The Ethics of Representation

I have been thinking about the concept of representation and its relationship to ethics. In all democratic polity in this country, i.e. Congress, State Houses & Senates, School Boards, other Boards involving community interests, etc. representation is valued and it is believed necessary in order to promote fairness. “No taxes without representation” is based on the premise that representation is necessary in order for there to be fairness in taxation for the people.

We know that not to be the case today as it, perhaps, once may have been.  In fact, in politics today, representation of the voter as constituent is almost non-existent pressed up against campaign finance.  Representation today makes political donors the constituent, instead of the common person in the voting booth.  Nonetheless, people hold to the hope that if their voices are heard, their needs may be met, and this is true in institutions of every kind. However, instead of representation being a tool to inform the whole body of any governance, so that the body can make good and moral decisions, which is the true meaning of fairness, it has become a tool of self-centered interests. If this is true, is it possible for representation to be a moral idea?

All of Democracy is based upon this concept of representation as being at the center of fairness. How can any corporate body promote fairness and make ethical decisions, if selfishness is at the core of representation? To be ethical, one must always look at both sides of any issue and determine that which is for the greatest good. The greatest good should always be the mission of any entity. Representation cannot promote fairness and guarantee ethical decision-making if its goal is to simply have it your way, or doing that which pleases oneself, even if those pleased are in the majority. If representation cannot necessarily guarantee an outcome for the greatest good, what then, can determine that the greatest good will be served?

Well, as Christians, we are guided by Jesus in doing the greatest good exemplified in Matthew 22:36-40. We know this as the Great Commandment, a commandment of Jesus that all Christians must follow if they are to be counted righteous by God. Simply put, it is to love God first and then to love your neighbor as you love yourself. The second part of this commandment basically puts one’s neighbors’ needs above one’s own needs, wants or desires. The commandment is not a mandate to love oneself. Jesus simply presupposes that human beings will always love themselves and put their wants and desires before God and neighbor (that whole Adam and Eve debacle). And, who is our neighbor? Our neighbor is anybody other than “self.” It is important, however, that we know what our wants and desires are, as well as those of our neighbors through “representation,” so that we can determine the best way to show our love to our neighbor. Herein lies the clue to choosing the greatest good, whether in politics (choosing a new president) or in church (choosing a new rector). The greater good is going to be that which is good for your neighbors, not necessarily for yourself!

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