Chapter 14: Ethics in Society

Individuality: spiritual and mundane

In many instances throughout the book I use the notion of 'individual'. I take it as very similar to the notion of a 'person' which I have defined in Chapter 7: one may think of an individual as a person plus certain distinguishing characteristics (or conditionings), so an individual has had his or her 'gloves of conditioning' labelled.

Thus, by an 'individual' I have in mind the Buddhist notion of a 'True Individual', i.e. one who lives according to the transcendental path of the Higher Evolution. Recall that a person is essentially divine, though can interact in the physical plane in the human form. So an individual (or True Individual), essentially of the Higher Evolution, operates in characteristic fashion within the lower evolution.

This idea of an individual completely transcends the much vaunted individualism of Western society where all reference is solely in relativistic terms, within the conditioned environment. Where I support or praise individuality it is True Individuality of which I am really thinking. Please bear this in mind!

Synopsis of our planet

I'll just relate a few of the issues which contribute to the vast complexities of current society; these are issues described at the large-scale (macro) collective level and they fill the pages of millions of books on Sociology, Economics and Politics. I say immediately that I'm unable to offer detailed macro solutions in this context; any suggestion I may put forward would be unoriginal, and further, better expressed by many others.

It is my intention to show that such macro issues are unlikely to be solved satisfactorily when considered solely as a collective problem. When all is properly taken into consideration, it is the individual who matters. It is at this small-scale (micro) level that I do feel confident enough to make suggestions, and from this base one may expand into the collective environment, always keeping in mind the implications for individuals.

Despite my completely amateurish knowledge, I'm sure you'll concur with the following observations. This planet, Earth, is being rapidly deprived of its natural resources (I think that ecological rape is not too inaccurate a term). The rate of exploitation is increasing as the world's population explodes. Wars rage across many continents and as a severe consequence many of the native inhabitants are plunged into poverty, disease and starvation. With an ever more strongly interdependent trade situation, it follows that all countries suffer; each blackspot seems to act as a whirlpool around which everything is inevitably sucked in.

We are all well aware: the news items in the press, on Radio and on Television provide frequent reminders of the woeful situation. The problems keep mounting despite the advances in modern science and the vast array of technology at our disposal with, in particular, excellent communication facilities. Why the abysmal failures?

I hope I may indicate how really intractible are macro social problems; in so doing it should become clear that the obstruction to a peaceful and amicable solution lies mainly at the level of the individual. To illustrate this, allow me to introduce you briefly to the subject of 'Games Theory'.

Games Theory

Definition: A game is any situation where there is a coincidence or conflict of interest.
Each game has an outcome which may be ascribed a nominal value, a payoff.
The participants in the game are called players.
The object of the game is to maximise one's payoff.

Examples of games:- card games, including Patience; family board games; discussions, debates and arguments; getting a degree; a public auction; any market; elections; nuclear military defence strategy; etc...

All games may be placed in one of two categories:-

  1. Zero Sum: For any outcome, the net payoff is zero; i.e. if someone wins (has a nonzero positive payoff), then somebody else loses (has a negative payoff). For 1-person games, the opponent may be regarded as Nature.
  2. Non-Zero Sum: Any outcome is dependent upon the amount of cooperation or otherwise of the players - it may be that all win or all lose, e.g. the sharing of household chores amongst a group of residents: no agreement may lead to a kitchen full of unwashed dishes!

Being interested in personal behaviour, I confine my attention to the non-zero sum games. What may be said in this area is in many cases just common sense, but this is a surprisingly rare commodity in our actions. When we are in a right frame of mind, it comes easily, but normally our minds are askew and it thus becomes a luxury. Surely it is common sense to cooperate for mutual benefit? Yes, of course, but in reality few people do. Just consider the following famous Games Theory scenario, originally formulated by A.W.Tucker.

The Prisoners' Dilemna

Ms. A and Mr. B are caught in possession of some arms and are suspected of having carried out a major bank robbery. The suspects are put in separate cells to be questioned, but cannot communicate with each other. They have two options: confess or remain silent. They know that the length of their sentence depends on what the other says and that it can be represented by the following symmetric matrix:

Mr. B
Confess Silent
Ms. A Confess (-10,-10) (0,-20)
Silent (-20,0) (-3,-3)

Note Payoffs correspond to the number of years' sentence & are paired (Ms. A, Mr. B), -x denotes x years in jail.

