Tuesday, May 26, 2009

We are having a hard time living because we are so bent on outwitting death ~ Simone de Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity

The Resource Center for Non-Violence published a 2007 reprint of Albert Camus’ Neither Victims Nor Executioners: An Ethic Superior to Murder. In it, the new introduction references Auburn Theological Seminary Professor Walter Wink’s “myth of redemptive violence” which is nearly as powerful as Camus’ statement from 1944. He was watching the end of World War II; Professor Wink is witnessing the ongoing “war against terror.” Both men struggle to convince a heedless society that there is a better way.

Why is it mankind in general does not seem able or willing to move past the ancient eye-for-an-eye mentality? History for millennia has shown us that such a perspective does nothing to resolve the underlying issues. It reminds me of our failing health care system which prefers to treat symptoms rather than causes. Kill the person who did me harm to salve my wounded pride, but watch out for his family/friends…they will be after me for their own pointless revenge. And the violence continues ad nauseum.

Camus calls the twentieth century in which he lived the “century of violence.” Sadly, the label has followed us into the twenty-first and there is no end in sight. The escalation of invasion, war, and attacks by isolated terrorist groups leads only to the “world where murder is legitimate…where human life is considered trifling.” Nations use the often government-inspired instability to keep their citizenry in a state of perpetual dread in order to solidify political power. Camus makes the case for a new social contract based on an international code of justice which eliminates further escalation and takes humanity down a different path:
Do you or do you not, directly or indirectly, want to be killed or assaulted? Do you or do you not, directly or indirectly, want to kill or assault? All who say No to both these questions are automatically committed to a series of consequences which must modify their way of posing the problem.

The spectre of violence, of terror, will not fade until humanity steps out of egoistic self-indulgence and into a community of individuals all working for the greater good. There are those who scoff at such notions as utopian; Camus asks us to “choose between different Utopias which are attempting to be born into reality:” a Utopia where those frightening individuals who have all the answers demand that everyone submit to their superiority, using force as a necessary means to that end; or a Utopia where each of us works together to resolve points of contention before they spiral out of control, where peaceful ends are not justified by violent means.

I’ll take the latter, thanks.

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