Friday, October 10, 2008

Good and evil, the battle continues

Here in America I am struck on a daily basis by the clear, objective distinction between "good" and "evil" that appears to exist in everyone's mind. I myself am a wicked unbeliever in this distinction. I could be considered guilty of "moral relativism", which as Wikipedia helpfully tells us, is "the position that moral or ethical propositions do not reflect objective and/or universal moral truths, but instead make claims relative to social, cultural, historical or personal circumstances".

I don't want to go on about this at length today, being slightly obsessed with a research problem in string theory that I'm working on. But let me give an example that confuses me. There are two contenders to be the next President of the US. Each is good according to his supporters and evil according to the supporters of the other one. On Tuesday night I watched with some bemusement as they debated each other on TV. There were many differences of opinion between them and these will presumably be important in determining the result of the election. But they also had some views in common and these are the ones I'd like to focus on here.

To quote Senator McCain:

"America is the greatest force for good in the history of the world. ... we have gone to all four corners of the Earth and shed American blood in defense, usually, of somebody else's freedom and our own. So we are peacemakers and we're peacekeepers."

To quote Senator Obama:

"Now, Sen. McCain and I do agree, this is the greatest nation on earth. We are a force of good in the world."

Now you can click on this link to the New York Times website to view a video of Mr Ahmadinejad, President of Iran, talking to New York Times reporters. The reporters described him as "soft-spoken but insistent, and often evasive specially on domestic issues such as .. the Iranian economy".

Digression: With appropriate substitutions the above could be a description of McCain! And there are other similarities. Mr Ahmadinejad once said "this regime occupying Jerusalem (een rezhim-e eshghalgar-e qods) must [vanish from] the page of time (bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad)" (this is again from Wikipedia, the English translation being credited to a professor at the University of Michigan). The interpretation popular in the US is that he said Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth, which he denies (the above translation supports his denial). Mr McCain once sang "Bomb bomb bomb Iran", to the tune of a Beach Boys song. The interpretation popular in the US is that he was joking. In an interview McCain was asked if he was proud of what he did and he said "yes".

Back to my main point. Surprisingly, Mr Ahmadinejad does not agree with either McCain's or Obama's world view, and fails to see the point that "America is the greatest force for good"! Indeed he points out that "the U.S. government has good relations with countries that have the atomic bomb, and bad relations with countries like us who are simply pursuing peaceful nuclear energy". He also accuses America of "creating an unstable world", by attacking the countries on either side of Iran.

Now I don't think Mr Ahmadinejad or Mr McCain (or Mr Obama if it comes to that) completely shares my personal values and I doubt I would vote for any of them if they were standing for election in my country (unless the alternative was Mr Advani, only joking ha ha!!). So I bring them up here only to point out how moral issues can be seen so differently by different people. All this leaves me so confused that I remain trapped in my moral relativism.

1 comment:

Mind Without Fear said...

perhaps time to see Rashomon again?