What does it mean to do the “right” thing? Is it still the “right” thing if it’s for the “wrong” reasons? Can you do the “wrong” thing for the “right” reasons? How are people’s moral values manipulated by larger forces to support immoral causes?
These are questions that I seem to be coming up against a lot lately. It seems to me that most, if not all, of the horrors being perpetrated in our world today are allowed to continue due to the manipulation of people’s perceptions of morality. We all strive to be moral, but we are easily lead astray. There are several examples in current events that I’d like to point to in this discussion. Here is the first.
This man’s name stirs up more impassioned arguments than any other in the political arena today. And for that, I love him. I think it is essential that we grapple with the ideas he presents and the contradictions they evoke in many of our consciences. I appreciate his candor and his commitment to principle (although, to be clear, I disagree with his principles). I admire his fearlessness in speaking what he believes. These are qualities sorely absent in most politicians today, and I believe that RP’s appeal to the masses begins there.
His appeal is further strengthened by his rhetoric of Individual Liberty. Because who doesn’t support the ideals of liberty and freedom? Indeed, at a time when our civil liberties are being increasingly eroded in the name of safety against “terrorism,” it is crucial to be speaking about these issues. But on what terms does Ron Paul support liberty and freedom? How does he ultimately believe these ideals should be manifested? These are equally important questions. The answers, according to Ron Paul, revolve around the ideas of individualism, private property, and the “free market”. Ron Paul wants an absolutely minimal federal government, with maximum personal freedoms.
While this may sound good at first, I believe it is crucial to dig deeper into these issues, to see what’s really at stake. His faith in the “free market” to balance out human moral shortcomings is particularly troublesome to me. Free Market Capitalism is predicated on exploitation of resources in pursuit of personal profit. And, in line with his Libertarian belief in individual liberty, this works out just fine, because it is an individual’s right to exploit whatever resources he can get his hands on in order to better himself, i.e. in pursuit of individual freedom and prosperity. This, in turn, creates an imbalance of power in society, where a handful of people can gain control of the vast majority of resources and thus exploit the masses of people, who must subordinate themselves to those who control the resources that they themselves need to survive. Clearly, this is precisely the situation we have today, with a fraction of a percentage of people controlling the vast majority of the world’s wealth, while billions of others suffer in abject poverty, with no prospect for freedom.
So is that the ultimate manifestation of freedom, Social Darwinism? Do only those (and the descendants of those) who most successfully exploit resources and their fellow human beings deserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? I hope that for most people that answer is “No.” I hope that most people are compassionate enough to say “No, I do not believe that my ‘freedom’ should come at the expense of any other human being’s freedom.” But if compassion isn’t motivation enough for you, I will also point out that this unfettered exploitation wreaks havoc on the planet itself, the ecosystem that we all depend on to survive. If we do not change course, if we continue to pursue infinite growth with individual profit as our bottom line, then none of us will survive. We have reached a point in the evolution of our species where cooperation is truly pivotal to our survival.
Thus, while I am glad to hear a major political figure saying that we need to end our imperialistic wars, I also have a responsibility to go beyond the surface of his stance and figure out why he holds that position and what he proposes in its place. When I do that, I see that Ron Paul is not opposed to war for moral reasons but for financial reasons. He believes we spend too much money on our military, particularly in foreign wars for “nation building.” His National Defense plan is based on isolationism, i.e. do what’s best for our country and let the others fend for themselves. Again, if this doesn’t bother you on a humanitarian level, at least consider the impracticality of this stance in our current global economy and our common planet of inhabitance. Moreover, his reinforcement of the notion that our foreign wars are truly based on “nation building” or “policing the world,” when clearly they are based on imperialistic motives, leads me to conclude that he is either lying through his teeth or profoundly naive.
In conclusion, to go back to my original thought on “the right thing for the wrong reasons” and our distorted perceptions of morality, I believe that Ron Paul’s anti-war, pro-liberty positions are an example of both. It took me some time to reach this conclusion, as I was initially drawn to his positive qualities mentioned earlier and the surface of his stances. But once I started to really look into his positions and fight my urge to cheerlead for anyone who opposes war, it became unquestionably clear that Ron Paul was not the progressive candidate I so wanted him to be.
It’s sad, really, that our political field is so devoid of decency that Ron Paul would be the only glimmer of hope to a mass of people desperate (still, 4 years later) for change. Certainly, some of these people really do believe in Ron Paul’s ideals and plans—if I’m lucky, they will descend upon my blog to defend him to the death. With those supporters, I will just have to agree to disagree. But I believe another large portion of his supporters have simply been lead astray, either not understanding the true ideological basis for his seemingly progressive stances or supporting him despite this, as the new “lesser of two evils.”
This blog post is aimed at those supporters, the ones who fell in line with Ron Paul by default of not having any other candidate to believe in. To you, I say: Please rethink your stance. Do not resign yourself to simply supporting the lesser of two Evils. Demand Good. Demand real change, though it has no political figure as its face. We simply cannot afford to fight for anything less.