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The distinction between ethics and law in social liberalism

The key to understanding social liberal ethics and social liberal law is in understanding that they are not the same; specifically that the law is not an attempt to force people to be ethical.

The social liberal tries to first figure out and then tries to do what benefits society. This is the social definition of ethics.

For instance, sitting at home and not thinking about and doing anything about the political problems we may have is unethical in the social liberal system. However, it is not against the law as derived from social liberalism. Why? Because it would cost more resources to try to force someone to go educate themselves about current affairs and then do something constructive than it would save. Moreover it is probably impossible to carry out. And so, if one wished to do what is good for society, one does not intend to waste resources and so forcing people to become aware of their political surroundings would be unethical. In short, trying to force people to be ethical may be unethical.

Apathy is the classic example of something unethical not being illegal in social liberalism.

It is through this realization that different people with different claims about existence can coexist peaceably, cooperate, discuss and enjoy each others company. In short, even if we disagree on exactly how we should lead our lives, but agree that the other isn’t harming society, then we have no ethical basis for trying to interfere with each others lives. Yet, we can disagree about essentially everything else.

Social liberalism does not entail relativism. I can as absolute in how I think people should live as possible, yet still seek in no way to force anyone to live this way, and furthermore only debate the issue politely and courteously with those that wish to debate the issue. I have no problem supporting a social liberal body of law and yet at the same time making it clear that everyone who thinks differently about the things I am sure of is wrong. Which is exactly how I operate.

I believe that ethics (what one should do) is derived from the search for truth, that to search for truth effectively one must propagate one’s own existence and the existence of society, and that everyone who thinks the meaning of life is any different is wrong.

Anyone who believes that doing what is good for society (socialism), must conclude that controlling people is not good for society (liberalism), and that working, discussing, and living with anyone who also wishes to do what is good for society is good for society.

Where does this tolerance and cooperation stop? When something harms society. Whereas apathy can be argued to be benign and impossible to stop anyone so inclined, murder is not benign and so the social liberal is committed to trying to prevent murder.

The key distinction here between other political theories that also think murder is bad is that the social liberal is not committed to punishment. If punishment costs more resources than is saved, then such punishment is unethical. The social liberal is searching for a justice system that reduces crime, not one that satisfies a craving for revenge and creates more people at war with society. So, the social liberal supports a justice system in which convicted criminals are given the opportunity to learn the skills needed to function in society, are shown the benefits of cooperation, are treated with respect and encouraged to integrated and add to a community, are not isolated from the rest of society, and are not imprisoned so long that living independently in a non criminal community is almost impossible.

Finland adopted such a justice philosophy and enjoys a very low crime rate then say America, spends less on crime than America, and turns out convicts with not only a much greater chance to live without harming others but with more skills and knowledge to add to society.

"As Frank Boosman notes":http://www.boosman.com/blog/2003/01/the_finnish_prison_system.html

An eye-opening story in the New York Times on the Finnish prison system:

In polls measuring what national institutions they admire the most, Finns put their criminal-coddling police in the No. 1 position.

The force is the smallest in per capita terms in Europe, but it has a corruption-free reputation and it solves 90 percent of its serious crimes...

Look in on Finland’s penal institutions, whether those the system categorizes as "open" or "closed," and it is hard to tell when you’ve entered the world of custody. "This is a closed prison," Esko Aaltonen, warden of the Hameenlinna penitentiary, said in welcoming a visitor. "But you may have noticed you just drove in, and there was no gate blocking you."

Walls and fences have been removed in favor of unobtrusive camera surveillance and electronic alert networks. Instead of clanging iron gates, metal passageways and grim cells, there are linoleum-floored hallways lined with living spaces for inmates that resemble dormitory rooms more than lockups in a slammer.

Guards are unarmed and wear either civilian clothes or uniforms free of emblems like chevrons and epaulettes. "There are 10 guns in this prison, and they are all in my safe,"

Mr. Aaltonen said.

"The only time I take them out is for transfer of prisoners."

At the "open" prisons, inmates and guards address each other by first name. Prison superintendents go by nonmilitary titles like manager or governor, and prisoners are sometimes referred to as "clients" or, if they are youths, "pupils."

He goes on to note that Finland has 52 people in prison for 100 000 inhabitants, whereas America has 702.

In terms of business, social liberalism concludes that businesses should be able to go about their business as long as they are not harming society. For instance, a business should be stopped from stealing from other businesses or murdering their competitor’s employees. It may be very effective way to compete in the market place, but it is not good for society.

Pollution is another thing that social liberalism deems should be regulated. Polluting is gaining at the expense of everyone else. There is little room for complaint if everyone else tries to stop you through government oversight.

Social liberal economic policy can be summed up as follows: through laws and regulations the people, through the mechanism of the government, are responsible for first figuring out and then implementing incentive for sustainable business practices that do not waste more resources than saved (as in: would be unsustainable). Or, even more succinctly, the social liberal is for intelligent government decision.

In terms of education, social liberalism concludes that tying a person’s education to their parent’s income is not good for society. If everyone has equal opportunity for education, a smarter more capable work force will ensue.

Likewise, if society does not provide health care for everyone, then the population will become less healthy, less able to adapt to new situations, and more likely to perish.

And so for every situation the social liberal tries to figure out and then do what is good for society. I stress the figuring out part. The universe is infinitely complex every situation must be considered by itself. This is why freedom of speech is so valued by social liberalism. Since what is good for society is so difficult to figure out, or figure out precisely (so many questions coming down to balance, and not some ridiculous extreme), and that there are always new situations or slight nuances to old situations, that no idea can be dismissed by some pre-set rigid criteria. Society will always need new ideas, and so society will always need discussion.


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