort in history when the Sovereign authority took upon itself the duty to create an ethics based State and public order and urged the citizens to act ethically in their relationship with the fellow citizens and all living beings. The Nehruvian idea of Panchsheel in international relations is one such attempt at building an ethics based international order. The chapter on the fundamental duties in the constitution could be taken as an attempt to this direction. Thus from an objective perspective good governance is seen as an attempt to get close to ethical governance which would remain always like a “bridge too far “because of frailty of human nature.

Ethics – Discuss the public service code as recommended by the 2nd ARC

Discuss the public service code as recommended by the 2nd ARC.

‘Ethics in governance’ was the second item in the terms of reference of the second ARC which included proactive vigilance, identification of rules which lead to corruption and the need to protect upright officials while limiting executive discretion and scope for arbitrary decision making. The ARC addressed the issues and recommended a code with following features to create an enabling environment for a corruption free society.

  • Introduction of partial state funding of election to free the political process from the influence of the powerful trade and business interest and building of lasting Nexus between the two which is a durable basis of corruption. This may result in avoidance of compulsions of coalition politics , a potent contributory factor to corruption.
  • Disclosure of interest by politicians.
  • A strict application of the concept of ‘ office of profit’ in a Parliamentary democratic state that preclude legislators from functions which fall in the realm of the executive covering the ministers and officials. This is because the legislators have ‘ oversight’ functions which are certain to be compromised if they got involved in executive functions. No legislator therefore should hold such office of profit and its strict application will create an environment conducive to practice of probity in public life .Public life should not be viewed as an extension of one’s property.
  • Recommended a code of conduct for all professions which are presently absent for most except those covered under a statute such as the Advocates Act or the Medical Practitioners Act as a step to create a culture of probity in society.
  • Recommended constitution of a National Judicial Council for appointment of judges.
  • Adequate legal provisions for protection of whistle blowers both in the state public and private corporate bodies.
  • Recognising the fact that corruption and corrupt practices are widespread in private sector and especially in the private corporate sector which after opening up of the economy to market often aided and abetted corruption in government, ARC recommended that corruption in the private sector including NGO’s involved in provisioning public services  be brought within the purview of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

It is also to be noted that Statutory protection to whistle blowers including corporate whistle blowers was recommended and enactment of a comprehensive law to provide for creation of liability in cases where public servants cause loss to the state by malafide actions. The latter was actually implemented by the previous government by amendment of the Prevention of Corruption Act which produced an altogether different problem as it empowered the government to impute motives to past actions and bona fide decisions on hindsight , that is for loss caused by reasons and circumstances unforeseen; and as this has exposed honest officials to harassment long after they vacated office the present government has moved a Bill to amend the Prevention of Corruption Act.

We may note that the substantive recommendations of the ARC code have not been implemented mainly for lack of a political will.

Ethics – Biology, Culture and Morals

From a Biological perspective, nothing is unnatural. Whatever is possible is also by definition natural  Yuval Noah Harari.

Consider the question of polygamy, homosexuality, incest and even cannibalism. These are some of the most unacceptable acts in culture today. The question that we want to answer in this article is this –

What is it about human beings that disables them to certain range of activities, biology or culture? How can we distinguish that which is biologically determined from what people merely try to justify through biological myths?

A good rule of thumb is ‘Biology enables Culture disables’. Biology is willing to tolerate a very wide spectrum of possibilities; it is culture that obligates people to realize some possibilities while forbidding others. Culture tends to argue that it forbids only that which is ‘unnatural’. But from a biological perspective – Nothing is unnatural. Whatever is possible is also by definition natural. A truly unnatural behaviour, one that goes against the laws of nature simply cannot exists, so it would need no prohibition.

Evolution has no purpose. Organs have not evolved with a purpose, and the way they are used is in constant flux. There is not a single organ in the human body that only does the job its prototype did when it first appeared hundreds of millions of years ago. Organs evolve to perform a particular function, but once they exist, they can be adapted for other usage as well. Mouths for example appeared because the earlier multicellular organisms needed a way to take nutrients into their bodies. We still use our mouths for taking nutrients, but we also use them to kiss, speak and if we are a soldier, to pull the pins out of hand grenades. Are any of these uses unnatural simply because our worm like ancestors 600 million years ago didn’t do those things with their mouths?

When we compare the biology of the humans with other genre we realize that we have a lot more free space and berth than others that fall into a more fixed and predictable hierarchies. Humans have created a variety of myths and narratives to ‘tame’ the human ‘animal’ but these myths are not really supported by biological reality. Slavery was once a common practice throughout the world, though we still see it in pockets we can be sure that it is frowned upon by all cultures now, or the caste system which is still deeply entrenched in the Hindu society. Both of these practices were carried out by a series of pseudo-scientific rationalization about the natural order of things. There is nothing in the biological structure of a Dalit that is different from an upper caste Hindu, so how has this myth been able to capture the consciousness of for such a long time? The answer – the stories that we tell ourselves condition our psyche into believing them as realities. As a matter of fact a recent study by National Institute of Biomedical Genomics in Kalyani, West Bengal claims through a study that as of today there is not genetic difference between a Dalit and a Brahmin. In the presence of such facts what is that still lets some people believe in their biological superiority over others? Answer: The myths, the historical fiction that we create almost become our reality (In the language of political theory this is understood by the word ‘Hegemony’ as coined by the great Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci, but more on that later).

All the so called distinctions between rich and poor, masters and slaves, civilized and savages are based on fiction. Yet it is an irony of history that every imagined hierarchy disavows its fictional origins and claims to be natural and correct and have argued that slavery is not human intervention. Hammurabi saw it as ordered by Gods, Aristotle argued that slaves have a ‘slavish nature’ whereas free people have a ‘free nature’ and their status in society is a reflection of their innate nature.

This does not mean that there are no biological differences between people, there certainly are in fact we can go as far as to argue that all individuals are unique in certain aspects. But history has shown our tendency to exaggerate those differences and to create stories around those exaggerations, stories that uphold a certain desired hierarchy. These stories have a way of creating their own reality. And this does not even argue that all behaviour is equally acceptable, practices like cannibalism and incest are certainly not good for any people and must be refrained from commission by the use of these techniques of putting them in a story and conditioning the people’s brain to work around these myths in order to reduce murder, rape, slavery and other vile behaviour that is perfectly biological and natural to us and we should.

But unless we recognize the difference between biology and cultural myth and seek to reduce our unfair taboos wherever possible, we fail in some way to see the world through the eyes of others and see that our imagined order is not always a fair or just one, a natural or inevitable one. Through this discernment we seek to produces better virtues of empathy and open mindedness for other people’s culture and values, these virtues become extremely important in world that is getting closely inter connected. This realization is indeed the birth of Toleration. This ‘spirit of inquiry’ and reform in to the nature of all our cultural mores and customs is the only way forward for humanity, if it wants to survive together. With the political climate getting more and more dangerous globally, we expect shrinkage of liberty and tolerance, a revival of old dogmatic myths and superstition is imminent, in  days as such we are reminded of that ancient Chinese curse, ‘May you live in interesting times’. And now that we are witnessing interesting times we must assume our place as the moral torchbearers of Goodness, Truth and Justice. This is not merely an intellectual practice; this is life as we know it. As we have often claimed through this series – Ethics is the meaning of Life.