It is almost two in the morning and I am standing on the side of street in Guatemala while the driver rings the bell for what must be the sixth time. No one is answering the door. This house is supposed to be my home for the next two weeks. Internally I feel there is some universal karmic force at work which is punishing me for falling into the trap of “voluntourism.” I could have just come on vacation and explored but instead I chose to set up volunteer work. While a common choice among other college students, I really struggled with the ethical dilemmas that voluntourism presents.
Late in July 2015, my mother asked a surgeon friend of hers his opinion on gun control. He shook his head sadly and said, “I’ve operated on good guys shot by burglars, I’ve operated on parents accidentally shot by their children and children accidentally shot by their parents. But never have I once operated on a bad guy shot by a good guy.” He does not buy the popular notion that “good guys” with guns can defend themselves from “bad guys” with guns. Of course, this an anecdote from the life of one surgeon. However, most peoples’ opinions on gun control are based on intuition and personal experience rather than data. Good data about gun violence is hard to find, because Congress has refused to provide funding for gun violence research since 1996.
For many faithful Catholics and Christians of all denominations, even for many Americans who are not religious, this election has painted a very stark picture: we are forced to choose between the two most flawed and disliked candidates in recent political memory. Many Americans have chosen to vote for third parties as a way to vent their frustration, while others, including myself, have decided that no candidate is fit to lead our country and have decided to not vote at all. I am particularly disappointed that I feel the need to abstain from voting, as this is the first presidential election I can participate in, but I feel as I have a greater duty to my principles and conscience.
But perhaps there is also an opportunity in this election, an opportunity for creative destruction, for new philosophies and ideas to emerge. For the past several decades it has felt like Christians have become more or less clients of the Republican Party; Republicans will take a stand (or will at least pay lip-service) to those particular issues (especially social issues) and Christians will get in line to pull the lever for the Republican candidate.
And now that the culture wars are over for the most part – gay rights and the sexual revolution are arguably, mostly settled issues – the rise of Donald Trump represents a post- culture war Republican Party, where issues of sexual morality have taken a back seat, and issues dealing with economics and immigration have come to the fore. Many faithful Christians have latched themselves, in my view wrongly, to Trump in the hope that he will protect in the battles to come over religious liberty. But as I mentioned, Trump is a candidate who sees social issues as almost second tier, and hardly ever mentions them; even on some occasions taking the side traditionally seen as liberal.
But perhaps out of the creative destruction left behind by the 2016 election, there is a chance to come up with a more Catholic, communitarian political philosophy. Communitarianism, which places an emphasis on the individual’s connection to a wider community, has never been popular in the United States, which has always preferred to have the individual as the most basic unit in its politics. There are already some on the right who have begun to retool the Republican ideology to fit a 21st century context, who see the current Republican outlook mired down in the Reaganism of the 1980s.
Known as “reform conservatives” or “reformicons,” these conservative intellectuals have a lot to offer the Republican Party, such as making the over-encumbered welfare system more pro-family and shifting the party away from its titans of industry image. Of course this revival in Christian thinking should not take place in only one party, and Christians should not feel pigeonholed into supporting just one party. There seems to be a search for a political messiah, a single leader who will save our nation from its political troubles and lead it towards salvation, but this hope is deeply misguided and hopelessly idealistic.
Not all of our problems can or will be solved by politics, and should not dare to hope that politics can deliver us from the evils of this life. I believe a Christian mindset, which accepts that man is a fallen creature, can introduce a healthy dose of realism into the political community.
Another black man has been shot and, subsequently, another case of character assassination post-death has begun. Alfred Okwera Olango, 38, was killed as he pulled out “a three inch long vape” and allegedly pointed it at the police of El Cajun, California. The shooting of Olango, an “emotionally disturbed” man who was shot after his sister called 911 for help, has already resulted in justifications of why he deserved to die. Yes, he was holding a vape, but why did it look like a gun? Why was he standing like that? Why did he hold his vaporizer between his hands? Efforts to legitimize another murder, and state implicated violence, will be taken. The cycle repeats and ethical and emotional discussions surrounding these murders, along with the issues embedded in police systems, will continue to be ignored.
Respectability politics are pertinent for people of color, and for marginalized persons, the respectability of their very identity is questioned when they are victims of police misconducts. There is, for our cultural purposes, no “good” black man; if he is unarmed, as Eric Garner was, he still deserves to die and his murderer will not be charged. If he is armed in an open carry state, as Philando Castle was, it is asked why he even had a gun, or what he was doing prior to being pulled over. These men – employed, fathers, worthwhile members of their communities – are reduced to “thugs” in the wake of their deaths. As the horrific deaths play across screens, the feeling of inequality and shame arises in some while others choose to dehumanize and delegitimize the lives of victims. Even one’s commitment to serve his or her country is ignored, like the case of Anthony Hill, a veteran of the US Air forces who was killed in Georgia. There is no shield from pervasive racism, even serving our country, something that is normally highly venerated.
Perhaps “bad cops” and those who support them unwaveringly are engaging in some form of culturally disseminated ‘gaslighting’. The methods behind this tactic, normally perpetrated by domestic abusers, can be used to warp reality for the masses. As Shea Emma Fett notes, “every time an obvious hate crime is portrayed as an isolated case of mental illness, this is gaslighting. The media is saying to you, ‘What you know to be true is not true’.” The media, police departments and their ardent supporters present the same message: a victim of police violence becomes a criminal; a father becomes a criminal, a teenager becomes a man and a boy like Tamir Rice, barely 12, becomes a threat.
Kelly Collins graduated in 2011 with a BS in Philosophy and Political Science from Florida State University. After moving to New York City shortly after graduation, she began working as a legal assistant in a well-known international law firm. While pursuing her MA in Ethics and Society, Kelly hopes to utilize real-world skills to analyze and reflect upon today’s moral dilemmas.
Tim Colvin is currently a senior at Fordham University from Kings Park, New York. He is a dual major in Political Science and Classical Civilization with a minor in Philosophy. Tim is interested in attending law school and hopes to apply a background in ethics in practice after completing the MA in Ethics and Society.
One of the primary goals for studying ethics (or creating ethical systems) is to find normative ways to live one’s life that would bring about greatest amount of the good. The “good,” dating back at least to Plato, has been consistently talked about in terms of maximizing “happiness” (or subjective well-being).
The creation of large scale social orders is often viewed as one of the most important ethical developments in history. After farming emancipated our ancestors from the living in the state of nature, sedentary social life swept through the world. The advent of agriculture combined with more cohesive social institutions allowed large groups of people to live and work together and created the modern world.