“I don't discuss politics,” says a friend. For a decent person in a moral dilemma, one way of avoiding responsibility is to cultivate naiveté-to insist on being ignorant. My friend is a Sinhalese whose Tamil husband supports the Tigers in their terrorist war of independence against a Sinhalese-dominated government. To keep peace in the family, she sometimes denies that Tigers are violent. Or sometimes she claims that the Tamils had been driven to violence after exhausting all non-violent means. Thus she protects her private peace-the domestic harmony of her own household. If people are getting killed elsewhere, that's not her fault.
In a different way, her husband also pursues peace by narrowing the scope of his responsibility. Separation will enable "his" people to manage their own affairs and, he thinks, bring the kind of peace that divorce confers on couples who can not get along. Each party will make its own decisions and no longer have to accommodate to the other. Is this what actually happens after states are partitioned? He doesn't want to know and won't listen if you tell him. But neither he nor his wife is an immoral person. They are just like the rest of us-trying to minimize the harm they cause in a world of hard choices.
Yet morality requires us to consider the far-reaching consequences of our actions, since whatever we do affects others beyond the social world that is properly "ours." (Our family? Our ethnic group? Our province? Our Canada?) Interdependence is increasing all the time, forcing us to acknowledge moral responsibilities that previously we could have denied.
For example, when the Zapatista rebellion began in Mexico, one of our honorary patrons said in anguish, "We Canadians bear some responsibility for this. We adopted NAFTA." (Read Roman's piece.)
And in Somalia, some of "our" humanitarian soldiers practiced torture and murder, and even the whole U.N. peacekeeping operation may be questioned. (Read Urdoh's piece.)
And in the former Yugoslavia, whatever we do-or refuse to do-will hurt many people. (Read Drakulic's interview with Popovic.) We cannot opt out. We cannot reduce our responsibility by narrowing the scope of our obligations to a family, to a separate nation-state, or even to a whole society. To exercise true responsibility for those whom our actions affect, we need to enlarge, not shrink, our political institutions.
Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1994, page 4. Some rights reserved.
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