Following many discussions on Satyam and its failed ethics being representative of a greater malaise, I respond here:
My response is in three parts: Vitark, Action and my (wild card) Hypothesis.
Ethics differs from the law. In this case, there has been an infringement of what is right in both cases. I sense outrage in the responses I read below and wonder if it is because ethics (exaggeration) and values (truth) have been violated, or because the law has been breached, or is it because Trust has been brutalized. All three, I suspect. And it is the last that is the most damaging of the lot.
Ethics are hard to analyse, yet easy to preach. Our moral compass is set via nurture as opposed to nature – we are born grasping beasts built to survive the jungle. Unfortunately, this moral compass is a crude instrument – it cannot handle incremental violations. A Rs. 100 bribe is acceptable to it, a million dollars is a scandal. As a child, I was taught, if anything needs to be hidden from the rest of the world, it is wrong. I do not know if this test of ethics is still valid in today’s brazen world. What defines right from wrong – breaking the law? Hurting somebody? Public Censure?
Right and wrong, just as anything else is a matter of simple economics. Macro-economics. Things that are morally right are those that help to sustain the societal structure that has helped the group survive. Anything that damages the structure on (any) current economic success or equilibrium is considered wrong. Stealing is wrong, for it violates the concept of personal property, which itself is an incentive to hard work and economic sustainability. Profits are good, as they create means to pay for economic progress and societal sustainability. Relegion is right for it binds communities that will then work towards common goals. Fundamentalism is wrong as it engenders the cohesion of these communities to the detriment of further economic progress. ( I claim copyright on these lines!)
I propose, as academics, that we create a system where people in corporate life have a chance to reflect on ethics, values, professionalism and their own place on their moral compass on a regular basis. I volunteer to co-ordinate this effort. I have more concrete suggestions, if anybody is interested.
Wild Card Hypothesis:
In the medium term, I propose collaborative research work on the theme of Western vs. Eastern Ethics. I have wondered for years whether the colonised capitalised East has ever had a chance to evolve into a sense of ethics of their own, or were they always simply adhering to the letter of the law as set down by the White Chiefs. We Indians know the answer to that, in practice. The Mughal court practices of pricing favours was replaced by trader’s rules – just because it helped them bypass a game they could not win. Would love to work on this one sometime.
What do you think?