We are a nation whose political system demands the separation of church and state, creating a tension between political popularity and religious or social righteousness. However, this separation does not demand immoral politics. The media and conservative ideologues would argue that, in contemporary America, it is the rightwing which monopolizes issues of morality. They would summon as evidence debates over abortion, abstinence education, sexuality and so forth – issues grounded in traditional Judeo- Christian theology. Historically, their arguments grow from a Victorian notion of virtue and morality, and before that, medieval concepts of chastity and honor — conditions which demand discipline and restraint from temptation, what Freud later labeled the super-ego. These interpretations of “morality” are limited to the individual — and this particular type of individual is very fashionable in GeorgeBush?s “era of responsibility.”There are other concepts of morality, ones more common among the political left, though rarely credited as ethical by ideological opponents. The Left?s paradigm is meta-self. It is, in essence, communal. It is founded in sympathy, empathy and compassion — hardly irreligious ideas, yet they are rarely confined in the context of religion for two simple reasons: first, religion is innately exclusionary and is unnecessary in public debates; and second, unlike homophobia or misogyny, compassion does not need the justification of religion to acquire acceptance.
Arguably, issues of national interest, defined by social programs, environmentalism and peace are more ethical than a quainter notion of self-restraint. Certainly, for classical philosophers, notably Aristotle, morality was never a private matter, but inevitably linked to the political state, the “polis.” In a modern context, dialectical debates over America?s unprecedented wealth and its disinclination to maintain remedying welfare programs come into question. Is not the mere existence of impoverished or incapable citizens a moral issue? Isn?t a government which ignores poverty, delineative of the people, committing an immoral breach? It is for us to decide.
Liberals would vehemently argue that it is the government?s responsibility to insure the protection of its people, not just from foreign powers but from those who mean to exploit the vulnerable or disregard the dispensable — from disease and despair, and from ignorance.
Health care, education, minimum wage rates and markets free of predatory monopolies are moral issues! They cannot be removed from public discourse on right and wrong without first removing the humane from the political.
Inevitably, issues of war and peace must enter any moral discussion. Before any debate over the ends we must first consider the means of conflict. In Iraq, over 1,000 Americans and more than 13,000 Iraqis have perished. Reducing human life to mere statistics and depleted words cannot possibly encapsulate the reality of the individual situations; death is too infinite for trite language. Despite this, it seems that peace has always been the harder of the two options for America. The United States has been constantly at war with one nation or another for the past 50 years; Gore Vidal has noted over 200 separate unilateral strikes since 1950 in his book “Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace.” The world no longer accepts our excuses of altruism and security; the value of life has risen too much in their eyes. But what of us? Can we honestly say that we refuse to sacrifice human life for anything but the direst circumstance, or do we choose expediency in battle because diplomacy simply does not suit us?
Questions of futurity could also exist in a moral light. The national debt, for example, is a hereditary obligation bestowed upon ensuant generations. Is borrowing money from them, to spend on projects over which they have no voice or vote, democratic? How about education? It seems immoral to divvy public education between rich and poor districts, a problem which No Child Left Behind only further exaggerates. Likewise, public colleges and universities are yearly robbed of funds to give tax breaks to families whose children can readily afford private institutions.
The stability of the earth, stressed and ravaged by our industrialism and sprawl, also concerns unborn generations. Does it matter what kind of condition we leave the planet? Is it their fault for being born after New York, Boston, and other cities are underwater from global warming?
Philanthropy, peace and intellection are members of our country?s ethical fabric. Compassion and crime are not related, though some will tell us so. Homelessness, war, health care and education are moral issues to be confronted in political arenas. I am not an island unto myself in this society. Instead, society is my island; the land I want to cultivate and enrich. And if George W. Bush will force me to be that island — that individual separate from and competing against every other American — then I will reduce the debate to an individual context: I cannot be a moral being if my country will not assume that responsibility itself.
Bill Casto is a senior studying Literature with a minor in History.