Ronald Howard has extended his seminal work on decision analysis into ethical decisions1
. This work, unlike Howard's previous contributions is aimed at ethical decisions on the part of individuals as opposed to organizational or government decision making.
This significance of this change in focus has been explained by McNeill as being the reality of decisions. The decision maker, be they an individual or acting as a member of some committee or board responsible for a decision and the allocation of resources, remains individually responsible for decisions taken as individuals or as members of a group.
This, of course, is an uncomfortable reality for members of cabinets or corporate boards or executives where the veils of secrecy or confidentiality become instruments to prevent exposure of the details of what information and motivations contributed to any specific decision of importance to customers or constituents.
McNeill has observed, for example, that in assessing the decisions of the European Court of Justice on cases involving the Roma minority 2
, it was more instructive to read the dissenting opinions because invariably they set out the more objective substantive content of arguments. Decisions on the ECHR are by majority votes by small selected panels of judges; the decisions therefore reflect the panel make-ups. Invariably panels on Roma cases tended to include a majority of judges from countries with records of discrimination against the Roma. Judges, some of which are political appointees, are usually not impartial when it comes to national interests.
The core of the decision analysis concerning any assessment of whether or not a decision is ethical, is the balance within the decision of the considerations given to the tension between ethics, the law and prudence. Prudence can be considered to be the course of action that is in the interests of the decision maker and does not incur negative consequences. The law sets out the regulations and the sanctions associated with the subject matter of a decision. Ethics is the course of action that reflects a moral position or a position which most would consider to the "right thing to do" in line with social conscience which in turn is an accumulation of cultural practice, sometimes over several generations, that establishes expectations concerning "acceptable behaviour".
The primary analysis of ethical decision making refers to the process of a decision maker weighing up the costs of not following regulations on a decision considered to be in the interests of the decision maker or a company. If there are no legal sanctions or the sanctions are nominal, then the advantage of breaking the law, to the individual or company can far outweigh the sanction, such as a fine. Therefore, there exists, within that legal and regulatory environment a definite incentive to ignore the law, this is because it is prudent to do so and the sanction, a small fine, becomes a minor cost of doing business. Therefore under weak legal and regulatory regimes the question of ethics is relegated to insignificance.
However, paradoxically but understandably, the ethics or morality of the decision will be justified in "displacement" terms appealing to other aspects of morality which constituents agree with. Therefore, unethical behaviour takes place and is often justified in terms of ethical constructs that are designed to divert attention away from the ethics and real motivations for a decision. This form of duplicity can be supported by incessant flows of disinformation. For example lax financial regulations leading to widespread fraud and crime by banks and financial intermediaries is often "justified" by the nature of "entrepreneurship and risk taking" as being the basis of innovation to drive the economy forwards, or the acts of those to whom the population owes their employment and income. Other apologists, including leading economics and financial media, appeal to the notion of the complexity and brilliance of "financial engineering".
During the last 30 years, stock market values have been increasingly driven up by central bank money supplies that have encouraged speculative buying where the money invested comes from the subsequent speculators so as to drive prices beyond anything that reflects the prospects or profitability of the corporations concerned. The corporations don't receive this money, but top executives increasingly receive bonuses through this system. Therefore the stock market bubble is presented as "growth in the economy", sold as a healthy rise in economic activity and employment in an increasingly mythical, "share owning democracy". This somewhat sidesteps the reality that today few can afford to buy shares. However, in reality such a growth in value is a pyramid or Ponzi scheme destined to failure at some point in time. These collapses occurred in 1929, 2008 and Covid-19 hid from sight this impending reality in 2020.
On the front of warfare, interventions are invariably justified on the basis of "humanitarian interventions" or branded under the emotional appeal of "keeping us safe from ...." by responding to what are often false flag events.
