Ideals, the Better Criterion

Since the dawn of civilization people around the world have grouped themselves based on these five criteria:

Socio-Economic status

There are those who are tied by blood: siblings, parents, children and ancestors. There are those with the same ethnicity: African, Anglo Saxon, Asian, Arab, who feel connected by the way they look, skin color, hair type, etc. There are those from the same village, city or country who have feelings of pride for the land where they were born, and they feel compatriots of the same soil. There are others grouped by the religion they practice, regardless of other criteria. There are those who form groups based on their socio-economic status: rich, poor, clergy, royalty, merchants, plebeians, commoners, slaves. These five criteria have been present forever in Europe, Africa, Asia, and also in the pre-discovered new continent of America.

In 1492 Europeans moved to the “new” continent and occupied its land. Spaniards and Portuguese conquered from the South of Argentina to the southern part of  United States, while British and French conquered most of North America from the North to southern areas of  US. The reasons for moving to the new world were for the expansion of European kingdoms and the gaining of power. However, American leaders of the 1770’s felt unhappy with some of the old grouping criteria, specifically, they disliked the socio-economic status given to royalty and clergy. They didn’t see ethnicity or religion as a divisive issue since most of them where Judeo-Christian white European descendents, and the minority of African slaves were not even considered fully humans. The fathers of the independence movement were clever and wise enough to build a new vision based on a different criterion that would “form a more perfect Union.” The new criterion was a set of ideals. Ideals of liberty, equality, freedom of religion, etc. This was very attractive to the locals, and so the leaders were successful in expelling the British army by convincing the people to rebel and promote those ideals. It was a very concise set of ideals that captured the imagination of Americans, and propelled them to see the future in a hopeful and bright way.

In South of America the independence movement in the 1800’s had initially the same intentions and ideals as in United States. It was pioneered by Francisco de Miranda (a Free Mason like George Washington and several US independence leaders) but he was sent to prison by his apprentice, Simon Bolivar, who unfortunately didn’t succeed in establishing a one-single-nation in South America with the same ideals of Jefferson, Franklin, Washington and Hamilton in the north. South America was left with several countries with military governments that diverged from the civilian-commanded society in USA.

For the next 230 years, all presidents of the United States, from Washington to Obama, including Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy and Reagan, have followed the premise of bonding the society based on the ideals written in the US Constitution and its Amendments. Americans feel they are a group of people not bind by blood or ethnicity or soil or religion or socio-economic status, but simply by the ideals put forward by the founding fathers in 1789. It is the reason why this country has welcomed and let stay here important people from other places around the world, such as the founding father Alexander Hamilton (from British West Indies), the physicist Albert Einstein (from Germany), Steve Jobs’ father (from Syria), and the entrepreneur Elon Musk (from South Africa); people that have transformed this country in positive valuable ways. It is thanks to this openness of mind that this country, and countries with similar ideals (e.g. UK, France), have been able to prosper so much for the past two centuries.

Unfortunately, Americans have lost their way lately. They elected a new leadership that seems to favor the old grouping criteria and could destroy the hopeful and bright beacon that the fathers of the Constitution created. The nationalist world movement is threatening the ideals of 1789 and is spreading fast (e.g., UK brexit, Spain-Catalunya) with a facade of patriotism. They are confounding patriotism and nationalism which were clearly differentiated by Charles de Gaulle, the former French president and WWI & WWII General: ”Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.

Only when we dispel the fallacy of a better future promised by nationalists using the aforementioned grouping criteria, can we recover the path towards coexistence, prosperity and peace among the inhabitants of this country that the founding fathers had in mind.

C.A. Soto Aguirre©

The Four Quadrants of Legality and Ethics

America is known to be among the most litigious countries in the world. Hence, adoration to laws is high, and many times considered to be at higher levels than ethics. Laws are written by human beings, commonly by the legislative branch of a government, while ethics is the moral principle or code that guides any person in his or her daily acts. Those who write the laws are generally representatives of the majority, and are not always looking after the minority’s issues and concerns.
Ethics is in higher grounds, usually coming from philosophy or religion, applies to all of us, and is blind to race, religion, gender, and any kind of categorization of human beings.

There is a picture of four quadrants shown below that should help understand my points.

In the top left quadrant we have acts that are legal and ethical. We don’t argue with these types of acts. For instance, paying back a debt is a legal and ethical act.
In the lower right quadrant we have acts that are illegal and unethical. We don’t argue with these types of acts either. For instance, not paying back a debt is an illegal and unethical act.

The other two quadrants are the interesting ones.

In the lower left quadrant we have acts that are illegal and ethical. Here resides one of the confusions for some people. When they read illegal, they don’t keep reading. They say “if it is illegal, just don’t do it, no matter what.” When Rosa Parks didn’t give up her seat in the bus colored section to a white passenger, after the white section was filled, she acted illegally but ethically. When Mahatma Gandhi freed India from the British he acted illegally but ethically. When Miep Gies hid Anne Frank, the Jewish girl, from the Nazis, she acted illegally but ethically.

Finally, in the top left quadrant we have acts that are legal and unethical. These acts are another source of confusion. Again, as soon as people read “legal” they don’t keep reading. They say “if it is legal, I can do it, no matter what.” However, history is full of unethical laws. It was legal to have slaves; to kill Jews; to have separate water fountains for black people; to jail Nelson Mandela for opposing apartheid laws in South Africa. It is legal to deport an illegal resident mother in America and separate her from her American 2-year-old girl; All these are unethical legal acts.

I hope this short writing helps you think a bit more before condemning any person because he or she is breaking the law. Ethics comes first, laws second. If not, we become herds of people following laws written by the majority that disregards the human quality of each minority sector of our society. All religions have one common principle: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and lawmakers should use this principle when writing new laws and repealing the old ones. If done right, we will all be acting in the top left quadrant.



C. A. Soto Aguirre© 2017