Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Layer 258 . . . More on Spiritual Intelligence and Citizen Ethics . . . and the BBC

After considering the state of Britain (and the State of Britain) (as characterised by our attitude to football) I've come to the conclusion that we've no chance becoming an enlightened society unless we have a critical mass of people who, through developing their spiritual intelligence (and maybe even Zen), then start to behave in ways which might be called enlightened.

The Buddha recognised that enlightenment requires meditation and putting oneself in the service of others. There's no sign of our society signing up for these things any time soon. All we have is a few glimmerings of people here and there recognising that there IS such a thing as spiritual intelligence - and that it's something that ought to be developed in all of us. As things currently stand, very few people even understand that spiritual intelligence has nothing to do with religion or a belief in a God or gods.

[See Oxzen Layers 13 - 21.]

Words and concepts associated with spiritual intelligence:

LOVE - caring   compassion   friendship  forgiveness  generosity  helpfulness  joy  kindness tolerance   sharing  sympathy   patience

PEACE -  calmness  contentment  dignity  discipline  happiness  honesty  humility  understanding  patience   reflection  self-confidence  self-control  self-discipline  self-respect

RIGHT CONDUCT -  Contentment  Courage  Dependability  Duty  Ethics  Gratitude  Good behaviour  Healthy living  Helpfulness  Leadership  Initiative  Unity  Respect  Responsibility
Sacrifice  Self-confidence  Self-sufficiency  Simplicity  Perseverance

NON-VIOLENCE -  appreciation of others  brotherhood / sisterhood  citizenship  compassion
concern for all life  consideration  cooperation  unwillingness to hurt  equality  forgiveness
global awareness  good manners  loyalty  social justice  service to others respect for people and property  unity  universal love  collaboration


Big Moral Questions

Readers may recall that 10 days ago the Guardian and the Observer started a campaign about what they call Citizen Ethics:

Last week Madeleine Bunting wrote a superb column in the Guardian that really ought to be read in full -

To tackle the last decades' myths, we must dust off the big moral questions

A robust debate on ethics is crucial to the pursuit of a good society in which individuals are more than mere economic units

To many of [our] kids, equipping them for the labour market [is] the primary purpose of ­education. Any idea of it as enriching and deepening their understanding of what it is to be human and lead meaningful, contented adult lives, had been entirely lost to view.

The gap that intrigues me [is] the absence of any notion of being a good person, or of the many values that might not be able to command a market price such as being challenging, courageous, truthful, honest, spontaneous, joyful or even kind, compassionate.

The central premise of the Citizen Ethics supplement published in this paper at the weekend (the full pamphlet can be downloaded on Comment is free) is that we have lost a way of thinking and talking about some very important things. The preoccupation with market ­efficiency and economic growth has loomed so large that other activities, and other ­values, have been subordinated to its disciplines.

"You can't buck the market," said Margaret Thatcher, and no government has disagreed since. It was the adage that was used to justify soaring pay for the highest earners and stagnant earnings for the low-paid. The ­market ruled, and questions of injustice, honour or integrity were all secondary or irrelevant.

A poll for the World Economic Forum last month found in 10 G20 countries that two-thirds of respondents attributed the credit crunch and its ensuing economic recession to a crisis of ethics and values. Sir Thomas Legg declared in his final report on MPs' expenses that there had been a failure of ethics.

There's a widespread perception that social norms have subtly and gradually shifted towards the centrality of ­personal self-interest. As long as it's legal, it's legitimate; no further ­individual judgment is necessary. ­However much we may have laughed at the Gordon Gekko's "greed is good" line, we can now see how it seeped into ­powerful institutional cultures such as the City and parliament.

Citizen Ethics was a project to ask nearly four dozen prominent thinkers what this was all about. Did ethics really have a role to play, and had it failed? First, despite plenty of disagreements, on one thing there was a clear consensus: ethics are crucial. They are the underpinning to all political debate; they frame the questions we ask of ourselves and of our political economy and therefore do much to shape the answers we end up with.

They are vital to the civic culture in which both politics and economics are ultimately rooted. So, as Will Hutton will do in his book, Them and Us, out in the autumn, if we really want to understand how some of the incredible myths perpetrated over the last couple of decades have gone unchallenged, we have to go back to some basic arguments of philosophy. What is justice? Who deserves what? What constitutes human flourishing?

Too many of these questions have simply been shelved for too long. Questions of justice and reward were left to the market to resolve; questions of human flourishing were privatised. It was left to everyone to decide their own sequence of pleasurable experiences in life with little acknowledgement of how many of those depend entirely on mutual co-operation.

