Sunday, March 31, 2013
Morality is Relative
The last two books I have read are bios on President Harry Truman, and most recently Winston Churchill. I found both works to be quite balanced in the treatment of two of this past century's most influential leaders of the Western World. Both of these gentlemen, along with the Russian dictator Stalin, were primarily responsible for the defense of the world against Nazi Germany, and thereafter the carving up and reallocation of most of the boundaries and governments in Europe, Middle East, Asia and Northern Africa. For me, reading the background of thought, nationalism and "convenient liaisons" that became the cause and effect of our most recent global boundaries and battles between the world superpowers double underscores the fact of relative morality as it defines these actions on the world stage.
There is no doubt that these men fell into their positions of global dominance by a combination of fateful circumstances and being willing and prepared to step into the vacuum of leadership the world had for them at that moment in time. It seems historically that war and conflict brings forth the demand and testing of "men of the moment" who are forced or willingly step up to lead their countries or cultures to battle. I think some sort of "Darwinian" force is at work in the world that creates these combinations of leaders to reinvent the world time after time and supposedly assure the "survival of the fittest". At the same time, an honest and educated person must recognize in this process the inconsistency and imperfection of any man, or country for that matter, to rule or control with objective morality at its core. If we recognize that no man is perfect, we must also recognize that no body of men making or governing by laws are going to be perfect in enforcing or interpreting those laws.
As you read these histories, you realize how power changes the man. Once someone has tasted the heady nature of power and control over other men...that person will never be content to return to submitting to another's authority. They will always be devising a way to stay in a position of influence and effect with the powers that be. There are very few "Cincinnatus'" in the history of the world, and even Truman thought he WAS a Cincinnatus type leader...though his ego and post presidential actions or attitudes say otherwise.
There are so many cases of subjective morality that we could discuss about both Truman and Churchill. Some decisions were made based on Judeo-Christian ethical thinking tied to the cultures of the day, while other decisions could be argued to be totally contrary to such beliefs. It is quite easy to point out the contradictions of many decisions these leaders made compared to the moral or religious backdrop they were ruling from. They obviously had to make decisions that were very difficult...from the bombing of innocent Germans in Dresden and other German cities to the Atomic bomb development and use on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. From a Darwinian point of view it is easier to understand these decisions than it is from a Judeo Christian point of view. So, it seems much of our culture's morality is fundamentally based on convenient application or interpretation of those philosophies or religions purported, and frequent departure from black and white interpretations thereof.
This article today on our "inconsistent ethical instincts" questions how firm our principles are and underscores much of my thinking in relationship to leadership and morality. How good "Christian" men can push the buttons on Atomic missiles ..or even develop such a weapon...is a contradiction to me. How "Christian" people can be so hateful and vile of Liberal presidents or people of different sexual orientation is a contradiction to me. Its not that I don't understand why and how these things happened...but it still points out to me the "convenience" of moral principle as it plays out in real life. At the end of the day, the future IS more about survival of the fittest versus some Utopian dream of global equality or rule of law. Law it appears is based on who can afford to fight for it or manipulate it...while in general "lawlessness" prevails, even under the banner of nationalism or religion...or fatally both.
When people so flippantly label a country like the USA as a "Christian" nation...I simply revert back to so many major events in our country's history where that moral code was missing in action and one has to question the true motivation behind the claim of high moral ground. In the balance of good and bad deeds, what percentage makes a man or country "moral"? If I kill 5 people and save 5 people, am I a killer or a saint? If I feed 5 white poor people while ignoring 5 black ones...am I good or bad? Do "Christian" nations endorse slavery, invade other countries without provocation murdering thousands of civilians, or fuel the majority of armaments to the world? How far are you willing to go to label your country "Christian"? Some of the most liberal, secular Western Countries could teach the USA a lot about equality of rich and poor, taking care of the needy and living at peace with your neighbor.
Actions speak much louder than words when it comes to ethics and morality. "Doing the right thing" has become a matter of convenience versus a black and white code of conduct. Today's leaders of governments and religions stay in positions of power by fear-mongering and keeping their followers ignorant of facts...in other words, dishonestly. Wars and conflicts are started on a whim or based on flimsy philosophical or religious theories that have very little fact behind them. The masses of men are easily called to battle over flags and books that they have little understanding of. EVERYONE finds some moral rationale to justify anything they want to do. Very few of us are willing to "call a spade a spade".
I am not sure of all the answers on this...but I think it more dangerous to THINK you have an answer that in actuality is either false, irrational and/or unreasonable. Its time for a bit more objectivity in our thinking and decisions as humans. Blind following of false moralities will only make us ignorant participants in the demise of the human race. We can do better. Think about it. Read about it. Then take action with the "power of one".