Comments on Reinventing Ethics (Howard Gardner, The Stone, Sep 23, 2012, http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/23/reinventing-ethics/?nl=opinion&emc=edit_ty_20120924)
Howard Gardener sees a gap in ethics today between historic guidelines and the rapidly evolving modern world. He asks: How … should we go about deciding [in an era of] democratization and digitalization? He proposes to create groups of trustees with a spectrum of powers [for] identification of best practices, institution of rules, [etc.]. His hope is that If we can draw on wise people across the age spectrum, and enable virtual as well as face-to-face discussion, we are most likely to arrive at an ethical landscape adequate for our time. He leaves many questions.
Systems science, based on biologic principles, may offer a different perspective:
Ethics could be considered a framework for making decisions that optimize a system which is then capable of creating value, known as its emergence, through adaptation and evolution. Among inter-related systems in a societal and global environment, where everything is connected to everything else, the output of one optimized system becomes an input for other systems and favors their optimization.
Ethics, in order to be adaptable and evolving, with time and cultures, have to be based on each one of societal biologic units, an individual, who in aggregate represent a horizontal system hierarchy, the people in the trenches. This focus on an individual as its own system, within a larger societal system, makes ethics a decidedly upstream decision process capable of prospectively helping to create, first, its own healthy/optimized system, and, second, it then assists other systems in being sound. The governing/political vertical hierarchy of a societal system must engage in participatory congruence with the process of systems optimization.
Relying on a set of rules and powers by groups of trustees, mentioned in Gardner's article, is a proposal analogous to a traditional legal system which functions very much downstream of human decisions and hopes to catch rules-transgressors.
Ethics that are based on system-optimizing and not self-maximizing decisions by each individual as well as the supporting governing hierarchy would likely prove quite useful in the future regardless of any existing or developing culture and be also independent from any historic handicap. There are just too many forks on the daily life path that require decisions to be made in real time; this reality imposes limitations on any guidance from a group of external trustees. A useful form of an ethical decision-framework needs to be internalized by all individuals in order to be of any practical use to a society; and that could come from mentoring.