Overdosing on “Moral Passivity.”
I have come to imagine a cartoon where God looks down on planet Earth in the aftermath of nuclear Armageddon, and whisper’s under his breath, “Silly buggers, it wasn’t nuclear arms that killed them, they overdosed on moral passivity.”
This blog is inspired by an essay by theologian and peace activist Thomas Merton entitled, Nuclear War and Christian responsibility. It is one several essays in his book, Passion for Peace.
When reading Merton we must recall he wrote over half a century ago at the beginning of Cold War l. We are now well into Cold War ll and Merton’s writings become more prescient than ever. Were he alive today he would be astounded we are still here. His writings though, hold true as we creep ever closer to the abyss and our moral passivity is more endemic than ever.
Even then, his peers in the Catholic Church discouraged and censored his peace activism; an activism he saw as going to the very core of Christian values. It is little wonder he felt the era of Christianity had passed and the era of moral passivity had come to dominate.
Some readers may find me overly harsh in my judgement of our new Liberal government but they have broken too many promises too soon. They are practitioners of moral passivity on too many issues, from warfare, to the environment, to climate change, to pipelines.
I do not single them out. Moral passivity is the crisis of our times. It can occur in any type of institution whether it be political, religious, corporate, or the utterly shameless mainstream media(MSM). Moral passivity always has and always will be with us, but now it has reached an existential tipping point.
Merton saw moral passivity as a growing problem in his time. As have so many other writers, he saw that our materialistic and technological society had come to replace religious and spiritual values. Merton would certainly agree with the adage that “science has killed religion.” He would also agree we have become a “consumer society”, and that we are indeed, “Amusing Ourselves to Death.”
Merton would be very alarmed to hear we are now in Cold War ll, that the world peace movement became extinct in 2003 after its futile global protest against the US invasion of Iraq. He would be very alarmed there have been thirteen wars since the turn of the century, all of which were started by the US. These wars cost 14 trillion dollars, who knows how many lives, and how many millions of refugees. He would be astounded to hear that Barack Obama committed a trillion dollars to renewing America’s nuclear arsenal before leaving office.
None other than Donald Trump has assumed office and his cabinet is littered with high ranking military blockheads and bullies. There will be no end to serial warfare as this administration will continue to have Russia in its cross hairs and continue to target China and Iran.
Hostages to The Empire and Neoliberalism
We don’t have to look far to see how moral passivity has become as global as globalization.
WWII ended with much moral arrogance on the part of the allied nations as we soundly defeated both Germany and Japan. In doing so, we committed our fair share of atrocities including the gratuitous bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the purely vengeance bombing of German cities and their civilian populations. The West has never come to terms with the fact the war was actually won on the Russian Front where 27 million Russians paid the price. It was on this front the back of the Nazi war machine was broken. The much celebrated D-Day invasion was a just a large scale mop-up.
The ultimate victor was the US as it was one the few countries to survive the war unscathed and it controlled 50% of the world’s economy. It also fell in love with the profits of war and so the country was put on a permanent war footing by licentious corporations, war mongering generals, and the military industrial complex(MIC) came into being. So too did the USSR come into being. It would be the designated adversary used to justify endless militarism, the nuclear arms race and American global military adventurism. And so it was, Cold War l came to be.
In his 1962 farewell address, retiring president Dwight Eisenhower, warned his country of the ominous growth of the military industrial complex and how it was reshaping America and threatening democracy. It was also the year Thomas Merton started writing his Cold War Letters. It was also the year of The Cuban Missile Crisis where America and the USSR came dangerously close to all out nuclear war. In back-channel negotiations with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, US president John F. Kennedy defied his war mongering generals and war was averted.
Kennedy was determined to stop the Cold War. His administration was not going to condone the “moral passivity” required by this reckless venture. That same determination cost him his life when he was assassinated in November of 1963. Had he prevailed we might be living in a very different world today.
In 1991 the USSR collapsed. America’s scapegoat was no more. There was though, no peace dividend to be harvested. In a spirit of triumphalism the US saw this as an affirmation of their right to dominate the world. All that remained was to manufacture new enemies to justify endless militarism and endless warfare. The new enemies arrived with the fabricated War on Terror, triggered by the ultimate false-flag conspiracy of 9/11 in 2001( It has been suggested 9/11 would have occurred much earlier had there been a Republican president in office, rather than Democrat, Bill Clinton).
As the US pursued global domination there remained two regional powers that blocked their hegemonic ambitions: Russia and China. The US has closed the noose around these countries with thousands of missiles. They have reciprocated with more military spending to defend themselves; even though they cannot hope to match US military superiority. Thus we have Cold War ll. These countries would probably have been attacked long ago were it not for the fact both have formidable nuclear arsenals.
Selling warfare requires grotesque volumes of propaganda and moral passivity. The grand ruse depends on nobody speaking the truth, and keeping truth marginalized. Those selling warfare are generously supported by our political and media sycophants.
