The release of the “torture report” today got me thinking about ethics.
Moral and ethical thought, along with broader philosophical concepts, form the foundation of political ideology.
I find it interesting to read between the lines in political comments people make and try to figure out what kind of ethical framework they think within. Sadly, I don’t think many people think within any kind of ethical framework at all, at least not a formal one. In fact, it seems I could best describe the typical American political/ethical/philosophical worldview as “confused.” We now live in a political world where “limited government” conservatives advocate for a police state and “anti-war liberals” support a war-president.
The political class exploits this fact and frames virtually every issue within this silly left/right, liberal/conservative, Democrat/Republican paradigm that leaves absolutely no room for any thinking outside the vast philosophical expanse between Mitt Romney and Nancy Pelosi.
But if you dig around a bit, you can find some core ethical foundations shared by many Americans. Those tend to frighten me more than the confused political ideology.
One ethical principle I spot over and over again falls into the category of “might makes right.” Americans can justify just about any political action as long as they possess the “strength” to back it up. Power might take the form of actual physical force, such as military or police. We see the “might makes right” justification often in U.S. foreign policy. But power can flow from more subtle sources, such as a political majority, a well-organized special interest group or the force of public opinion.
I find it interesting that virtually every time I run across somebody espousing the “might makes right” philosophy, I find a person who holds, or perceive himself to hold, a position of power. Therein lies the fatal flaw of this ideology.
It only works for the strong.
My recent heart surgery has given me an interesting perspective on power and strength.
As a 6-foot, 200 pound hockey player proficient with firearms, I generally don’t feel vulnerable.
That changed markedly since my surgery. The other day, my wife and I went into the local Walmart, and I was scared to death somebody was going to run me over. I’m slow. I don’t have the best balance. And I really can’t defend myself.
I don’t like it.
I am keenly aware that in my current condition, most of the population could easily take advantage of me.
This reveals why “might makes right” fails as an ethical standard and leads to unjust political systems. Why should anybody have the right to roll over me simply because I am weak? Why should I have less of a voice because I am vulnerable? Why should somebody have the authority to walk over me because they bring more power to the table?
All of you tough guys out there, full of bluster and pride; you might want to take a step back. You may hold a position of power right now – physical or political, but you have no guarantees. At some point, power will likely shift. You may well become vulnerable. You may well fall into the minority.
And you may well find the power and might you championed turned against you.
A truly just ethical/political framework limits power, coercion, force and violence.
A system built on power and might work just fine for the powerful and mighty. But believe me – you won’t always be strong.