Paul Elisha: Conscience

Jan 21, 2014

Recent and continuing circumstances have impelled this commentator to question, what is it about rules and regulations that makes them seem so onerous for those in political leadership, who promulgate them, then to pursue almost any course, not to adhere to them, themselves?  That such a situation should prevail in this bell-weather bastion of self-governance is more mystifying enough to discomfit and discourage those most affected and disconcerted by it.

Looking for answers, one finds this to be an age-old question, raised by such masterful thinkers as Confucius, some five-thousand years ago and with powerful reason.  “Without an acquaintance with the rules of propriety,” he wrote, “it is impossible for the character to be established.”  Considering Confucius more deeply, one gains an even more enlightening answer.  It seems that Confucius devoted his life to alleviate the suffering of the poor, via the improvement of government administration.  Now this is truly edifying.

What we learn now, is that after five thousand years, not much in human nature has changed, as far as propriety is concerned. But wait.  Is that all there is to it?  Of course not.  Confucius was emphasizing the importance of character and that’s what he wanted folks to understand, when they looked to government to act in their behalf, once they’ve agreed to its rules, which supposedly were promulgated for their benefit.

At this point, someone ought to question just why the need for rules, in the first place and the answer to that also is ages old.  They’re a necessary ingredient, we’re told, for the community’s preservation.  But not alone.  Dr. W. Somerset Maugham (in his novel: The Moon and Sixpence) put it this way: “Conscience is the guardian in the individual, of the rules which the community has evolved for its own preservation.”  So now we add an expectation, that the promulgators hadn’t counted on:  “Conscience!”  And the really necessary rejoinder to that one is: “Whose?”

New York’s own ‘Bull-Moose’ ‘Trust Buster’ President, Theodore Roosevelt has been credited with many important acts and words.  One pronouncement, though, important though it was (and some say, still is) may well have cost him a nomination for a second term.  On August 31st, 1910, T.R. said this: “Every man holds his property subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use, to whatever degree the public welfare may require it.” Those who think ‘Conscience’ and responsible concern for the ‘public welfare,’ aren’t important, in determining the reactions of promulgators, think again.

They didn’t call Confucius ‘The Master,’ without the best of reasons and the ‘have-nots’ among us still wait for an honest and conscientious answer.

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