March 22, 2007

Rules and their application

Rules, rules, rules. All societies have them whether written or unwritten, detailed or general, firmly or leniently executed -- rules and their universal or particular application.

So, here are today’s questions.

Is “what is right”, always right,
Or is “what is right” depend on the circumstances?

Is there room for exceptions,
or should you try to apply the same rules to everyone in similar situation?

Is being consistent important,
Or is consistency simply not possible?

Are in-groups and out-groups easily distinguished?

Should you try to objectively examine situations and minimize the influence of personal feelings,
Or should you rely on them?

Does “fair” mean treating everyone the same,
Or does “fair” mean treating everyone uniquely?

Can you expect life to be “fair”?

The eminent American sociologist, Seymour M. Lipset, identified two great themes running through American history, achievement and equality. But when Americans use the term “equality” they really mean “fair opportunity”. Amazingly, we believe that it is possible to achieve absolute fairness – that this is a reasonable goal. We expect life to be “fair” – this is an American cultural value.

Fairness and rules are intertwined and it is cultural values that moves the arrow back and forth along the spectrum the runs from applying rules in a universal fashion (treating everyone the same) and applying rules in a particular fashion (treating everyone uniquely).

The Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo has just been released from the hands of the Taliban in Afghanistan. There are political troubles brooding. The U.S. and other nations currently based in the area are not happy about how the Italians didn’t stick to the rules – they negotiated with the Taliban and conceded prisoners in exchange for Mastrogiacomo’s life. On the one hand, rules are rules and should be applied universally, on the other, as my son said, “if he were my uncle (as in the case of one of his classmates), I would rather have him come home alive”. Is consistency possible? Or sometimes do you just have to rely on feelings and do “what is right” given the circumstances instead of doing “what is right” according the rules.

No easy answers, ever, and each culture has developed over time its own unique way of addressing the questions above.

A domani,

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