The moral argument rarely persuades

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My old blog was called: The Political Realist: Post-Modern Hobbesian Views.

While writing blog entries for The Political Realist, I attempted to argue what would happen, not what should happen.

I firmly believe in what Blaise Pascal had to say about the moral argument: “Without force, the Law is impotent.”

In his  recent speech overseas, President Obama has made clear that he chooses the moral argument as his weapon primus. Islam should cooperate with America, after all, we all just want to live peaceful lives, right?

If only it were that simple. People shouldn’t fight. Nations shouldn’t go to war. Everyone should have health care. But we need to consider that one important military term. The word that decides if any operation has even the possibility of success: Logistics.

We can say anything. We can write what our minds can imagine. But we cannot make others do what is right. And we cannot always summon the needed materials, money and will to accomplish any mission.

Woodrow Wilson lived by the moral argument, and saw what amounted to one of the most senseless wars in history kill millions and forever change Europe. He appologized for his forfather’s aggressions, hoping that other countries would all feel the love. But it didn’t happen. Instead, one of the bloodiest centuries in history ensued.

I will admit that human beings should be significantly moved by moral arguments. But they rarely are. And they almost never are if adhering to moral values means sacrifice. Humans will not starve to death in order to obey the moral law of not stealing. Humans will kill if they feel significantly threatened, or if they think they can improve their position in the world by doing so, even while avoiding retribution.

In the end, the moral argument is the brood of convenience or utter desperation. It is easy to conceive that a person facing imminent death in a dark alley at the hands of a mugger may utter: “I have a wife and kids at home. Please don’t kill me.” Now, the mugger may find himself lowering his pistol, and warning the person not to call the cops. But what if he believes the victim will be able to pick his face out of a lineup? What about testimony in court? The survival instinct is likely to overcome the moral argument that he should spare this person’s life so that the his wife isn’t left a widow and the children fatherless.

It is admirable and even desireable to start negotiations with the moral argument. Hamas should stop throwing rockets onto areas populated by defenseless civilians for the purpose of making a political statement. Israel asked nicely for many years. But then of course, it was the Palestinians who after finding themselves at the mercy of the IDF, could only resort to the moral argument. Look: Israel is killing women and children by invading and fighting with Hamas militants. As I said above, the moral argument comes from a weak proponent or a proponent so insulated from the actual problem, that the moral argument now becomes the argument of luxery.

So, let me end this by quoting Patrick Swayze in the movie, Roadhouse. “Be nice until it’s time not to be nice.”  


2 thoughts on “The moral argument rarely persuades

    'Alya said:
    June 8, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    Sometimes you can’t exactly “be nice” until its time “not to be nice”.

    Although, this strategy (if I may call it that) gives you the advantage of being unpredictable & the time to being tactful. Patience and cold steely nerves are key components to almost every fight; whether it was intellectual, military or a plain fight for survival.

    However, people tend to put you in positions where it is inconcievable to sit around, with your arms crossed, waiting for the moment when the “opponent” would drive you to the edge. Sometimes too many things are at stake.
    Time wasted can’t be an option. Sometimes you can’t sit around while they are consuming and shedding every bit of your dignity, your energy and your blood. You can’t sit around while they are wasting away those 1st precious years of your children’s lives, who haven’t had the time nor the luxury to know what childhood means. Incidently, as u may know, in some countries “childhood” is a foreign concept.

    Unfortunately, the way “Forces” (any force) is leading the battle, the situation, the argument, the war, the ideology, the resistance (…) I’m afraid, as you said, “the moral argument” rarely persuades.

    I wish we lived in a world where waiting for the right moment to attack back, or stand up against all the “forces” who stepped on you, walked away and never looked back, can always be an option.

    Ps: I don’t know if my comment is even relevant to your text, but I just wrote what immediately came to my mind after reading it.

    Amos Volante said:
    June 8, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    Patience and cold steely nerves are only an asset if you have the ability to exert force of war or economy. Otherwise, those attributes are a cold steely bluff.

    Good commentary! No need to apologize.

    I like your comment about childhood. Not all kids worldwide get a free pass on the rigors of life until they have facial hair. Some really need help just to make it to a double digit birthday with all their limbs.

    But again, help comes in the form of money or physical force.

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