Monday, September 23, 2013

More on the Virtue of Moral Relativism

Remember just over a week ago when I wrote about the Celebrity Atheist New Flavor of the Season Stephen Fry?   Remember when I gave the stirring battle cry repeated over atheist blogs and websites everywhere that includes this passage?

...they [The Catholic Church] try to accuse people like me who believe in empiricism and the enlightenment of somehow what they call moral relativism as if it's some appalling sin whereas what it actually means is thought... 

I remembered it while reading the latest very important but horribly depressing post by Chris Hedges when I came to this passage:

“I killed every Chinese I saw,” Congo remembers as he tours the Chinese area of Medan in a car. “I stabbed them all! I don’t remember how many, but it was dozens of Chinese. If I met them, I stabbed them. All the way to Asia Street, where I met my girlfriend’s dad. Remember, I had two motives: crush the Chinese and crush my girlfriend’s father, so I stabbed him, too! Because he was Chinese too! He fell into a ditch. I hit him with a brick. He sank.”

“Killing is the worst crime you can do,” says one of Congo’s former associates. “So the key is to find a way not to feel guilty. It’s all about finding the right excuse. For example, if I’m asked to kill somebody, if the compensation is right, then of course I’ll do it, and from one perspective it’s not wrong. That’s the perspective we must make ourselves believe. After all, morality is relative.”

The post is about the documentary “The Act of Killing,” by Joshua Oppenheimer, the part about the American backed genocide campaign in Indonesia, Oppenheimer interviews those who did the actual killing. You can see from the excerpts from the interviews, lots of thought has gone into the planning, training, framing and justification of the mass murderers.  

Congo patiently explains to Oppenheimer his technique of garroting his victims with a piece of wood, a pole and wire, a technique he adopted to avoid the mess of excessive bleeding.

And they are sharing their thoughts with younger generations of potential mass murders.

There is a scene in the Oppenheimer film where Congo—who parades across the screen like a prima donna, his outsized vanity and love of fine clothing on display—is interviewed on “Special Dialogue,” a program of a state-owned television station with national coverage. I have substituted the word “Jew” for “communist” to put the moral bankruptcy of the Indonesian regime into a cultural context better understood by Americans.

“We had to kill them,” Congo, wearing a black cowboy hat adorned with a gold sheriff’s star, tells the female host.

“And was your method of killing inspired by gangster films?” she asks.
“Sometimes!” Congo says. “It’s like. ... “

“Amazing!” she says. “He was inspired by films!”

The audience, mostly made up of members of the Pancasila Youth in their distinctive orange and black shirts, applauds. At the start of the show, Ibrahim Sinik, a leader of the paramilitary group, lauded the Pancasila Youth as having been “at the core of the extermination.”

“Each genre had its own method,” Congo says. “Like in Mafia movies, they strangle the guy in the car, and dump the body. So we did that too.”

“Which means Anwar and his friends developed a new, more efficient system for exterminating Jews,” the woman says enthusiastically, “a system more humane, less sadistic, and without excessive force.”

Obviously, moral relativism isn't only for celebrity Britatheists who went to Cambridge and are supplementing their career on the movies with a sideline of peddling hatred of a quite similar kind.

I am seriously worried about Chris Hedges who seems to have taken more of the horrors of the world on his shoulders than anyone can carry.  But his post should be read by millions more who would have some hope of stopping some of this from happening again.   He makes it entirely relevant to today's issues, no doubt knowing that those already murdered as best honored by preventing recurrences to the extent possible.

These same human bonds, along with the same schizophrenic self-delusion, can be glimpsed in photographs of off-duty Nazis in the book “Nein, Onkel: Snapshots From Another Front 1938-1945,” or in the photographs of off-duty SS camp guards at Auschwitz. One of the pictures in the Auschwitz album shows the SS leadership, including the commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoess, and Dr. Joseph Mengele, who carried out inhuman medical experiments on children, in a raucous “sing-along” on a wooden bridge with an accordion player at Solahutte, an SS resort about 20 miles south of Auschwitz on the Sola River. Mothers and children not far away were being gassed to death, some of the 1 million people murdered at Auschwitz. And it is this disquieting moral fragmentation, this ability to commit mass murder and yet to see oneself as a normal, caring human being, that Oppenheimer astutely captures. The bifurcation between work and life—a bifurcation that many in the U.S. military, today’s fossil fuel or health insurance industry or Wall Street firms such as Goldman Sachs also must make—allows human beings who exploit, destroy and kill other human beings to blot out much of their daily existence.

Only, first, we'd have to get past the stupid and appallingly irresponsible fad for yelling "Godwin's Law", in itself a tool for avoiding thinking about these things in terms relevant to what we're doing today instead of the past which is beyond our help.

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