We all have a role in protecting Earth, By Goldwin Emerson

We all have a role in protecting Earth

By Goldwin Emerson, 


London Free Press, December 26, 2015

People of good conscience recognize we have an obligation to preserve and protect our environment. This includes all parts of our planet, rocks, inorganic matter, energy, things living and natural resources. Even when we stretch our minds, we do not have the capacity to grasp all that exists. The universe is too complex for us to fully comprehend. Nonetheless, we can be conscious of the interconnectedness of our part of the universe, planet earth, upon which humans depend.

Since we are mainly interested in human aspects of the universe, ethical people think about our relationships to each other. We should also be concerned about connections with non-human aspects of the universe. A healthy environment becomes crucial as we increase world population and presently have technology to either destroy or to protect our natural resources.

The environment leaves many things to consider. These include energy sources, transportation, and climate change. In addition, knowledge about productive environments involves the thin layer of top soil, usually, less than six inches deep. World-wide, this layer of top soil is crucial to food production and covers only a small portion of the planet’s surface. We are fortunate to have rich topsoil in much of South Western Ontario and in our Prairie Provinces.

We can protect our environment by learning to re-use and recycle some materials such as plastic containers which are now frequently disposed of as waste. Even more harmful to our environment are dangerous chemical contaminates which are not properly contained or safely stored. The safe containment of nuclear wastes still remains a gargantuan challenge as to how to dispose of such long lasting radioactive nuclear wastes.

While sharing food and distributing it to alleviate undernourishment in large parts of our planet is theoretically possible, our best efforts have fallen short. Advanced practices in agriculture can help to provide enough for everyone globally. As efforts to relieve undernourishment continue, problems of sharing and re-distributing food and resources are exacerbated by a population that now exceeds seven billion. Even using best agricultural methods and careful distribution, a growing world population may, at some point, surpass our improved agricultural technology and defeat our

best efforts to feed those who are undernourished.

Last, but not least, demands for energy presently expand rapidly. One case in point is our reliance on oil production, whether oil comes from resources under our oceans or is found in the tar sands of Alberta. While hydraulic fracturing or fracking has made oil more available, some environmental scientists associated with Food and Water Watch, Environment Protection Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Greenpeace, U.S.A. and Environment America Research and Policy Centre, have concerns about new environmental damage that may result from the process of fracking.

Sometimes, extremes in political ideologies cause environmental problems. For example, harsh dictatorships or extremes in capitalist systems driven by greed prevent reasonable solutions. In western thought we may confuse capitalism and free enterprise with democracy. Some Canadian mining companies in third-world countries pay insufficient attention to good ecological practices. To put the message more positively, we must learn to respect the worth and dignity and needs of other people, including those who live outside Canada.

A humanist principle which is frequently adopted by both religious and secular thinkers states the following: We affirm that human beings are a part of nature, and that our survival is dependent upon a healthy planet which provides us and other forms of life with a life-supporting environment.

Hopefully our teachers will encourage students to become knowledgeable about environmental problems and solutions. The study of geography and of other cultures can help students become aware of the needs of others. Science can provide knowledge concerning where we are failing to protect our environment. Science can also help improve on our best knowledge in environmental practices. History can offer advice on what practices have served humanity well and which practices have failed us.

Teachers who teach their students that a healthy environment is very important will find that each school subject whether it is literature, mathematics, art, or chemistry can lend itself to enhancing the importance of a healthy environment. Teachers who do so can provide a great service in helping to keep our environment vibrant now and in the future.

Reasonable U. S. gun control rules truly ethical approach, By Goldwin Emerson

Reasonable U. S. gun control rules truly ethical approach

By Goldwin Emerson, 


London Free Press, December 5, 2015

On Wednesday, armed attackers opened fire on a banquet at a social services centre for the disabled in San Bernardino, California killing 14 people and wounding 21 others.

Five days earlier a gunman stormed the Planned Parenthood health clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, killing three people and wounding nine.

A few politicians, including U. S. President Barack Oboma, think it is time to regulate the sale and possession of fire firearms, but the National Rifle Association strongly defends the right of American citizens to bear arms according to the second amendment of their constitution.

As usual, in many occurrences of gun violence in United States, most citizens are at loss to explain the motives of the murderers or to know how to defend themselves from such terrible massacres in the future.

