My Personal Ethics: When Transparency Conflicts with Individual Dignity--Part 1

Part 1

Two key elements which underlie my personal value system are the ideals of transparency and of individual dignity.  It would take me a long time (and a lot of words) to define these two ideals in full and explicate how they both influence and are incorporated into my moral coda.  However, I think I can provide a brief synopsis here; I can then move on to the topic at hand: explaining what I do when the two ideals collide with each other.

For brevity's sake, I assume that the ideal of transparency requires me to tell the truth (or at least what I perceive to be the truth) in every situation.  Additionally, I not only have to tell the truth but also refrain from creating structures which limit viewership of my materials or censor discourse.  As an example, I would fail to uphold this ideal if I limited my blog access to certain groups or if I censored comments that did not agree with my views on topic.  In both instances, my blog posts my might adhere to the highest level of veracity; however, I would still be obfuscating these views by limiting access and/or discourse.  

In order to fully honor my commitment to individual dignity, I not only have to respect the rights of others (a complex task in and of itself), I also have to do what I can to ensure that I do not do anything (or fail to do something) which limits the ability of someone else to act as an agent.  For instance, if I own a company, I have obligation to pay my workers a living wage.  If I fail to accomplish this task, my employees will likely not be able to satisfy their most basic wants, which is a prerequisite to being able to achieve the higher tasks required of free men and women.  As another example, I have a responsibility as a citizen (of the U.S. or wherever) to advocate for and help to maintain a public education system (at least K-12) because I realize that many people will not have the opportunity to actuate their potential agencies without this education. 
Now, I note that these two notions are ideals for a reason.  It is impossible for me to live a life that honors these ideals in full.  One key reason is that society contains structures which limit my ability to achieve these goals.  For instance, most academic journals (and especially the first and second tier journals) are not open-source.  By contrast, users are required to pay (sometimes large) subscription fees in order to read the articles in these journals.  If I want to publish something in an top-tier, academic journal, I have to follow their guidelines, which means I have to conform to rules that limit readership by commodifying my publication.  This is just one of many examples I could use to prove the point.  Suffice to say that in any country, whether authoritarian, socialist, democratic, or something in between, citizens (including myself) will often have to moderate or adulterate their ideals in order to survive much less to thrive.  

I accept this fact and have few qualms with it.  I do what I can to honor the two ideals given my situation.  What bothers me is when I have to make a choice that favors transparency over dignity and vice verse.  In these situations, I often have a range of options to choose from; however, each option will favor one ideal (to some extent) at the expense of the other one.  At the same time, I am rarely able to quantify the trade-offs.  I can't for instance, usually say, "Well, this option is ideal in that it allows me to be 80% honest while only impacting individual dignity by 10% for 100 individuals..."  The next part of this personal essay will elaborate as to how I decide on which path to choose when confronted with this issue.  And yes, I know that I still have to write a Part 3 for another topic...

To be continued....

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