Ethics and Technology in the U.S. Navy

Professor Thomas E. Creely, Ph.D.*

1. What ethical challenges do professionals currently face?

As the world becomes more globalized, there is a lack of fusion of cultures with respect to Western versus Eastern values. In the midst of globalization, there is increased polarization ideologically. This presents not only a global clash of cultural values, but a local clash of cultural values.

The use of social media presents ethical dynamics for people who have a physical personality and a separate online personality. This presents ethical challenges for ethical leadership. What happens when a millennial leader projects the online personality adversely in the work place?

As technological autonomy increases in warfare, desensitization of the human factor increases. How do we keep technology humane? Or, does the “Other” simply become an object? Young people who have coursing personal values (ethics) are adept with technology. How will they handle ethically complex technology in warfare?

Increasingly, millennials prefer texting as the primary means of communicating, which presents a challenge in the military environment. At least 60 percent of communications is the visual reception of body language. The lack of face-to-face communications appears to adversely affect trust, transparency, and ethical engagement.

In developing a deeper ethical culture in the Navy, do incentives for ethical behavior or celebrating ethical behavior have the greater impact on ethical leader development?

Across the board, senior Naval Officers notice the general lack of empathy among young Sailors. This lack of empathy has an impact on projecting moral leadership.

Social media and games influence Sailors’ ethical values. Social media and many games do not reinforce positive values for moral engagement and impact. The lack of civility on social media and the permissive violence in games is opposite of developing ethical leaders in the Navy.

The increasing government bureaucracy within the Navy and U.S. Government overcomes reasonableness and marginalizes and constrains ethical decision making.

2. What do the professions and professionals need when encountering new ethical challenges? How might Association for Practical and Professional Ethics address these needs?

In Navy Recruiting and Basic Training, Sailors need robust ethics education and introspection of values for personal development. Seeds must be planted early in young Enlisted and Officers for future leader development.

The gap between the average Sailor’s ethics and technology must be closed. The Sailor’s knowledge and use of technology is more advanced than their ethical knowledge and critical thinking skills. This requires a focus in teaching ethics in all of Naval Education and Training Curriculum.

Thomas E. Creely, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor at the College of Operational and Strategic Leadership, United States Naval War College (Newport, Rhode Island).

*Note: We are pleased to share Professor Creely’s answers to key questions associated with the Year of Conversation on the Future of Practical and Professional Ethics.

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Ken Pimple

About Ken Pimple

I've been involved in the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics before its actual creation. I am coordinating the international conversation on the future of practical and professional ethics for APPE, and organizing five workshops that will be held at Indiana University in Bloomington in academic year 2014-15.

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