The ball tampering scandal surrounding the Australian cricket team could shine a light on the unfashionable topic of ethics. For many years, most cricket fans in Australia have disliked the over aggressive approach of our players – now we see that this “win at all costs” thinking led to actual cheating.
It is not just cricket that faces ethical challenges. Globally, Facebook has been massively damaged by secret use of data. In Australia, the major banks are all hurting because of practices that are more about making money and less about ethical banking. Around the world, churches and charitable groups are under the spotlight for abuse of our most weak and vulnerable – our children. Now cricket has its turn.
But here we face a roadblock. In the west we do not have an agreed and common “language” of ethics. We struggle to find answers to what is ethical. We can spot a breakdown in ethics when it happens, but cannot identify what the ethical alternative is or how to apply it.
Because our society cannot explain ethics, our schools struggle to teach it – and any public dialogue becomes complex.
Can we have a simple formula for what is ethical?
I learned from India that a personal ethical approach can be based on two simple guidelines. First, is my proposed action going to do any harm? If the answer is yes (harm to self or others) then it at least needs to be reconsidered. Second, is there an opportunity for my actions to be of benefit to myself and others? My teacher had this way of expressing core ethics: “Mindful and aware I give no harm, but always look to contribute”.
With this approach the Australian cricket team would not have tampered with the ball and might even reconsider their addiction to the nasty bullying that we call “sledging”.
But it is really an issue for the rest of us too. Even in seemingly trivial actions like driving in traffic, the western supremacy of the individual over community has led most of us to behave in ways we might not be proud of.
Can we recreate a language of what is ethics, starting by agreeing on some simple ways to describe ethical behaviour?
One thought on “Cricket scandal reminds us we might all have a problem with ethics”
Stephen, thank you very much for a very thoughtful piece.
But I will take issue with you in two regards. The first relates to Western uncertainty over ethics. Whilst I agree with you that Western ethical thinking has been undergoing change over the past 200 years – from one based on Christianity to one based on humanistic individualism – I am not convinced that its essential moral codes have changed. Western secular humanism, whilst based on the individual, is not so naïve as to negate the essential fact that we are a social being that can only survive together (particularly outside of family or clan) if we base our behavior around commonly accepted ethical codes. And, as a species, we worked those codes out several thousand years ago. It is not remarkable that all human societies, however they developed, whatever their religion, always revert (eventually) to essentially the same moral standards. Otherwise we self-annihilate.
However, where I do agree with you is that this process of change has undermined the teaching of those ethics in the West – because Western society has not “preached” its secular humanism clearly enough, not least to itself.
I believe a lack of self knowledge (ignorance), not a lack of actual clear ethical standards, is the Western problem.
The second issue relates to the Cricket kerfuffle itself, and the peculiar nature of the Australian response, as shown in your article. I might as well throw in the response to the Facebook issue, too. Because the response to the cricket issue is peculiar for non-Australians. First, ball tampering is not, actually, all that serious, and plenty of other players, from all sorts of backgrounds, have been caught doing it. Smith et al have shown true remorse for their actions – and not, I think – just because they got caught. And yet they are still being slaughtered by Australians. That’s strange to the rest of us; because the real problem here (for non-Australians) is the Australian lack of acknowledgment of the sheer hypocrisy of it all. As Vaughan has remarked, with some greater diplomacy than I put it here, “but we’re always known the Australians cheated”. He might have added, “along with everybody else”. As with Facebook -one has to be living on another planet if one didn’t think Facebook was a commercial concern selling data to the highest bidder. Yet Facebook has real practical utility, so we use it. It’s an exchange to which millions of us agree happily enough. The real shock is Mark Zuckerberg et al’s hypocrisy, trying to maintain that Facebook has some higher purpose to connect humans. With both instances the movie Casablanca comes to mind: “I am shocked, shocked, to find gambling going on here”. Yes, right.
As a person who cares deeply for Australia’s future, I feel strongly that Australian society needs to overcome its hypocrisy so that it can deal with its real issues. Yes, Australia, you have made a great success of multi-culturalism. But the country is not dealing with the effective apartheid, in “third world” squalor, of several hundred thousand of the original inhabitants of the land; or the awful treatment of those immigrants caught “queue jumping” (at great physical danger to themselves, and with immense courage and desperation) in an attempt to escape grinding poverty, or worse, actual physical danger. That strikes most other nations as hypocrisy, frankly. The (self) touted virtue of “mateship” – a marvelous thing at Gallipoli, but off the battlefield just another word for crony capitalism, that has led to high, and rising levels of corruption and traded favours between civil servants, politicians, business and organized labour leaders. No, Australian “mateship” is not a virtue; Putin has his “mates” too. Or the repeated assertion that the unique physical environment requires the world’s special protection and attention whilst at the same time going backwards in efforts to tackle being the most carbon intensive society on the planet.
I believe Australians must look deeper inside their own society and stop believing in some really rather silly myths that Australia is somehow “better” (in a moral as well as physical sense). Australian society is not unique. It suffers from the same problems (and has the same merits too), as the rest of the human race. But Australian hypocrisy (that it is somehow morally better) is preventing it from dealing with its real issues, as instead it frets over unimportant sporting misdemeanors and whether its politicians inadvertently have a second citizenship.
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