Self-Interested or Self-Destructive Behavior
Social Contract Theory
The guest blog below on the "mask debate" by AJ Fudge explains her perspective on the idea that we have responsibilities to each other during the COVID-19 pandemic. It emphasizes the social contract theory expressed in its modern form by Thomas Hobbes and developed in different ways by John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rosseau, and Immanuel Kant. Ethics Unwrapped
The Ethics Unwrapped program at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, Austin, describes the social contract theory as when people live together in society under an agreement that establishes moral and political rules of behavior. For centuries, philosophers as far as back as Socrates have tried to describe the ideal social contract, and to explain how existing social contracts have evolved. Philosopher Stuart Rachels believes that morality is the set of rules governing behavior that rational people accept, on the condition that others accept them too.
The Mask Debate
By A.J. Fudge, Attorney-at-Law
The “mask debate” is a symptom of a much deeper issue that plagues our society: personal accountability. We are a society where most people relentlessly attempt to see what they can “get away with” rather than attempting their best effort at selflessly doing the right thing. We have gotten to a place where everyone must be told what to do in the form of a law that must then be enforced.
Laws and enforcement have a place, but they are the bare minimum of acceptable behavior. A society that cannot rely on its citizens and must instead increasingly rely on laws and their enforcement is doomed.
A society that can rely on each individual to hold themselves personally accountable to a higher standard can survive.
The virus is revealing to us how inter-connected our world truly is. The effects of each individual’s actions ripple out across the world whether they are aware of it or not. Society’s attitude has been “that can’t happen to me”, but the virus demonstrates the dangers of that way of thinking.
The virus is showing us that we must all take care of each other to survive. We must be selfless and cooperate towards a common goal. It is a lesson that is coming at a tremendous cost, so we must become “quick studies”.
Unfortunately, the principles of selflessness and cooperation are not something that we have emphasized in our society. This must fundamentally change, as there will be many more obstacles to survival in the future that we must face together, such as the continuing effects of climate change.
We are often called a very selfish, self-serving society, but our behavior evidences that the opposite is true. We are self-destructive. If we were truly selfish and self-serving, then we would realize that the most selfish thing we could do is to ensure our survival by taking care of each other. We are all in this together. An “every person for themselves” mentality threatens our very existence. A “we are all in this together” mentality will put us on the path to survival. We must seize this opportunity to remedy a threat far greater than the virus by shifting our perspective.
In the limited context of the “mask debate” that means each of us holding ourselves accountable for wearing a mask. It also means encouraging others to do so and helping each other understand why it is important and how it will benefit all of us, including them. We don’t all know the same information; there are always gaps for each of us. We must help each other all get on the same page.
If we all keep waiting for someone to force us to take action, eventually it will be too late.
Blog by A.J. Fudge posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on July 28, 2020. You can sign up for Dr. Mintz's newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter .