Moral Decision Making, Politics

Please let’s be parliamentary, not paramilitary

What is it about talk about missile strikes and Syria that makes me think of those old-style punishment beatings the IRA and UVF used to dole out to the local drug dealers?

It’s horrific to think of people being poisoned and gassed. We can all feel outraged on behalf of our fellow man.

But doesn’t taking unilateral action on the grounds of an arbitrary red-line transgression imply a de-facto elevation of our role from compassionate humans to judge, jury and – almost inevitably – executioner?

Our people are trying to work through the UN, as they certainly should.

But just as in the past with previous conflicts (some of which haven’t turned out that well in hindsight), the implication of a failure to agree is clear:

We’ll do it anyway. Because we think it needs to be done. So there.

And increasingly, politicians left and right seem happy to write-off the UN as a paralysed body, through which it is impossible to work.

I’m not even talking about the inherent dangers and consequences of unilateral, morally-derived action on a complex social, political and religious hornets’ nest (“Monkeys playing with Grenades”, according to the Russians).

In this world of grey areas, this one seems clear to me. It’s a simple question of working out the difference between your right to hold moral opinions and your right to enforce them on others:

Step One: Work through the UN to establish a proper consensus. Then Act. Together.

If that doesn’t work…

Step Two: Fix the UN and return to Step One.

If that doesn’t work…

Step Three: Accept that the world is a horrible place and will remain so until you go back to Step Two and get it right.


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