There are essentially three different types of outcome:-

  1. If they both remain silent then they are found guilty of only a minor crime and receive a modest sentence.
  2. If they both confess, then they are found guilty of a major crime, with a quite lengthy sentence.
  3. If one confesses whilst the other remains silent, then the one who confesses turns Queen's Evidence and is released, whilst the other gets severely punished with a very long sentence.
In their criminal nature, the crooks are self-centred and fail to consider joint action. Hence Ms. A (and similarly Mr. B) reasons as follows: if Mr. B confesses, then I'm better off confessing (I get 10 years instead of 20); if Mr. B remains silent, then I'm still better off confessing.
Outcome: 10 years each to contemplate why they couldn't both remain silent and have 7 of these years free!

With such a one-off situation, a great deal of mutual trust is required, but one would think that given second and further chances then Ms. A and Mr. B would always cooperate. Wrong! The following experiments were performed by Alvin Scodel, J.Sayer Minas, David Marlowe, Harvey Rawson, Philburn Ratoosk and Milton Lipetz1:-

Prisoner Dilemna type games were played repeatedly amongst pairs of players. At every round, each player knew what their partner had done on every previous round. The objective was to maximise one's own tally. In some games players could communicate after each round with their partner before making their choices in private.

Game I)

Played 50 times (no communication)

Player B
Co-operate Don't co-op
Player A Co-operate (3,3) (0,5)
Don't Co-op (5,0) (1,1)


20 of the 22 pairs had more uncooperative payoffs than any other combination. The tendency of the players was to become more uncooperative as the game progressed.

Game Ia)

same payoff matrix


As above, except for communication in last 25 rounds. There was still a tendency to not cooperate, though this was not as pronounced as before.

Game II)

played 50 times (no communication).

Player B
Co-operate Don't co-op
Player A Co-operate (-1,-1) (-5,0)
Don't co-op (0,-5) (-3,-3)


There was virtually no cooperation at all. [Compare this with Game I)! It fascinates me how the insertion of minus signs has made such a big impact.]

From this it is clear that people are constricted by neurotic predispositions or conditionings. If we cannot easily cooperate openly at the level of 1 to 1, then it is not surprising that underhand motives dominate games with many players. A xenophobic defensive attitude is quickly assumed, and very quickly all agreements take the form, "If you do this, then I'll do that ... " This is the basis for a pre-determined/ non-creative way of working; they are 'solved' by zero sum methods. In this environment the various egoisms as described in my homily take root in the form of (unholy) alliances.

On the other hand, if there is an openness to cooperate with anyone at the level of 1 to 1, then this flows naturally to larger situations and there is mutual benefit. So what stops us? Its another instance of false dualistic view!

So, I argue, most of the world's crises lie in the hands of individuals. From the individual perspective, what approaches will be most effective to alleviate the crises? To guide us, we should consider the questions of ethics; our actions will depend to a large extent on our ethical views.

Ethics: some dilemnas/posers

  1. The world's population is expanding exceedingly rapidly. Is the rate of expansion too fast? If so, how do we decrease the rate? To what extent should contraception and abortion be used? How should we tackle the AIDS epidemic?
  2. Scientific discoveries are constantly being unveiled and hence new technologies become available. In particular, medical science can offer effective treatments for a myriad of illnesses and disabilities. Unfortunately, this is proving a drain on resources and poses ethical problems.
    What kind of treatment should take priority and to what extent?
    To what extent should experiments on embryos be carried out?
    There are various methods to effect biological shutdown with minimal shock to the nervous system, i.e. medicines to facilitate euthanasia. Should we condone their use?
  3. How much should one country or a group of countries be involved in the internal affairs of another which is at war?

The Humanist Approach

This section, in its discussion of the posers, does not in general constitute the views of the author. I write it with little enthusiasm; what enthusiasm there is comes only in the prospect of the contrasting light that follows.

Definition: humanism = any system which puts human interests and the mind of man (homo sapiens) paramount, rejecting anything supernatural or transcendent (i.e. beyond the Law of Conditionality).

Humanists believe only in the lower evolution - the evolution of human beings on Earth. So, the survival of this planet as a place habitable for humans is per se more important than it is for those who follow the spiritual path, who are principally concerned with the Higher Evolution.

Notwithstanding a rather large disputed territory between humanists and those on the spiritual path (encompassing areas such as altruism and aesthetics), I perceive that humanism is woefully unable to offer insight on ethical dilemnas such as the ones I've just posed. I consider possible humanist answers to a few of these.

