With each passing day we read of a new threat of terror and the ever-present threat of conventional and nuclear warfare by the guilty who seek to impose their "evil" values and beliefs upon us in the name of religious extremism and thirst for political power.
Seldom, however, do we hear of the guilt of the self-proclaimed righteous who profess to believe in "truth, justice and the American way" and are willing to use unmitigated violence as a means to achieve questionable ends.
As Msgr. Paul Hanley Furfey wrote in his 1966 book The Respectable Murderers: "If Americans in general judge so radically different the Nazi policy of genocide and the American policy of bombing noncombatants there can be only one possible explanation: Their moral judgments are based on something other than sound ethics or moral theology. They are based on emotions or on sophisms which conceal the truth; they are based ... on the ethic of respectability."
Often a modern society such as ours today, which is largely based on an ethic of respectability, will in its efforts to maintain that respectability allow the customs prevalent in the community to take precedence over sound ethico-religious principles.
Furfey, an outspoken Catholic sociologist, called such a mores-dominated society "paramoral -- an ethically sick society, one in which custom encourages evil in at least some aspects of community life. ...
"The citizens of no country are trained to cope with the moral problems that arise in a 'paramoral' society. They are trained on the assumption that the society in which they live is a moral one, that to obey the law and obey conscience are one and the same thing.
"As long as the society in which they live actually is normal, this training is reasonably efficient. ... However if there is social cataclysm ... then conscience and mores point in different directions. For the common man, the result is complete confusion. In the case of Germany, a result of the confusion was five million murdered Jews."
One of the major consequences of this "paramoral" approach to reality can be seen in the games our children play.
With a constant bombardment of newspaper, television, movie, comic book and advertising images of two-dimensional -- and now, with computers, three-dimensional -- individuals being either killed or maimed, the pictures our children see of an actual war's devastation in a far-off land become simply an endless series of electronic dots.
For example, the New York Times recently reported that an "online gaming guild called the Chosen had taken another step in World of Warcraft, the online fantasy game whose virtual, three-dimensional environment has become a global entertainment phenomenon" and "is on pace to generate more than $1 billion in revenue this year with almost seven million paying subscribers, who can log into the game and interact with other players."
Players can hone their skills in stealth and backstabbing, and fight other players if they choose with "a focus on teaming up with other users in guilds like the Chosen to battle automated foes."
Given such types of entertainment, it can be argued we have simply never made peace attractive, particularly to young people and children. Perhaps this is because we ourselves have never really understood what it means. Our concept of peace, whether it be in the home, our community or our nation, has always been framed in terms of the final and stabilized goals of a given conflict.
True peace, as Dr. Maria Montessori reminded us, "suggests the triumph of justice and love among men: It reveals the existence of a better world wherein harmony reigns."
Where can a society such as ours look for such leadership in forming a better world? There is certainly no hope that we can look to our current administration for such leadership, for, as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman properly notes, "We now know that from the very beginning, the Bush administration and its allies in Congress saw the terrorist threat not as a problem to be solved, but as a political opportunity to be exploited."
Dr. Montessori, writing in a pamphlet "Peace and Education," suggests a viable alternative -- the child.
"If we wish to set about a sane physical rebuilding of mankind, we must go back to the child. But in the child we must not merely see the son, the being in whom our responsibilities are centered; we must consider the child in himself and not in his relation to us, which is that of dependence.
"We must turn to the child as to a Messiah, an inspired being, a regenerator of our race and society. We must succeed in effacing ourselves till we are filled with this idea, then go to the child, as the wise men of the East, loaded with power and with gifts and led by the star of hope."
She goes on to explain that a non-recognition of the independent life of the child (which the adult sees as different from them) usually creates a struggle between the strong and the weak, manifesting itself later with disastrous consequences. The child has a deep love for order and work, and quite often possesses intellectual qualities that go unrecognized.
"It is very evident," she states, "that, subjected to the usual education, the child has had not only to withdraw with himself, but to dissimulate his powers, in order to adapt himself to the judgment of the adult who lorded it over him."
Children, as teachers and parents can attest, thirst for justice. Often they may seek new or unfamiliar ways of achieving justice only to be punished for their "unconventional behavior." Thus a child begins to learn the first real game a person must play in a "paramoral" society, a game that will have no winners and which Dr. Montessori described in words many years ago.
"The virtue worthy above all others of public encouragement and of reward has always been the triumphing over one's school-fellows in competitions, and the gaining in examinations of decisive victory allowing one to pass from one year to another of a monotonous existence of personal servitude.
"Men brought up in this way have been prepared neither to fight and be victorious, nor to conquer truth and possess it, nor to love others and join with them in striving for a better life.
"Their education," Dr. Montessori concludes, "has prepared them rather for an incident, a mere episode of real community life: war. For, in reality, the cause of war does not lie in armaments, but in the men who make use of them."
A.V. Krebs publishes the online newsletter, The Agribusiness Examiner; email firstname.lastname@example.org. He is author of The Corporate Reapers: The Book of Agribusiness.
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