Living without Morality

By William A. Cook

There exists in the great satirists – Swift, Voltaire, and Twain – a profound respect for the human’s ultimate weapon against mass stupidity, the human intellect. That stupidity is exemplified in allegiance and obeisance to organized religion, political parties, exclusive philosophies, the fanatical adherence to charismatic idiots, and to a blind belief in the equity of Capitalism as an economic panacea for the world’s ills. When one views our world today through the eyes of Swift or Voltaire or Twain, we cannot help but see whole societies kneeling before ministers, priests, rabbis, and imams reciting in unison beliefs determined by self-proclaimed prophets of their respective gods, shedding in the process their allegiance to their intellect, the font of reason that enables each of us to distinguish good from evil. As it is with organized religion, so it is with political parties, neo-conservative philosophies, Islamic Jihad, and secular Zionism all of which drool with words without meaning – democracy, liberty, freedom, security, everlasting life, and peace – all made meaningless as they are made achievable through fear, the glue that solidifies countless minds into mass stupidity.

Paradoxically, yet understandably, the satirist’s respect for human intellect finds a parallel in the profundity of the Gnostic conception of the teachings of Jesus who understood that the human intellect raises the value of an individual to incredible heights even as it humbles the individual to an understanding of his or her relative significance in the totality of the universal system. Recognition of one’s absolute significance, without which nothing is, and one’s minusculeness when considered in universal terms, creates a bond with all creation and a profound awareness of the interrelatedness of all existence that unites, binding all in mutual respect and dignity. The scope of this concept gives magnanimity to the intellect as its ideal becomes, as it did for Swift, a decorous citizen who is both learned and moral. In Jesus’ terms this is God’s gift to humans, the power to know self that one could know the condition of all and, hence, grasp the oneness that binds all humans, the ultimate moral truth.

How strange that the cynic in the Diogenes’ sense, one who understands the ideal and knows as well the impossibility of attaining it, can be understood conceptually as compatible with the Gnostic who seeks knowledge of God which is self-knowledge, knowing the self and the divine are identical, and knows the near impossibility of reaching that divine state (Elaine Pagels xx). That is the paradox we face in a world driven by words without meaning: we desire to seek new meanings of peace when the source of that meaning resides in the souls of humans, the very beings that make peace impossible. Swift ridiculed the society that envisioned mankind as essentially good, a being naturally inclined to virtue as its own reward, as a chimera that exists if at all in dreams or delusions while its reality, the appetites that drive will – need for power, greed, selfishness, innate racism, a sense of superiority, envy, malice, the whole tyranny of human debauchery and malignity – nullifies the dream and corrodes the delusion.

How then find peace in a world driven by such appetites? The cynic will tell you it’s not possible; the satirist will show you why. The idealist, caught in his or her dreams, will seek solutions, even if it means redefining peace to make possible what cannot be. Peace after all is but a word, no different in that respect, as the scholar of global mythology Joseph Campbell noted, from “God”; it is but a word. Our definitions limit and commit, limit what a word means and commit those who consent to it to enforce the meaning. Therein lies the danger. Peace can only exist if all accept its meaning.

What in the definition of peace unites all? What but the human intellect, the salvation of humankind as perceived by the satirist and the salvation of humankind as understood by the Gnostics. If all comprehended the moral foundation resident in the human intellect — all are one, all are the same, all have equal rights, all deserve respect and dignity – none would impose his or her will on another nor impose on another what they would not have imposed on self. Peace resides in this understanding, and unless it is promulgated throughout the world and becomes the accepted base for all interrelatedness, there will be no peace. Yet, as we have marked above, the world is ruled by the tyranny of human debauchery and malignity, not by the peace that passeth understanding.

Turn with me to that microcosm of malignity that inhabits Palestine to consider how possible peace might be in a world fractured by internecine hate, racism, greed, and that sense of superiority that stifles respect, decency, compassion, and love. As I write this paper, I read a dispatch from Jabalyia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip dated March 7, 2008, titled “Nowhere To Run To.” These words leap from the screen, capturing a scene in Kamal Adwan Hospital: “A young man is lying down for treatment in a shared room. Both his legs, and one arm, are gone. He is trying to say something but he cannot. ‘He was feeding the sheep at our home when an Israeli F-16 bombed our house,’ says his father by his side. ‘His legs were blown out from under him.’ ‘Wake up Samah … please!’ a girl is screaming. The girl she is calling out to is still, her torso burnt black. So is what is left of the body of another young woman in the hospital room. They were her sisters Samah 17 and Salwa Asayia 23.” Scenes from Gaza under siege; part of the “global war on terrorism” we are told by the press in the U.S.

But it’s not a war in that hospital room; it’s the death of innocents, of children caught in the web of deceit that uses words to further greed for land, to further Zionist falsehoods that exist in plans conceived 60 years ago to cleanse the land of Palestine of those different from the Jews, indigenous Arabs who have lived in Palestine for centuries upon centuries. Here we have a microcosm of human behavior that defies the definition of peace: “a state of quiet or tranquility; freedom from disturbance; absence of war; a state of reconciliation after strife or enmity; freedom from mental agitation or anxiety; spiritual content.” Here instead we have malignity: “violent animosity, evil.”

Masking the slow, systematic genocide taking place in Palestine as a necessary battle against terror in this global “war on terror” is to recognize only that the very people destroyed by genocide in the 20th century are capable of committing genocide in the 21st century. If Nazi Germany represented “The supremacy of one side over another … as a fatal threat to the idea of peace in the world…,” then the supremacy of the Israeli war machine over the imprisoned Palestinians is a fatal threat to peace now.

But the words being used by those in power justify the carnage ravaging Palestine; the oppressors become victims, the innocent become aggressors, soldiers become peace makers, civilians become terrorists, family land becomes security zones confiscated by the occupiers, rule of law becomes vigilantism, starvation becomes a means to attain peace — all words without meaning because devoid of morality.

The common denominator that can bring a semblance of tranquility resides in the human intellect, but only if the world’s community of nations accepts without reservation the moral rights imbedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as stated by the United Nations Charter, because in that document rests the concept that both the satirists and the Gnostics understood as the key to peace, universal acceptance of the equity of all. That alone must be supreme: above nations, above religions, above philosophies, above charismatic idiots, above the economic system that is destroying the globe, Capitalism. Achievement of that goal will only happen if nations unite for peace to foster the spiritual union that binds all as neighbors on this planet.

-William A. Cook is a professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California and author of Tracking Deception: Bush’s Mideast Policy. He contributed this article to Contact him at:

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