Living by principle, whether individually or as a nation, involves dedication. This is not done in spite of circumstances but precisely because of them. Situations are context-specific and provide space for the projection of meaning. This requires the application of principles, be they conscious or unconscious. There are times of immense emotional intensity, when behaviors that would otherwise never be considered, are pondered and perhaps even done. What those situations reveal is not the abdication of principle but the usage of others which are deeper. When faced with mere survival, one is not taking the time to consider issues of jurisprudence and equal rights.
Thankfully the vast majority of us in the United States, and in some parts of the world, are not truly faced with situations like that. Unfortunately the ability of fear to bypass our frontal lobe and therefore our reasoning capacity impresses upon situations a level of danger that is unwarranted from a more objective point of view. We scream about gun deaths and don’t blink at all with driving our cars, despite the number of vehicular deaths far outweighing that from guns. This is not a discussion of policy but of noting our humanity. When our humanity is ignored, our decisions then come from a space of ignorance, for the activities of our unconscious do not stop simply because we consciously don’t care to understand them.
Fear informs our decisions, from which emerges behavior that without such we would act differently. This occurs at the personal individual level, but for now the focus will be on the national stage. At the national level, the deplorable setting of Guantanamo mirrors our over-crowded prisons in the States. CEOs defrauding thousands and only receiving a fine indicates the gross disparity of justice when placed next to Bradley Manning who sought to inform the public about governmental wrong-doing and is now sent to prison for decades. Those deemed living a life of sexual depravity are now capable of being arrested on sight by Russian police and yet continued support is given for the public manifestation of international goodwill, that of the Olympics, being held there.
There is a dividing line in our national history when those in power shift from being beholden to the people to discriminating who is seen as worthy of possessing human rights. Jefferson’s words of “it is self evident” that all are created equal have been for some reshaped to “it is only so when government says.” Such thinking is not in line with a democracy for the people, by the people, but a disturbing shadow of feudal aristocracy.
I accept that in times of war, that most atrocious of human activities, ideas we hold most cherished will be tested by the steel of of our tanks and the powder of explosives. What I do not accept is that those ideals should be cast aside for the expediency of momentary feelings of safety or for the continued delusion of our national superiority.
In times of war, in times of moral uncertainty, the willingness to forego our most treasured of principles will determine the form we take in our concerns of national security. Will America act as the classroom bully, denying the voices of those asking to be heard, or will America accept the citizens of the world as beneficiaries of the benevolence and care that America has shown it is capable of acting upon? That benevolence has always been because America stood for human rights, of all human beings, not those we autocratically deem to be worthy.
A war was fought on our own soil to determine how the debasement of our ideals in the form of slavery would shape our future. In this “war on terror,” it is not the tyranny of the suicide bomber that we fight against, but the encroachment of moral turpitude.
© David Teachout