A Special Place in Hell

Lughnasa                                                          Full Honey Extraction Moon

“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those, who in times of moral crisis, do nothing.” – Dante Alighieri

Moral crisis.  Means different things to different people.  Right now I see three moral crises that loom large.  The first, and most troubling to me, concerns the vast unplanned experiment we have conducted with our atmosphere, our water and our land worldwide.  Even the most cynical would agree, I hope, that a polluted overheated world does not satisfy the implicit contract we have with our children and grandchildren and their progeny.  The Iroquois planning idea, look for the impact on the seventh generation, would satisfy that contract, but we don’t look past the next quarter.

(The Barque of Dante, Eugene Delacroix)

A second moral crisis, implicated in the first, and next most troubling to me, plays out each week in Congress and in state legislatures throughout our country.  The U.S. political system, a fragile ship in spite of what it may seem to the world, has lost its moorings and seems almost a ghost ship, wandering and lost in fog.  In the end any political system’s purpose lies in its decision making, since filtering and weighing competing interests, then choosing among various propositions defines governing.   Through a complex process involving the abdication of responsibility by America’s liberal political class, widening economic disparity in a free-market crazed economy, the creation of a so-called “values” voter begun during Richard Nixon’s presidency under the guise of the Moral Majority and the more recent populist angst coalesced in the Tea Party movement, our legislative work at federal and state levels has the appearance of disaffected parties shouting across a great chasm, a chasm so large that the cries of the other come in faint, garbled, so garbled as to make no sense.

This crisis means many generationally significant issues cannot come to a conclusion:  the environment, health care reform, entitlement reform, economic and regulatory reform, military and foreign policy.  The effect of this crisis leaves us captive to the decisions of yesterday as the markers for what will happen tomorrow.  This is a recipe for and results in disaster.

The third moral crisis of our time concerns global movements of people stimulated by war, poverty, disease, famine or political threat.  Visit any southern European country and you will find refugees from northern Africa camped out, selling this and that on colorful cloth spread out on sidewalks.  Drive across the southern tier of US states and you will pass among governments now vying with each other to become the most draconian in their treatment of Mexican nationals trying to get an economic toehold in life by emigrating to the US, either legally or illegally.  Go to the northern states of Thailand and find tribal peoples from Burma.  In Japan there are Koreans.  Throughout South Asia the Filipinos work as maids, gardeners,  laborers.  In Australia the aborigines live in cities, as do many native Americans in the US, often in conditions of crushing poverty.

The Turks are in Germany as Muslim emigres are in many other European nations, numerous, a reality creating great unease, witness the killings in Norway and the banning of head scarves in France, maybe even the riots in England.

You might order these three differently, you might have a different top three, but moral crisis is endemic to our time.  Perhaps it has always been so, I don’t know enough history to say, but I can say with certainty our time seems to breed value conflicts and that those conflicts too often, instead of moving toward resolution, result in political and cultural stalemate.

Stalemate is the opposite political conditions from statesmanship (sic).  Statespersonship.  The former creates deadlock, incremental steps backward in terms of public policy and public feeling.  The latter transcends difference to find a creative, future encompassing solution or policy direction.  As stalemate becomes the dominant political tone, our policies, our countries and our world become stale.  Stale is a marker on the road to decay.

Dante lived in a time of great political upheaval in Tuscany and in his home city of Florence.  In fact, he spent much of his life in exile.  He understood well the need to come to grips with moral crisis, not only intellectually, but politically, down in the theatre where decisions get hacked out, piece by bloody piece.  Hell will not only hold those with good intentions; it will also hold those too timid to act.