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The Impact of Society on Individuals

Question:

Discuss about the Ethical Business for Challenges and Controversies.

The relationship between the society and individual is a closely knitted one. This is particularly because the society is deemed as the regulatory body which sets out customs and the ground rules for the human behaviour. These rules and customs formed by the society have an impact on the individuals and even on the manner in which they interact (Lin, Duan & Zhao, 2012). The individuals form the society and they live and act in the society. Hence, without the combination of these individuals, the society is nothing. Conversely, the society is present to serve the individuals and the same is not true other way round. Even though society and individuals go hand in hand, more than often, there is a conflict between the needs of the society and the rights which are available to the individuals (Wong & Wardega, 2015). This is a natural tension which exists in the society due to the needs of the individuals and their interests being on one side, and the welfare, security and safety of the society being taken as a whole, on the other side. And this makes it necessary to strike a balance between these two in a manner that the individuals could choose their own path and the society is able to encourage public order, productivity and morality (Hillier & Barrow, 2014).

Through this thesis, an attempt has been made to show that the state should refrain from interfering with the rights of the individuals. This research also attempts to answer to the question regarding to what extent the liberties of the citizens can be restricted by the state for serving the common good. Further, to also answer the extent to which the protection of the welfare of the public is being used to erode or curtail the fundamental rights (Bayer, 2007). The main question however is whether the needs of the society be given more importance than the individual rights, or not?

Schudson (2015) quoted Thomas Jefferson where he had stated that "information is the currency of democracy" or that is this is an easy thing to be learnt online. The reality is that no such quote was given by Jefferson. And naturally, the people who run the webpage of Jefferson’s home located at Monticello were unable to find this quote in any of the papers of Jefferson. In reality, there is no need of spending any time in searching this as the American founders seldom spoke on the topic of democracy and the American form of government could be labelled as republican, instead of democratic. Schudson (2015) did not stop here and continued to cite the history of US to highlight that transparency was not something which was advocated in the US government and that here had been various instances in the North American history where the full access to relevant information was not given to the citizens. The reason for such behaviour was the need to protect the society as a whole by denying an individual their right to full information.

Conflict Between Society's Needs and Individual Rights

At times there are good reasons for adopting secrecy particularly when it comes to the privacy rights. When the terror attacks took place in Mumbai, India, in November 2012, each and every detail of the last communication of the victims was repeated in the media (CNN Library, 2016). This information was not useful and also did not reveal anything which could impact the operations being conducted. But one cannot deny that the media had overstepped their limits. This was because they not only attained the personal information of a person but also published the same. In the name of presenting the society the truth, the individual rights were sidelined (Makhija, 2011). The scandal associated with the use of personal email account of Hilary Clinton is another key example of this. This case throws light upon the clash between public right to information and a legitimate confidentiality of internal communications (2015). But this raises a question on whether the people with power have the right to use the society as a shield to stop actions against themselves?

Schudson (2015) implied that at times, the personal interest of the ones who run the society, can be misused to shield their personal interests, thus, not only cancelling out the right of information of another, but also keeping their personal interest over the society. When such happens, the reasons which make the upholding of society’s interest over the interests of individuals become unjustified. The reason for apprehending Edward Snowden thus becomes controversial as at one hand, he is being stopped from leaking such information which could harm the society, and on the other hand, he may present such information which presents the truth related to the US government and the potential misuse of the positions held by those in administration. One of the articles which appeared in “The Telegraph” stated that the governments should refrain from intervening in the family life of an individual (The Telegraph, 2007). The government here refers to the society, which regulates even over the family life of an individual, where the interest of the family could, at times, be set aside.

Truell (2016) rightly highlighted that social work pertains to the whole of society instead of a particular person. Starkman (2016) covered the student debate on the topic that “is national security more important than individual right to privacy”, where this issue was discussed in a compelling manner. The key points which made the interest of the society to be given more emphasis than the individual rights included the greater public protection offered due to it, particularly to the immigrants, minorities and LGBTQ community. For instance, if a particular person does not have positive views about minorities being allowed in Australia, such individual cannot exercise any individual right against the members of such minorities and thus, for the good of society, the needs of an individual would be ignored. The key point which needs to be highlighted here was that the privacy is guaranteed through the Constitution and denying this right is a breach of constitution. Further, privacy cannot be just deemed as a right which is available to the elite and this makes it necessary for it to be available to every citizen. A democracy cannot function where every time the individual right is curbed on the basis of the society’s need being more important than the individual. The society is formed of individuals and to uphold the interest of a group of people over an individual is not justified.

