Tuesday, July 06, 2010

A Rather Obvious Point

Often when someone brings up Islamic terrorism, one of the responses given is that other religions and ideologies have their kooks as well, and we shouldn't judge Islam because it has its own share. Obviously this response is at least half true: no matter where you go in life, no matter what group you associate with, there's always going to be what I call an assh*le element. Any and every group will have people who join it for the wrong reasons, so to single out one group because of this is inappropriate.

As I say, this response is certainly half true. However, it's no more than that, because it misses something important, something very important, and in fact, blindingly obvious: Ideas have consequences. Just because every group is going to have its assh*le element doesn't mean that every group is equal in all moral respects. Some groups are going to encourage violence, others will allow it in pursuit of a higher cause, etc. Ideas have consequences, and different ideas have different consequences.

An ideology which rejects the intrinsic value of human beings -- perhaps all people or perhaps just members of other groups -- will obviously have significantly different results than one which upholds the intrinsic value of all human beings, including those who belong to people groups that are usually held in contempt. And this remains true even though the latter ideology has members who obviously don't act accordingly. For example, at the end of the film To End All Wars, the lead character narrates an aspect of the Bushido code which had been introduced earlier in the movie (I'm paraphrasing): "The individual life weighs less than a feather." The narrator responds, "What is the result of believing the individual life weighs less than a feather?" The preceding two hours of the film answer that question.

(cross-posted at Agent Intellect)


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5 comments:

Graham Veale said...

Japanese soldiers following the Bushido code treated German prisoners of war honourably in WW1.

Japanese society took a turn towards fascism in the inter-war years. The Bushido code was re-interpreted accordingly.

Ideas have consequences - but we need to identify the ideas correctly.

Jim S. said...

Ideas have consequences - but we need to identify the ideas correctly.

OK. The idea I identified is "The individual life weighs less than a feather." My suggestion was that considering the individual life to be unsubstantial could very easily have the consequence of treating other people as if they were not substantial -- and not as a forced interpretation but as a very natural one. Do you disagree?

georgesdelatour said...

You seek to make an important point about Islamic beliefs and their consequences by reference to the Japanese Bushido code. Why so oblique? Why not spell out exactly what the bad ideas are in Islam that you think have such bad consequences.

Jim S. said...

No, I'm making a general claim about worldviews, and using Islamic terrorism as a jumping-off point because that's the specific way the subject tends to be raised nowadays (at least in my experience). I used the Bushido code as an illustration partially to show that I wasn't only talking about Islam but about ideologies in general.

Graham Veale said...

"My suggestion was that considering the individual life to be unsubstantial could very easily have the consequence of treating other people as if they were not substantial -- and not as a forced interpretation but as a very natural one."

It depends on the context. What else does the Bushido code contain? What other beliefs does the individual hold?

You cannot take -"The individual life weighs less than a feather" - as a belief held on it's own, in a vacuum.

In World War One the Japanese Army treated prisoners of war with dignity and respect. In World War Two it treated POWs as sub-human. What changed? Not the Bushido code. However Japan had embraced Romantic Nationalism. And the Imperial Army began to treat it's own soldiers as sub-human. (It had found that a culture of brutality made Japanese soldiers more ruthless.)So I think that I am disagreeing. One abstract idea in isolation from other ideas, predispositions and social contexts will not have very many consequences.

(I should add that my only sources here are Laurence Rees's books "Horror in the East" and "Their Darkest Hour", "Hell in the Pacific" by Lewis and Steele and a few articles by Col. Dave Grossman. I'm no expert!)