So, the Senate’s report on torture has come out. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, as singularly despicable a human being as has ever crawled out from under a rock, assures us that this program was approved at the highest levels. Is a crime a crime if Important People decide not to call it such? For example, the excuse given by one active participant in the CIA’s blatant torture of prisoners (conducted without regard for the prisoners’ guilt or innocence – to say nothing of basic human decency – and the repeatedly demonstrated FACT that such methods never produce reliable information; more on this momentarily) was that three out of four past Attorneys General of the United States had approved of the practices.
As Jon Stewart points out in the previous link, the three were all Attorneys General appointed by the Bush administration, which administered the programs of torture as a matter of policy orchestrated at the highest level. Stewart’s approach – via satire and such humor as one may bring to bear in the face of our public complicity in crimes against humanity – to the contrary not withstanding, his argument nevertheless bears appreciation. Continue reading
The predictable, self-righteous clucking by privileged White commentators of various stripes that followed especially upon the Ferguson rioting (which followed upon a grand jury result that shows every sign of having been aggressively manipulated so as to avoid, even preclude, any indictment of the White cop who killed an unarmed Black teenager) betrays a level of willful obtuseness that is truly beyond all measure. Add to this now the similar refusal to indict in the Garner case in Staten Island, and the shock and outrage in minority communities has reached levels not seen since the 1960’s. This rage continues to leave many people – almost entirely White people, and regardless, almost certainly members of some significantly privileged collection of people – completely dumb-founded as to the reason why this rage is fulminating in so many minority communities, a rage that often expresses itself blindly in violence. Why are black people, especially, so angry? Why do they lash out so violently at their own communities? These respective cases went before their grand juries, and when presented with all of the evidence, the grand juries said that there was not evidence enough for an indictment. Isn’t this how the system is supposed to work?
But that, of course, is precisely the problem: that IS how the system is supposed to work. The system IS supposed to dismiss the value of minority, especially black, lives. Because the system that we live in is one of monstrously institutionalized racism in which black people can be safely viewed as not even human by people who insist that this is not a problem. Yes, the system “worked.” Such “working” is the moral catastrophe of our age.
I wish to make two points here, the first is quite patently clear, while the second and longer point will be far more problematically speculative. Point #1 is that, while rioting – which is not at all the same as civil disobedience – is almost certainly not helpful, it is understandable. The second, far more speculative, point is an approach toward such an understanding that I’ve not seen suggested elsewhere.
Are there such things as “objective values”? That is, are there values that have a claim to objective reality in much the same way as the laws of physics? Or are all value claims subjective, nothing more than a matter of personal taste and desire, without any special reference to what is real beyond the fact of the desire?
Caution needs to be exercised here, as the framing of the questions above pose a false dichotomy. In addition, asking about objective values is a different question from that regarding the existence of objective morality. Values can be morally neutral, whereas morals are a very definite sub-collection of values. It is possible that some values might be objectively real (chocolate is objectively yummy not because we like it, but because it is just the best thing in the world), without ever entailing (in the logical sense of formal implication at the deepest levels of meaning) that any objectively real morals exist. Conversely, there can be objectively real moral values which nevertheless offer no further implications to the full range of other values, or even to other putative moral values. The relations involved are not simple ones, and do not involve set-theoretic/mereological containments (A is a smaller part of B) nor any necessarily transitive implications (that is, A implies B, and B implies C, therefore A implies C.) Connections – insofar as they exist at all – are “thin,” and can fade with the (metaphorical) “distance” between acts of evaluations, intentions, meanings, and values themselves.