Unethical decisions and the prejudice they can cause to constituents will continue as long as:
- Legal and regulatory frameworks have sanctions that are too weak or are unenforceable
- People do not have access to information relevant to the determinants of decision outcomes and therefore are unaware of the consequences
- People have access to some of the information but any questions they raise are nullified by displacement actions and explanations to justify decisions on the basis of misleading "decision logic" that is unrelated to the actual decision taken or obscures the underlying motivations
Throughout history there has been a trend in the development of a convenient relationship between the control over public access to pertinent information by the decision makers or by those who share the same interests as decision makers. This can include corporations, politicians, media and oligarchs. To sustain effective control over arbitrary decision making there has been a rising trend of legal and regulatory frameworks being used to prejudice those who set out to expose poor decisions and actions. The case of whistle blowers is a case in point. Of late the displacement activity, action or statements have become themselves an appear to the notion of necessary secrecy by relating legal acts against whistle blowers as the need to defend "national security".
One of the important contributions of LST is its application in improving precision and quality of information related to any particular question. The result is that decision analysis model options become more clear. Uncertainty is reduced as a result of a better understanding of dependencies between factors and results of decision options. Within an environment of open source public access to decisions, this has the potential effect of imposing conditions to force decisions to become more ethical, in spite of lax regulations. This is because unethical decision making is greatly facilitated by lack of clarity of circumstances or fuzziness in actual options or the intentional promotion of tendentious cause and effect relationships to be relied upon to analyse decision options. A common means of undermining open investigations is to compromise the investigation by limiting its scope and content through a carefully prepared terms of reference. The terms of reference essentially establishes the determinant model to be used in the investigation by removing critical factors from the investigation. The factors "removed from consideration" are invariably those that will lead to conclusions that are embarrassing to the government or corporation concerned or even a specific person in power and favoured by government or political party. The invariable result is disappointment and accusations of a whitewash.
McNeill considers LST to have an important contribution to the major question of today in the form of the environment, ecosystems and climatic impacts of production and consumption patterns and associated technologies and techniques. The questions of the legacy we leave for future generations is without any doubt ethical issue which also relates to a more ethical form of self-interest for preservation. The practice of hiding socially and economically prejudicial decisions would be a natural topic to be handled through constitutional economics which seeks to place public choice at the centre of decision analysis in the process of shaping policies. The major developer of constitutional economics, James Buchanan, explained the ethic of constitutionalism as where the individual who is expressing preferences for social and economic conduct, together with others in society, adopts the moral law as a general rule for behaviour. Significantly, he rejects any organic conception of the state as superior in wisdom, to the citizens of this state. This philosophical position forms the basis of constitutional economics. Buchanan believed that every constitution is created for at least several generations of citizens. Therefore, it must be able to balance the interests of the state, society, and each individual.
McNeill contrasts this with the evolving state of societies where the frameworks that should be safeguarding the interests of citizens over several generations, are manipulated so as to secure short term ends for some, but on a repetitive basis.
As a result this interest group consolidates their advantages in the form of increasing wealth and income and power. The displacement or diversionary tactics applied are subtle. These have included the representation of this repetitive short termism as some form of permanent fixture of "well established economic laws and practice" but which as an operational framework continue to undermine the survival of the planet and society for the sake of the personal gain of an increasingly powerful faction.
McNeill considers LST to have a potential positive impact to the degree that the general public and future generations, the school children of today, are exposed to the simple logic that helps us take decisions. This process was first exposed by George Boole in 1853 and it has become the foundation of digital systems hardware and software design and operations and is embodied in the discipline of decision analysis. The elements of importance are cause and effect relationships and therefore an ability to identify the factors that influence decision outcomes. Information and the understanding of the physical environment and living ecosystems is shaped by locational-state factors and many of the natural processes that are being marginalized by pollution, removal of living systems, such as forests, and the fauna contained within them, are all basically physical processes.
The narrative around each occurrence is simple. As Marshall McKluhan has stated3 "..there is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening."
