Sunday, March 20, 2016

Where Have All of the Honest People Gone?

Howard Walter Florey 1945.jpg

America needs more people like Dr. Howard Florey, one of the researchers who helped develop penicillin. Unlike Martin Shkreli, the odious billionaire opportunist who hiked the price of AIDS medication 5000%, Florey refused to patent penicillin for personal profit. He understood that the benefits for humanity were more important than his own commercial success.

American democracy has been hijacked by corporate interests--lobbyists, Super PACs, defense contractors, and on and on. The two current front runners for the 2016 Presidential race are multi-millionaires with too many corporate ties to list. Donald Trump has exploited capitalism for over three decades, and Hilary Clinton has cozy connections with the likes of Walmart and Super Pacs.

Political cynics will say that's just how America works, but I disagree. Vaclav Havel--Czech writer, political activist, and eventually president of Czechslovakia--is an example of a modern politician who refused to be swayed by corporate interests alone. Like Dr. Florey, Havel lived his ethics, which, I believe, is the best way both to live and to act.

It's not an exaggeration to say that the Buddha was an ethicist. He taught us to do no harm, to realize that separation can lead to violence, and that selfishness eventually brings suffering, both for oneself and for others. Unlike the tide of U.S. faith-based religions that demand adherents to believe a doctrine, Buddhism eschews dogmatism (at least ideally, it does). Doctrine takes backseat to alleviating suffering. Buddhism recognizes that ethics are situational, and that defending principles blindly as though they were absolutes can be dangerous.

For instance, the Buddha didn't teach us to tell the truth always. He asked us to engage our lives, thoughts, and speech, and ask, are my words true, timely, and helpful? It's not that making a living or a profit is inherently wrong; it's that putting one's own greedy interests ahead of public good hurts everyone involved. Why shouldn't people be compensated fairly for their work and innovations?

Vaclav Havel and Dr. Florey understood this. We need a renaissance in ethics--morality, not moralism. Despite what cynics claim, capitalism needn't be greedy, nor government corrupt. And we needn't settle for second-rate leaders.

Demand more.

Thank you Dr. Florey for saving the lives of countless people and animals, and for putting their interest first.

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