As I reflect on my journal entries over the past four weeks in pursuit to explore, develop, and define my code of ethics, I’ve noticed a predominant theme that repeatedly emerges from my reflections. Respect and responsibility are ever-present in my discussions and assignments, and these themes are central to how I codify my own code of ethics.
We became exposed to several ethical theories, each unique and enlightening in its own respect. This provided proper procedural understanding on how to employ the ethical approaches and theories in respect to our decision-making. During the first week of class, I hypothesized that I would gravitate towards the Utilitarian Approach and Aristotle's Virtue Theory. This hypothesis endured, and I stand by my selection made from week one. The discussion will cover how 'my' values and belief system played a role in my selected approach and theory, and consider their applicability in the Intelligence Community (IC). Finally, I will conclude the discussion with the strengths and shortfalls of the approach and theory as it pertains to my career in national security.
My values and beliefs system sets the stage to examine and review two of the ethical approaches and theories. With an introduction to each approach and theory, I was able to directly correlate my values and belief system within the confines of Aristotle's Virtue Theory and the Utilitarian Approach. The connection between my belief system and utilitarianism taught me to look beyond personal motivation and employ a greater understanding towards people in our society; while the connection between Aristotle’s Virtue Theory, and my values continually makes me consider how I want to act when making decisions.
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Personal Values. I’ve developed a set of personal values that are intrinsically important me. Courage, loyalty, proper pride, honesty, and kindness hold up against the test of time, and each has contributed to developing my character and shaping my behavior. These examples have nurtured my moral values and nest wonderfully under the respect and responsibility theme. Transforming the theme into categories, I assert that under the responsibility category would include courage, loyalty, and honesty and under the respect category would include proper pride, kindness, and courage. It is important to note that I nested courage under both categories, since you have a responsibility to act courageously in the defense of others and exhibit self-respect by having the courage to stand up for yourself.
Belief Systems.Religion is intricate and complex. “It’s hard enough to become an expert in one’s own faith tradition, let alone becoming familiar with others; however, most aren’t seeking expertise but understanding (Mitchell, 2010)”. My parents encouraged me to become a scholar of all religions to understand that diversity of thought exists, and that one religion shouldn't provide governance over all individuals. All too often, we’ve become accustom to accepting religious stereotypes, which fails us in our ability to be accepting, tolerant, “globally present, and locally diverse (Mitchell, 2010)”. I have learned to revere and incorporate a variety of different religious teachings into my moral philosophy and ethical composition.
Utilitarianism and Virtue Theory are completely different; yet fall into my aforementioned themes of respect and responsibility. Both assist me in my decision-making while examining ethical dilemmas,and have applicability to my personal and professional life.
The Utilitarian Approach. The utilitarian approach resonated with me for two reasons. The first being that it forces one to examine the ethical dilemma beyond the effects to yourself in order to determine the appropriate course of action that “produces the greatest balance of benefits over harms for everyone affected (Calculating Consequences:The Utilitarian Approach to Ethics, 2014 )”.
The second reason was methodical nature of the approach and how it is “grounded in observations and calculations rather than by speculations and vague comparisons (Birsch, 2014, p.95)”. This underscores my belief that we have a responsibility to act unselfishly, and examine dilemmas beyond our personal benefit; thus, concluding that dilemmas are best served by “identifying the action and the consequences of the action in relation to the happiness; evaluating the consequences; and coming to a conclusion by reviewing the results (Birsch, 2014, p.85-87)”.
Aristotle’s Virtue Theory. This theory has applicability to everyone; emphasizes one’s character; causes one ask, “how do I want to act?”, and ultimately serves as “a guide for living a life without giving us specific rules for resolving ethical dilemmas (Virtue Ethics, 2019)”. I value the practicum that occurs as we acquire our virtues; continually evolving from experiences and making appropriate choices when confronted with ethical dilemmas in our lives. This holistic theory captures and incorporates my personal values and enforces that if I act and operate within my virtues, it will “produce a well-lived life and excellence of character (Birsch, 2014, p.173).”
