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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Should Revolutions Include The Writing Off Of Moral Debts

In an interview with Euronews, Noam Chomsky stated that the Greek debt should be forgiven (click here). The failure to do so, as Brussels is doing, hurts Greece. We should note here that for practical purposes, Brussels serves as the financial capital of the European Union. 

We should understand that one of the reasons why some believe that the Greek debt should be forgiven has to do with the tradeoffs between Greece paying off such a large debt and having the debt forgiven. Only the latter, according to some, allows Greece to have hope for the future. Other than that, the debt is too stifling for Greece to both pay it off and to grow economically. 

Using Greece's need as a model, those of us who clamor for revolution need to ask ourselves this question: Should we call on the public to punish those we blame for the world's ills or should we recognize that, owing such a high moral debt to the world, we need to encourage such people to feel free in having a change of heart by being willing to forgive them for their past sins and abuse of power? That instead of looking to give those we blame what we think they deserve, we should dream that they should have a change in heart and join us. Why shouldn't we let many sinful bygones be bygones if those who sin against us are willing to change? And if we remove the threat of punishment for past sins, we might make it easier for at least some elites to go through a change in heart.

Every group has scapegoats for what is wrong with the world. Those on the Right conflate liberals and leftists into one group and blame society's ills on their relative morality, lack of personal responsibility, and atheism.  Liberals tend to blame those on the Right for their imposition of personal religious values on society as well as the Right's support of business. And those of us on the Left blame the Rich. In each case, to win, the scapegoat must be overcome and conquered. But in addition, there is the implication that evil will stop when one's own group is in charge. History does not share that assessment. Sometimes we need our opponents to provide a check on us and our designs.

Rather than working with the current divisions of the Left, Liberals, and Conservatives, perhaps we should start with the division Martin Luther King Jr did. In his speech against the Vietnam War, King specified one of the real divisions between people when he said:
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

That division is between those who are thing-oriented and those who are person-oriented. Also note what King regards as being thing-oriented from that which is person-oriented. Finally, the orientations King identifies shows one of the major divisions between people.  

The emphasis on the individual and one's property rights is championed by those on the Right. And we need to help those on the Right to see that progress cannot be first measured by profit, buildings, and possessions. 

Liberals need to see that mere modifications of the current system that so favors property rights can never produce a society that becomes person-oriented. 

At the same time, we need to add a further distinction for both the Left and the Right. That distinction is between those who are ideological-oriented and those who are person-oriented. For a danger that is faced by both those on the Left and the Right is the ability to scapegoat and even dehumanize those who do not follow one's own ideology. The part of Leftist ideology that blames the Rich and sees them as being incapable of changing implies that we should treat the Rich as being less than human. And the part of the ideology of the Right that regards all who are nonconservatives as being moral lepers does the same.

When we believe that others have nothing to contribute or cannot change, we begin to give ourselves permission to regard and even treat them as being less than ourselves. This is why we cannot afford not to try to win our opponents over. And in winning them over, we should not necessarily try to win them over to our particular ideology--for me that would be a Leftist ideology. Rather, we should try to win them over to being person-oriented rather than thing-oriented or ideological-oriented. That though things and ideologies are important, we need to regard people, whether they side with us or not, as being most important.  And we cannot regard people as being most important if we feel compelled to conquer them. 

Yes, there might be a time where we should seek democratic controls over the behavior of those who insist on putting things or ideologies before people. But we must first and continually try to win over such people.

We know that the moral debt some have incurred from how they treat others is too high for them to admit their sins. And the more we insist that such people pay that debt, the more defensive they become. At this point, we must remember how we have all treated others unjustly. We should also think about how we would want to be reached out to if our moral debt for how we have treated others was exorbitant. It is with this in mind that we need to personally engage our opponents and invite them to change. We need to help them see that for all of us to survive, we must put people first.



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