If guns were sold to young children it would be clear to Americans that this would be a very unethical practice. Most mature people agree that children would not have the intelligence or understanding of how dangerous guns can be in the hands of people who do not yet have sufficient judgement to use lethal weapons wisely or safely. It is also an indication that there are some adults who, like young children, do not have the judgement and understanding to be in possession of guns. It is evidence that it would be equally unethical to sell guns to those adults who seem incapable of owning or using guns properly and safely.

Some American statistics claim a daily average of 25 murders caused by guns in United States. This is a number in excess of 9000 people per year although in 2012 gun deaths actually tripled that number. Depending on population density, annual gun deaths range from 3.4 to 4.7 per 100,000 citizens.

Politicians have an ethical obligation to create legislation that controls the sale of guns to citizens of any age who do not possess the mental or physical capability to use guns with care and safety. In United States the second amendment is not a sufficient reason to allow every citizen the right to bear arms regardless of their individual limitations. For example, totally blind people or violently insane people should not be allowed to purchase guns. Yet in many states there are no State laws required to purchase guns. There are, however, Federal laws which do limit the misuse of guns and uphold punishments after a crime is committed.

A problem arises in assessing the various degrees of physical or mental disability of those who want to own guns. For this reason a wise and ethical approach would be to have each person who wants to own guns, carefully assessed prior to purchasing a gun. This procedure is not as cumbersome as it may first appear. Often when people are individually assessed for their suitability for being hired for a job they are required to have a police check to determine if they have a criminal record. Many jobs also require health records that indicate the likelihood of mental or physical stability or lack of it.

Signs of severe depression, aggression, abuse of illegal drugs, theft, extreme anxiety, physical altercations, or sex abuse, may well be available from medical or criminal records. As Dr. Phil McGraw of television fame has said, “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior”.

Of course, there are degrees of mental illnesses or criminal activity or physical disabilities which may not in themselves indicate gun owners are any more dangerous than other citizens. It is for this reason that those in charge of assessing suitability for gun ownership should rely on professional health records and criminal records and exercise care in doing so.

The National Rifle Association is a large politically powerful group. There must surely be enough wisdom and intelligence within their group that they can be persuaded a truly ethical approach would be to establish reasonable gun control regulations in advance of ownership in order to protect American citizens while still upholding the second amendment.

Every human has some inherent worth, By Goldwin Emerson

Every human has some inherent worth

By Goldwin Emerson,


London Free Press, November 15, 2014

A good ethical principle would be to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person. I do not claim originality in stating this position because I have borrowed it from a religion called the Unitarian/ Universalists who include this aim as one of their seven guiding ethical principles.

In fact, I think it is a difficult position to adhere to, or even to accept intellectually, although it may well be the same position that some other religions state in slightly different language. When we think of the worth and dignity of every person, our minds sweep through a broad range of the human spectrum from the people we admire most to those who represent the worst people we know. If the ethical principle had stated that we should promote the dignity and worth of those fellow humans with whom we agree, or people who are nice to us, or people who are part of our family, or our group, or our religion, it would be a much easier principle to follow.

Our minds are drawn to those who are evil, lazy, stupid, or otherwise undesirable people who present a problem for many of us in accepting this ethical principle. So what are we to think of a three‐time murderer like Paul Bernardo or his ilk? I choose Bernardo because he is known to many Canadians, but I could easily have chosen from a list of other undesirable Canadians. Are we really to respect Bernardo and promote and affirm his worth and dignity because he is after all part of humanity? Yes, I think we ought to do our best to follow the principle of respecting his worth and dignity. He is, after all, not a rock or a tree, but a human who has not reached his human potential to act and live freely within the human community.

So what do we owe to Paul Bernardo? First, society owes him a fair trial, a competent lawyer, and clear convincing evidence supporting his innocence or guilt as a murderer. If while in prison, he were to express some interest in reading a book to gain more knowledge of Canadian society, or learn about art or music

or justice we should encourage him in these directions. If he was interested in learning a skill or a trade or a socially useful pursuit, he should be helped to do so. If he should indicate any self‐worth or self‐dignity we should encourage him in those directions too.

Our prison system should give him protection from those of his fellow prisoners who would, ironically, like to kick and club him to death to convince themselves that they are not like him.

