Lily wrote:Sometimes I wonder how anyone in his right mind can conclude ethical discourses with, ahem, "compassionately conservative" outcomes.
Ah, yes this is a can of worms, isn't it? It was (and is) the hardest part of the prayer for me too. I think that conservatives arrive at their own ethical logic based on what some have called the "Strict Father Morality." It is predicated on the idea that all of us are like children and God (or governments as God's agent) must play the role of the strict father, disciplining us so that we learn to be good. Otherwise we will just become lazy and spoiled.
It's an appealing ideology, and works especially well with monarchies or theocracies where there is a single father-figure (king, pope, etc.). It's a question of whether you accept the premise about human nature, that children need strict discipline to become good people and that they respond better to this strict fathering than to the alternative which is called the Nurturing Parent model.
Conservative Christians don't get the Strict Father morality from Jesus so much as from the stories of YHVH in the Torah (Old Testament). Jesus himself, as the child, undergoes some pretty tough discipline -- in the desert tempted by the Enemy, in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the cross. He's the ideal son: totally obedient even to sacrificing himself.
The Dalai Lama, as you would expect, bases his ethics on the ideals of mutual respect as the foundation for happiness. He starts his argument with the premise that all humans want to be happy and from this adduces that even if we follow purely "selfish" motives to begin with, we will come to realize that our happiness depends upon the actions of others. We cannot control the actions of others, but we can treat them with compassion and respect and try to make them happy. This may result in others working to make us happy.
That view of ethics is also grounded in the idea of doing no harm to anyone or anything. It's not possible, of course, to never do harm, but the Dalai Lama argues that to cultivate our own ethical nature, we should try to do no harm and be aware of how our actions affect others -- including the environment.
This is contrasted to what is still the dominant view of life in which humans are seen as individuals set in competition with each other for limited resources. From that point of view it is right for individuals to think only of themselves and to grab all they can. Survival is the source of happiness, and survival depends on successful competition -- on "winning". In such a morality, it is indeed considered a source of happiness to see others suffering in poverty or dying because it means we are winning and they are losing.
From the Dalai Lama's point of view, this is simply an error because it ignores that our happiness ultimately does depend on the happiness of others. When our actions make others unhappy or cause them suffering, then we are engaging in negative activity, corrupting our own souls at the same time we harm others.
The underlying premise is that ethical behavior seeks the Good for ourselves and others and acknowledges that our "loved ones" ought to extend beyond our immediate family, beyond our tribe, and outward to all beings. This is a relatively new view of life and draws upon ecological thinking. That is why I myself think that this view is the one most consitent with Druidic philosophy: It is grounded in understanding the connections and interdependence among all beings.
Does that mean one must be a socialist? Well, I'm not sure that's true. But it is true that capitalism and purely free-market economics based on the idea of ruthless competition encourages people not to be compassionate. This is a major problem in the West, IMO. Christianity and Judaism teach an ethics of compassion and caring but capitalism teaches a doctrine that has tried to ignore ethics and promote a pure economics that is supposed to have nothing to do with ethics, but simply with survival and competition.
The moral split between strict and nurturing morality is probably, like most dichotomies, a false one. Anyone who has been a parent knows that at times one may be strict and at times one may be nurturing. I do think, though, that the Dalai Lama is right that compassion is the way to go, rather than criticism. I don't think one ever does right to believe that one is superior to others, even one's children, and nobody likes to be ordered around and yelled at.
Finally, one very important aspect of this split view we have inherited is the way we are taught to think about war. We are taught that murder is among the most heinous of crimes, and yet that killing others in war is "heroic". This contradiction often seems to go unnoticed, especially by those who subscribe to the Strict Father morality. From this point of view, "enemies" are like bad children, they are belittled, even dehumanized, and must be discipined. Morover, whole nations are imagined to be "persons" so that it is the whole nation that is being disciplined, not the individual citizens of the nation. In this way, killing people is rendered no more significant than killing germs or dangerous microbes. In war time, the nation becomes personified, the "contest" is seen as between two (usually male) leaders, and the combatants dissappear as human beings. This allows acts of killing to become glamorized, glossed over, and treated as if they were not exactly the same harmful and destructive actions as those committed by murderers.
I'm paraphrasing the Dalai Lama here. I thought it was a very cogent point.
Naturallly, some will say, "Whoa! What do you think we should do as a nation? Just let everyone else roll over us?" And that's a good question. When an act of violence is committed in a spirit of self-defence it is usually excused, and that is why killing in war occupies this strange ambiguous space. Warriors in the battlefield are attacking and defending themselves at the same time.
These are all aspects of "Justice" or "right action."