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


What I Learned from the 2016 Election

Until the election night, I saw myself and my group of “educated” people as the group that should lead society; that should show the way and the manners to do things; that should give our ideas to others to be implemented. In other words, I was part of the elite, like the Washington elite that propels the entire country forward. So were Hillary Clinton and his party; so were Paul Ryan and his party. But the election results screamed at us “we the white uneducated people don’t want you because you forgot us.” Yes, those who put one of them at the presidency of the most powerful country in the world loudly and emphatically complained because the “educated” people have been looking down to them for too long, axing the most important feeling that any human has: hope for a better future.

To me the lesson is simple: we all are humans.

We all breath, eat, drink, defecate, sleep, love, cry, laugh, have sex, but most importantly, we all have hopes of a better future. A better future for us, and for our children. All of that happen no matter whether our highest degree of education is a third grade of grammar school, or a doctoral degree from Harvard university, because again, we all are the same; we are bone-and-flesh humans. I bring up the people’s education level because according to the polls Trump won thanks to the uneducated white people (if you still trust polls check the Washington Post). Or we could flip the argument and say Clinton lost because there were not enough white educated people voting for her. Being in the group of educated people I, inadvertently, have trained myself to despise the uneducated because, I thought I would understand things that they wouldn’t; because I learned things that they didn’t; because I could explain things they couldn’t. But I am not alone. I know and I have seen how other educated people look down to the uneducated and believe in a superiority just because of the education level, when in reality the fact is we all are humans.

But now we have a problem. The concept of a representative democracy is that we elect our leaders to represent us, and to make decisions more wisely and expeditiously based on timely information that they have before us. Most of the elected officials are “educated” people, lawyers, doctors, and business people with government experience that should be able to propose ideas to guide the country in the right direction. Now we have a new commander in chief who we know has no experience on government at all; who knows little on macro/world economics; who insults minorities of all kinds; hence, we will have to help the new president during his time as the leader of this country while we find a solution to the problem before the next election.

How do we make sure this does not happen again? A simple solution is to pay more attention to the white uneducated people, but this won’t solve the root cause. In my opinion the solution is to make them part of the educated crowd; make them part of the political process; give them more knowledge of history, geography, languages, religions, in order to become responsible citizens. In other words, elevate their educational level so they are their own leaders, and make the best decision when electing their representative. This is not easy. The elite wants to be a small group to have privileges that the masses don’t have. Therefore, the first task is to make a change in the mindset of the elite. That is the hardest part because it will result in a change of the status quo that has prevailed for centuries. A second step towards a unifying country is to change the way votes are counted. The electoral college vote makes no sense anymore in the era of satellites, internet and cell phones. One person = one vote.

The country where I was born went through this episode 17 years ago. Hugo Chavez, representative of the uneducated, made the same appealing call to make Venezuela great again using Simon Bolivar’s 19th century ideals the central message of his campaign. He won by a landslide with the vote of the uneducated and forgotten people. Unfortunately, Venezuela’s democracy was young (only 40 years old) and didn’t have the strong institutions US has in the congress and the supreme court. Chavez rewrote the Venezuelan constitution to fit his ambitions; corruption continued in higher levels, and the country has been in disarray ever since. I am sure the US congress has the strength to stop Trump from becoming an authoritarian president as Chavez was.

I see this election result (and the election in Venezuela 17 years ago) as the great lesson that tell us that we need to be humble and educate ourselves and everybody else; we need to care more about our kind simply because “we all are humans.”

C. A. Soto Aguirre©