Monday, March 23, 2009

practice makes...better

I've gained weight. Not that much perhaps, but some. There's no mystery about it; I haven't been to the gym in a while, and that's what happens to me . I'm given to understand that that's true even for those who seem to stay thin naturally - if you want to be fit, you've got to keep exercising. Even athletes, because otherwise all those things that provide the edge begin to go. There's no appeal from the second law of thermodynamics: what you don't work to maintain eventually goes to hell.

Which is true for all the virtues, of the mind and heart as well as of the abs. Particularly the heart. And so I find it, well, bizarre that as a response to claims ranging from war crimes to grotesque, systemic insensitivity there is the repeated insistence that Israel has the "most moral army in the world." First of all, it's irrelevant. Help me out here in case I've got the math wrong, but whether or not a person (or an army) is generally saintly doesn't make a bad act impossible, and it doesn't make that act good.

It's also a really lousy rhetorical turn, and that has nothing to do with the listeners being anti-Semites or not. It's safe to say that in the entire history of human discourse, the rejoinder "We are the most moral nation/army/institution/religion" has never convinced anyone who did not already believe it. Why would it? It's not really a response to a charge, it's a refusal to respond, a rejection of the possibility that the other could even make a claim. Fuck you, in other words.

It's not just the bad logic and it's not just the bad PR that make "we're the most moral" a strange thing to repeat; it's that it's self-defeating. Being moral, like being agile or being toned or being quick, takes constant practice and one of the key practices is self-examination. While that's true with all virtues - if you want to be excellent you have to look for your flaws - it's particularly true with morality because honesty, humility, openness are not just instrumental to moral growth, they are in themselves part of being moral.

When an army closes itself off from the possibility that its soldiers, or its officers, have committed crimes it loses whatever defenses it may have had against continued crimes; just as a people who close themselves off to any kind of moral criticism becomes corrupt.

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