  1. Among the goals of humanists are an ever-improving 'quality of life'; advances in science and technology and the arts are all encouraged if they can enhance our lifestyles. One item of quality is space - room to breathe. If the world's population were to be equi-distributed now, then each person would have adequate space. However, at the present rate of expansion, this won't hold for much longer, so to be consistent with the upward life-style spiral, population control is required.

    For the humanist there is no life previous to or after the one on Earth, there is no life outside the current consciousness manifest in solely biological forms (so, e.g., there are no living spirits of the deceased). Hence the considerations are almost solely for humans at the expense of all other life, including animals.

    From this viewpoint, 'family planning' is necessary; contraception would be encouraged by humanists. Any method is acceptable, provided that there is due regard for the safety of those who use the contraceptive (especially women with 'the pill' etc.). To prevent sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS, so called 'safe sex' should be practiced (using condoms). As a general measure, promiscuity should be discouraged. Throughout the world the message of family planning would have to be broadcast; in particular everyone would be encouraged to practice 'safe sex'.

    Humanists are concerned with comfort in life; in particular, physical and emotional suffering are to be avoided where possible. Therefore, with teenage pregnancies, the teenager who holds the foetus/ unborn child should be consulted with her relatives and close friends as to the incumbent responsibilities and difficulties associated with bringing up a child as well as the rewards/fulfilment; abortion should be discussed with note of possible side effects which may persist. The choice between going through with the pregnancy or having abortion is then made. This kind of procedure applies in the cases of rape; because of the unfortunate circumstances, having a child will prove very difficult. Where there is an unexpected pregnancy in a family with children already, the parents should decide whether or not there would be overall benefit in having another child; the other children may be consulted.

    In all the cases above, the woman involved will undergo pain in having the child, so her views are the most important.

  2. [part] Humanists would probably argue in favour of experiments on animals and human embryos with the principal guidelines being:-
    1. Each experiment should be strictly monitored and results verified by a number of independent centres. A government monitoring team should watch over this research and ensure that it is for the public good. There should be regulation where deemed necessary.
    2. For each experiment, the aim is to improve human quality of life; in particular, where possible, humanists would recommend any medically safe procedure which would limit the chances of hereditary diseases etc. [This is in fact blatant discrimination against many of the 'disabled'].

    For a humanist, it is totally consistent that 'terminally ill' people ought to be granted the 'dignity' of being released from their suffering, especially if they are old, for they are not enjoying life and seemingly have little to give. These days there are a number of medical treatments which put the ailing patient to 'eternal rest' in what seems a relatively painless manner.

A Spiritual Response

In accordance with the Law of Conditionality there is a flow of (psychological) consciousness which sweeps through the blips of life and death without discontinuity. Remember that the most important factor which influences one's psychological conditioning is karma - willed action, implicitly taken when alert/awake; any other imposed conditioning is often a lottery.

Life on Earth is just one manifestation of the Higher Evolution; the focus for the spiritually minded never dwells in isolation on the lower evolution.

  1. I confess that I'm not unshakable on my views on the issue of the population explosion, but I feel I'm close to the essence of spiritual truth despite the lack of demonstrable justification.

    Never forget the genuinely safe way of preventing a population explosion: abstinence from sex. If you consider this wildly unrealistic, then in this respect you have no more control than the birds and the bees! At least be faithful to one partner: scriptures in all the major religions make it clear that the consequences of adultery are very severe. The type of psychological conditioning created by such karma are serious. For contraception, natural methods are preferable, but if this is unacceptable, avoid violating one's own body, i.e. avoid the use of oral contraception such as 'the pill'.

    Sex is almost invariably reactive, seldom creative (either in giving rise to new life or as a pure expression of love); it is a stimulus response, with a drug-like effect. It is the deep-rooted craving for sex which provides the largest part of the momentum in Samsara (the cycle of existence).

    If you are serious about Enlightenment, then you will have to eliminate completely the seat of craving to the extent that no-one 'turns you on' automatically, however alluring they may have been to you previously! This is intimated forcibly when Jesus talks about adultery ('The Sermon on the Mount' Matthew [5:27-28]):

    '"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."'
    I am sure that to just accept one's reactions (for lust is a reaction to a deep-seated predisposition), no matter how innocuous they may appear on the surface, is ignorant complacency and leads to much suffering. These things are more than 'just facts of life.' If you doubt this then consider what Jesus says further (Matthew [5:29-30]):
    '"If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell."'
    I believe that Jesus used such fierce imagery to really show how important it is to get to the root cause of neurotic mental predispositions. So we should observe our faults without guilt and then get on with searching for a cure.

