Sunday, February 12, 2006

License and Freedom

Torture. Disregard for law, customs, humanity, morality. Post-traumatic stress disorder. Murder-suicides. All issues in the life of one Marine, and all brought home with him. Truly, "the story of Jeff's life and death raises issues we must grapple with if we're going to continue sending troops into insurgencies and guerrilla war zones."

The only question is: when do we start to take corporate responsbility for these things? People want the church to be responsible ("Why don't the church leaders speak out?") or God ("Why does God let this happen?"). But they forget the story of Jonah. They overlook the changes wrought in human society, changes accelerated by the Enlightenment, by the Romantic movement.

When Jonah finally gets to Nineveh, and declares "Thirty days, and Nineveh is overthrown!", the King gets the message, and repents in sack-cloth and ashes. And because the King repents, the people repent, and Nineveh (much to Jonah's chagrin, which makes him one of my favorites) is spared.

Imagine it today. Imagine the people of this country accepting, taking, corporate responsibility for what they have done wrong. Even our leaders blame everyone else for the failures: the bureaucracy, a scapegoat, "miscommunications," "no one could have foreseen." And do we hold them accountable? No; we re-elect them, and then disapprove of them in polls, anonymously, so again we are not responsible.

When do we finally decide that being sovereign means being responsible, too? We want to live as if Aristotle was right:

But one factor of freedom is to govern and be governed in turn; for the popular [that is, democratic] principle of justice is to have equality according to number, not worth, and if this is the principle of justice prevailing, the multitude must of necessity be sovereign and the decision of the majority must be final and must constitute justice...(Aristotle, Politics, quoted in Rogues, pp. 21-22)
But is justice what the majority decides it is? That is our legal system, but is it our moral system as well? And which trumps the other? And how?

Clearly, "Thirty years after Vietnam, we seem to have learned very little."

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