Last week, several attacks were made against Christians in France. A week before, a teacher was beheaded for having shown Muhammad cartoons in his classroom. Yesterday, a shooting took place in Vienna.
How can these acts of violence, human behavior and peace be related to the notion of ethics? Globethics.net executive director, Prof. Obiora Ike discusses the importance of the concept in paving the way for a better tomorrow.
The organisation is a leading digital ethics provider, and strives for a world in which people have equal access to knowledge resources. It also took part in a talk on faith and governance during the Geneva Peace Week (GPW) Forum.
Why are ethics essential today?
It is the subject about life, about doing the right thing, about making the right choices, about protecting the common good, about promoting good behavior, about collaboration and community living. Ethics is a subject taught in universities, but it is now being made practical through globethics.net, in the sense that we now say, how do ethics impact our living together? We talk about ethics in climate justice, ethics and the SDGs, ethics towards poverty reduction.
So ethics are brought as the DNA for societal survivor, because people are asking why the world is going crazy, why things are not happening. The answer is, they are going crazy, because we are not acting ethically. Globethics is helping to build up an ethical coalition, so that all human beings can agree that we need to hold onto something. In the past people held onto God. Religion was at the centre of society. And religion was teaching ethics, teaching the divine, teaching community, teaching society. In a world where religion has become a troubled substance in the sense that people are even manipulating religion, using religion to cause trouble fighting around religion. In a world where people are also not religious, we now say we want to move from religion, from tradition, from politics, to ethics, as the consensus moment for humanity. Religious values are important. We draw them into ethics. Academic philosophical values are important. We draw them into ethics. Traditions are important. We draw them into ethics. Cultures are important. We are an organisation of human beings that are inclusive, that are diverse, that are open to community and open to the truth around what makes our living together possible.
How do you explain that we've lost touch with ethics, that we are disconnected?
When the past is disconnected from the present, when the present is disconnected from the future, when transmission of knowledge, intergenerational transmission of knowledge is not happening, when intergenerational transmission of value is not happening, when epicentres are set out around the world that do not correlate, that is where you have the problems we are discussing. We have, by virtue of modernity, by virtue of technology, by virtue of globalization, made it clear that this centre is not holding.
This is why you have disparities and people who are not happy. Look around you, you'll discover that many people are not happy. Many people have access to nothing. Many people don't even find meaning in anything. And there is no value that driving anybody in different parts of the world.
In the past, people lived on specific values, they knew what to hold onto. But today, there is no value you can hold onto, even if you talk human rights, life or whatever topic, there's always this disparity, because there has been a disconnect. Ethics means the moral compass for doing good, which is innate. Human beings have the ability to do good. They also have the ability to do bad because they have freedom, they can choose between right and left, between up and down. Human beings have a wheel that can say yes, or say no.
But ethics is the moment where you say yes or no, based on rational thinking. People don't take a moment to ask why am I doing this, because the market drives you just to buy something for the sake of buying, you are reflecting on action anymore. This is where ethics comes in to say no human beings reflect before you act. So thoughts can rebound an act, an act can repair a habit. A habit can repair character, a character can define a destiny. But first there is the thought. If the thinking is correct, the destiny is correct. If the thinking is not correct, a bad habit is formed. That also leads to the consequences we see.
So ethics is the rationale moment. Every human being has the ability to think, has the ability to ask questions, has the ability to be free to choose. Even if you put me in prison. I may be locked physically, but my mind is free externally. Let us potentialise positively the gifts we have to serve society better.
How do you bring ethics into modernity, technology and innovation?
Technology has brought some technophobia, but also some techno-utopia. Technology has brought possibilities and challenges for the entire humanity. With a click, I can hack a computer. And with a click, I can save lives somewhere very far away. So by bringing ethics into technology, it is the question of how I can make technology serve humanity. As we talk about internet, some people are in the dark net. As we spread information for journalists trying to write about facts, some people spread fakes. So ethics is about making sure that human values, authentic human values are brought into the world of technology, that technology is not a mess, but a good servant. A good servant for people. We do know that human beings in many parts of the world are now dependent on the products which they created. And the ethical question is, who is more important? The product or the maker? The maker is more important because the maker can make other products. But if the product becomes your master, and you become the servant of the product, there is some irrational logic there.
What recommendations would you then make?
We need to move from big data to big values, and make technology a good servant for humanity and for the planet. We also have to bring technological humanism and ethics into artificial intelligence, because you place human concerns at the centre, and people before objects. When you do interdisciplinary studies around artificial intelligence around technology, you will find its good use. And the good use of technology serves humanity. It saves lives. It encourages evolution, productivity, finance. We need to improve on that and not use technology to destroy. Some people have lost their authenticity. They are now handguns on technology.
The importance of explicit regulatory and legal decision making policies that anticipate ethical consequences of artificial intelligence disruptions, which can happen in production lines, and in supply chains, must be considered. We need to bring in ethicists at the point of production. If you go to Silicon Valley, where the big companies are, and there are no ethicists there, the robots will just move on their own. We need to make sure that a digital new deal that guarantees social equality is possible in artificial intelligence and in technology.
How do we reconnect to ethics?
The key moment for the radical change is through education, through integral education, whereby people know, and people are impacted to act according to what they know. We call it ethical education. When I go to learn arithmetic, or biology, or physics, or chemistry, or medicine, or engineering, I learn how to do these things. I'll just do them accordingly. But when I learn during studies, that these things are tools, then education will teach me to learn science and behavior. That is why we tell children to say good morning, good afternoon, and good evening. The autonomous individual does not emerge without education. The constructivist theories can ensure that a human being is a tabula rasa. You are always born into a community. In Zulu, we say that a human being is human to other humans. Or I say it in the words of Professor John Mbiti: I am because we are. Since we are therefore I am.
So when I'm learning arithmetic, I will not forget to learn that I am because we are. Arithmetic will teach me one plus one is two, two plus two is four, four plus four is eight. But ethics also teach me that I am a human being, I am not alone. I'm united with human beings all around the world. So education is the moment for transformation of society. And ethical education elevates the quality of this education.
In the 21st century, with the knowledge we have, with the tools we have, with the technology we have, no human being should go at night without food. But we know that human beings are going to bed, children are dying at night without food. Without water. How can a human being leave a small boy to die? Because some people have taken the money that belongs to the common good and kept it for themselves. And they cannot exhaust it. And yet people are in need. So when we learn the principles of solidarity, we learn the principles of respect for human dignity. When we learn the principles of respect for my own life and another person's life, we learn to respect diversity, and we are inclusive. Because people tend to be fanatics. They tend to be close to only the things they know. They tend to be racist, if they're not taught that human beings no matter whether they are white, or black, or green, or red or blue, are all human beings. Because nature makes it so. So we need to grow through education.
We’ve created a global team of people, a younger group, who will become future leaders, because thought leadership, that is the challenge of the 21st century. Thinking leaders with moral integrity. Leaders who accept that the way to go is to create a humanity for everybody.
So what is the ethical life? The ethical life is the good. What is happiness? Happiness is the good. You know, all people aspire for happiness. And that happiness is found in ethics. E stands for empowerment. T stands for transformation. h stands for holistic dimension. It stands for integrity. C stands for competence. And S stands for sustainability.