Ethics is an enormous field of philosophic study, but basically it all boils down to three general principles that can then branch off into various sub-groupings and variations on the basic theme. Ethical conduct in society, therefore, essentially comes down to three distinct values that take into consideration the rights of the individual, the rights of the masses, and the concept of distributive justice.
Utilitarianism is the ethical principle that seeks to do the greatest good for the largest number of people. Under this ethical standard certain individual rights are expected to be sacrificed for the protection of the masses. Paradoxically, utilitarianism is the ethical principle that George W. Bush seeks to enforce upon the rest of despite the fact that he has consistently sought individual rights for himself not seen since the age of absolute monarchy. In certain cases, this ethical consideration is to be prized highly, such as the agreement that murder is wrong despite the fact that nearly everyone at one point or another had the desire to kill someone. In far too many cases, however, utilitarianism has been exploited by those in power to control the masses. The most obvious case in recent history has been the sacrifice of certain civil rights and liberties because the government has managed to dupe people into thinking that doing so will give the masses more security.
This principle of ethics relies upon the foundation that everybody in a society is entitled to certain guaranteed rights. The intrusion into this mode of ethics is based upon contradiction and conflict: my right to express my fact-based contention that George W. Bush is a criminal and should be forcefully removed by the people from his elevated position atop the hierarchy conflict with his right (often imagined) to be protected from any scrutiny. Or, to put it another way, everyone has the...