Ethics in an Age of Terror and Genocide – Identity and Moral Choice

Ethics in an Age of Terror and Genocide
Identity and Moral Choice
By Kristen Renwick Monroe
Princeton University Press – £24.95

It’s one thing to be naive and horribly misguided when you’re young, but to continue being a myopic moron well into old age is an altogether embarrassing other.

It never ceases to amaze me how people over the age of thirty, let alone fifty or seventy, continue to uphold the deplorable indoctrination of Hitler’s Nazi Party; especially when it’s upheld to such a contemptible degree that they live in constant denial. Weren’t fifty million plus deaths during the Second World War enough to make such crazed cripples as one of this book’s idiotic interviewees like Florentine (and her odious young Nazi friend, herein both interviewed in Chapter Seven’s ‘Unrepentant Political Nazi’) realise they’re living a sad, warped and pathetic lie?

Obviously not.
Perhaps they would rather over a hundred million people had died during the years 1939-1945? Or two hundred million?

Ethics in an Age of Terror and Genocide – Identity and Moral Choice by Kristen Renwick Monroe, is, both sadly and unfortunately, a terribly important book in that it reminds one of the fragility, as well as the relentless stupidity of human nature. That it does so in a concise, deft and totally considered persuasion, makes it all the more readable and commendable – not to mention dark and at times, downright depressing. As the authoress writes in Chapter Two (‘The Holocaust and Genocide’), ‘’acceptance comes through true understanding,’’ but surely true understanding is only ever reached by way of considered balance? Or, as in most cases, a considered political, as well as psychological balance: ‘’I think of the stories in this book as acting like flashes of lightning, illuminating the cognitive landscape and helping us understand how people see themselves, how they see others and the world around them, and how their cognitive perceptions influence their political acts. In this sense, narratives are one of the most important tools for analyzing political data, of special value to those interested in political psychology, defined as the study of how the human minds works to influence our political behaviour,’’

That said, one can only ever confidently arrive at ones’ humanistic destination by way of scrupulously understanding what is on offer? Or, as is stated on several occasions throughout this compelling and rather provocative book, what isn’t on offer. Such as common sense, compassion, sacrifice and the fraught compulsion or need to at least understand the other. This in itself substantiates the validity and the importance behind Monroe’s decision to include the insane ramblings of the aforementioned Florentine: ‘’[…] Hitler has shown it is possible to live in harmony with family, with work, with woods and with respect for the other. In six years, he shows the whole world that it would be possible, but it is also hard. Not everyone wanted to have it.’’

That’s right, thankfully, not everyone subscribed to the wretched doctrine of Arbeit macht Frei. Luckily some, like Tony the first interviewee, had enough intelligence and humanity to comprehend and embrace the other, regardless of nationality or a segregationist religion: In general, maybe education, motion pictures, books, religious leaders, role models, all these things in life create better citizenship. I don’t mean we should get trapped in complex religious things because religion has a way of backfiring. And I’m not talking about sexual morality or patriotism or things like that. I mean simple moral behaviour in the classic sense of the word. Simply general international morality. We live in one world. We are one people. We can behave or we cannot behave. To me, behaving means working in harmony with the world around you, harmony in the same sense that a big symphony orchestra is in harmony with each other […]. And yet a good conductor is not a dictator. He is a friend and a guide and it’s a pleasure to work with him […]. The most important thing is that it does not become a pyramid with a leader or fuhrer or a dictator or a president who has too much power.’’

If nothing else, the above two juxtapositional examples of Florentine and Tony lay forth just what is at stake, when one is coerced and politically led into believing, and the other is immersed within an ideology of do unto others. It’s not often the twain meet. Division after all, has always been far easier to manipulate; which partially explains why we’ve always been very good at killing each other. And the machinery needed for killing is exceedingly good for (B-I-G) business, which, if you think about it, explains a lot – although this is another area of non-morality altogether.

With her previous work(s) having already explored the political psychology of altruism within that of the Holocaust, Monroe – by way of a wide-ranging, intellectual finesse and subtlety of mind – has once again laid forth an unquestionable empirical thesis of astonishingly frightening, moral choice.

David Marx


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