One explanation for this abandonment of the debate is that we lost a language in which to think and argue about ethics. Perhaps this is partly attributable to the vexed legacy of institutional religion and the long shadow it still casts. The promotion of ethical behaviour has been bound up with particular institutions, and as they decline, it leaves a vacuum of authority.

Who dares talk on this subject with confidence? It prompts fear that any such discussions are really a Trojan horse for promoting a religious belief. There's a suspicion that words such as "morality" tip us quickly into the kind of instinctive conviction made infamous by Tony Blair in which sincerity is regarded as an adequate substitute for careful reasoning.

Even the language itself is mired in a history of ­social control; morality and virtue are words that are reluctantly used, since both still convey overtones of intrusive monitoring of (particularly female) sexual behaviour.

Perhaps it is finally possible to move beyond these familiar anxieties and resume a task of ethical reasoning regarded through most of history as essential to being human. This is philosophy as the Greeks understood it – love of the wisdom to lead lives of meaning and fulfilment, not some kind of abstract game with words.

Ethics is a word that derives from two Greek words, ethos for habit and ethikos for character, and it better fits what Citizen Ethics proposes rather than "morality", which comes from the Latin word "mores" for social institutions and customs.

This is not about reasserting conventions, a preconceived code, but about reinvigorating a habit, a pro­cess of reasoning to the perennial question: what is the right thing to do? We wouldn't claim there is a consensus waiting to be found – on the contrary, our aim is to provoke a noisy debate on what kinds of habits and characters we need to run the good society.

To go back to the lovely kids in the classroom, what is the good society we want to inspire them with – beyond their future roles in the economy as workers and consumers? What habits and character can we offer them as ­conducive to deeply rewarding lives? If we don't know plenty of possible answers to that question, it's no ­surprise they don't.

Read the Citizens Ethics pamphlet in full here


The Battle of the BBC

Jonathan Freedland has a good column in the paper today concerning the huge row that's continuing about the BBC and its activities, and about the Murdochs' efforts to control it from afar, with the aid of the Tories, of course.

The BBC is caving in to a Tory media policy dictated by Rupert Murdoch

Mark Thompson is jumping from the second storey because he fears a new government may throw him from the roof

The BBC has decided its best strategy for self-preservation is to suffer a little pain now to avoid a lot of pain later.

The strategy review unveiled today offered up a couple of radio networks and half its web pages by way of a sacrifice.

6 Music exists partly because if it wasn't there, the market would never invent it: a specialist channel offering not the hamster's wheel of a repetitive playlist but curated, eclectic music. "Like friends playing each other bits from their record collections," Jarvis Cocker said yesterday.

So why has Mark Thompson done it? Because he feared that if he didn't jump from the second storey window, an incoming Conservative government would push him off the roof. He is right to be anxious. The Tories have indeed signalled a hostility to the BBC that is rare, if not unprecedented, in an opposition. Why might that be? Two words: Rupert Murdoch.

Start with the BBC. Murdoch, with son James, can't stand it – regarding it, a senior figure in broadcasting tells me, as "like the Ebola virus: they can't destroy it, so they try to contain it". They dress up their opposition in pseudo-intellectual free market blather, but the reality is much earthier than that: the BBC is a rival, and therefore an obstacle to their commercial ambitions. The smaller and weaker the BBC becomes, the more money News Corp can make.

So the Murdochs constantly demand a cut in the licence fee. Last year Cameron nodded dutifully, and called for an immediate freeze in the licence fee. That would have marked an unprecedented break in the multi-year financial settlement that is so integral to the BBC's independence – preventing it from constantly having to make nice to the politicians to keep the money coming in.

Any doubters should play a game of spot the difference. Hold a copy of James Murdoch's 2009 MacTaggart lecture in one hand, and a clutch of Tory policy positions on the media in the other. Then see if you can tell them apart.
Obviously we should all get involved in this battle, and at the very least start listening to BBC 6 Music online and on digital radio, and supporting its continuation. Even the Tory Boy shadow minister now says he's going to do that.And as someone said on the radio (Radio 4) yesterday, if the commercial stations are finding it hard to compete with the BBC, OUR BBC, then they'd better start trying a bit harder. They could start by broadcasting stuff people actually enjoy listening to, and using broadcasters who don't speak to listeners as if they're morons. On the other hand, if they want to keep their mass moron constituency happy, they can carry on doing exactly what they're doing.


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