A reader writes:
That young Catholic soldier’s reflection on morality and war was heartening to me as someone of the same generation who ponders these basic questions all the time. The statement that struck me most was the following:
"But I understand that sometimes the way that the world is killing is necessary. There’s just no way to avoid it. That doesn’t make it right.”
This should be a simple concept to understand human beings are moral agents who are constantly faced with choices to be moral or immoral. However, as the soldier so wisely acknowledged, the rationalization of immorality does not magically transform the nature of the act. This is where, as you said, the previous generations have sunk into an abyss of relativism.
Those who condone torture for example, do not even take the morally coherent, if incorrect position that it is a “necessary evil”. Leaving aside those who support it out of sadistic revenge, the “rational” torture apologists seem to think that if there exists even a possibility that torture yields what they consider to be positive results (saving lives), this somehow transforms the objective evil of the act of torture into a good. (We should be “proud” of water boarding). In essence, they have devolved their argument for torture to the most common and ancient excuse for evil The Greater Good. “The ends justify the means”. Really? These are conservatives? I thought such unmoored justifications for the overturning of traditional morality was the purview of Gnostic, Utopian ideologies?
Transposed into law and buoyed by fear and dependency, these specious arguments have undermined our philosophical underpinnings in Enlightenment principles. A toxic, knee-jerk defensiveness has emerged in parallel to this moral degradation, smearing anyone as anti-American, unpatriotic or even treasonous should they make light of the uncomfortable reality. I believe this is an implicit acknowledgement of guilt. The perception, which was not always accurate but has become so, is that there is nothing “special” about America anymore in terms of higher principles or values. We have become just another faction in the history of factions. Our “leaders” and too many normal citizens have become monsters in their effort to destroy monsters. And through the beauty of our representative democracy, they dragged us, the heretics, along with them.
You always say “know hope”. I don’t really subscribe to “stage” theories of history but maybe it has to get worse before it gets better. If hubris is the disease, is humiliation the cure? What will it take to humiliate ourselves back to sanity? Is it too horrible to contemplate?