Are Codes of Ethics Good for Anything?

Dmitri Prieto


HAVANA TIMES —I saw a news piece on television reporting that the president of France and the German chancellor are discussing the possibility of signing a code of ethics.

Apparently, it has to do with how governments should behave in order not to end up spying on one another.

Ok. Since governments spy on practically everyone, this would amount to setting up a corporation that ethically condemns any espionage conducted inside it. This is a very attractive idea, particularly for the “common folk” (I am being sarcastic), but, could it work?

Can anyone actually prevent governments from spying on one another?

Could a Code of Ethics achieve this?

Generally speaking, are such codes useful in the least?

These types of documents have become a popular means of attempting to “morally” regulate the conduct of certain functionaries, officials and members of a given profession or organization (even in Cuba).

In fact, such documents are advanced by both the Cuban government (which declares itself socialist) and by organizations that haven’t a socialist hair to them, such as large capitalist corporations.

Speaking of capitalism and socialism, the current proliferation of codes of ethics brought to mind a certain precursor to these that is probably little known or talked about today, something we should certainly address (I will do so in my next post).

Increasingly, ethics is being studied as an applied discipline, independent of philosophy or the humanities.

These codes are thought useful as a means of regulating the conduct of companies and governments. It seems clear to everyone that juridical regulations alone cannot calibrate the minds of people, that they can only frighten them with harsh sanctions or create complicated bureaucratic mechanisms, like the one that makes every person who wishes to travel to the United States seriously declare if they have any intention of becoming involved in terrorism, prostitution or similar activities.

So, ethics comes along, hoping to get inside our skulls. I have nothing against ethics, but I doubt its efficacy when it takes the form of a written instrument.

For instance, I picture a code of ethics for drones, a code of ethics for the heads of Rapid Response Brigades, a code of ethics for Israeli bulldozer operators who raze Palestinian homes to the ground or one for the directors of forced labor camps in North Korea.

In any event, that “ethics” should need a written “code” strikes me a clear sign of our current social dysfunctionality.