As individuals, raised in a family of one sort or another, in a town of some kind located in a country somebody once named, we develop a conscience. No, it’s not the same conscience for each of us, not even if we are twins, but there does develop over time, through all the bumps and bruises, the lectures from family and friends, the admonishments and seductions that dress themselves as teachers and classmates, there does develop an inner sense of what we believe to be right and wrong. One way of recognizing our coming of age is suffering through the experience of having to choose to do something that makes our conscience twist just like a knee bent tying to make a turn it cannot make. Why does this happen, this need to twist, to justify, to explain to others what we cannot explain to ourselves?
Let’s follow the story line via playing professional football. We know how to play our position, we understand the rules of the game, and those rules mean that sometime we take a penalty for an infraction during a game. But that is no challenge to our conscience it’s simply part of the way the game is played.
On the other hand, if a gambler wants us to “throw the game” by not playing up to our best, that is a matter of conscience, but for most players, most of the time, it represents no real appeal, and is easily rejected. Loyalty to our teammates supports our conscience; we value being true to our team. When we play against another team, we want to win. That’s what drives us, we are competitors, and the competition makes us want to be better. We want to go from good, to better, to best.
So that is where we are as players against our competition. But both of these teams are members of the same NFL association, and as members of the same league all of us want our games to win the competition for the “eye” time of our audiences. The competition now is between Football, and Basketball, and Baseball, and all the other sports. We have seasons that used to provide boundaries in terms of fan loyalties but those boundaries have become blurred and sometimes encroach on each other.
But wait, we are all members of professional sports, and at one more level up, we are united in our desire to win the competition for “eye” time that we face from the rest of the entertainment world, the movies, the T.V. shows, the internet activities. At one time, T.V. news was in competition as well, but that has been taken over by the entertainment industry, and serious news watchers go to public news broadcast, or BBC or Al Jazeera and for comedic insight back to official entertainment provided by Jon Stewart or Stephan Colbert.
The painful irony in all of this is that on each step up the level of organization we as individuals are less attached in active loyalty and yet are more influenced by organizational decisions that have no concern for our individual well being. Not only do they lack concern, they lack a conscience about how they “win” in their competition with each other. Do not mistake that observation for a moral judgement. That is not my intent. It is in fact, the attempt to pin a conscience on systems that confuses individuals but has no effect on systems. Systems by their design have no conscience, nor can they.
Step back for a moment, and let that notion find a place in your thought process. I have been talking about social systems, organizations of human beings. The fact that we conscience governed creatures are what make up these systems leads us to the understandable mistaken belief that our consciences must have a role to play in those systems. But it simply isn’t so.
At the other end of the spectrum of human organization, the physical organization of each of us, there is no conscience operative. Our organs have no conscience, our DNA which drives so much of our behavior, has no conscience. Whether or not some animals may exhibit something akin to a conscience is under study, but for our daily life, what is important to recognize is that only as individuals, and as members of small groups do we have the opportunity and the responsibility to let our conscience guide our behavior.
What does all of this mean? It means that our ability to live our lives as our conscience dictates is limited in scope to our daily encounters with each other and within that limit is our opportunity.