Another Black Eye

I have held forth about the inexcusable situation in Guantanamo Bay where forty presumed terrorists are still being held in prison without a trial, so I will not return to that theme. But I must note that for a country that aspires to be “Great,” the incarceration without a fair trial of men who may or may not be guilty of crimes against the United States is in opposition to all the basic rules of a civilized country, much less a great one.

In any event, of late we are witnessing another black eye for this country in its treatment of the hordes of people from Central America who are fleeing dictators and gangs, murder, rape, and mayhem to find a better life in the United States and are being treated like criminals, including the use of tear-gas and pepper spray on children and women. But the recent notice in a Yahoo News item is disturbing on an even deeper level:

A migrant mom was impaled in front of her children over the weekend while attempting to climb a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, authorities said.

The 26-year-old Guatemalan native was trying to scale a fence near the San Ysidro Port of Entry, a crossing between San Diego and Tijuana, on Friday when she fell and impaled herself on pieces of rebar, according to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials.

We pride ourselves on being a nation that defends the moral high ground which, we like to think, is ignored by other nations in the world. Yet we read about the treatment of people, including women and children, in a manner that would embarrass even the nastiest among us — if they bothered to give it a thought. The “migrant caravan” of an estimated 5000 souls heading toward what those who comprise it hope to be the safety and protection of a great nation is considered by some, including our feckless leader, as an attack on this nation. In fact, it is simply a desperate attempt by people who hope to breathe the air of freedom.

Make no mistake, I am entirely in favor of “Making America Great Again.” I even agree that we can embrace the notion of “greatness,” and even identify it when we see it. I assume the America we want to return to is the America after the Second World War when actions like the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Europe after the devastation resulting from the dropping of thousands of bombs on both military and civilian targets. That was a plan that must make us all proud: an effort to help rebuild a world that had been shattered by unprecedented violence.

Yet, in the name of “Greatness” we now see about us efforts to exclude and reject those who differ from us, those would make us uncomfortable. Even those we disagree with. And we treat women and children like cattle. Whether or not we embrace Christian virtues, and there are many who insist the nation was founded on those virtues, what we are seeing is the exact opposite of the virtues preached in the New Testament — which is a gospel of love, not hate.

One need not be a Christian, however, (and very few are) to see the inhumanity of the steps this nation is currently taking toward “Greatness”; to realize that we may be leaving greatness behind us as we head instead in the opposite direction entirely. Where is the moral high ground that Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed about?

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18 thoughts on “Another Black Eye

    • One could argue that any moral ideal (“high ground”) is necessarily at odds with the gritty reality of everyday life. Further, there never has been a single moral ideal that represented a virtuous consensus in the history of this country, though many have laid claim to such and they have often been the basis of considerable violence.

      Perhaps the closest thing we have to a consensus morality is that people have a right to their own moral high grounds insofar as they (1) do not harm others, and (2) do not impose their views upon others. This pluralism of toleration is no small thing, even if it does not include acceptance and appreciation of differences.

      There are other moral precepts that have been close to universal in this country: The idea of the rule of law, equality before the law, and the princiople of fair and due process. Important ideas, if never fully realized.

      Finally, the idea that people have rights that the government can abridge only in extreme circumstances is an essential part of our history, both as ideal and as fact.

      What concerns me greatly is that the significance of these ideals of moral virtue appears to be diminishing, both by design and decay, in the estimation of the public. The exception, of course, is the cult-like attention of a few to the Second Amendment — not as written or interpreted in over two dozen Supreme Court precedents but as framed by the NRA and the Scalia Court in recent years.

      For much of the past, people argued and fought each other over what constituted the moral high ground.

      The frightening aspect of our current political culture is the creeping acceptance of the idea that there is no moral high ground in the first place.

      This is not a good place to be.

      • In a nutshell: “The frightening aspect of our current political culture is the creeping acceptance of the idea that there is no moral high ground in the first place.” Martin Luther King’s dream is fading in the thickening mist of hatred and fear generated by the current administration.

      • How about this: a ‘nation’ cannot have a moral high (or low) ground, only individuals can. If we identify with a national collective, then there is no moral high ground, there is no “moral” at all, just a machine. A collective is a soulless, heartless, mindless machine that will operate according to whomever is at the wheel, or pushing the buttons. When individuals abdicate their personal responsibility in terms of morality (Nazi Germany immediately jumps to mind) then the machine takes over. America and all sycophantic nations have become machines. The term ‘moral’ or ‘morality’ can only be applied to a human being, not to an animal or to a machine. If I wrote a lengthy essay on this topic, professor, would you read and grade it? 🙂

      • Of course I would. And I would give you high grades — even I disagreed with you. But I do think you are right, strictly speaking. Morality can only be attributed to nations by analogy. Thus I would regard Nazi Germany as an evil nation in the 1930s and 1940s. Don’t ask me what I would label this country at present!

      • I also agree. Nations are not moral actors, strictly speaking, but they can have moral or immoral policies. These policies can have very real consequences, both intended and unintended, for many individuals.

        Individuals and collectivities represent different orders of reality. Individuals are real: they think, they make decisions, they act. Collectivities — a number of people who share similar ideas and actions, to varying degress, and are manifest in their consequences: they frame the way people think, the way they make decisions, the way they act. They are the context of our actions and understanding.

