Author profile picture

The fastest way to get rid of a philosopher? Simple. Say that ethics is just a ‘trend .’ They will charge out of the room with such haste that the hyperloop will pale in comparison.

A while ago I heard a compliance manager talk about #metoo as an ‘ethical trend’. The #metoo movement created a culture of speaking out in the workplace more relevant and, as an employer, you have to take this into account. Research and consultancy from the Gartner company presented digital ethics and privacy as strategic ‘trends’ for 2019.

The benchmark Dutch dictionary Van Dale defines trend as ‘fashion’ amongst other things, in the sense of ‘the latest fashion’ or ‘setting a trend.’ This way, ethics is put on an equal footing with oversized shoulders, which incidentally will be completely on trend this autumn and winter.

At long last, widespread public concern

Who even actually thought up the term ‘ethical trends’? Take #metoo: at long last there is widespread public concern for structurally flawed and problematic situations that have been tolerated for far too long. If #metoo is just a trend, it will probably blow over at some point, just like skinny jeans are gradually disappearing from the streets in favor of flared trousers. Last season, sexually inappropriate behaviour at work was out of fashion. Yet come this autumn, sexism is back to square one.

In the book ‘How Much is Enough? Money and the Good Life’, economist Robert Skidelsky and his son, philosopher Edward Skidelsky, are advocating the reintroduction of the moral dimension into current Western market thinking. As in, the loss of humanity is immense in a society that has an insatiable craving for profit at the expense of values, the common good and fundamental rights. Privacy is not a ‘strategic trend’, but a human right, as set out in Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Respect for human rights is not a fad.

The yearning for friendship

Ethics and the notion of what a good life is have been central to philosophy for centuries. “Of all the ways to achieve absolute happiness in life that wisdom provides us with, by far the most important one is to find friendship,” said ‘trendsetter’ Epicurus. And he was right: anyone who feels connected to family, friends, loved ones and a social network feels happier. The opposite of belonging – feeling lonely and cut off from others – makes us deeply unhappy and leads to poorer health. Having good relationships paves the way to a good life, which runs contrary to individualism and self-interest.

“A life that does not look critically at itself is not worth living,” says the other trendsetter named Socrates. In other words, “vindica te tibi”- “spend time with yourself”, according to the wise sentiments of Seneca the trend watcher. ” Take a look at yourself and examine yourself in various ways and keep an eye on yourself; have a closer look at whether you have made any progress in philosophy or in life itself.”

Whoever continues to inspire centuries later on, has not launched a trend, but rather an indispensable guide to a good life.

About this column:

In a weekly column, alternately written by Bert Overlack, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally supplemented with guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions for the problems of our time. So tomorrow will be good. Here are all the previous columns.