Is Ethical Consensus Possible or Desirable

In a Global Society

In the context of our culture wars, the recurring genocides, widespread violation of human rights and the social mistrust caused by value conflicts, one senses a longing for greater ethical consensus. Globalization has brought cultures and peoples face to face. At a rather abstract level we affirm the right of all communities to have their own cultures, but in the concrete every day relations we donít know how to deal with each other. We long for deep human relationships, but never have our relationships been more fragile and brittle.

At the same time there is deep unease, today, at any proposal of ethical consensus at any level of human interaction. The strongest emerging cultural value is the affirmation of personal and cultural authenticity, to be "oneself". We need and want the opportunity for cultural freedom.

The resistance to ethical consensus is a resistance, on the one hand, to the conformity demanded by nationalistic mobilization or by the ideology of the great movements. If at one time, we thought that just, ethical human relations could be achieved only by mass movements and by getting power, today we are fearful of any relation of power. We are suspicious of the rationalities of the superpersons. On the other hand we are just as uneasy with the thought of reverting to the impersonal guidance of the functionalist systemic ethics or the subjective individualism in the free market of goods and ideas.

Most discussions of postmodern ethics today end with simple declarations of the dilemma. Some will argue for an ethics of intersubjectivity. Some propose an ethics of dialogue and others an ethics of intercultural relations. But what are the concrete motives for human love, respect and responsibility from the interpersonal to the international.

As a keynote talk, building on my background in cultural anthropology and cultural studies, I will attempt to attempt to sketch out how we are moving toward a global ethics which is intersubjective, intercultural and dialogical.

Robert A. White