Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Against moral certainty

When you're on the side of the angels everything you do is, by definition, right. It also stands to reason that anyone who disagrees with you is wrong, whatever their point of disagreement. If we have moral clarity our principles, our tactics, our emphasis are all fused into one blindingly coherent beam that can be directed as we see fit.

If you're against the war anyone who objects to your tactics is objectively supporting it - even when they aren't.

If you move a motion against cuts and someone says "Let's do this differently." Then they may as well take a razor to the throats of vulnerable themselves, not that they have the courage to do so.

If you believe in direct action and want to combat the commonly agreed greatest global threat humanity faces - history will vindicate you, even if you lose more people to the cause than you brought to it.

When the gang came for Andrew Cunningham they knew they were right. He was a rapist. A paedophile, the lowest of the low. That made him a legitimate target, that we all agree is beyond redemption.

He did not deserve to live so they savagely beat him, mutilated him, tortured him, cut up his genitals. After all, he's a sex offender, an "other" - we've a right to kill and maim him because when we sexually assault and murder him it's totally different to when he sexually assaults somebody. He's the bad man remember - we're normal - the voice of decent society.

There's a lack of democracy. We feel disempowered, frustrated. We burn with that injustice, it itches beneath the skin. Let's take action, empower ourselves, let the blood flow freely though our veins for once. If this serves to make others feel disempowered, resentful today we can still stand as a joyous illustration of what we can become when we take some control. If there's collateral damage along the way, that's a price worth paying.

There's clearly a power is knowing your right. One function of religion, ideology, tribalism is to provide zealots willing to sacrifice any interesting personal characteristics in order to be the sledge hammer will that pushes your cause.

However, when we end up bombing for peace, taking grass roots action that removes power from ordinary people or silencing dissent in the name of giving a voice to the voiceless - well, we need to be open to the idea that we don't have all the answers and that whatever moral clarity we think we have, ethical questions are rarely uncomplicated.


bob said...

Completely agree. Of course, the same could be said of the moral certainty of anti-war protestors, Palestine solidarity people or animal rights activists. There are plenty of zealots in our camp ready to be the sledge hammer for our cause, no?

Jim Jay said...

Couldn't agree more - in fact the examples I chose were basically people I have some theoretical affinity to (I general oppose cuts, I am against peadophilia, there is a lack of democracy, I oppose the war) - I actually avoided using examples of people acting in a cause that I don't agree with as I thought it might jumble too much together.

There are plenty of zealots in our camp as well as against us - although I'm not trying to pose this as a 100% bad thing (there are advantages to have some people like this around, and I personally believe a diversity of views and aproaches is always healthy) it doesn't mean I want my sister to marry one.

ps I'm not sure what I think about animal rights.