LIFE MATTERS: A More Dangerous World

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By Dr. Dencio Acop

We have an even more dangerous world today because of amoral or worse, immoral, leadership at the helm in many countries, not so few of which are significant. Just look at the daily headlines. Bear with me as I scroll down today’s banners: ‘Vatican warns against playing politics over China’; ‘Russia decries the use of ‘foreign terrorists’ in Karabakh conflict’; Turkey ready to support Azerbaijan to end ‘Armenian occupation problem’; ‘Azerbaijan praises the effectiveness of Israeli drones against Armenian forces’; ‘Lebanese Army thwarts planned terrorist attack’; ‘US tests new robot against Russian T-72 tank’; ‘Iran shoots down suspected Azerbaijani drone’; ‘North Korea flouting nuclear sanctions’; ‘China’s aggression increasing likelihood of cross-strait conflict’; ‘Syrian Army unleashes powerful attack on jihadist stronghold in Latakia’; ‘Threat to evacuate US diplomats from Iraq raises fear of war’; ‘Global coronavirus deaths pass ‘agonizing milestone’ of 1 million’; ‘China-India border tensions’; ‘South China Sea tensions’ between and among claimant countries and surrogate powers like the US; and continuing tension in the Korean Peninsula.

In a nutshell, we either see ‘realpolitik’ and or idealist dialogue in the works within any of the conflicts existing in the world today. Continuing bilateral as well as multilateral developments, however, tend to suggest the ever-growing appeal of antagonistic conflict more than common interest peace initiatives. Behind the stance adopted by our world leaders, surely the national interest is the key motivating factor. But even more so, I would like to believe world peace or the common interest to be equally found alongside the promotion of each nation’s aspirations. Because today, the source of national power is diverse. For some, it reflects the values of most of the voting citizens who live in these countries. To others, it may only manifest the character of one individual who has been allowed to speak for the entire nation. Either way, the kind of interest advanced reflects the source of political power defining every national player in the world stage.

What precisely is the quality of every nation’s political power? For that quality reflects the source of political power. Whether they be just the character of the national leader or the prevailing values of the people. Whether one or the other, it is quite easy, though not necessarily accurate, to sort of determining the summation of a nation through the lens of its visible representative — the reigning leader. And to some convincing extent, an objective assessment of the leader essentially leads to a like evaluation of the quality of predominant values of the people who put him there.

This investigation necessarily leads us to a discourse on what goes on within national boundaries. What are the history, culture, and traditions of such a nation? Because these say a lot towards understanding how its voting population arrives at its choice of a representative leader. Is its current society an egalitarian aggrupation or one that is vastly stratified by economic and social divides? Who dictates the predominant values of the people? The family? The school? The church? The society as a whole? Social media? Etc. Studies have continually pointed out how most domestic societies are dominated by the elites in these societies: material or intellectual elites or both. Unless egalitarian, a society is said to be generally divided between the local elites and the have-nots. It can be deduced therefore that the elites, due to their means and relative power, have the upper hand when it comes to choosing a national leader. The elites are the ones who have much to protect or lose depending upon the political power; whether that power supports their personal interests or not. The have-nots, on the other hand, especially in developing countries, are vulnerable to manipulation by the elites due to their economic depravity exacerbated by a deeply stratified social structure.

The reigning national leaders of today, therefore, essentially reflect the quality and character of the local people who put them where they are. And when we talk of people, the defining elements of human nature necessarily come to the fore: social structures and economic status. The former refers to significant influences, formal or informal, derived from powerful influencers like family, education, religion, work, politics, associations, etc. The latter simply refers to the dynamics of where one generates his day to day living upon which he is dependent for survival.

The values that have become dominant within a national entity are the same ones that elect a national leader. In essence, the critical question that begs to ask is: What are the dominant values within countries today? How are their families, for instance, the basic units of that society? Families that endure tend to nurture citizens who, later in life, model their institution of upbringing in terms of values taught them fundamentally sourced from moral and constitutional norms. These same values are had by the segments of the population who are able to attend formal education which likewise espouses these values. Universal moral laws adopted by nations have generally become the inspiration for subsequent laws crafted by humans. The Old Testament Decalogue is still pretty much the authoritative standard for civilized human behavior even to this day. It sums up the Do’s and Don’ts for every human person to follow so that the universal common good can be the order of the day. Its principles and precepts are echoed by almost any other faith in the human world.