The dilemmas I face while performing my duties within the IC require a much needed working latitude, which the Utilitarian Approach satisfies. Ethical decisions pertaining to counterterrorism, counterintelligence, strategic and anticipatory intelligence, and cyber security intelligence must always achieve the best result for the greater population, and causes the least amount of harm. More or less, my decisions range from financial decisions (such as determining funding or resource levels for various programs); to deconflicting situations with competing missions. It is the latter offers the greatest challenge since we are making decisions based on an assessment of risk and level of harm that could occur. Do we always make the right decision? It’s hard to say.
The real dilemma isn’t choosing to keep/terminate target, or which campaigns will/won’t receive resources, but it's replaying the events surrounding the situation, hoping that you have sufficient evidence to convinced yourself that the decision you made creates more good than not. It’s knowing, understanding, and accepting that you’ll always be operating under a fragmented clarity, rarely achieving a win-win situation, but knowing if you remain steadfastly devoted to your virtues, and exercise a methodical approach, that you will help progress the mission with a vital moral role.
I hold onto the belief that in every decision and assessment I have had to make professionally, was one that positioned us in the best light to combating malign actors and the ongoing war on terror.
Virtue Theory Strengths. Even when facing an ethically heavy decision, one will unequivocally know based on their virtues, that the action undertaken was appropriate in the end. Consistently exhibiting and living “moral excellence, knowledge, courage, and wisdom (Birsch, 2014, 172)” provides comfort and sound judgment. Knowing that I seek to act courageously and diligently in my attempt to honor and protect our Nation, the decisions I make for national security are consistent with my beliefs, and “with the way I want to experience life (Birsch, 2014, p.172)”.
Utilitarian Approach Strengths. By “evaluating actions and decisions separately, observing, calculating, and concluding the best action, gives people confidence in the goodness of the action (Birsch, 2014, p. 97)”. This helps me almost on a daily basis to know that whatever decision I am tasked with, I will have arrived at a methodical conclusion that provides the greatest benefit to everyone. In the IC we are occasionally faced with missions and requirements that could prove to be unsavory and unpopular among society at large. Knowing that I employed the Utilitarian Approach, when considering funding a specific campaign that would employ morally wrong or unacceptable tradecraft, but provides a lasting intelligence, ultimately, protecting our Nation, makes me confident in the conclusions and decisions that I reached.
Virtue Theory Shortfalls.“Some things in a successful society are beyond the moral agents complete control, which leads to the problem of moral luck (Birsch, 2014, p. 172)”. You’re shaking the proverbial dice and rolling them when you finally taken action toward an end. There are plenty of times, despite feeling “an excellence of reasoning was achieved towards' a “common basic end (Birsch, 2014, p. 172)” and presumably met, but luck just wasn't on our side. It is those times where you are so close to finishing a mission, in the final stages of executing the action, the uncontrollable outside factors manage to derail everything. This happens when we have made premature acquisitions in technology, had other agencies thwart our alerting and waring efforts, or simply had too much cloud cover over a launch site.
Utilitarian Approach Shortfalls. This approach offers the needed latitude for decision-making in the IC, and while it “produces confidence in moral evaluations, aspects of this theory make people less confident in its conclusions (Birsch, 2014, p. 97).” There exists a fine line in maintaining balance between being true to yourself and remaining ethically neutral. You will develop moral ambiguity, clouded judgment, and lose your sense of self if you fail to keep your moral beliefs in check.
The IC is not place for someone who cannot separate themselves from moral laws and equalities and be accepting that this community isn't morally significant in its actions. We see examples of misguided individuals who leak classified information to the media, in attempt to selfishly vindicate their own morality. There’s no silver lining in publishing our tradecraft on the world stage. If an individual cannot operate and understand the requirement to endorse actions “that produce more happiness than unhappiness (Birsch,2014, p.97)”, then I suggest exploring an alternative career field.
Discovering, knowing and recognizing the importance of your personal values and belief system helps guide one towards living a life of high ethical standard and void of conflict. Having the ability to employ a chosen approach and theory to conceptualize and integrate it into your daily life is the basis for developing your personal ethical code. As discussed in this essay, the theme respect and responsibility are central to how I codify my personal code of ethics, where, categorically my virtues and ethical approach align and coexist. The Utilitarian Approach and Aristotle's Virtue Theory play a critical and procedural role in arriving at ethical conclusions that provide the greatest benefit to the Intelligence Community, and to the safety of our Nation. Though, shortfalls of will always exist, they prove to be insignificant and easily overcome, as it pertains to my success as devoted intelligence professional.
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