Therefore there is a vitally important function for all who take the state of future generations seriously, to become more informed about issues, the cause and effect relationships and refine their powers of communication to inform the general public so as to disseminate a more general understanding of the mechanics of decision making. This can help establish a more informed environment with which decisions of any type, that affect the lives of constituents, are exposed to a more proactive scrutiny and which also asks questions where decisions appear to be tendentious.
This can be assisted by improved general communications in the form of media and especially alternative media who invest in the communication of impartial evidence-based information. This activity needs to navigate a W3 environment where fact checkers are often not impartial and "mainstream media" are in fact tendentious as a result of their reliance on advertising revenues from corporations, oligarchs and governments. Even the content of some online services such as Wikipedia is becoming degraded by image building on the part of the subject matter, such as in personal profiles. Online search systems are also dominated by paid prioritization in search results and political parties are paying electoral strategists to use dark posts, on media such as Facebook, many of which contain misrepresentations of the intent of their political rivals, directly to individual targets who they wish to influence. This technique is used to avoid libel since it is associated with unattributable sources so as to build in credible deniability.
McNeill has noted that the social media type media have even been adopted by professional groups working, for example, on development project funding only to degenerate into low quality message content and chat.
In experimentation on communications McNeill has found that highly focused and simple messages are the most effective but also the most difficult to create. Informing people of things of which they were previously unaware can provide them with useful information which can alert them into identifying associated consequences of that information. If this is managed in the right way it can cascade into a fairly rapid sequence of realizations based on available facts as opposed to some lengthy narrative. Such incisive exchanges concerning nature, the environment, ecosystems and the basis for our survival can become an exciting and valued topic for social exchanges as opposed to being the fixation of some minority. By adding quantitative data to help people appreciate the scale and content of the issues then its significance can become more apparent as can the importance of the topic. McNeill also feels that LST can contribute to altering the jargon used by specialists into understandable processes within which humans participate so as to identify more clearly individual roles and responsibilities. The solution is to move us, as a society, to be one that values ethical decisions on a widening scale and to appreciate, and to support, representatives who can trade-off the economic and the sustainability considerations in a rational and understandable fashion so as to be trusted to take ethical decisions, if elected.
Howard, R. A. & Korver, C. D., "Ethics for the real world - creating a personal code to guide decisions in work and life
", Harvard Business Press, 212 pp., Boston, 2008.2
Hector McNeill was a founder and Director General of the European Committee on Romani Emancipation
(ECRE) established in 2000. He pioneered the ground-breaking exposure of the educational discrimination carried out in Hungary against rural Romani children in 1999 as Director of the Agricultural Development Foundation in a letter to Gunter Verhuegen, the Commissioner responsible for EU Enlargement. As a result of the inadequate response, McNeill organized a task force with French and UK Roma respresentatives to establish ECRE which organised a petition to the European Parliament and carried out an independent survey with the assistance of the local Roma communities, to collect evidence on the Roma educational scandal in Hungary. The report entitled, "The Impact of Special Schools on the Roma in Central Europe - A case of willful criminal neglect & professional incompetence"
was posted on ECRE website in February 2003. This exposed the fact that funding for special schools was used to silo Roma children in such institutions by local authorities who sought to maximize their income by classifying all Roma children as being in need of "special education" and then using the funds received for other purposes. The children received no education, unlike those who attended "normal" school curricula".
It was this experience that caused McNeill to recognize the relativities in legal process and the ability for decision makers to hide behind the lack of detailed evidence of confidential committee decisions to distort the truth and support unethical decisions. More troubling was the facility and ease with which societies, that consider themselves to have just constitutions, such as the UK, to permit tiny factions of decision makers, including civil servants, hidden away within the labyrinths of government departments and political parties, to proactively discriminate against social groups, usually minorities, within existing constitutional and legal frameworks and regulatory regimes. The Windrush scandal is a case in point.3
McLuhan, M. & Fiore, Q., "The Medium is the Massage"
, Bantam, 1967