Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why We Cannot Look to the Future without Confronting the Past

Civilized society; what is it?

According to

civ·i·lized (sv-lzd)

1. Having a highly developed society and culture.
2. Showing evidence of moral and intellectual advancement; humane, ethical, and reasonable.
3. Marked by refinement in taste and manners; cultured; polished.

Wikipedia quotes Albert Schweitzer, “one of the main philosophers on the concept of civilization, from his book, The Philosophy of Civilization, outlining the idea that there are dual opinions within society; one regarding civilization as purely material and another regarding civilization as both ethical and material. He stated that the current world crisis was, then in 1923, due to a humanity having lost the ethical conception of civilization. In this same work, he defined civilization, saying:

“It is the sum total of all progress made by man in every sphere of action and from every point of view in so far as the progress helps towards the spiritual perfecting of individuals as the progress of all progress. “

Also from Wikipedia, comes the etymology of the word, “civil” and the term “civilization":

…the etiology of civilization is Latin or Roman, defined above as the application of justice by "civil" means…
In 1388, the word civil appeared in English meaning "of or related to citizens". In 1704, civilization began to mean "a law which makes a criminal process into a civil case."

So, if a civilized society is one based on laws, regarding both material and ethical concerns, then what holds civilized society together is the mutual agreement of the members of that society to observe those rules. We know that there will always be some that will refuse to follow those rules, or occasionally make a bad choice and run afoul of the law, and so we construct a system of “justice” to attend to those instances. Our system of justice attempts to extract payment or punishment from the law breaker, which is designed to serve the dual purpose of righting the adjudged wrong and standing as a deterrent to others that may consider committing the same wrong.

So, what happens in a “civilized society” if the members of the society begin to randomly decide that they no longer have to follow the rules and the rest of society decides not to punish, prosecute or seek redress of grievance for the wrongs that they are committing? Isn’t this an apt description of the unraveling of that civilized society? Is this not the very definition of decline?

This is why this country cannot afford to look past the crimes of torture, perversion of the Constitution, abuse of power and expansion of Presidential power to the detriment of the legislative branch. Because if we do not respect and uphold our laws, we are lawless and our civilized society is destroyed.

You may argue that there are some rules that need to be revisited occasionally. Yes, you would be right and we have systems in place for that; legislatures. Unfortunately, members of the previous administration took it upon themselves to usurp the role of the legislator and just made their own rules as they went. This cannot stand.

And some laws need never be revisited because they are based on the foundational ethics and morals of society that will not and cannot change without destroying the very fabric of society. Look the other way on torture today, tomorrow it could be murder. [And if you are looking the other way on torture now, you are possibly looking the other way on murder already.]"

The Courts have more than one role to play in the legal system. There is a thing called “stare decisis,” which basically means that current law is applied, not just by looking at the code as it is written, but on the basis of previous decisions. That is why lawyers cite court cases as argument in a trial. When a case is decided, the ruling is written and will be used as a legal argument in a future case, so that the case decides current and future law. Legal precedent is set not only through trials, but through the lack thereof. When we fail to prosecute a blatant crime, we set a precedent for future law-breakers.

We cannot look away, lest we endanger our civilized society.

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1 comment:

Tango daddy said...

KS said Because if we do not respect and uphold our laws, we are lawless and our civilized society is destroyed.
Your laws are in the process of being upheld, it will take time and pressure on leaders helps.
Civilization is not static but a work in process the only thing destroyed has been the reputation of the Bush family as being honorable men. The world now sees how the American people were held hostage for the last eight years.