Question: "What are the two or three most important ethical issues of our time and what can or should we, as individuals, do about these issues?"
At our sixth joint potluck between the North Carolina Society for Ethical Culture and the Triangle Vegetarian Society on September 20, 2003, we had a group of 3 panelists from each group. Each panelist had one minute to quickly introduce him or her self and then 6 minutes to address the question. We allowed 1 minute for any quick clarification questions to be raised and addressed, and then had time at the end for longer questions.
Our panel consisted of, from NCSEC, James Coley, Lanya Shapiro, and Chris Kaman. From TVS, we had Marilyn Acker, Paul Moriarty, and Vidya Chandra. Our first panelist, Marilyn, began addressing the question at 8:48p, and we finished up with Chris by 9:30p. Each panelist had interesting and thought-provoking ideas to share, and the discussion could have gone on for hours with excellent questions from the audience, which we had to bring to a close by 9:45p or so.
Marilyn felt the biggest issue is making responsible decisions and understanding the implications of what we do. We need to weigh our actions holistically, vis-a-vis their more general impact in the world. She urged us to stand for what is right not for the individual, but for the collective whole.
Lanya felt the three biggest issues of our time are environmental degradation, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, and lack of critical thinking. She felt we could eat no or little meat, better insulate our homes, and minimize how much we drive; think when we purchase items if we really need them and use what we do have efficiently, and participate in the political process; and examine the alternative media, question and be critical of news we hear, and vote. (Read Lanya's notes)
Paul identified the top three issues for him as being global justice post September 11, the treatment of non-human animals, and personal trustworthiness and honesty. He identified himself as a direct descendant of Betsy Ross, who sewed the first U.S. flag, but felt that a major ethical issue were problems with patriotism and the idea of moving beyond saying "God Bless America" and rather acting as world citizens; suggested a focus on environmental ethics and animal rights; and described how our personal honesty is a microcosm that gets reflected in how public policy is shaped.
James hilighted two key ethical issues, a "first strike" policy that the U.S. seems to have adopted of attacking other countries that may become threats and assuming a laissez faire economic system with unbridled capitalism where money rules and regulation is minimized. He subscribes to just war theory and having a military that acts in self-defense. He suggested people be more informed and politically active, and to look at the need of mixed economies to best serve the needs of people fairly.
Vidya identified vegetarianism, inequities between the rich and the poor, and the current war on Iraq as key ethical issues for our times. She hoped people could be more compassionate, starting with the food we eat and not contributing to the violence of meat-eating. She echoed Lanya's concern of using resources well, and also thought a concrete contribution we can all make is contributing time or money toward charitable causes. She felt that trade, globalization, and liberalization were strong and sustainable modes of improving the standards in developing countries. Vidya thought long about the notion of war in preparing her remarks and came to the conclusion that war is sometimes acceptable, but only as a last resort and in self-defense.
Finally, Chris identified healthcare as a right and not privilege and globalization and its effect on the U.S. middle class as key ethical issues of our time. He suggested that the role of insurance companies be reduced in health care and suggested that we should petition our representatives to vote for NC House Bill #493, currently being considered by the state government, that calls for a statewide referendum on creating a universal healthcare system in North Carolina. Chris expressed his concerns about unbridled growth and world trade, and its impact on falling wages, employment displacement, and environmental degradation. (Read Chris' notes)
I found a tremendous amount of synergy in the topics raised, all more or less falling under the overall phrase, "Think globally, act locally". Key commonalities included economic justice, reconciling the "have"s and the "have not"s, responsibility and understanding our role in the world, the importance of being educated about truth and reality, the value of treating others - human and non-human animals, plants, environment, etc. with different focus by different speaker - well. Many suggested pragmatic things we can and should do to include the importance of being politically aware and active, being educated and challenging what we hear in the media, and using resources efficiently. The ensuing question and answer period raised a number of interesting issues, such as should we be lowering our living standards in the U.S. to help with resource disequilibirum, how do world trade treaties affect less wealthy countries, how we can live "greener" lifestyles, should genetically modified food be allowed, and others. We will try this again next September!
--Dilip Barman, moderator and President, Triangle Vegetarian Society