Why are so many ethically challenged?

If the Devil offers you a deal, trust me, just say no!

Posted Aug 30, 2010

If the Devil offers a deal, please say no!

I guess we haven't learned the lessons of Faust after all. The well known German legend and popular opera suggests that if the Devil offers you a deal, just say no! Good advice for sure. But why have so many ignored this wise advice?


Faust was an old scholar unhappy with his life. The Devil offers him unlimited knowledge and pleasure for the price of his soul. Faust takes him up on his offer. The deal with the Devil (not surprisingly) leads to trouble ... big trouble! (e.g., the death of a lovely innocent young woman who becomes the object of Faust's desire, continued unhappiness and dissatisfaction for Faust on multiple levels) and ultimately Faust regrets his deal. But deals with the Devil can't be renegotiated and Satan demands his payment in full at the end, Faust's soul. Faust, and the adjective Faustian, has since been used to refer to arrangement where an ambitious person compromises his or her ethics (and most notably, their moral integrity) to obtain power, pleasure, and success.

Sadly, and tragically, a lot of people and institutions have decided to become Faust... a lot!  For example, our economic meltdown in recent years can be traced to greedy Wall Street executives, bankers, and housing morgage professionals finding ever more creative ways to enrich themselves without limits. Additionally, yearly financial bonuses that are shocking were the norm. Our political system has been corrupted by politicians becoming slaves to lobbyists and special interests with what appears to be no regard for average citizens. Our two major political parties simply cannot work together for the common good due to the deals that they have made with various evils and their respective leaders. Out of control salaries and perks for "public servants" are another good exmaple. So are steroids in sports and the sexual exploits of our politicans, sport stars, and others with power, money, and control.

Recently, I was asked by an American Psychological Association journal to review the new book, Unhinged: The Trouble with Psychiatry - A Doctor's Revelations about a Profession in Crisis by Daniel J. Carlat, M. D.  Dr. Carlat, a practicing psychiatrist in the Boston area, accuses the field of psychiatry with making a Faustian deal with the pharmaceutical industry such that this once noble profession has become hopelessly corrupted and ethically challenged by the various financial and other incentives offered by this never is there too much profit industry. Dr. Carlat names names and doesn't pull any punches with his favorite academic psychiatrist targets including those at some of our most famous and esteemed university medical centers around the country such as Harvard, Stanford, and Emory.

Alas, ethics seem to be more countercultural than ever. How can we reverse the tide when wherever we look we see deals with the Devil and our moral compass hopelessly astray. If we wish to live in a world that values responsibility, respect, integrity, concern for others, competence, and efforts to make the world a more humane and just place, we need to work hard, very hard, to say no to deals offered by the various devils around us. How can we have our financial, political, educational, and other institutions learn the lessons of Faust? How can we all individually and collectively learn these lessons in efforts to make the world a better place for everyone?  Our souls as well as the well being of our communities and nation may actually depend on it.

What do you think?

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