Ethics and Sausage Factories
March 27, 2017 4 Comments
A few days ago, S.M. Hutchens on The Touchstone Blog published an article dealing with Betsy DeVos and the Education Department in relationship to the teachers union from the perspective of Reinhold Niebuhr’s group v. personal ethics. Good and interesting thinking. Here’s some
[…] Unions depict themselves as combinations of the weak against the strong in the service of justice, for fair pay, decent working conditions, and respect their members otherwise would not enjoy—goals not unworthy in themselves. The concentration of power in the teachers’ unions, with the full collusion of a Democrat Party dominated by its left wing, however, has given rise to a set of conditions unfavorable to education, and to which sensible Americans are now calling a halt.
Reinhold Niebuhr, in Moral Man and Immoral Society, a book as penetrating and significant now as when published in 1932, analyzes the inferiority of group morality to that of individuals in terms of a focused, collective egoism that repels self-criticism and is constitutionally bereft of the spirit of contrition and amendment that only religion can bring—an egoism by nature irreformable and increasingly destructive of both itself and its society.
Applying Niebuhr’s analysis to the teachers’ unions one finds a group of mainly decent people, few of whom are manifestly vicious or selfish, with many dedicated to the work of educating children, but who are part of a malign collective. For the individual teacher as a positive moral agent there is a heavy price to pay for union membership, for only to a point will society accept the union’s plea that it only seeks justice for its members, especially when it detects that in the exercise of its power it has become increasingly inimical to the interests of the students it professes to serve.
When, for example, the teachers’ unions, in the spirit of Governor Wallace, enrich politicians for standing in the way of voucher programs that have helped underprivileged children receive better educations than have been available to them in the inner-city government schools, and for which Mrs. DeVos is a fervent advocate–programs for which their parents are clamoring, ignored by their Democrat representatives who do not send their own children to these schools (the Clintons and Obamas being recent examples)—nowhere is the hypocrisy and selfishness of these unions, and the necessity of breaking them as a negative social element, more evident.
via Betsy DeVos and the Immoral Society – Mere Comments Do read it all, I think he makes a good case here.
But I think we need to widen it out some. Isn’t this true for any organization? I think we know it is. When we join together in a group, often the group becomes more important than the members. It’s true for unions (as described here), but isn’t it also true for business, civic groups, governments, and yes, even churches?
Isn’t this the root of the Reformation, which we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the start of later this year? Dr. Luther found the Catholic Church, composed mostly of good, caring, even Godly people, had become a corrupt organization putting itself above the people, and even above God, Himself.
Don’t we sometimes see this ourselves in our local organizations? Our local governments, our civic organizations, and yes, our churches. Almost everyone concerned (with exceptions, of course) wants to do a good, moral job. But for whatever reason, peer pressure, regulations, individual dislike, or many others, they put the organization ahead of their personal morality
Answers are few, nebulous, and temporary, I suspect. I think it is a just a fact of organizational behavior. Most of us want to do the right thing, but the right thing for whom, or for what organization? How do we deal with conflicting aims, all of which may be good.
For me, it is an argument for making anything we can, a small, lean organization, as close to those who are the ‘customers’ (used very loosely here) as possible. In other words, what we Americans call Federalism in government and what the Catholics call Subsidiarity.
It’s simply much easier to keep a neighborhood organization on track, all things being equal, than it is, for example, the United States government. It just tends to be more transparent, and if we can’t avoid seeing the sausage being made, we will likely know what is in the recipe, or go find another sausage factory.