Should the State Interfere With Individual Rights?

Often in this regard, the reason given for upholding the interest of the society as against the rights of individuals is given to be the ones who create nuisance and disrupt peace. It is quoted that when it comes to the rights of a terrorist, it cannot be upheld, due to the fact that they are there to harm the society. In one of the reports of BBC, the acting UN High Commissioner, Dr Bertrand Ramcharan stated that when it comes to striking a balance between human rights and security, the human rights have to take a back-step for the security of the society particularly when the terrorists utterly disregard the human rights and the respect towards life (BBC, 2004). In order to enhance the productivity in the society and to propagate morality, there is a need for upholding the interests of the society before the rights of an individual. Chin (2016) rightly highlighted that even though there was a need for the freedom of speech, but it had to be coupled with certain restrictions. This is particularly true with reference to the rights of the individuals to be granted, but with certain inherent restrictions, so that the individuals do not go around doing anything, just by citing that they have certain rights.

Foulkes (2003) repeated the words which his philosophical friend stated to him that “It always comes down to a conflict between the individual and the community”. But he believed that there was no conflict in the needs of the society and that of the individual. In order to explain this, he went down to the very definition of the society. He stated society as being regularities, the ground rules and the customs of the inter-human behaviour. Such practices and their acceptances were crucial to the manner in which the humans act, as well as, the manner in which they interact with others. He stated that the society was not independent of the human beings. In this regard, he even quoted Ludwig von Mises where he had stated the individuals not only live, but act in the society; hence, the society was nothing but an amalgamation of people for the cooperative efforts (Kinsella, 2009). Instead of talking about an eternal conflict, Foulkes (2003) believed that the common good should be upheld and this conflict should be discarded.

However, Kaur (2005) provided an entirely different view in this regard. She stated that every individual is unique and so are the circumstances faced by them. And this makes the chances of clash between the interests of individuals, as inescapable. Where a group of individuals come together, it results in a clash between a group and an individual. And when this group is given the form of a society, it becomes a clash between the society and the individuals, owing to the difference in their interests. Hossain & Ali (2014) believed that this conflict was more of a philosophical one, instead of being a sociological one due to the fact that it relates to the questions of values. They highlighted the need of respecting human values and idealism in order to minimize the conflict which takes place between the society and the individuals.

The Importance of Transparency and Privacy Rights

Spielvogel (2013) stated that the government should refrain from interfering with the economic liberty which an individual has and should only concentrate on the three basic functions, i.e., defending the nation, providing the police protection to the individuals and the maintenance, as well as, construction of the public works which was too expensive for the individuals to undertake. He also gave his views on political liberalism where he stated that the society should not interfere with the rights of individual. They stated that the individuals had the right to be liberated particularly when it comes to the separation of state and church. He believed that every individual should be given the right to practice their religion and the state should not interfere when it comes to the issues revolving around religion.

In this regard, some scholars have noted that in a liberal state, the lifestyle choices of the individuals are seen as a personal decision where the state should refrain from interfering. This is crucial to uphold the freedom to live a life, of an individual, which is valued by such individual and for valuing which, he has the proper reasons. So, the realm of private decisions of the individual should not be interfered by the state (Potthast & Meisch, 2012).  The state here refers to the society, which forms the law and regulates over the individuals. When the basic features of liberalism are considered, it is seen as something which is primarily related to the free life, or freedom, or as can be stated as otherwise, provides the free life to the individuals as being the key goal of politics. Hence, it is the duty of the states to interfere with the life of an individual and avoid coercion, and should also promote the requisite conditions for free life (Rawls, 2011). Ebeling (2016) held similar views where he stated that the individual rights had to be preserved without the government constantly interfering with them.

