Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The arbitrariness of morality

What a wonderfully arbitrary thing morality is.

Augusto Pinochet murdered 3,000 people, tortured 35,000, drove hundreds of thousands from their country in fear, and enriched himself immensely in the process, yet at his funeral on Tuesday 60,000 Chileans attended, some wept and kissed the casket, and a Catholic bishop referred to the former dictator as an exemplary head of state.

When mass murderers can be worshipped by thousands and blessed by the church, one wonders if morality has any meaning other than convenience. Something to regulate society by and not much more. This morality of convenience is of course ancient. Tribes have always had one standard for their members and quite another, often a brutal one, for outsiders. Members of the Pinochet tribe would never sanction murder of their own but would without compunction sanction torturing and murdering members of the socialist tribe.

Fortunately, human society is slowly, if erratically, overcoming tribalism. For every step backward there are many steps forward. One day perhaps we will overcome it entirely and fully recognize the equal humanity of all, from the politically-misguided fellow next door to the woman of different race and religion on the other side of the world. In the meantime, we will simply have to endure the sordid spectacle of women weeping on the coffins of monsters.


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