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1. An Ethical Thirst

Yes, it’s a play on words. I want to conjure and draw attention to a thirst that needs to be quenched because there is a positive drought sweeping over us, which threatens to create a bleak, desolate and fearful existence. We are blindly falling into oblivion and with each passing day there appears to be no arrest to our descent. News item after news item generates shudders and terrors as we stare fixedly into the stream of chaos, distress and horror with which we are seemingly presented.


Migration, violence, war and terrorism are eclipsing famine, disease and natural disaster. There is an increasing miasma of danger being felt to emanate from the actions of other humans, which is beginning to suppress our perspective upon the natural predators of human life. The battle with nature and struggle for life has been given over, wholesale, to scientific saviours to fight the good fight. Meanwhile, we ‘unscientific ones’ are left to focus our worries upon each other and fantasize about the threat that our neighbour poses as he apparently hides behind closed doors manufacturing pipe bombs and stockpiling illegal weapons.

As we plough ever onwards through ceaseless days of torment at the mercy of omnipresent global communications, we harden day by day to the passage of our fellow citizens as they too go about their lives. The walls within which we call our homes start to take root in our minds, slowly setting down mortar and brick to keep nightmare possibilities at bay. Where once there exalted innocent and open minds, embracing life’s continual excitement in the spirit of exploration, desolate wastelands of fear and deserts of paranoia spread, choking our reasoning and intellect. “Better to be safe than sorry” we expound as we shut and bolt the front door closing ourselves off from each other. In a single generation we have executed the freedom and joy we had as children playing, as children should, with each other in the street, and handed down to our offspring the padded playgrounds that technology can provide in the security and safety of our own home.


Fear of deviance has caught hold of our imagination and constructed a “no-brainer” decision to keep our kids from potential harm. We understand our actions to be those steered by personal choice when we escort our young ones to the playground as opposed to unleashing them down the road. But are they personal? Or, are they swiftly becoming conventional? When does the act of the one realise that it is the act of conformity, and not actually personal at all? Or, do we acknowledge our ovine proclivity and put it down to “common sense in this day and age”? Hopefully, there are a few good souls out there that rally and rage against this unwritten curfew, even if they might begrudgingly adopt it. Further, though, spreads the desert…

The achievements of the 20th century that took so many great strides to overcome inhumanity are slowly showing signs of erosion. The abolition, by so many, of capital punishment is in great danger if one believes and becomes persuaded by ‘debating’ polls glibly erected to canvas a simple click of a button, which, if enough people press, starts to become a powerful political tool in the wrong hands. Can it be that we live in a society that can excavate and smash one of the foundations of a mature society by naively swaying the populace with fear? The focus of fear, of course, being that post 9/11 iconographic term coined by George W. Bush, ‘Terrorists”, with the question for debate being whether or not terrorists should get the death penalty.

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Can it be that we are so ready to go backwards on this issue and if so what next? Are our human rights to be knee-jerked into question by other online polls after being fought for by legions of academics, politicians and believers in the post holocaust world of the 1940s? Should we rescind a few of the Articles of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, such as 13 (2) (“Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”) and 14 (1) (“Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”) because they are becoming inconvenient? Let’s have an online poll right now to make the decision and present the case afresh in true tabloid sensation style. Or, rather, let’s not unpick the fabric of one of the truly remarkable successes that our evolved hairless simian species has managed to achieve!


The fostering and nurturing of fear, suspicion and hate is the problem and it needs to be opposed because it alone is causing the drought. Left unchecked, it will cripple humanity through war and convince individuals to self-impose barriers to community that will escalate the loneliness and depression that swarms exponentially among us. The rains to eradicate the draught can come though… if we want them to. The question is, of course, do we want them to come? However, before we start jumping up and randomly performing rain-dances we really ought to find out just what the rain is made from.

Maybe we can start our precipitation analysis by looking at fear, suspicion and hate and also their opposites, calm, trust and love. The most noticeable difference between these two sets of emotions and feelings is that those in the ‘positive camp’, (calm, trust and love) appear to need some focused work from us as individuals. They don’t just happen. They normally take time to develop and to take shape within us. However, those in the ‘negative camp’ (fear, suspicion and hate) are now rushing fully formed into our minds and emotions at speed; and this is a major problem because we aren’t taking any time to process before spewing forth ‘gut’ reactions and creating stories in our heads regarding personal safety for ourselves and our loved ones.


