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Andrew Bennett: Failing to condemn the murder of innocents is a sign of moral rot

Commentary

There is a moral rot in this country. 

There are three causes for this spreading decay: moral relativism, apathy, and isolation. Moral relativism reveals itself when we reject objective, universal truth. In other words, it is when we ignore things that we all know to be right or wrong based on our consciences and thus act immorally. This is universal in that people of all cultures and all religious traditions know these things to be true. 

When I was quite young I once stole a friend’s Happy Days pin (yes, I am that old) because I liked it and I thought I should have it instead of him. The fact that I wanted it and thought it would look good on my jean jacket was a weak rationalization for what I knew in my deepest self, even at age five, to be objectively wrong. Thieves, murderers, or adulterers may employ all sorts of arguments to justify their actions, but in their deepest selves, they know these things to be wrong.

Likewise, those who have equivocated and remained silent, or worse, those who have glorified the brutal and sadistic murder, torture, and kidnapping of innocent Israeli men, women, and children by Hamas last week know that these brazen acts of terror are objectively and universally evil. Yet, blinded by political ideologies, including a neo-Marxist cultural view that divides people into so-called “colonial oppressors” versus “oppressed,” these barbaric acts are freely justified and promoted in Canada in protests and via equivocating, spineless statements by some of our public institutions and their leaders.

These individuals, our fellow Canadians, know better. As the Catholic philosopher J. Budziszewski wrote in his seminal 2003 book What We Can’t Not Know:

The common moral truths are no less plain to us today than they ever were. Our problem is not that there isn’t a common moral ground, but that we would rather stand somewhere else. We are not in Dante’s Inferno, where even sinners acknowledge the law they have violated. We are in some other hell. The denizens of our hell say that they don’t know the law—or that there is no law—or that each makes the law for himself. And they all know better.

One offspring of moral relativism is apathy. The apathy in our culture manifests in individualist sentiments such as “It’s none of my business,” or “Why should I get involved?” It betokens a breakdown in human community and a prideful inability to recognize when something is wrong. Silence and inaction are the symptoms of apathy. When we fail to condemn the murder of innocents, when we fail to condemn antisemitic hatred, and when we fail to speak out on behalf of our Jewish neighbours we have contributed to the rot; we have allowed it to fester. 

Such apathy is also a manifestation of the isolation that exists in our society, an isolation that has deepened in the post-pandemic moment. As we isolate ourselves from one another ideologically, ethically, religiously, and physically we are no longer able to build deep human community that can address the differences that define our pluralism. Pluralism can never be about sameness, which is false equity. Pluralism has difference embedded in it.

This does not come without its challenges, including some particularly vile manifestations as this past week has revealed. But, when we isolate ourselves into our petty ideological worlds, our virtual hovels, and our little hermetically-sealed boxes of safe-ness, we rob ourselves of genuine face-to-face community with incarnate human beings with whom we are called to build and share a common life in Canada. If I can no longer see my Jewish neighbour as a friend, a colleague, or a classmate, but rather as an enemy and not as a fellow human being, then the rot will continue to eat away at our common life.

The English writer G.K. Chesterton was once asked by a British paper what, in his view, is wrong with the world. Chesterton wrote, “I am.” Such a humble response is what we clearly need these days, but given the radical individualism of our society could many of us answer similarly? If we are to halt the moral rot we see around us in our culture, we have to cut away the rotten bits so that a healthier, more deeply human culture can emerge.

To do this we must dedicate ourselves to formation in the virtues and to living virtuous lives. Virtues such as prudence, justice, and fortitude are in very short supply these days. Prudence rightly exercised shapes my conscience so that I recognize that celebrating (or being silent about) mass atrocities against Jews is abhorrent and beneath me as a human being.

Fortitude shapes my conscience such that I stand up and speak out courageously against evil and lies wherever I encounter them, for the good of our human life together. Justice is what I aim to promote when I see these deep ills of society and desire their remedy. Let us stem the moral rot we see and begin to build true solidarity in a more human culture in this country.