Should Bernardo ever be let free in our society? Probably not. We do not yet know what made him behave and think as he does. Nor do we know how to cure him. But we should feed him and let him exercise and not punish him with unhealthy conditions. We should not stone him to death in a public display of our negative feelings about him. We should not amputate his hands nor do other violent or torturous acts against him.

There is an old adage that states that we can tell a lot about a society by the manner in which it treats its prisoners. If Canadians were to abandon the principle of respecting the worth and dignity of our worst citizens our whole society would be worsened by moving in this direction. As Canadians we would lessen our own civility by returning our justice system to the harsher punishments of years ago.

Historically speaking, it has only been in recent times and only partially, that society has begun to accept women as having equal value to men, that homosexual relationships could be granted equality with heterosexual relationships, or that physical or mentally disadvantaged could be respected for their inherent worth and dignity. It is also only recently that children are respected in worth and dignity with adults or that people of colour are respected as equal to Caucasians, and the list goes on. Fortunately, in Canada, society has moved towards considering the inherent worth and dignity of every person, but we’re not quite there yet.

Good Manners Lie at the Root of Good Ethics, By Goldwin Emerson

Good Manners Lie at the Root of Good Ethics

By Goldwin Emerson, 


London Free Press, October 25, 2014

When children are very young they often are unable to understand why some ways of behaving are better than others. It is important that parents develop good habits of behaving and develop good manners in children even though they are too young to understand why some behaviours are better than others. Good habits and good manners should be developed early and this paves the way for children to more easily understand later on why good manners are better than bad manners.

Are good manners a sign of good ethics? I think so, because good manners require one to think about other people. To practice good manners it is necessary to think about the people we come in contact with and to be considerate of their wishes and their needs. All of the ethical factors of caring, sharing, and helping others, and being generous, kind, and courteous, come into play. As adults most people, but not all, think about manners and learn the reasons behind good manners.

But practicing good manners is an important component. Philosophers and writers from Aristotle, (“Nicomachean Ethics” 350 B.C. Book II, Chap.2) to more recent times such as those of John Dewey, (“Theory of the Moral Life”‐!932) to Miss Manners ( Judith Martin, “The Pursuit of Politeness”, 1984) all write about practicing good habits. Aristotle states, “moral virtue comes about as a result of habit”. Both Aristotle, and much later Dewey, recognized that manners are social conventions and one needs social interaction to put good manners into practice. Both Aristotle and Dewey emphasized the need to consider consequences and to reflect on alternatives. Aristotle and Dewey also emphasized the importance of developing good habits even when children are too young to understand the reasons behind mannerly behavior.

Practicing manners does not mean that we simply can learn good manners by rote. In this case, practicing is used in a somewhat similar method to the way

medical doctors practice medicine. Doctors need to learn a great deal about the scientific facts of how our bodies work, about physiology, biology, and the structure of the human body. Then they put their knowledge into practice, not by rote, but by careful observation. That is, they put their special knowledge and skills into practice. In a practical way, they form habits associated with good medicine.

But the development of good habits and good manners is somewhat different with children learning to be polite or mannerly. For Aristotle and Dewey, good habits come first and later reasoning about manners follows. For children, it may not be apparent why it is good to say “please and thank you.” But Aristotle and Dewey would say it is important to form the habit of doing so. Learning the habit of behaving courteously reinforces the reasons to do so when a child is old enough to reason clearly. Later, young adults will come to realize why their parents or teachers urged them to get into the habit of practicing good manners.

On one occasion, the etiquette columnist, Miss Manners (Judith Martin) was commenting on the importance of writing thank‐you letters. She regretted the fact that for many people it was sufficient simply to feel grateful, but they thought it was not necessary to go the second step and write a thank‐you letter to those who gave them a gift or did them a favour. Miss Manners stated wryly, “practicing proper behavior eventually encourages virtuous behavior; if you write enough thank‐you letters, you may actually feel a flicker of gratitude.”

Some things have changed since the 1980s when Miss Manners gave this advice. Over the past thirty years or more we communicate with email, cell phones, face book, texting, and other additional technical devices. Probably, on very special occasions such as bereavement, or congratulations for special achievements, hand written letters may still be regarded as the best approach.

Nonetheless, the importance of the development of good habits can hardly be overstated. Parents who neglect to emphasize the habit of good manners may be subjecting their own children to embarrassment later on. As young adults, they may grow up to feel that their parents neglected their proper upbringing because they were not told as children how to behave in a mannerly way.