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Moral Conundrum: Good versus Greater Good

10 Dec

Increasingly, especially now with the flap over the report on CIA activities, I am seeing posts by individuals living a life I used to envy.  Safe and secure in a land of freedom purchased by a nearly died-out breed of men and women who valued our land and ideals so much they were willing to risk and sometimes give their lives to protect and maintain it, these beneficiaries of the bravery of others sat back in homes, the lowliest of which would be a palace to multitudes in that messy, sometimes ugly, often brutal world “over there” somewhere.  They dreamed of a world where all peoples of all creeds and all colors and all ancestry played nice in the global sandbox together simply because it was the right thing to do.  Limited by intellects that often could not keep up with their education they fancied, ignoring the lessons we should have learned back in the Carter Administration’s geopolitical fantasies, that if WE just were nice to them the rest of the world would be nice to us and soon to each other.

I must agree it is a pleasing vision and confess I wish it were true.  But my own experience of it taught me clearly and painfully (both figuratively and literally) that it is not.  Back in the halcyon days of college and callow youth coupled with shallow pleasures I went through my own academic fantasy land emerging thinking, because it was the song of the choir du jour, that the rest of the world simply wanted what we wanted: that being to raise their families in peace and harmony and maybe be able to buy that new cow or car next year.

It was a shock to my entire system to come face to face with people who did not want what we wanted or had, who did not give a tinker’s damn about whether we were nice or not but only wanted one thing from us… that we be gone from the face of the earth and out of their way so they could establish the world order their sacred text promised them.   And as true believers they were willing to commit any deed, no matter how shocking or heinous it might seem to us, in order to achieve that goal because all would be forgiven if they were successful to what, in their eyes, was the greater good.

As a warrior culture they saw kindness and concession as weakness and an indication of their own strength and rightness of purpose.  Meantime we here in the lap of comparative luxury and soft living (abject depravity and decadence to them) were increasingly populated by terminally ignorant people who equated, morally and ethically, depriving someone of sleep with depriving them of their life.  They saw no distinction in their world view between making someone THINK they were going to drown to scare them into divulging information and sawing the head off of a captive with a hunting knife.  They conflated embarrassment from immodesty with live dismemberment.  They believed in the moral equivalency of hacking a prisoner to death with making someone put up with a cell where the lights were never turned off and loud hip hopmusic was played constantly.  (I might have to agree about the hip hop music…)

Don’t misunderstand me.  Torture per se is never “good” (and there are certainly various definitions about which we might argue). But then neither is killing. Nevertheless the real world contains grim unfortunate moments when good and bad are relative and balanced on a a razor;s edge against awful but mutually exclusive options where one good must be measured against another to see which is greater. Most people have mercifully never in their lives had to encounter such moments.  I think that is something for which they should be endlessly thankful and I do not begrudge them that lack of experience; indeed I’m a little jealous.  Sometimes ignorance is indeed bliss.  But it can also be incredibly dangerous.   However,  that safety and blessed innocence does not give rise to their standing to criticize those who have.  And when gut wrenching decisions are placed in the hands of political partisans of either side, only one thing is certain… the real truth is unlikely to be revealed.

Bottom line for me – just for me – is, would I condone us ever chopping off body parts or doing real damage to someone to gain information?  I would like to think not…  but if that person knew where my buried alive child was and did not want to tell me though time and oxygen were running out, I might have a different reaction.  I would not pretend to know how I would respond to a situation where extracted information from one person who saw no problem committing atrocities on their enemies might save hundreds of innocent people.  I’d like to think I would hew to the high road but sometimes it is not that easy or clear; sometimes there is a balancing act between good and greater good, between bad and greater bad that cannot be avoided except through willful blindness and terminal ignorance.  And before you are willing to cast your stone at one side or another in that discussion, I suggest you keep that stone in your pocket until you too have had to face such a moment.  I’m not talking about facing it vicariously through voting or lobbying for someone ELSE to have to decide or do the “wet work” for you, I mean you personally faced with the most horrid of choices based on the most compelling but competing of needs.

Then and then only, however, are you qualified to judge others who, facing precisely that, have made a decision in either direction.

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Posted by on December 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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