Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The sleep of reason--and moral agency--produces monsters

Below, we have Goya's famous etching"The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters."

It came to mind while I was reading Melanie Phillips, who is presently writing some of the finest analysis of the British (and, by extrapolation, general Western European) reaction to the war in Lebanon that I've read.

Phillips makes sobering reading. It does appear that, among a certain rather large segment in Europe, reason has indeed gone to sleep and monsters are afoot. The West, the birthplace of the Enlightenment and its dedication to reason, seems to have lost the ability to do so.

Read most especially and particularly this; (and also this, and this, if you have more time).

Phillips writes with an air of astonishment as well as outrage, the astonishment of the child who points out the obvious fact that the emperor has no clothes, and yet no one will listen. Her "J'accuse" will no doubt be rejected by those she's criticizing in the press, the intelligentsia, and the Left.

Ms. Phillips writes that the West is in the grip of "a profound moral breakdown." Some of this is fed by the lies and distortions of the BBC, which provides most of the information for the British populace; the BBC seems to have abandoned not only it's vaunted objectivity but reason itself.

The consequences are dreadful, because, as Phillips points out, this isn't about Israel anymore. This is about a genocidal intent on the part of Iran and certain Arab states to obliterate Israel, and to establish an all-encompassing caliphate. If the Jews have always been the canary in the mine (and I believe they have), we're all in dire trouble. One of the troubles is that so few in Europe seem to recognize their own potentially suicidal defense of their enemies and their refusal to recognize their friends.

I could quote at great length from Phillips's piece, but I'll try to be as brief as possible and give you the essence of it. Please ponder this:

But the moral crisis in Britain extends far wider and deeper than the wretched BBC and other media. The surreally distorted response by so many to Israel’s attempt to destroy the would-be purveyors of genocide raises the question of whether Britain will ever again support a just war — because it no longer knows what a just war is, and no longer has the intellectual capacity to know. This is in large measure because moral agency has disappeared altogether from the analysis. Intention, the essence of moral actions, is now tossed aside as of no significance. All that matters are the consequences of an action. This is in accordance with the prevailing amoral consensus which has negated moral agency altogether in order to remove the burden of personal responsibility. What someone intends to do is therefore held to be of no account. All that matters is the consequences of their action.

So the fact that Israel is at war solely to prevent the deaths of innocents is dismissed. All that matters is that the consequences of its actions are that Lebanese civilians are dying. The fact that the Israelis do not intend them to die is irrelevant. Those deaths are deemed to be the equivalent of the deaths caused by Hezbollah. The fact that Hezbollah deliberately sets out to murder innocent Israelis is irrelevant. Thus the only thing that matters is which side has more dead people. The fact that there are more dead Lebanese than dead Israelis settles the matter. The Israelis are in the wrong, are behaving disproportionately, are committing war crimes, are the villains of the piece. The fact that they are actually the victims of unprovoked genocidal aggression is deemed irrelevant. Thus the moral bankruptcy of Britain’s post-modern cultural desert...

Such prejudice [towards Israel] is not only despicable. It is also nationally suicidal. For such is the hatred of Israel that — fantastically — a world war is under way in which the designated victims don’t even realise it is happening.

If Iran succeeds in developing nuclear weapons and wipes out Israel--thus coming a long way to finishing the job Hitler began--will Western Europe mourn, or rejoice? I begin to wonder. Phillips does offer some hope, however--evidence that the middle-class "man in the street" gets the situation better than the intellectuals--and despite the efforts of the press to shape opinion otherwise.

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