Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Sixth Principle

Originally published in Outwords, May 2010.

My topic for this month is the Sixth Principle of the Unitarian Universalist Association, “to affirm and promote the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.”  Appropriately, I am writing this from Pokhara, Nepal, almost exactly half way around the globe from Missoula.  I’m in Nepal to continue work on a community school project that I became involved with some years ago, and the experience has made me think quite a bit about what “world community” might mean, and what we might do to bring such a thing about.

 The sixth principle speaks of “peace, liberty, and justice for all,” and I think that if we are truly concerned with the goal of world community, these three conditions (at least) must be met.  

To begin with peace; it should be apparent that there can be no world community, no global human family, until such time as we have stopped killing each other en masse.  Our country in now engaged in wars of occupation in two countries.  The stated goal of these massive and long term wars is to bring peace, stability and democracy to the countries of Iraq and Afghanistan.  That one might bring about peace through slaughter would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic.  And military action has never, to my knowledge, brought about any real stability in any country involved.  As for democracy, one might ask if we shouldn’t then allow the Afghani and Iraqi people a vote as to whether or not we should continue our wars there.

There can be no world community until there is an end to war, at least on the international scale.  Violence may well be a part of the human constitution, but the impersonal, mechanistic destruction of entire countries is not.  Trying to build world community while engaged in campaigns of violence is like trying to improve neighborhood relations while setting your neighbor’s house on fire and punching his daughter in the face.  This is true regardless of who the President is: black or white, Democrat or Republican.  Until our country has stopped its violent ways, all talk of community is only so much hypocrisy.  And the real irony is that while most of us don’t support these wars ideologically, most of us continue to support them financially, through our tax dollars; half of which go to pay for military expenditures.

So much for peace.  As for liberty, this too in necessary before one can speak of community.  To me, liberty comes down to the old Pagan maxim: “and it harm none, do what thou will.”  This maxim implies not just an individual freedom of action, but a tolerance of the actions of others, providing that it “harm none.”  Again, our society and culture seem all to far from this ideal.  I need only point out, like Mos Def, that “the national pastime is victimless crime.”  By definition a victimless crime harms no one, except perhaps the “criminal,” but in a society of true liberty, there could be no crime without a victim.  If we cannot even tolerate our own differences, criminalizing actions we do not approve of or understand, how then can we hope to build community with others whose whole culture may seem strange to us?  Toleration for the idiosyncrasies of others is a necessary part of liberty.

And finally, justice.  Justice, to me, means a totally detached rendering of judgment.  Our government’s actions overseas and at places like Guantanamo Bay are the obvious inverse of justice.  But then, our military and our government have never much been concerned with justice.  Our policy towards the rest of the world now is the same as our policy towards the Native Americans: we take what we want and find a way to rationalize its justice after the fact.  I remember talk during my high school days of the U.S. being “the world’s policeman,” but it would be more appropriate to speak of the U.S. as being “the world’s thug.”  Our style of “justice” is anything but detached. 

All this being the case, probably the best we can hope for is practicing peace, justice and liberty on a personal level.  Our government (any government) has never and will never provide any of these things.  But if in our personal interactions with all people, regardless of what part of our world they come, we can practice peace, liberty and justice, the perhaps we can speed the day when it won’t seem quite so unreasonable to talk of “world community.”

No comments: