Followup on “Suffering for Doing”
Evil happens in the world, and it usually happens with the compliance of the general population rather than the whole-hearted support. I might even go as far as to venture that the grossest of abuses are done by those who have surrendered their minds to a degenerate line of thinking rather than the “evil genius” who came up with a wacky ideology in the first place. In the Rwandan genocide in 1994, Hutu officials organizing the attack against the Tutsis facilitated weapons distribution for the people who actually hacked hundreds of thousands to death. Thus, “Bubba” with a machete did the killing while educated officials sat back and watched. Those who would oppose a genocidal mass movement must think for themselves and contend with evildoers, thinking and unthinking alike.
Anyone who wants to stop evil, from genocide all the way down to a bully stealing lunch money, follows externally imposed rules that tell them what they can and cannot do. For instance, while we might feel that teachers ought to be able to give a good birching to the kids whose pituitary glands give them the power to be the playground Al Capone, teachers cannot apply corporeal punishment because of rules that protect against child abuse. Police officers sometimes arrest people who, they are certain, committed heinous crimes. The police are not allowed to shoot people who have enough money to get lawyers to game the system because they have to follow laws that protect suspects from the abuse of authority. The tension is between the need for firm authority and the need for sensitivity for special cases.
Take also what proceeds from the civil rights battles of the 1950s and 60s–laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, skin color, culture, religion, marital status, disability, age, perceived social class, and more recently, sexual orientation. Some of these laws are so finely tuned that they address even what is said about a given group or class of people. However, for every law made to combat one kind of evil, there will be another kind of evil that will subvert those laws to another insidious end. Laws have been made to combat hate, but are there laws to combat jealousy and arrogance?
In many words I have managed to communicate a truism: life is difficult and complicated. The logical conclusion is also a truism: we have to somehow muddle on. In my previous post I referenced efforts by people trying to get the US military to recognize selective conscientious objection, where soldiers will not be penalized for opting out of a given mission or even a war, if their consciences dictate that the mission or conflict in question is immoral. Laws to permit the expression of conscience weaken laws that uphold order by restraining enforcement of laws dictating order. Laws to uphold order restrain free expression. Should individual soldiers be allowed to question orders they are given? Consider this: punishments such as imprisonment or dishonorable discharges demonstrate rule of law, but they also leave alive those who violate the law for the sake of conscience! Court martial procedures could have more people shot! Is that preferable to a spell in prison?
When we sacrifice and our sacrifices are accepted, we lose the presented offerings. If we risk anything for the sake of conscience, we accept the possibility that we will lose something; if we offer a sacrifice for the sake of a moral cause, we risk that it will be accepted.
To finish, I say that we should risk without asking permission to do so, and chance the consequences of such a course of action. What we need are not wisely made laws but wise people. More laws will not help us; finely tuned permissions will not fix our problems. However, wise people who know just the thing to do are always in short supply, and when they are available, they are easy to ignore.
There are those who might disagree with what I say here, and they might thereby fail to ignore me–perhaps I am being merely controversial when I should be wise.