So why is it that suspicion comes on much quicker in our consciousness than trust? It used to be the case that these antonyms followed a similar path of progression within our minds. One would experience the presence of another person and start to weigh up the information gathered by their actions and conversation to the point of making an opinion as to whether we would like them, admire them or trust them. The process, though, would take time and be one that we would continually check within ourselves when new information was received. It was rare that we make an immediate assessment or follow the recommendation of a friend unchecked. However, that was when we lived in a simpler environment where interaction with others, and more importantly the thought of others, was an easily identifiable event in our daily lives. If the Postman speculated on the newcomer in the village as he handed over our letters we would mark this as an, albeit minor, event in our day. Can we say the same today? Plus, we would consider what the Postman said and weigh up in our thoughts if we trusted their opinion. Rather vitally, we gave space to the information received and also our processing of it. By doing so, of course, we gave the same degree of attention to discovering if we could trust the Postman or be suspicious of him. This is rarely the case these days.


There is an enormous plurality to the quantity of events that we allow ourselves to be exposed to that shows no signs of slackening off in our present age. The consequence being that we are training our minds to shortcut the information and processing time we give to each new interaction that bubbles to the surface of our frontal lobe. Such speed of grappling aids decision making when in environments where pace is the key criteria to judge our engagement with a given topic. However, perniciousness creeps in when this same rapid skill set is applied to issues that actually deserve a far more superior stratum of thinking than those that generate swift, instantaneous, classifications. Such issues are those that consider our relationship to other humans, and, let’s face it, these are issues where we should not scrimp mental energies.

The ability to apply ourselves to questions of other human beings is under a malevolent pressure because it is swept along with the flood of information we are coerced/desirous to process regarding the general world around us. From protecting the password to our latest online subscription to absorbing the latest extra-circular school activity offered to our children to hundreds of face to face and email dialogues we have at work to glancing at the newspaper headline opposite us on the commute declaring the latest atrocity and outrage as given over by people trying to sell their papers. We are digesting at a phenomenal rate. Reading, listening, processing, choosing, deciding and concluding, we are thinking at speed throughout most of our lives. When a new piece of information is presented to us, we have to hustle our assimilations in order to be ready for the next conveyor belt item that has to be consumed. At work this facility undoubtedly makes us more employable because we are seen to be capable and quick-witted. The same is not true though if we apply this method when assessing our fellow self-conscious, bipedal and weary mortal coil inhabitants.


The mutually supporting system of information barrage and our short-cut processing is a pandemic threatening to infect and poison all of us under their widespread scorching plague that destroys our abilities to genuinely consider and reflect upon each other and to be able to see beyond the all too easily at-hand fear, hate and suspicion. The inoculation needs to be given out. It is time for us to shake off the sleeping sickness that we have allowed to run rampant through our mental processes. Enough short cutting, enough mis-judgement, enough categorisation and enough sloppiness of thinking, its too bloody dangerous. We need to wake up and realise where we are and just what we are capable of if we continue to use our auto-pilot when we should be absolutely focused, in control and able to function at our best intellectually, when we are thinking about each other. Fear, hate and suspicion must be overcome by a different category of thinking than we normally apply. We have to think deeper, we have to think longer and we have to think wider, we owe it to ourselves not to think simplistically and we owe it to each other after five thousand known years of war, torture and mayhem that we have inflicted upon each other.


It’s time for a change and it’s time for us to realise what we mean to each other even if at first we don’t understand each other and can’t see why we each believe or do the things we do. The lessons learned in the twentieth century and the results achieved subsequently by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have shown us the danger that lurks in each of us and also the good that we can collectively attain, striving for global civilization. We must not go backwards, we must continue to strive, we must also realise the risks we face every day by lazy thinking that seeks to reduce questions of other people to problems that must be overcome. Each of us deserves consideration, thought and understanding. Each of us deserves to be treated ethically. Thinking first will help us. Thinking first will enable us to become better humans and we have to rise to this challenge. This won’t be easy though and we will slip, trip and fall on many occasions. However, perhaps a start can be made in the right direction if we realise the danger posed by fear, hate and suspicion and start to drag ourselves away from the brink by developing a new thirst, an ethical thirst.

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These are my personal views on ethics and they are not intended to represent the views of Conway Hall Ethical Society.
Dr. Jim Walsh

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