    Yet the life-creating aspect of sex which gives beings the chance for precious human form, in which there is significant opportunity for spiritual growth, is very important. Clearly the karma surrounding sex is very influential and must be handled with care. With this in mind, casual 'safe sex', which is unskilful karma, may be seen to have significant adverse consequences.

    It is from this kind of view that I have great reservations regarding the rather cavalier attitude of those who preach 'safe sex' as the solution to the world's population crisis. I hope that you can appreciate that the use of oral contraception is particularly pernicious in that it is actively destructive of part of the interior of a woman's body, implicitly a kind of self degradation, echoing a clouded spirituality. There is no Light in such action. However, preventing life is better than erasing life ...

    In my mind the case against abortion (apart from the natural act of miscarriage) is more clear. For me, human life begins at the point of conception; how premature must a birth be to not be human?! Human life is so precious in its transcending potential, no matter how 'abnormal' (What is normal anyway?) For this reason alone, not one abortion is justifiable, especially not in a developed country where suitable resources can be made available to help all parents of children. Further, one should also consider the possibility of adoption.

    The possible repercussions in the cases of abortion offer a frightening alternative. Do not delude yourself by thinking that abortion is a minor infringement, rather it is made more serious since it is usually enacted at a conscious level - abortions don't occur just by accident. The withdrawal symptoms for women who undergo abortions are well known; the scars are deeply psychological, not just physical. 1

    The unborn child who is killed suffers no less traumatically; great pain is experienced in dying: this may well affect the nature of the next rebirth, the suffering perhaps commuted to a physical or mental handicap. Further, depending upon the nature of the abortion, an engram may be sown, which will disrupt future lives until properly dealt with.

    The AIDS epidemic may be controlled by 'safe sex', but that is hardly a cure for the mental sickness of spiritual ignorance which at the collective level sends out destructive psychological vibrations - this planet reflects our collective state of mind! Only spiritual insight will shed light on the crises.

  2. Before anyone carries out further experimentation, he or she should be aware of the consequences within the Law of Conditionality, and especially the nature of his or her karma. If you don't know what is going on here, then leave alone - the unforeseen consequences might not bear thinking about! In Christian terms, any genetic engineering is 'acting God'; as such it should only be considered by those who are one with God.

    Artificial obstruction of the flow of consciousness only buries things deeper. If someone, who is in great pain, is given something to end it in this life, then the psychological pain does not vanish since it has not been allowed to run its course, it has not yet been handled. Instead, I think that it is commuted and will resurface in a subsequent rebirth. One must learn to cope with pain; to run away is to give in, whereas a courageous struggle to come to terms with the debilitating condition can bring one very close to understanding reality; to mental healing; to God.

Without a spiritual dimension to ethics, individuality decays into selfishness - witness the huge pay increases irrespective of company performance awarded to many company directors; the hypocrisy of those who express concern for the environment, yet dump litter in towns and in the countryside and drive to places they could easily walk to; and the clamour for 'rights', which never seem to bring peace of mind. The greed that illustrates the sick side of Western society has spread rapidly to Eastern Europe, where it is 'out of the frying pan (of oppressive regimes) into the fire (of Western materialism).' The most damaging aspect is that in unilaterally capitulating to the onslaught, unskilful karma are performed not just by a clique, but by a large proportion of the population as a whole. The evidence is plentiful - e.g. the huge number of abortions in Rumania, the mad rush to buy Western goods, and the internal unrest among opposing racial groups (l'égoisme aux millions).

Humanism is too ignorant to cope, for where there is individual delusion or aberration from the spiritual life, there is conflict. So-called 'religious wars' are never caused by clashes of authentic spiritual ideals, but usually by those who are ignorant of their own religion, those who in actuality sink into the lower realms of human emotion, those who are reacting on a stimulus-response basis.

To combat the maladies in society the light of spiritual wisdom must shine!

I've shown some important distinctions between the outlook of a humanist and someone on the spiritual path, yet in practice it might not be easy to tell the difference between a humanist and a Christian, say. This needs to be tackled ...


1. I'm sorry if this offends any woman who may have had an abortion. Fortunately, the wounds can be healed and I would be happy to try to help find healing in this case. ^
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