Secularism has gradually evolved to center stage as the norm for national governance following the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 separating Church and State. The moral law has since regressed as the inspiration for legal norms and mandates. In effect, practices other than moral gradually became encouraged where they were once merely tolerated. What was in essence non-negotiable laws as these came from God Himself have been largely set aside in favor of negotiable policies adopted by national parliaments. The Decalogue no longer reigns supreme. But parliamentary rules do. Gone are the days of Thomas More. And just a quick review for those of us who are not familiar with the Decalogue. The moral law admonishes such things as Worship and Honor only the One True God; Honor your father and mother; Do not kill; Do not steal; Do not lie; Do not cheat.

Given the dominant secular nature of the world today, it is not surprising and uncommon that many national leaders exhibit the execution of governance policies in amoral and even immoral ways. The Machiavellian principle of governance appears to be at an all-time high. At times, it almost seems like we are back in pre-Decalogue times when man lived a less-civilized life. Then, as today, battles and wars were ever constant. But unlike then, today’s conflicts are much more lethal due to advanced technology. For instance, the US Department of Defense is now prioritizing investment in artificial intelligence, supply chain resiliency, and cyber warfare in order to better deal with adversaries like China and Russia. Battle frontiers are likewise no longer limited to traditional defense lines. The head of the UK’s armed forces has recently warned that: ‘China is manipulating international institutions while harnessing technologies to achieve aggressive military strategic goals disguised as civilian ventures’. As of September 2, 2020, countries that are at war number 69! There are 195 countries in the world so this total number represents 35% of world nations! Countries at war by region are the following: Africa (30), Asia (16), Europe (10), Middle East (7), and the Americas (7). In the countries at war, terrorist-separatist-anarchic groups are involved. In the Americas, drug cartels are likewise involved. (www.warsintheworld.com).

The ongoing wars in the world reflect what goes on in the internal as well as external environments of the countries involved. They mirror the values of the various peoples involved and the kind of leadership obtaining in these countries. Wars hardly illustrate a predominantly moral ethos on the part of those who are in charge. The way of the moral law always has a pacifist approach to conflict resolution turning only to violence as a last resort consonant with the just war theory. It prioritizes the common good in the community of nations as it does national interest. On the other hand, an amoral or immoral leadership approach adopts a ‘realpolitik’ mindset which seeks only to promote one’s interest at the expense of other nations. And oftentimes also at the expense of one’s own people.

The prospect for the future of a predominantly amoral or even immoral type of national leadership in the community of nations is not one to be belittled or ignored. In fact, it is utterly dangerous. Because it could eventually lead to another world war. In fact, we may now be witnessing the beginnings of this. As I write, there is already such a thing as ‘tech below the threshold of war’ reportedly engaged in by countries like Russia and China wherein such countries ‘choose tactics and operations that occur just below the threshold for conflict’. The report added that such endeavors include ‘cyberattacks’, disinformation campaigns, and mass surveillance being used to wage ‘political warfare’ with the goal of breaking an adversary’s willpower’. Relatedly, news reports have brought out into open China’s bribing of small nations to advance its interests everywhere including the Asia-Pacific region where many of these countries lie.

The global initiative that was once effective towards advancing world peace following the painful experiences of the two great wars now seems to have lost its critical voice in the world stage. We hardly hear about the United Nations any longer especially in the areas of conflict resolution. Even the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have not been enough to resurrect the UN or all affected nations in a common resolve to work together for the common good. In fact, the post-pandemic world may become even more fractious than united if the ideals that enshrined the UN are completely set aside.

After all are said and done, leadership remains key. Especially moral leadership. The kind that promotes the common good more than just selfish interest. I have been pointing out here that if back-to-basics fundamentals is the change needed to save the world then so be it. Although this needed change must begin with the individual more than the leader. At first glance, one may think that the leader is more powerful than the individual. But thinking deeper, one will see that it is actually just the other way around. Leaders do not become leaders by themselves. Individuals make leaders. They put him there. And they sure as hell can change them as well. But to do that, individuals themselves must first also change. Not only in pockets or droves. But entire populations.

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