Moral outrage needed in the face of cold blooded attack on neighbor?

We are now entering the fourth week of the cold blooded attack by Russia on its neighboring country Ukraine. We are all confronted with many questions:

How can one nation be allowed to march into another without any provocation? Can historical arguments of decades ago be ever used today to destabilize the international borders? Where does such uncalled for provocation end? Is the fear of nuclear war a deterrent for all other nations to sit in silence when such aggression goes unchecked? Also at what cost? unarmed civilians, children and women are being massacred in the name of a war? All this happening in the 21st century? We see cold and calculated alignments in the name of energy security, raw material resources, political ideology – when do all these end, to reflect the values and interests of larger humanity? ………… The questions go on in the minds of everyone.

The answer is simple: Morality is paper thin. This essay was posted in Sep. 2013, nearly ten years ago, when the Syrian population was subjected to attack using Chemical weapons. Few passages from this essay are copied below. Additional thoughts follow after that.

It is often easy to fall behind the wisdom of three monkeys: “See no evil; Speak no evil; Hear no evil”. In fact much of the rupture and degeneration of the moral fiber starts with this seemingly moral position. Yet inaction, when action is required is also a moral failing as we know well from the scriptures. What should be done as a consequence and as a response to such heinous crimes? The answers may not be simple or easy. But if there is a time to remember that morality is paper thin, this might be one such moment.

Precisely how we uphold morality always starts as an individual decision. In due course it evolves into a mosaic that holds the social unit – the family, community, nation or the humanity at large – together.  Morality represents the social conscience and hence a compass that serves well for the society at large. Yet, morality has no force on its own, since its enforcement power comes from something invisible and intangible (i.e.) the soul or conscience of all of us as individuals  as part of the society or community. It is like a sheet of paper. When it is whole it serves many purposes. But, when it is ripped or torn, it is merely cast aside into a pile of waste.

It is heartening to see the united effort of most of the nations of the world isolating Russia and particularly its leadership. It is clear that unbridled ignorance and attachments to the false sense of “super power” of one man or few in Russia is driving the massacre of thousands in Ukraine. It also accompanies the death and dismemberment of hundreds of Russian soldiers. Let us hope that the combined effort of almost all of humanity will bring an end to this cold and calculated war.

There are three possibilities for the end of this tragedy: (A) Russia wins unilaterally and Ukraine – a sovereign democratic nation – becomes oppressed under the autocratic rule in the guise of communism. This seems less likely as the war is now protracted with mounting Russian casualties; (B) Russia is defeated unilaterally in the battlefield and driven out of Ukraine. This option is also far-fetched as far as we can see now; (C) There will be a protracted war of attrition, much like what happened in Syria or Afghanistan. This scenario seems most likely. As a result, a serene and moderately well off nation of 40 million people living at the edge of poverty and war torn destruction seems to be the most likely outcome for next decade.

In Syria, the oppressor who used chemical weapons seems to have won at least for now, with help and support from Russia. We are told that Russia might have been emboldened because of this apparent success in a foreign war. In Afghanistan – whatever their religious fundamentalism may be – the locals won the war of attrition with untold loss of life and property for all sides. It is the silence of the world community in both these wars, which might have emboldened the Russian autocrat leading to the Ukraine crisis.

An eye for an eye leaves the world full of blind people. This sad reality is not understood by nations and world citizens despite the repeated destruction from war. It would be a mistake to characterize the war against Ukraine as a war between Democracy and Autocracy. In such arguments it is assumed that people of both nations are fully engaged and have contributed to the decision  of their respective nations. Autocrats do not make decisions based on popular opinions. Fear of authority and need for self-preservation (Subjectivity) are the fodder for authoritarian rulers. Democracies can not sustain their decisions unless the citizens are fully engaged all the time and do not take their freedom for granted. Hence the war in Ukraine – or for that matter wars anywhere in the world – is a challenge for the moral conscience requiring vigilant engagement of every citizen of every nation in the free world. Such morality and vigilance can not be compromised for a few dollars of lower price of imported goods, energy or raw materials or lower cost of labor from nations that abuse their newly gained economic strength or those who abuse the freedom and respect of their own citizens. 

Globalization appeared to be a pathway for shared wealth and prosperity for all. Yet, society forgot that Globalization also means shared responsibility for the care of all citizens of all nations. This has resulted in unequal distribution of wealth with few “haves” and a lot more “have nots”. This economic imbalance combined with the spread of fake news – abundance of false information – have slowly eroded our unique human skills for self reflection, a fundamental need for any moral fiber. Shift towards extreme liberal or extreme right wing positions seem to dominate nations and their politics rather the middle ground.  When the Covid-19 Pandemic affected the globe, every nation withdrew into its own cocoon. Collective global action to curb the pandemic (as was the case in previous pandemics) was abandoned. Globalization must also imply care and welfare of the planet as a whole. Instead the climate crisis has now become isolated as a social movement of a few progressives and opposed by a limited few on the other side with their power to block any meaningful solutions.  Developing a common cause approach appears far fetched. Self preservation has become the norm for the past decade or more.  Increasing Subjectivity and erosion of Objectivity (focused on larger common good) is the slippery slope we have been sliding down. Will the war on Ukraine be the trigger to reverse this trend and wake up the moral conscience of every citizen of the world? Will such awakening lead to a renewed faith and respect for each other as human beings and fellow citizens of the world?

Philosophic reflections at a time of war and crisis of untold proportions in Ukraine might appear aloof and insensitive. Far from it. It is the time for each of us to search deeply our long held personal or self-centered opinions and judgements (Subjectivity) and separate them from thoughts and ideas that foster good for others and the larger community (Objectivity). From this point of view we can see all forms of Government – Democracy, Communism, Socialism, Autocracy –  can co-exist as long as they survive and succeed with respect and regard for other nations and their choices. This will be an objective outlook that can be preserved under the umbrella of world organizations such as the UN.

Russia may not want a growing NATO or Ukraine to join NATO. But, the solution for this desire is not a cruel war on its neighbor. Instead Russia could work to become an economic Superpower, which is attractive for other nations to join Russia in their alliance. Instead it is the economic failure of Russia that has catalyzed the current Putin War on Ukraine. Ignorance and attachment fostered by subjectivity always leads to unbridled anger, grief and destruction. Nations of the world must exercise wisdom and sound judgment to overcome this ignorance and attachment of autocratic leaders for a long term peace and tranquility for Ukraine.

Such global events are also sources for each of us to exercise self reflection. Each of us should transform our moral outrage into actionable questions such as: What can I do to help those innocent people who are caught up in this unjust war and violence? How can I as a citizen promote better understanding of the reality that “an eye for an eye leaves the world with more blind people”? Am I unintentionally and unwillingly contributing to such moral failings in my own life within my family, community or nation? Am I being subjected to such immoral acts – big and small – by others and am I able to stand up to that?

Comment from Joe P:

It does appear that the people of the Ukraine are exemplifying moral outrage, and staying to fight the evil, even when the odds are not highly in their favor. For isn’t that a key to true moral outrage- Fight for Right? And we see the peoples of the world, even Russian citizens giving their voices to the support of Ukraine. President Zelenskyy has said that anyone can support the efforts using their own particular skills and knowledge, be it soldiering, making meals, driving people to safety, putting out fires, spiritually assisting, donating time, money, effort. He has found a way to continue leading the world to assist. As was stated, being like the three monkeys is not always the correct response. Action is sometimes required by us. Let us hope that the typical short attention span of the worlds moral outrage will extend, hold fast and reverse the attack by evil.

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