Is Morality Even Possible In Our World?

All you have to do to enter fully into a sense of despair is to look at the history of race relations in the US. You can go all the way back to slavery, and consider every shameful bit of history up until today’s routine police murders, and it looks like nothing ever changed, although it did, really.

If you really want to compound your despair, by all means read James Risen’s Pay Any Price. His book tells the pervasively sordid story of US involvement in the post-9/11 world, with a lot of attention to the beginnings of bad international relations and endless war under George W. Bush and continuing with Barack Obama. (Yeah, Afghanistan is over, but US wars go on, declared or not.) You will find your nostrils flaring, and that you are wide awake and glaring at the words in the book.

It’s like nothing ever really changed.

Are these the same story, the cops and the wars? I would hope that thoughtful Americans would want our government to institutionalize the ideals that gave birth to the country and behave accordingly. Ideals of equal opportunity, equal treatment under the law, and so on. And we want our country to carry these ideals into our dealings with the rest of the world, in the way we conduct business as well as the way we address conflict.

We are out of luck in both instances, leaving us to wonder if anything remains of the hopeful beginnings of our beloved nation.

The news is full of police behaving badly, and the fury that has caused. Risen’s book documents in endless detail the ongoing hidden misbehavior of the United States of America since 9/11, much of which has been outsourced in order to prevent uncomfortable revelation of government activities based solely on money, greed, and power, and having nothing to do with the virtues that are supposed to define us, let alone the insult of 9/11.

The news is full of police behaving badly.
Pay Any Price documents in endless detail
the ongoing hidden misbehavior of the US.

Torture, long known to be ineffective, but allowed after Bush administration’s fraudulent pseudo-justification. Secret torture sites, illegal prisons. Contracted spying by people with no credentials, who were not government officials, and who were not accountable to anyone. No-bid awarding of multi-billion-dollar contracts, particularly to Dick Cheney’s KBR, a branch of Halliburton, which supplied literally everything consumed by the military in Iraq, with no oversight or auditing, costing us over $39 billion dollars. Plain theft of billions of dollars by all kinds of people who saw opportunity in the total lack of accountability. Complete lack of criminal accountability for the atrocities of those really responsible, those at the top of the administration. 

We spend a lot of time talking about morals. For some, morals means going to church every Sunday, and not much else. But for most of us, morality refers to how you behave toward others, all others, including not only all people, but animals and the earth as well.

Morality refers to
how you behave toward others, all others,
including animals and the earth.

Our moral behavior, as representatives of the law, and as representatives of the US, are stuck on the ground floor, and nobody seems to have the key to the elevator. The preachers claim they do, but they don’t.

Cogent argument can be made that we never were a moral nation. We tolerated slavery, committed grave offenses against the original peoples, behaved despicably in corporate development, and so on. Thomas Jefferson, worried about slave revolts, took steps that ruined Haiti’s economy for the next 150 years. Barack Obama is presently trying to get a secret trade agreement finalized that can have nothing but negative effects on everyone but corporate moguls for decades to come.

Even modestly intelligent Americans know moral and immoral behavior when they see it. That’s why so many thousands are demonstrating against the police. That’s why the atrocities of Bush’s wars still boil our blood today, even after Obama finally got us out of Bush’s two wars—sort of. As William Faulkner said, the past is not over. It’s not even past.

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