One of those enduring questions is moral universalism vs. moral relativism.
I’ve preferred the relativistic side of the argument, with one caveat.
I WON’T say that there is no Right and Wrong and that everything is random. Nor would I say that ultimate Right and Wrong are in the mere eye of the beholder, or that we “should” respect the fact that right and wrong seem to vary from culture to culture. People who make these arguments are often caught in their own double standard. THEY often want to judge others, they don’t want YOU to judge.
So, my caveat is that, in the sense there might be a God or Ultimate Truth, there is likely some form of Ultimate Ethics.
But perceiving it and applying it to one’s circumstances is a different story. Most people want to do the “right” thing, but find themselves in a world with no good options. Two people who choose differently may find themselves on the opposite side of a shooting war.
Who am I to say who chose wrongly, if I’ve never walked in their shoes?
Most people in the mainstream of American opinion believe that signing up to join the military is inherently honorable, no matter which party holds the White House. Indeed, pride in military service has been found nearly everywhere in the world, ever since the creation of modern nation-states and permanent standing armies.
It is no wonder, then, that many join the military even in under dictatorships. It is true that many are drafted. Many others may see the military as the best escape from poverty. But they may also have a patriotic desire to defend the country.
We can see this in the eyes of, say, a Libyan soldier. From the soldier’s perspective, whatever could be said about Qadhafi, he has for forty years in a dangerous region . . .
- Protected Libya from foreign domination and exploitation
- Saved the Libyan people from extremists who would impose even greater oppression
Is it any wonder why this soldier resists NATO and fights the rebels? He is unlikely to view the rebels as fighting for Freedom and Democracy. He is MORE likely to view them as terrorists and extremists. Even the Western media has conceded that this perception is, at least to some degree, correct.
I understand why that Libyan soldier is fighting for his country.
But is he doing the “right” thing? Is he applying the supposed Universal Moral Law to his circumstance?
Well, he is an agent of the Libyan State, which is doing as all States have ever done:
- Resist foreign attack
- Put down internal rebellion
Is defending one’s country a violation of the Moral Law?
And, if civil order is not a universal “principle,” isn’t it almost everywhere recognized as a practical, desirable good?
The soldier may side with an imperfect, even miserable Qadhafi regime in order to restore civil order and punish those who disrupted it.
Is this wrong?
An unjust civil order is, to most people’s minds, preferable to the chaos of war and uncertainty of a “regime change” where the new Boss may be worse than the Old Boss.
Qadhafi’s soldiers are fighting not only for their country, but they could believe themselves to be doing the “right” thing in a moral sense.
Perhaps the mistake most people make is that they believe the Military and other uses of State force are the most appropriate tools for the enforcement of Moral Law. Even if Libya’s rebels were all Jeffersonian Democrats, was taking up arms and starting a war the most “moral” way to effect change in that country?
In the United States, there is a large and growing number of people thoroughly disgusted with U.S. military aggression (including against Libya), the incarceration of people whose “crimes” were consensual, the taking of property without due process, the Individual Mandate, and a host of other government assaults on the liberty and dignity of the individual. But we don’t intend to take up arms, and we don’t demand that others take up arms to advance our cause.
In Star Trek 5, at one climactic point Captain Kirk asks, “Why does God need a Spaceship?”
In that spirit I ask, “Why does Moral Truth need a gun?”