As the past election heated up the candidates and fired up their bases, each had a radically different view of the condition of the country. It had either never been worse or never been better.
So, what kind of world are we bequeathing our children and their children? Important question that. Some time ago CSUB’s Kegley Institute of Ethics brought in Distinguished Professor Miguel De La Torre, Ph.D., of the Iliff School of Theology in Denver who argued three propositions.
The first was the most disturbing, the second and third more hopeful: that conditions for exploited peoples everywhere will remain more or less unchanged long term; that doing justice is a binding personal duty; and that it is necessary to “be with” — as in suffering with the suffering — those whose lives have been the target of exploitation.
His prolific writing and lecturing serve the purpose of bringing into our awareness the suffering of the exploited. The tie-in to ethics is that exploiting our weaker international brethren is an inexcusable and unpardonable breach of ethical/moral conduct, and that our failure of recognition and correction of it makes us, every one of us, complicit in that exploitation.
He argues that the very foundation of America’s prosperity and exceptionalism is centuries of capitalistic and opportunistic taking of the land and the resources of weaker states and their weaker subsistence classes (and that might include our own exploited weaker subsistence classes). Our expropriating of others’ resources and labors has always been and continues with no end in sight.
His corrective: ensuring justice (fairness) in all our personal and national dealings. Making sure that all sides of any deal are given fair and equal value in it, and are uplifted by it. This goes for all who are affected directly or indirectly.
According to De La Torre, morally we’re not going anywhere. Given what’s been displayed throughout human history, such a goal seemingly, despite the behavioral witness of a saintly few, goes against the self-seeking grain of human nature. And, he tells us, that’s where moral/ethical progress by all appearances reaches its end.
Progress is not in evidence. Moral history is a bleak story. And notwithstanding both mathematician, philosopher and historian of science Jacob Bronowski (Ascent of Man) and Jesuit priest and philosopher/paleontologist/geologist Teilhard de Chardin (The Phenomenon of Man), seen as a whole, De La Torre tells us humanity shows no hope or slope of improvement.
And that’s at the heart of all ethicists’ challenge. Striving to create an enlightened atmosphere where moral and ethical good can be done despite overwhelming odds against them. To light and keep lit one’s single ethical candle in a dark, cold and windy place, and to “suffer with” the exploited and afflicted.
But how does that work, and what good does “suffering with” do to those who are hurting in this at times cold and heartless world?
Answer: Suffering with — in the moment — acknowledges one’s and the other’s humanity and upholds their personal value. It affirms their importance in a world that reinforces their unimportance. It brings into being their unique significance and worth in the face of unjust social, political, racist and economic forces that take for granted their insignificance and lack of worth.
It brings into focus what Martin Buber described as a personal intimacy with others (I-Thou) rather than others as commodities to be used (I-It).
When all is said and done, it’s not about how much we have accumulated in or taken from life; it’s about how uprightly we have lived and how much of ourselves we have deeply given to others.
Those are the measures by which we will be remembered, and that was the essence of the message Dr. De La Torre shared with those gathered at KIE’s forum.
Hopefully it fell upon open ears and equally open hearts.