Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Moral Irrelativity

You are no doubt aware of the question of moral relativity. That is, the view that morality in one culture may not be the same morality that exists in other cultures, morality is relative to its cultural context.  Usually, I think, people assume that moral codes exist, and that where they exist, people generally follow them fairly consistently. One could also argue that morality is also situational. That is what might be considered moral in one situation might not be so considered in a different situation. It is, for example, generally immoral to kill someone, but not during wars. Similarly, one could argue that some wars, being necessary, are also moral, or at least more moral than others.

Unfortunately, many people in the United States appear to have adopted a stance in which morality is simply irrelevant to most any situation. The current situation in the Ukraine is an interesting example of morality being considered basically irrelevant. The European Union, in conjunction with the United States, apparently engineered a violent coup that forced a democratically elected President to flee and replaced him with someone of their own choosing. The fact that the outgoing President may well have been terrible does not change the fact that he was democratically elected. The newly appointed acting President and his cronies are actively anti-Russian in their beliefs and want to join the European Union rather than stay closer to Russia. There are good reasons to believe their policies will be harmful to Russians living in the Ukraine, especially to those living in the east of the country that identify more with Russia. There is also a potential threat to the Russian Naval Base in the Crimea. Because of these fears Putin sent troops into Crimea to protect Russian citizens and his Naval Base. Do not forget that Crimea was historically part of Russia for a very long time.

The West, including the U.S. is outraged, calling Putin’s act one of terrible aggression against another nation, a violation of international law, an example of Putin’s ambitious attempt to reinstate a Soviet Union, and so on. Ignore the unbelievable hypocrisy involved for the moment. I would argue in this case that although Putin may have violated international law and other agreements between the two countries, he had every right to do so. Actually, it appears that he was invited by the Crimean leaders to send troops, so describing this as an invasion or an act of aggression is not exactly the case. It seems to me he did not act immorally even though the reaction of the West would suggest that he did. Interestingly, no one as far as I know has actually mentioned the question of morality per se, either with respect to Putin or the  coup that brought the situation about. Notice that in this so called aggressive invasion no one has died, no battles have ensued, and  Putin has said he will wait to see the outcome of the coming elections. In this case I would argue that Putin did the right (moral) thing whereas the leaders of the coup certainly did not.

Contrast if you will the “moral outrage” directed at Putin over his “aggressive invasion” of Ukraine with the behavior of the Israeli government vis-à-vis the Palestinians. For years the Israeli apartheid government has been engaged in ethnic cleansing and even a kind of slow genocide, to say nothing of daily discriminations and humiliations with respect to Palestinians. They have systematically stolen Palestinian land and water, built many illegal settlements, bulldozed Palestinian orchards and houses, assassinated Palestinian leaders at will, and repeatedly violated international law. They have made no secret of the fact they do not want a Palestinian state and prefer to maintain the status quo. They have done everything possible to make the possibility of a viable Palestinian state impossible. There is no doubt they have engaged in war crimes and have been repeatedly condemned by the international community. Not only is there no moral outrage over this consistent criminal behavior on the part of Israel,  the U.S. has in fact condoned it, defended it, and generously and shamefully supported it to the tune of billions of dollars per year.   

I conclude from this that at worst the United States government is morally bankrupt, or at best considers morality to be simply irrelevant when it comes to foreign policy. “Might makes right,” human decency, fairness and objectivity have nothing to do with it. I wonder how and when the American “Empire” will collapse, because surely it will.

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