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August 2019

October 2019

Complexity and Difficulty

"It is revealed now that their Europe since the beginning has been a
deception, for its faith and its foundation is nothingness.
And nothingness, as the prophets keep saying, brings forth only
nothingness, and they will be led again like cattle to
slaughter.


Let them tremble and at the last moment comprehend that the
word Sarajevo will from now on mean the destruction of their
sons and the debasement of their daughters.
They prepare it by repeating: “We at least are safe,” unaware that
what will strike them ripens in themselves."  - from Sarajvo by Czeslaw Milosz

 

In a former life I was a lobbyist for the Syrian opposition. A confounding thing would happen when we would show journalists, members of Congress, or policy experts pictures of tortured and murdered Syrians. Often the pictures would feature horrific burns, missing genitals, wounds for which an American mind could not imagine the instrument or process that made them. The viewer, always summoning a concerned and sullen affect, would take a moment, perhaps even comment on the tragedy illuminated in the images. After a beat, they would say that the Syrian conflict was "complicated."

I want to be fair. I know what they meant. They meant to indicate that they were questioning the efficacy of proposed policy solutions. Here are 40,000 tortured, murdered disfigured bodies. So what do you, lobbyist, want? Bombs on Damascus? An assassination? Shoulder rockets for the ideologically questionable FSA. (I for one never quite understood why a common reaction to videos of unarmed crowds being gunned down or gassed was to ask if they understood Jeffersonian democracy or separation of powers). In the modern swirl of moral oblivion, they were making a widely tolerated claim that the horror of the abuse of human beings must be subordinated to the impossibility of a productive intervention. 

Is this implicitly offensive? Well, I will admit that I have sympathy for those who didn't know what to do in Syria. I have some sympathy for companies looking in confusion at the implications of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The thing is, these decisions are difficult they are not complicatedThese words are not synonyms. When a moral issue is complicated, we do not know the appropriate course to take. When a moral issue is difficult, we are unsure if we are willing to pay the price to do What We Know Is Right

In Hong Kong, in Syria, in Xinjiang, in Kashmir, in Myanmar, there can be no moral confusion over what is taking place. Hateful, authoritarian regimes are killing people for who they are and what they believe. In our fractured world of fake news and infinite online perspectives, an invocation of "grey" areas of morality is a shield we use to protect against the onslaught of guilt at our own cowardice. Morality is as clear as it's ever been. What has proliferated is the number of excuses available to not act. 

My friends on the left would say this is the logic of capitalism, but I think it goes far deeper. Our instinct to please our friends, to preserve profitable relationships, to look away from violence enacted by a partner does not require a free market. It requires moral sloth. It requires complacency. It requires a willingness to say, it is they who suffer, not me. These are the fallen qualities of man and Adam Smith did not write them into existence. 

If you are a person of faith, you know, the type of person whose children would be seized and raised by strangers in the People's Republic of China, hard decisions are the only decisions of any real consequence. Money, approval and preservation of the status quo are morally irrelevant background noise. That 'leaders' of our society can invoke the aforementioned concepts to avoid doing what we all know is right is the best evidence of our complete moral collapse. But have no doubt, even when we convince ourselves that morality is a confusing morass, God will know that clarity lurked behind our excuses and that indifference was a choice.