However, Brink (2013) made reference to the Mill’s “harm principle” to state the situations where the society had to take steps and interfere when it comes to the greater good. This principle was also referred to by Lacewing (2014) where he stated that when it comes to the harmful actions, particularly when something being done is out of law or is immoral, then in the general interest, the society should interfere. He stated that there were certain actions which harmed the others and so, these should never be allowed, even when it means that the individual rights would have to be curbed. For instance, where certain economic action leads to the general public losing their money; such economic action would have to be stopped. This can be in form of a fraud or something else. However, the general rule is that competition should be promoted so the competition, in economic action sense, should only be curbed when it comes to the notion of general interest and greater good. This principle of harm can also be applied to the omissions or inactions, which can possibly injure others. So, for instance, killing someone is not only illegal but also unethical; but when it comes to a terrorist gunning down innocent civilians, the killing of such individual could be mandated by the society in the general interest, which would be again, a breach of the rights which such terrorist had, by being an individual. However, there is a need to keep such interferences to the minimal. This is because the rights of the individual are paramount and there is a need to make certain that the rights of the individuals are not infringed in an unfair manner (Mellahi, Morrell & Wood, 2010). In this regard, there is a need to apply the ethical principle of utilitarianism, where such actions are deemed ethical which benefits the entire society, instead of an individual (Bykvist, 2010).

Upholding Society's Interests vs. Upholding Individual Rights

On the basis of the analysis which took place in the preceding segments, certain recommendations can be put forward for the Parliament, when it comes to the regulation of the issues highlighted above. These recommendations are not only restricted to the Parliament of Australia, but across all the nations, as every nation faces a conflict between the rights of an individual and that of society, as was aptly highlighted through the examples of USA and India in the previous segment.

The very first recommendation which proves helpful when it comes to a clash between the rights of an individual and the interest of the society is to chalk out a clear policy, which acts as a guideline for the steps to be undertaken when faced with such a clash. In essence, there is a need to clearly state the criteria where the individual rights can be suppressed or completely denied. There is a need to provide proper reasons for doing so. As in the cases where confidential information is often cited as the reason for breach of individual rights, a panel should be formed, which could make the decision on whether the undertaken suppression of individual right was done on justified grounds.

Next in line comes the law to be regulated in a comprehensible and lucid manner, so that the individuals could understand that based on a particular law, for instance the privacy law, there right had been restricted or infringed. Instead of simply stating that the information provided by Snowden is wrong, there is a need to prove it to the world that this information breaches the security laws of the nation, and this is the reason for punishing Snowden’s right to speak. In this regard, the panel formed through the first recommendation can state the reasons, based on the policy formed, for suppression of Snowden’s rights.

There is a need for the society to actually take into consideration the entire case, particularly with reference to the individual, whose rights are being cancelled out. In other words, there have to be strong and compelling reasons for denying the rights of an individual and there is a need to be clear that the greater good is so great, that it makes it obligatory for society to curb the rights of an individual. In this regard, the individual whose right has been suppressed needs to be given an opportunity, before a competent court, and if needed, the same can be a closed court, to raise the issue of their right being breached, so that at least the individual is given a right to claim his freedom. Even though this right is present to the individuals at the present time, but the same is more than often, suppressed due to political pressure.

The Role of Social Work in Society

Conclusion

The discussion carried on above makes it clear that there is a constant tension in between the rights of an individual and the needs of the society. Time and again, it happens that the state infers with the rights of individuals, citing one or other reason and the rights of such individual are suppressed. At times, it does become important to do so, but the line where the rights of an individual are being suppressed for the greater good instead of safeguarding the rights of the ones running the society raises various questions. The greatest example of this is the leaks of Edward Snowden which are deemed as unlawful in US as they apparently cover the confidential information of the nation, which would not be for the greater good of the nation. But there are chances that this is being done to safeguard a certain few who are at the top of the government and the ones who are responsible for running the government, as was seen in the case of Hilary’s email leaks.

Hence, the thesis statement made at the start of this discussion proves true as the state should refrain from interfering with the rights of the individuals, and the same should be done only when it comes to the greater good. The discussion highlighted that only when it was in the best interests and the common good of the society, were the liberties which are presented with the citizens, were restricted. Even though the fundamental rights of the individuals is done quite often by the state, the reasons for doing the same is not as the eroding the available rights, but for protecting the welfare of the public. And the main question which was raised in the beginning on whether the needs of the society be given more importance than the individual rights, it can be concluded that that the needs of society are always given more significance in comparison to the rights which the individuals have. And in order to balance this, there is a need to adopt the recommendations which have been presented in the previous segment of this discussion.

References

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