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CONSCIENCE VERSUS CONVENIENCE

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Author argues for character,
individual responsibility as necessities for national will

August 2007
Interview published in PrivateClubs Magazine

There is a need for an organizing principle internationally, nationally, and personally around which you can prioritize and analyze other issues. Banker and author Tieman H. Dippel Jr. says the organizing principle for the new era of cultural power will battle between the concepts of conscience and convenience. Good versus evil is often in the eyes of the beholder, he notes, but conscience is defined by an understanding of the common rules of civilization to which men must ascribe. On the other hand, he says, convenience typically operates for total self-interest political terrorism or economic corruption are tools that are fed by the elements of its culture.

Dippel, a homeowner at The Owners Club at Hilton Head and a frequent visitor to The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia, and Marina Vallarta Club de Golf near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, recently completed the final book in his Language of Conscience series, titled Instilling Values in Transcending Generations. (The book boasts a Clarion five-star rating and is a finalist for ForeWord Magazine's book of the year in philosophy and political science.)

Dippel is a former president of the Texas State Chamber of Commerce, a former member of the board of directors of the Houston Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, a former Naval lieutenant commander, and the chairman of Brenham Bancshares Inc. His books share a distinction in that they increasingly serve as a bridge for ethics, morality, and cultural values between the People's Republic of China and Western cultures. Dippel's small-government, value-oriented, free-market-system writings might seem an odd choice to be the first Western book published by the Central Party School of the Communist Party of China under its insignia. However, his books deal far more with the power of conscience to unify people and bring about an understanding of the common good. He says he simply makes an argument for necessity of character, individual responsibility, and a culture of law, mutual obligation (morality), and service (compassion). Ideas have power only if they are in a form to be acted upon, Dippel says.

The following are excerpts from an interview with Dippel this spring, just prior to his most recent visit to China.

How would you sum up your philosophy in a few words?
Conscience dominates on an individual level; convenience almost always dominates the higher you rise in power. The only way to get conscience into power is to have the culture fully appreciate why conscience is important. Then, society seeks conscience in leadership, and even those of convenience will follow it to gain election.

There is no certainty in the world, and never will be, but if you care about your family, then you have to create a culture that is more global than just the values that you teach your children within the family. Otherwise, when they go into a corporation that does not hold those values, they either are corrupted or they do not succeed. We each have the obligation to leave this a better world and that requires participation.

What do you see as the greatest challenges in the future?
There are many. I do not think anyone knows the answer as to which are most critical, but how to prepare for them is much simpler. We are at a unique turning point in history. However, to underestimate the power of conscience and morality is a significant mistake. Each time history has shown us reaching the depths of problems, the resiliency of hope and understanding for a better future seems to re-establish itself, provided character remains in the national will.

Economics, politics, and culture create pressures and force change through dissatisfaction. In the United States, we have had a resilient economy, but financial values and perspectives are shaped by what people think of the future. Our middle class, which is the core of our democracy, is pressed. They might have a net worth much greater than the net worth of an average person in China. If the people in China, however, see the future as brighter and their incomes rising — while in America they are not — we will see significant pressures for change. If those pressures are not thoughtful and intelligent, we can do a great deal to harm ourselves for the long run.

Thus, we need an organizing principle for unity and an operating system for competence. And, the two must fit together. The uncertainty of the Middle East and the uncertainty of Asia depend a great deal on whether political alliances dominate the future, whether economic considerations dominate the future, or whether cultural concerns can reunify a significant number of principles that move civilization forward.

You write about idealists and realists. How do you distinguish the two?
Every realist knows that you need some ideals, and every idealist appreciates aspects of realism. The question is how to devise a common set of ideas to unify very diverse groups. Aristotle, Christ, and Confucius all believed in the redeemability of man; Machiavelli and others believed in the inherent evil of man. For convenient men, the tactics of corruption, fear, and absolute power set their tone and determine alliances and the nature of their thought. Idealists, who look to bring out the best in man, realize that it takes a set of principles that unify you and others to a higher calling, not just personal alliances, and that unity is their strength.

Your books serve as a bridge for diverse groups of people. Please comment on this seeming phenomenon.
People often simply reflect the situations in which they find themselves. If they look at issues independently, or from a common perspective that isn’t necessarily partisan, they usually end up with a very different perspective. The Golden Rule, the common good, the desire for a rule of law and not of other men, and conscience really are found in every man. The challenge is to bring that out. The realists will say that doesn’t work because idealism is not effective in politics. The reality, however, is that when realism has taken you to a point that it is no longer effective, it is idealism that is seized to start the next trend.

