Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Abandon Hope and beware of falling contrapassi*

Cowardice asks the question - is it safe?
Expediency asks the question - is it politic?
Vanity asks the question - is it popular?
But conscience asks the question - is it right?
And there comes a time when one must take a position
that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular;
but one must take it because it is right.

-- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Kant was right (thank you, Driftglass): the flawed and distressingly contorted raw material that is human nature happens to be, for better or worse, all we've got to work with when we members of the species set out to build our lives. And by extension, to build our cultures, our societies, our governments, our world, and our history. Flawed and contorted; bendy and vulnerable in all the wrong places; rigid and unyielding at the most inconvenient of times. That's us.

I bring this up because I've been thinking a good deal about this inherently imperfect nature of ours, as well as the not-small matter of how certain crimes--like torture and murder and lies that cause innocent people to be killed--are what I consider to be Absolute Wrongs, and how all of this pertains to the sea change that has recently taken place with regard to my attitude toward American politics, or, more specifically, American politicians.

Who, after all, are us. Our government is us: We, the People. (For the time being, anyway.)

The opiated trudge toward oligarchy by The Reliably Fleeceable; the widespread indifference to the ongoing dilution (and eventual total dissolution) of civil rights; the childish solipsism that elides (if not outright denies) the destruction surely taking place at the other end of a pelted rock's--or launched Predator Drone's--ruinous trajectory; the willingness of far too many on the so-called Left to assume the position--to dress ourselves in sackcloth and ashes and write on our foreheads the twin legends Please Divide! and Please Conquer!

Us. That's all us.

I have been patient (having had lots of on-the-job training in that respect, trust me). I have looked at everything from thirty thousand feet; I've thought about it all in considerable depth, being my own Devil's advocate as well as allowing my frontal cortices to marinate in a complicated stew comprised, in equal parts, of the wisdom, experience, perspective, historical background, ideology, misguidedness, and even flat-out-wrongheadedness of others as expressed in their writings and speeches and guest appearances.

I kept coming back to the same thought. Kant (again) said it so well:

"Everything has either a price or a dignity. Whatever has a price can be replaced by something else as its equivalent; on the other hand, whatever is above all price, and therefore admits of no equivalent, has a dignity. But that which constitutes the condition under which alone something can be an end in itself does not have mere relative worth, i.e., price, but an intrinsic worth, i.e., a dignity."

And there it is, the profoundly cramped and uncomfortable moral corner into which I've painted myself every time I've countered a criticism of President Obama and his administration with some variation on the Be Patient/Grow up and Be Realistic/Look, He's Done An Awful Lot of Good Stuff/Well Tell Me, Would You Prefer A Wingnut President? theme.

Welcome to Deborah's Corner of the Categorical Imperative, wherein I will attempt to reinvigorate my weary, battered moral self by noting the all-encompassing importance of doing that which is right, and doing it for no reason other than its own intrinsic rightness.

I can no longer applaud the actions and policies of President Obama; I can no longer bite my tongue and remain "patient" while the actions and policies carried out by that We the People group we call our government--regardless of their underlying (and lied-about) motivations--continue to wreak havoc, harm, and widespread injustice, on our fellow human beings.

The last straw was not, as I thought most likely, the president's unnecessary caving in to the obstructionist Republican minority in Congress and extending the costly Bushian tax cuts for wealthy Americans. No, it was this nasty Wikileaks revelation--about the current White House administration's despicable sotto voce attempts to strong-arm certain more law-abiding (and probably more morally-upright) foreign governments and thus stymie war crimes investigations abroad--which sparked my own epiphany. I realized that despite my having passionately called for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney for their war crimes back in 2007 (great comment thread there at Ezra's old place, if you've got time), I was now at a point where I was allowing others--even some fellow lefties--to (nearly) convince me of how politically inexpedient, how inconvenient, and how costly-to-the-national-morale such war crimes investigations would be. And I was also--mistakenly (oh how mistaken I was!)--believing, all along, that President Obama would eventually turn his seemingly robust moral attentions to the ugly task of holding the criminals accountable. I could wait; it would happen. I was wrong. Jonathan Turley sums it up nicely:

Just as many conservatives abandoned their principles in following George Bush blindly, many liberals have chosen to ignore Obama’s concerted efforts to protect individuals accused of war crimes. Under our treaty obligations, the United States has the primary responsibility to prosecute torture by U.S. citizens. That responsibility rests with the Executive Branch – the prosecuting authority of the United States. What is particularly disgraceful is that Obama would refuse to fulfill this responsibility under our treaties and international law and then demand the same hypocrisy from our allies.

I will close with two more quotes. The first is from Numbers 32:23 in the Bible, the book on which our President placed his hand when he swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States: Be sure your sin will find you out.

And the second is a Latin phrase: Fiat justitia, pereat mundus, which means "Let justice be done, even if the world should perish". Or, if you prefer (as I do), a translation with a minor adjustment that allows for self-preservation:

Let justice be done, even if the world's evildoers should perish.
* cf.

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