        Collectiviities in the form of organizations and institutions exist only to the extent that people accept them as frames of continuiing reference, be they consciously chosen or habitually accepted. It is usually the latter.

        Shared understandings of morality and truth represent social institutions (collectivities) at one level, individual ideas at another. Insititutions are the generally taken-for-granted frames of reference with respect to which individuals think, choose, and act — not necessarily in that order. Individuals do not act or learn to act in vacuo. Their ideas do not generate ex nihilo. Their actions have consequences for them and others.

        When individuals with sufficient power or sufficient number (1) challenge those shared understandings (“the moral high ground”, for example) or (2) cease to accept them as a frame of reference, one is witnessing “ressentiment” — a concept of which Dr. Curtler has spoken previously.

        Individuals are all parts of a collectivity in some form or fashion. All collectivities are “soulless”, if by this you mean they are not individuals with souls. However, collectivities of persons, with some exceptions, generally do exhibit a shared understanding of morality and truth, which is, in effect, the “soul” of a collectivity.

        Traditional families or community are form of collectivities; yet they would not generally be considered soulless, unless one were referring to a particularly dysfunctional example of either.

        The purest form of a soulless collectivity is a strictly rational bureaucratic organization, at least according to Weber. It also represents a very close parallel between the actions of individuals and actions of ta collectivity, IF the individuals that comprise the organization think, act, feel, and make decisions entirely in line with organizational goals, procedures, and processes.

        Most often, when people refer to soulless collectivities, what they are referring to is large, impersonal, goal-oriented bureaucracies: corporations, political parties, and states are the best examples. These do, indeed, appear soulless to those who do not share their aims or who suffer the consequences of their processes and procedures, that is, those who are treated as “cases” rather than as persons, or even those who simply want to be left alone.

        Which gets us from Weber to Kafka…

      • Indeed it does — who is very relevant today! (I thought the Supreme Court decided that corporations are persons and therefore culpable. No? I kid.)

  1. Back on the computer here… that comment about post WWII America as a point of greatness bothered me then I realized why: full bore segregation and on-going denial of constitutionally guaranteed rights to blacks, a condition that WASP (and Catholic) America solidly endorsed and would to this day had it not been for the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr – one of the best known martyrs of the cause though there were many. As I posted somewhere else, I spent my entire adult life “following” the lies and the carnage that calls itself America and there simply is no national rosy picture in that entire time – from beginning of the 60’s until now.
    I have another question for you, Hugh. Why is it that your “country” or “nation” doesn’t have a name? You are not particularly “Americans” since anyone of us with a citizenship in any country of South, Central and North America… is an American. What gives anyway?

    • I suppose for those among us who are lazy it’s too difficult to say “The United States” — so we simply say “America.” But your point is well taken. I point to post-WWII s a high point, but there were problems galore. Fewer then than now, however!

      • Sadly, these days I simply refer to this country as “Amerikkka”. No one confuses this name with any other country in the Western hemisphere.

  2. ‘ We pride ourselves on being a nation that defends moral high ground which , we like to think , is ignored by other nations of the world.’
    It’s a picture that most nations paint of themselves and indeed many people because it fosters national and personal pride, but as Jill points out where is this pride in Mississippi in appointing Cindy Smith to go to the Senate ? One thing is certain America and the other rich nations can afford to stand on moral high ground , but of course any politician that does so is unlikely to get far.
    There is an old saying ‘ Charity begins at home ‘ I should add to it the moral high ground begins with those in need ‘.

    • It all begins with acknowledgment that others exist and that they matter. Then we move to caring about them. We are becoming increasingly insular in our consciousness. I have written a book about it: “The Inversion of Consciousness From Dante to Derrida.” Stupid title, but I try to argue that this “inversion” of consciousness has been coming on for some time — triggered, I think, by capitalism and the commodified culture that has resulted.

      • The seeds of of what we call postmodernism (anti-rationalism) were planted long ago, intellectually speaking, and have become culturally institutionalised in the past century.

      • I see your argument ; our moral condition is affected by our environment and capitalism is not a suitable one to to breed a caring society.
        It would explain the turning of American opinion towards Mr Trump and the swing to the right we now see on a global scale.
        Ultimately we could put our degeneration down to technological progress which has given us this commodified culture.

  3. I guess I would just like us to live up to a slogan, Make America Kind. Make America a place of Peace and Equality. A Place of Inclusion and Compassion. But, in an era when money and power rule the Empire, it will not come easy or soon. WWII produced the nuclear age, which saw our country use it to kill masses of innocent people. Need I say more.

  4. Hugh, we have become less moral, as we have become more convenient and transactional. We were headed down this path pre-Trump, but he has led the way further down it. Sha’Tara notes correctly our history. When we define morality and greatness, we tend to forget the ugly parts of our history. We must not.

    What I don’t understand is our ideals stood for something. We used to welcome folks as a refuge from tyranny and violence. Now, the US is just another country, if we don’t even try to be closer to our ideals. What the US President has tolerated with Saudi Arabia in Yemen and with the murder and dissection of Khassoggi is inexcusable. We can still have a relationship and say this is not right.

    It is akin to saying I will still love my brother, but be disappointed if he did something criminal.

    Keith

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