Steve Lafleur: Canada’s reaction to terror in Israel shows we aren’t that divided

Commentary

The recent terrorist attacks against Israel have understandably preoccupied Canadian pundits. It’s the most consequential and horrific terrorist attack to hit one of our allies since September 11th, 2001. People are understandably devastated and angry. 

One thing that’s changed since 9/11 is social media. Back then we consumed the news. Now we participate in it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But the incentives in a click-based information ecosystem can be terrible. Measured responses don’t get much engagement. Edgy comments do. Needless to say, there have been some extremely bad takes lately. 

Those bad takes haven’t just been limited to one Kremlin stooge on Twitter. Organizations like CUPE Local 3906 have a lot to answer for to their members and to the public. But step back for a second. If you’re on Twitter, you probably knew immediately which tweet I was talking about, right? That’s because for the most part, Canadian institutions have come out in support of our allies, even if not unequivocally. 

No matter what you see on Twitter, Canada isn’t a badly divided country. We’re not Germany: we don’t have a white supremacist party supported by one-fifth of voters. We’re not the United States: we don’t have a major party willing to overturn legitimate elections. We’re really not that divided.

Consider the last week. The prime minister and leader of the official Opposition both spoke at a vigil in Ottawa, each denouncing the terrorist attack. The finance minister and the NDP-affiliated mayor of Toronto spoke at Nathan Phillips Square in support of Israel, while a much smaller pro-Palestinian rally took place nearby. 

While we don’t have any Canadian polling data yet, a CNN poll found that an overwhelming percentage of Americans are sympathetic to Israel after the attacks by Hamas. Seventy-one percent of Americans told pollsters they felt a lot of sympathy, while 25 percent of people said they had some sympathy. Even in America, a country with deep political divisions, there is a high degree of consensus on the matter. There’s no reason to believe polling results look much different here, notwithstanding a few protests.

Then consider Ukraine. While there’s rough political consensus on Israel, there’s virtually complete unity on Ukraine. All three major parties are fully supportive of our Ukrainian allies and there’s no equivocation from the media. 

There are always loud minorities on the other side of any issue, even whether gravity exists or not. We shouldn’t let them become a distraction. Fixating on them sure doesn’t help our allies in Israel or Ukraine, or our Jewish friends at home. Helping our friends and allies requires concrete measures, not rhetoric. I’m not an expert on geopolitics, but I can tell you that finger-pointing won’t help anyone.

Push comes to shove, Canadians are, for the most part, rowing in the same direction. We may sometimes lack resolve, but we share broad goals. No one anywhere near the levers of power is cheering on Vladimir Putin. No important elected official is cheering on Hamas. Few countries can claim that kind of political unity. 

That isn’t to say we shouldn’t criticize people who have opinions we disagree with. We should. But we also need to recognize that in a pluralistic society, there will be some people with horrible opinions. Frankly, in a non-pluralistic society there will be even more people with terrible opinions. We can’t prevent that: we’re human. 

What we shouldn’t do is paint broad groups with the same brush. Scouring the Internet to find people with bad opinions doesn’t help anyone. I recognize that partisan point scoring will always be tempting. But it’s not helpful. Not everything needs to be a wedge issue. We aren’t a deeply divided country. We shouldn’t try to exaggerate our differences, even if you think it will help your team in the next election. We’re bigger than any team.

We all get a dopamine hit from arguing with people online. It’s one of the dark sides of social media. But being preoccupied with disagreements doesn’t help anyone. It’s bad for our mental health. It’s bad for the country. We don’t need to go looking for fights over every single issue. Get some fresh air. Touch grass. Our neighbours aren’t your enemies.

We live in a great country full of great people, even if there are some bad ones. We should celebrate that. Stoking disagreements doesn’t move the ball forward. It bogs us down in pointless arguments. We can do better than that. We should. We must.