The question is not whether the world is going to find a new balance toward conscience. It is when. There could be another Dark Age or an early Reformation and Enlightenment. Usually, change takes place in great crises or problems. The hope is that there can be enough bridges built by the good people who do care to avoid those problems for future generations. If you care only about yourself now, that doesn’t matter. If you care about your children and grandchildren, then your perspective is different, and there is a lot you can do to bring about change. It is not the money you leave your heirs that ultimately shows how much you love them, but the sacrifice you are willing to make for them. That sacrifice also defines you as a person.

Your last book includes the writings of several of the most prominent Chinese thinkers and you draw parallels from the West. What was the challenge in fitting these perspectives together?
One of the great concerns I have in looking at our current situation and history is Darwin’s observation that it is not the strongest or the most intelligent who survive, but the most adaptable. Adaptability is a cultural trait. In America, we seem to be losing our ability to work as a common unit in our civic affairs. China looks very differently at issues. China has its problems, but it seeks consensus. Its success has been its focus on economic growth as well as the fact that it plans, in cities like Shenzhen, what will occur 50 years hence. But they now recognize that has human and environmental costs.

China also looks to what type of society needs to fill those cities 25 years hence and what values need to be placed into the present generational system. If China becomes free-market oriented and more value based, the country is going to develop an incredibly competitive system. The issue is not whether or not China will rise, but what type of society will dominate China as it does rise — that fact will determine its relationship with the United States and the rest of the world. Milton Friedman described the evolution of freedom as in three stages — economic, civil (rights of speech, assembly, property), and finally, political freedom or the right to select leaders. China is embarking now on a growth in civil freedom. Frederick Bastiat in The Law noted it is not the law that gives you the culture, but the culture that gives you the law.

After SARS, China’s thinkers adopted a much more competence-based approach to decision-making or an updated scientific method with ideological overtones. The type of society viewed as a goal is called the Harmonious Society. The concept recognizes the very significant problems that growth has brought, and how they now need to solve environmental, health, education, infrastructure, and a variety of issues. China is a long way from the development of the United States. Its economy probably is similar in size to that of California, but it is growing very rapidly.

In America, we are wealthy, but a “leveling” world will press our middle class and the solvency of government programs. As individualists, we do not look at the future in the sense of a modern philosophy. We take parts of many different ideas, and we often don’t integrate them conceptually.

In your book, you present the “Triangles of Enlightened Conservatism.” Please explain.
One of the things that Instilling Values does is to create a Western philosophy as a comparison for the dialectic with the Harmonious Society. The book also presents a series of triangles that are based upon developing the concept of conscience for the future. The progression starts with the forces of change versus the status quo and how the factor that settles the difference between them is individual dignity.

How people perceive their future influences the stability of the society and its economic and civil future. Western, independent thought has been a strength of society, but there needs to be some uniform base of thought, like the values of morality, so you have a melting pot and not a salad bowl.

In the end, three cultures help you judge where a society is and where it is headed. The first is the discipline within society, which is the rule of law and how it is enforced. The next level of culture is what we call the culture of obligation — the Golden Rule and morality. This is not what we are required to do, but what others expect us to do and what we expect from others. The final culture is one of service or one of compassion. Here, by doing things that are not necessarily expected of you, through non-profits or charity, you define yourself by a higher standard. This solidifies the personal character that gives a nation its strength.

These are the components of Enlightened Conservatism and are relatively comparable to the conceptual approaches in the Harmonious Society. The goal is to devise a society that is not divided, rich versus poor or left versus right, but by conscience or convenience from a cultural perspective. If we look at the problems that exist between different societies, we often discover it is not the cultures or even the religions that are the underpinnings of difference, but individual groups within each nation, culture, or religion that pursue convenience rather than conscience.

Terrorism and corruption always will be with us. We cannot fight them solely with traditional means. The ultimate victory rests in the hearts and minds of people. Understanding concepts such as the common good and men’s obligations and responsibilities to other men — that sense of dignity of man has to be conveyed and taught. As Marcus Aurelius noted, “A man should be upright, not kept upright.”

Photography by Pam Francis.

 
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