Sunday, August 31, 2014

Having to answer hyper-fascist and communist enemies has a bearing on personal morality, especially for those of us who are "different"

Throughout history, there have been two predominant models for authoritarian, totalitarian or repressive regimes, including violent movements.  They sometimes seem to come together on the other side of the world and look alike, but it’s useful to process them separately.

One model seems to be predominantly a fascist model.  For most of history, this was the most common.  One tribe, country, or religious entity considers all other cultures within reach to be enemies and seeks to conquer and sometimes exterminate them.  It sounds largely impersonal.  Often the belief system of the aggressor is rooted in fundamentalist religion.  Often that fundamentalism is a warped reading of more temperate scriptures, twisted to suit an aggressive agenda.  Many people would interpret ISIS that way now.  But perhaps the Roman Empire was often fascist, and in Old Testament times, various wandering tribes of the Israelites had to face “heathen” enemies who behave this way.

Fascist cultures often are very harsh with weaker or more dependent individual people in their own cultures, sometimes eliminating them out of sight.  This was obviously true of the Nazis, but it was also true in ancient Sparta.  In psychological or emotional terms, this can become convenient for “stronger” members of their own communities, who can blind themselves to the immorality of what their leadership is doing, and, more importantly, can avoid the personal challenge of loving someone who doesn’t “have it all” and is perceived as a burden on the group. 

We hate to admit it, but our own history of slavery and segregation contains elements of fascism.
Communist, or hyper-socialist, cultures, for all the challenges they cause for individual freedom, are newer, and seem more concerned with bringing “political” issues down the level of individual morality, with the possibility of manipulating personal shame and guilt.  Communist societies, like their capitalist counterparts, have their privileged upper classes – and China’s “post-Communism” makes no secret of its statist capitalism (and neither does Russia).   Like fascist societies, they often promote the idea of nationalism and a “common good” for “the people” and sometimes even some kind of manifest destiny, but they are much more focused on how individual people acquire their own wealth and status.  They put themselves in a position to manipulate the “bad karma” of many individuals, whose insular status in society was accomplished only with the unseen sacrifices of others.  

It does seem to me that a kind of socialist thinking does undergird the parables in the Gospels.   They seem to reflect an acceptance of the idea that life can never be completely “fair” as a liberal would like it and allow its individual members to innovate anything.   So the Gospels seem to make social connectedness, at some emotional level, and fellowship a moral necessity. 

The idea that life isn’t “fair” and that wealth isn’t really “earned” seems to undergird a lot of street crime and gang activity, some of which I personally see as an extension of the attitudes of the hype rleft.  If nothing was earned without the sacrifice of others, them nothing belongs to anyone.  People who enjoyed it and hoarded it have it coming to them.   That was the attitude I sometimes encountered from the radical Left in the early 1970s.

Sometimes Communist societies have gone a long way in trying to impose this kind of forced “fairness” by sharing of poverty.  I’ve often mentioned the Cultural Revolution under Chairman Mao in Red China in the 1960s.  But the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot, often covered by Ted Koppel, provide even more striking examples (although Khmer almost took this to fascism). Consider too the movie “The Killing Fields”.  

Liberal, progressive and individualistic cultures have to deal with the challenges of these kinds of cultures, which can make existential threats.  We had WWII, and in 1962 we escaped from the worst with the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Today, they very worst imaginable threat from an asymmetric terror group might be an EMP blast, and there would be no red phone, no negotiation, no sea quarantine no submarine commander to avoid the worst.  To pull off a strike like that (as in the book “One Second After” (Books, July 20, 2012) an enemy would have to acquire nuclear materials, build a weapon, and launch it from a commercial vessel off shore and get past NORAD defenses.  That may sound like no small feat for a non-state or “unrecognized state” actor, but it is also true that our dependence on technology has risen very striking and presented a global vulnerability practically unprecedented in human history;  unlike the case with the Roman Empire, the end could come very suddenly.

The challenges which liberal cultures feel are imposed on them by enemies, as well as longer term sustainability changes from the environment (whether climate changed – man-made, or space weather, very much not man made but accentuated by dependence on technology) pose new moral problems for individuals living in these cultures. Cultures, even when well-meaning, can see someone like me as a "burden" or someone who could make others in the group into targets.  We saw these kinds of problems a half century ago with the male-only military draft for Vietnam and the growing public unrest over the unfairness of the deferment system, a huge issue during my own coming of age period, but often forgotten today.   A person like me, with poor social competitiveness (related to gender) but with special talents that allow me to impact the lives of others without gatekeepers watching, finds himself in a precarious position.  It’s useful to process the “moral implications” of such a position by accepting the fact that enemies (and huge natural forces) exist and that life sometimes knocks at the door.  “Personal responsibility” may be too small a concept.  The “Lord” can definitely “taketh away”.

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