Behavioral ethics and the road ahead

With the Supreme Court twice this week refusing to hear challenges by the Trump campaign to various results of the Presidential election, hopefully the country can move forward full steam ahead in addressing the many daunting tasks it faces. But in what spirit shall it do so?

Personally, I have always found great comfort and wisdom in Lincoln’s “with malice toward none.” This fits well within a view of human nature that I generally find persuasive – at least to some degree.

It also dovetails nicely with the approach to human nature underpinning the field of “behavioral ethics and compliance” that is the focus of many of the posts in this blog. See This view is based – broadly speaking – on the belief that we are not as ethical as we think we are.

This notion of ethical humility can play an important role in persuading others to be more open-minded than they otherwise might be.  It can be especially important when dealing with issues that – due to their complexity or other reasons – earning the trust of one’s political adversary is key to success.

Climate change and the pandemic are, by their very nature, two prime examples of this need for earning trust. But there are many others, too, including some public debt issues.

However there is another side to this coin, and that is that sometimes certainty can be a force for persuasiveness.  This can be seen in various political/revolutionary movements over the years.  Indeed, given how pressing these issues are – particularly the climate change and pandemic ones – arguably there is not enough time to go the humility route.

Which path shall we take? I think – predictably – the answer is some parts of each.

But picking the right ones for humility and for certainty will be a challenge of great difficulty- and consequence.


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