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Thursday, January 06, 2005


are we culpable?

by way of argument regarding the ethics of terrorists striking at american civilian populations:

regardless of our hyperindividualist times -- which is a spot of changed moral stripes from even recent times in the west -- the question is: is there an institutional culpability for the actions of the past?

i think there is. institutions arranged and maintained by us are designed to be slow to change in some respect -- which is part of the point of their establishment, to enshrine something worth keeping. if the institution facilitated a wrong, can it not continue to facilitate future wrongs? and is there not then a preventive as well as a punitive effect in striking at them?

when related to a question i asked earlier -- "have we, by the action of our (democratic) system, indicted ourselves in the same manner the german and italian people did in their wild support of fascism?" -- one could argue that it is entirely within the capacity of western ethics to strike so.

certainly, i see that no individualist can countenance being culpable for the actions of any collective, even one he is a part of, if he did not both agree individually to the action and was not "co-opted" into membership of (such as being a natural citizen). but this perspective is very new and quite extreme.

westerners have long authorized their agents to take action against groups of individuals irrespective of their individual opinions on the same principle that one can be prosecuted as an accessory to a crime -- if you didn't prevent it, you are culpable.

anyway, i don't pretend to have the final answer in this as an ethical debate -- but it strikes me as disingenuous to cry "it's not my fault!" when you are implicitly a member of the empowered body politic that authorized, wittingly or unwittingly, such transgressions -- because you didn't *personally* authorize them.

if you wish to avoid that responsibility, move to a dictatorship. democracies are social -- or rather are supposed to be -- and the social culpability should serve to make the citizen think hard about that which they vote on. in this way, perhaps the question -- "have we, by the action of our (democratic) system, indicted ourselves in the same manner the german and italian people did in their wild support of fascism?" -- is to be answered yes, indeed moreso.

insofar as our moral position of culpability for the acts of government goes, then, i see these positions:

1) we are representatively empowered and therefore culpable;

2) we are not empowered and therefore not culpable;

3) there is no we, therefore i am not (or am) culpable.

few would argue 2) -- but many would argue 3). i think there is an uncomfortable truth of collective responsibility here, even in a democracy, if it is still a society.

we would all huddle under the social services and military protection of our society; to that extent, we enjoy social benefits. i find it difficult, then, to claim we are not also socially responsible -- even if most of us now quietly fight to undermine that responsibility (and thereby society) every day.

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