Saturday, January 06, 2007

Human dignity, ego and sentimentalism

The tsking and clucking of liberals and other high-minded Westerners, such as the Vatican, about Saddam Hussein’s recent execution got me thinking about "human dignity".

It’s now the common coin of the elites; everyone’s in favor of it. And somehow, this notion of human dignity made it uncomfortable for a tyrannical mass-murderer to be hanged.

I thought about my human dignity, my dignity as a man…and maybe they are not the same. But essential to my sense of worth –and that’s what dignity means in Latin—is that I take responsibility for what I do. If I break it, I pay for it. If I spill it, I clean it up. And if there’s a penalty to be paid for my transgression, I pay it.

In the liberal notion of human dignity, however, what is at play is sentimentality and ego. No responsibility is to be taken if it includes anything that the actor finds unappealing.

I am reminded of one of the core values of a very liberal religious denomination: to “affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every human person”. (Of course, PETA would find that pretty barbaric). What it comes down to in practice is that every human person’s ego should be coddled, no matter what they do. Dignity becomes confused with egoic self-esteem. The only form of punishment that most liberals can tolerate is the time-out.

I don’t find this dignified at all. It is sentimental, that is, it refuses to recognize the moral ambiguity of its object. Saddam Hussein may indeed have been human…but his behavior does two things: it points out what horrors humans are capable of, desentimentalizing the notion of humanity, and it calls for him to live up to his human dignity by taking responsibility for his actions. Death by hanging is the least he could aspire to in order to atone for his crimes.

What I sense in the liberal high-minded critique of capital punishment, or corporal punishment, or indeed of any kind of retribution…except against Republicans, of course…is a deep anxiety. It is an anxiety about their own right to exist and to exist assertively. What they call a concern for human dignity is really a loss of faith in their own right to exert force against evildoers. And a refusal to take evil seriously...except, again, when it shows up in their own approved formats.

My favorite slogan here is the one that says that by executing criminals, we simply descend to their level. Indeed, we sink below them, by hypocritically covering up murder with the sanction of the state. I beg most strenouously to differ. A man who initiates…initiates…mayhem, rape, slaughter, etc against innocent humans is a criminal. A society that in response…in response…then provides him with robust and terminal retribution is a world of moral difference away. It would be almost impossible to sink to his level.

People who cannot see that strike me as lacking in the confidence of their right to be. And so they take refuge in moral narcissism.

And that describes most liberals.

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