Now we are also being sold Neo-liberalism. Like militarism it is a world-wide contagion. You will rarely hear the word uttered by politicians but they all pander to it.
Robert W. McChesney provides us with an excellent definition of Neo-liberalism and its effects:
Earlier in the twentieth century some critics called fascism “capitalism with the gloves of,” meaning that fascism was pure capitalism without democratic rights and organizations. In fact, we know that fascism is vastly more complex than that. Neo-liberalism, on the other hand, is indeed “capitalism with the gloves off.” It represents an era in which business forces are stronger and more aggressive and face less opposition than ever before. In this political climate they attempt to codify their political power on every possible front, and as a result make it increasingly difficult to challenge business—and next to impossible—for non-market, noncommercial, and democratic forces to exist at all.
The Immoral Compliance of our Political Elites
As McChesney points out, they attempt to codify their power on every possible front… They do so through warfare, both economic and military, and trade deals (eg: NAFTA, TPP, CETA) that are really corporate diktats that crush government and democracy.
Both politicians and the media become practitioners of moral passivity and little more than aides-de-camp in service to “codify” the Neo-liberal agenda. Politicians abandon the populations who elected them in favor of the dictates of Neo-liberal masters. The media becomes no more than a mouthpiece for the Neo-liberal agenda.
At a recent Washington press conference PM Trudeau slandered the expectations of Canadians:
“Trudeau struck an appropriate balance at the meetings with Trump, representing Canada’s economic interests while declining the opportunity to lecture Trump on his immigration and refugee bans. “The last thing Canadians expect,” Trudeau said at the joint newser, “is for me to come down and lecture another country in how they choose to govern themselves.”
We certainly do not expect our leaders to come down and lecture another country in how they choose to govern themselves.” We do expect Canada has a position on issues and as the leader of a supposedly sovereign state he assert those positions and defend them. Trudeau’s response is clumsy and ironic. Especially so, when this government has made it clear it is going to pursue the usual servile relationship with Washington and its usual moral passivity.
He refuses to deal with the substance of issues which is the hallmark of every politician in service to codifying Neo-liberalism and fomenting war. Refusing to deal with “substance” signals moral passivity.
Jens Stoltenberg is the Secretary General of NATO appointed in 2014. He is a former Norwegian prime minister having left office in 2013. Like his predecessor Hans Rasmussen of Denmark, he is a former right wing politician willing to toady up to Washington’s every wish.
Regarding the recent ultimatum from US Defense Secretary James Mattis for NATO vassal states to cough up more cash Stoltenberg responded:
“This is not the U.S. telling Europe to increase defense spending,” Stoltenberg said at a news conference after the tough meeting. “This is 28 allies, heads of state, that all were sitting around the same table in 2014, and looking into each other’s eyes and agreeing that we shall increase defense spending.
“I welcome all pressure, all support to make sure that happens,” Stoltenberg said, adding that Lithuania and Romania have pledged to reach 2 percent soon.
If Stoltenberg had an milligram of moral decency he would have pointed out to Mattis that NATO countries are already under great duress meeting the existing demands placed on them. He should have also pointed out that given the imbalance of power between the US and Russia, there is no threat to Europe. But he is a stranger to the truth and willing to see all of Europe enslaved to US militarism and its concocted threats. Such is the abject cowardice of so many Western leaders unwilling to challenge America’s bullying, even in some modest measure.
What the likes of Stoltenberg, and other like-minded quislings fail to recognize is that decades ago many observers recognized NATO was no more a device for the US control and exploitation of Europe. Now it has expanded into a global intervention force under US control. Since WWll Europe has simply substituted one fascism for another.
Candidate Donald Trump observed that NATO was “obsolete.” It would be interesting to have heard his elaboration. As president he is calling for its expansion.
Stoltenberg and Trudeau, like a host of NATO and other world leaders, are unwilling to utter even murmurs of discontent or truth, leaving the bully to rage on.
If by chance we deplore the violence, anarchy and chaos of the modern world, it is clearly of our own making. We have been overdosing on passive morality. Where there is no accountability, where those who should be speaking out fall silent, where we allow ourselves to be seduced by specious values and naked propaganda the future becomes very predictable. We just feed the tyranny by pouring gas on the fires of our extinction. Our spirit is broken to the point where we regard the tyranny as immutable, and this is the fatal error.
As Merton states:
Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.
All these “demands” were met by one leader, and that was John F. Kennedy. He saw the grave threat to America and the world and brought a ferocious moral determinism to end the Cold War. His “heroic labor” was conducted in a very hostile milieu where he was vehemently opposed by bloodthirsty generals wanting to do a first strike against the USSR, and grasping industrialists who refused to be denied the obscene profits of endless warfare.
Even though Kennedy fore saw the personal consequences of his moral determinism he was undeterred and made the “most difficult sacrifice.”
I have come to imagine a cartoon where God looks down on planet Earth in the aftermath of nuclear Armageddon, and whisper’s under his breath, “Silly buggers, it wasn’t nuclear arms that killed them, they just overdosed on moral passivity.”