According to the Muhlenberg College’s Center For Ethics, “Our contemporary moment is shaped by the pressures of multiple, simultaneous crises: between the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing crises of political legitimacy, growing economic inequality, the onslaughts of white supremacy and xenophobia and the looming threat of irrevocable climate disaster, the future seems intractable and murky.”[1]

Ethical Voices put it this way: “93 Ethics Issues for Thanksgiving Dinner Discussion in 2023. Their top ten ethical challenges for next year are: (1) A new code of ethics. (2) Actions Not Words Advocacy or Exploitation? (3) The Ethical Concerns Around Posting Images of Poverty and Addiction. (4) Are managers and employees held equally accountable for ethics violations? (5) Be aware of your biases. (6) The Ethical Concerns Around Posting Images of Poverty and Addiction. (7) Are managers and employees held equally accountable for ethics violations? (8) Are some topics off limits for CSR and CSJ? (9) Are the Boston Red Sox Greenwashing? (10) Are unethical and repressive entities entitled to PR counsel?”[2]

The Berkman Klein Center For Internet & Society at Harvard University narrows the ethical field  to “Work, Life and Purpose in an Uncertain World.” They say, “Work is something hardly anyone can avoid. For some, it is a source of pride and purpose. For others, it is simply a means to living. This course not only examines the ethical issues in the way work is organized, compensated, and distributed around the world, but also helps students develop a framework to analyze and address ethical challenges they will face at work. The inquiry takes as its starting point that the world of work is quickly changing in the face of technological transformations, the need for new skills, artificial intelligence, the rising gig economy, globalization, and demographic changes.”[3]

Why, we should ask, is our future more speculative now than at any other new year in the 21st century? The word ‘speculative’ means engaged in, expressing, or based on conjecture rather than knowledge. That primitive definition is the answer to why 2023, at least in the short term, is speculative—we cannot guess at when or how the pandemic will soften, the Ukraine War will end, divisive politics will stall, prices will stabilize, the supply chain will link back up, China will be nice, Putin will go away, gun violence will be controlled, or Trump will quit embarrassing us. Each of these hopes are speculative because none are fully accepted, and few are likely to happen in just a single year.

No one expects a vacancy on SCOTUS, so hard right turns seem likely. However, bipartisanship in the U.S. Congress seems possible. “Looking at the levels of compromise between the two major parties, overall, both parties have shown increased participation in sponsoring legislation; a typical bill has roughly the same number of sponsors from both parties.”[4] While three/fourths of the GOP want Trump to disappear, his core isn’t embarrassed. They share his prejudices. So, he will likely rage on in 2023.  

A 2021 CNN poll found Americans want bipartisanship, but most don’t think it will happen. “All told, 87% say that attempts at bipartisanship are a good thing, including 92% of Democrats, 90% of independents and 77% of Republicans. But 60% say they see bipartisanship as unlikely on upcoming legislation, including 50% of Democrats, 60% of independents and 76% of Republicans. And although Democrats are more optimistic about the success of bipartisanship, they aren’t particularly confident it will happen: Just 6% see it as very likely to happen, about the same as among independents (7%) and Republicans (4%). Asked whether Democrats in Congress should “work across the aisle to get things done in Washington, even if it means losing out on some high-priority policies” or “stand firm on their beliefs without compromise, even if it means not much gets done in Washington,” 74% choose working across the aisle. A similar 72% feel the same way about Republicans in Congress, and 71% say President Joe Biden should try to work across the aisle.”[5] The hole the bucket for Congress is MAGA. To the extent it holds sway, Congress will stall.

Perhaps the core ideal in American culture, politics, and governance is freedom. The Elisabeth Anker Lecture, delved deep into the speculative part of American freedom. “Freedom is the highest ideal in American politics, but its legacy is complex. Throughout American history, freedom has supported emancipation, personal rights, and individual liberty, but has also supported white supremacy, economic exploitation, and misogyny. These “ugly freedoms” legitimate the right to harm and subjugate others. This talk will examine the ugliness of freedom, from the history of slavery to the January 6 insurrection. But it will also highlight visions of freedom that emphasize the flourishing of all people, not just a privileged few.”[6]

We all remember the images. “Donald Trump’s supporters violently stormed and took over the house of democracy in the United States, the Capitol, during the ratification of Joe Biden’s victory. For about two hours, the world stopped to watch the country that prides itself on its democracy see it crumbling before its eyes. Although the institutions withstood the coup and “order” was restored at night, these scenes leave us with much to analyze and understand.”[7]

The ethics of storming our capitol are painfully clear. “The democracy that prided itself on being exceptional fell into the hands of its own nightmare. The conversation should not be around whether there was a coup or not, or a self-coup or not, although this is very alarming. The conversation should be around understanding the forces that weaken a democracy: the discrediting of elections, a pillar of democracy; the concentration of power in the hands of a person with disabling traits, such as pathological narcissism and intolerance, which weakens the checks and balances inherent to democracy; framing the opposition as enemy and as fake; or the systematic accusation of the press as the enemy of the people. What happened in the US Capitol is one more wake-up call about the fragility of democracies and about the work involved in keeping them standing; a job that should never be taken for granted.”[8]

When we write about our speculative future, the ethics of the January 6 storming of our capitol ought to be front and center.








[8] Ibid.

Gary L Stuart

I am an author and a part-time lawyer with a focus on ethics and professional discipline. I teach creative writing and ethics to law students at Arizona State University. Read my bio.

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