Wednesday, September 01, 2004
There's evil going on
I'm not religious at all, but I'm aware that this is a view that's steeped in the Christian tradition. It's a view which holds that personal redemption is possible. I think people do terrible things thinking that they are justified. And I think that people are capable of seeing and regretting their mistakes. I don't know that atonement is always possible, but I think that people are motivated to atone when they understand wrongs that they have done.
The most disturbing news this morning is coming from North Ossetia in Russia, where a band of Chechens have taken over an elementary school, taking hundreds of hostages--many of them children--in the process. The Chechens are threatening to blow up the school and everyone in it if Russian security forces try any kind of assault.
That's pretty evil.
I can see, sort of, the machinery of a mind capable of contemplating this sort of terrorism. Russia's war in Chechnya is unjust - the people of Chechnya ought to have the right of self-determination. Nor has the Russain Army limited themselves to justifiable tactics. Even leaving aside the crimes of the Soviet regime (which the Chechens certainly don't) there have been enough atrocities committed in the assaults on Grozny to keep the Chechen's bitter for generations. Faced with this, I guess I'm not really surprised that some Chechens have decided that Russian schoolchildren are legitimate targets of violence. Call this the Chechen inference.
Still, this is pretty tough to reconcile with an optimistic view of human nature. One narrative that's bouncing around my head says that you just can't treat people the way the Chechens have been treated and expect them not to make the inference. On this view, making the Chechen inference isn't a culpable act, so the Chechen's aren't exactly blameworthy for their actions. That's a narrative that's ultimately, I think, tragic, because it makes it look like there's not much hope of getting beyond the mistakes that have been made in the past.
Worse, I think, is that this seems to imply that there are no grounds for criticizing the Chechen inference. Maybe there aren't, but if there aren't then it doesn't look like there's much to morality or much worth preserving about beings like us.
* My thought is that justification is a discursive process, so my model of justification is a conversation rather than a proof. But whether or not an argument given in conversation is found persuasive depends on more than the validity of the premises. It also requires, among othe things, that the participants be willing to listen to one another. And, pretty clearly, there are cases where this condition won't be met. So, for example, I doubt that a sincere Chechen nationalist could convince a Russian victim of Chechen terror that Russia's war in Chechnya is unjust. I also doubt that a Russian general could convince a Chechen terrorist that her tactics were evil. On the other hand, one Chechen nationalist might convince another that kidnapping schoolchildren is beyond the pale, and one Russian citizen might convince another that the war in Chechnya is indefensible.