Saturday, December 29, 2012

Commentary on a Greenwald statement

One should strive to see the world and prioritize injustices free of pure self-interest - caring about grave abuses that are unlikely to affect us personally is a hallmark of a civilized person - but we are all constructed to regard imminent dangers to ourselves and our loved ones with greater urgency than those that appear more remote. Ignoble though it is, that's just part of being human - though our capacity to liberate ourselves from pure self-interest means that it does not excuse this indifference.
From here, by Glenn Greenwald.

I rather disagree.  I think this is wrong at several points.

Under Greenwald's prescription,  I can "prioritize" some grave injustice in a faraway land above a lesser injustice around me, that I might *actually* be able to do something about, and still retain the hallmarks of a civilized person. By focussing on the high priority items, and thereby doing nothing.

Under Greenwald's prescription, I can support an imperial mission to civilize others, the blood and treasure involved can be justified by a suitably high priority. In fact, most of the current injustices that bother Greenwald so much are in conflicts that have their historical roots in the colonial powers' mission to civilize the world.

There is also the question of what does it mean to care?  Surely, merely proclaiming that "I care about it" is meaningless.  Care has to manifest itself in appropriate actions.  Trying to keep track and prioritize every injustice out there will leave nothing for actual actions.  Far better to make some headway in one small problem, than to be helplessly aware of all the injustices six billion humans inflict on each other.

This next objection is more philosophical, I do not think that there is any set of beliefs that makes one into a moral person.  I think this delusion has come from religions where it is required to believe in some savior or doctrine in order to be a moral person.  I have examined the teaching of dharma in my tradition.  In the epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana, which are said to be teaching dharma, the protagonists and antagonists both "believe in" the same things.  The difference is in conduct.  Conduct alone makes one virtuous or otherwise.  Therefore "caring" about something which does not lead to better conduct is fruitless.

Doing everything that you can, balancing it with all your other responsibilities in life, to end injustice around you, and far away when possible, is the hallmark of a civilized person. If the injustice is grave enough, it may call for shedding or abeyance of other responsibilities.  Thus, for instance, one might become a freedom fighter.