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Where Did It Come From? Where Did It Go?: An inquiry into the disconnect between ethics and politics.

I have been studying philosophy, history, and political science for almost four years now. Throughout my time as a student here at Eastern, I have been introduced to many different political theorists, historians, and philosophers who have helped mold my understanding of the invaluable place justice and morality have in the political world. Although my mastery of the subject matter is far from complete, I will say that more often than not, I have been conditioned to notice how closely linked the philosophic and political worlds are. In my first political theory class, we talked about what the purpose of politics is. We concluded that ultimately, we engage in political discourse in order to figure out how to live well with each other. I left this first class feeling optimistic and hopeful. What a beautiful thing to devote my studies, and my life to.

Gradually, I have begun to understand the reality of the world around me- the world outside of the classroom. It is a world in which the end of political action is rarely invested in ethics at all. What I once thought was as an obvious connection, that is, between politics and ethics, became lost in a sea of power-hungry, money-seeking, self-serving motives. There seemed to be a only a very weak trace of ethics in our political structure.

Some political theorists argue that morality was never a part of politics to begin with. Power and domination are proper to politics, and any other factors we add in (ethics, economics, social issues, etc.) are not really reflective of what is truly political. This argument makes the answer to my question simple. Why is there a disconnect between politics and ethics? Maybe they were never really connected in the first place.

I, however, prefer to maintain the notion that matters of the ethical do in fact have a seat at the political table. In fact, I think that ethics is what ought to drive political action in every circumstance. This is an easy enough concept to grasp, and maybe even agree with, but the problem arises in the actualization of the implementation of ethics within the political world itself.

Single-dimensional issues rarely surface in modern day politics. A heightened awareness of intersectionality in many areas of political discourse complicate the application of ethics into political plans of action. Our culture emphasizes a necessity for instant gratification which has had a drastic affect on the way political discourse plays out. We desire to be rewarded and validated instantly, and the speed at which technology is advancing has furthered this dependency on instantaneous results of affirmation. This mindset seeps into the political world in an incredibly problematic way. We expedite plans of action in order to temporarily fix issues of injustice that often require a far more extensive reflection. Afterwards, we are disappointed to find that we must keep fighting the same characteristically “political” monsters of power, greed, and selfishness. Thus the cycle continues.

The problem is, most people aren’t actually interested in ethics. Many do not want to go through the tedious work of sorting fact from fiction, nor do they have any interest in taking the time to study what justice or ethics even is. We are easily distracted by catchy slogans and trendy info-graphics, and do not care to thoroughly examine the issues of the ethical or political. We forget the centuries of political and philosophic history that have come before us, and close ourselves off to learning, growing, and actually being intellectually equipped to make substantial changes in society. If our growing impatience is the cause of the disconnect between ethics and politics, what steps can we take to change?

As issues grow in dimension and complexity, so must our patience grow, if we are to make any long term changes at all. Aristotle coined us as political animals. If he is right, then it is everyone’s responsibility to bear the weight of learning how to live well with each other. This means we must take it upon ourselves to read more history and philosophy, think more critically, and be open to having our minds changed, sharpened, and hopefully, unified under a common goal of a more ethical political world.

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