August 28, 2006 10:00 AM EST
What makes a human being choose a specific course of action when faced with a moral choice? To give an example; what impels a man in Austria to fastidiously separate plastic from paper rubbish before disposal, and what impels a man in South Africa to rape and murder a baby? The cynicism of the world-weary will now raise its paw and state that all moral behavior is based on the avoidance of pain. This is true, for the most part. The fear of physical pain certainly still tops the list in ensuring compliance with socio-cultural norms and values. A person will definitely think twice about transgressing when faced with severe pain in the form of whipping or, ultimate pain in the form of being 'drawn and quartered'. The threat of physical pain surely goes a long way in ensuring moral compliance in primitive societies.
When this threat is gone, all hell breaks loose. This can be witnessed in South Africa where more people have been murdered (250 000+) after 1994, than all the people who met violent deaths in the whole of the country's 20th century history. South Africa boasts a staggering 50 murders and 43 child-rapes per day. Similar break-downs of law and order are evident when African dictators are toppled by new ones. The aftermath of hurricane Katrina in New Orleans also showed similar patterns of behavior.
The second, more civilized, inducement not to transgress is the fear of psycho-social and socio-cultural humiliation in front of one's peers. For example, the Austrian man's efforts (separating waste) are motivated by his assurance of not being humiliated by his peers when accused of being environmentally-unfriendly. Having always regarded themselves as Westerners, white South Africans ended Apartheid because they just couldn't stand the humiliation by their peers in the West anymore. In short: the West demanded adherence to human rights, and they complied.
It goes without saying that the peers in one civilization are not necessarily the same peers in another. China, for example, doesn't give a damn about democracy or human rights, but they enjoy favored trade nation status in America. Different strokes for different folks, it would seem. Thabo Mbeki's refusal to believe that AIDS is caused by a virus is a very good example of a non-existent fear of peer humiliation across cultures. Being African (Xhosa), the socio-cultural matrix of his society's belief-systems have zero relation to the high status the scientific world-view has in more advanced civilizations. In other words, he certainly has no fear of being humiliated in the West when postulating similar idiocies.
This also applies to moral sanctioning in Africa. Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and innumerable other African dictators have no compunction whatsoever to trample on western-induced norms and values (e.g. human rights) because these moral imperatives have never been part of their socio-cultural belief-systems. One cannot compare apples to pears, and African leaders certainly don't fear humiliation by those in the West who they do not regard as peers. Mandela's dismal failure to humiliate Mugabe is but one example of Africans looking at the same bearings on the same moral compass.
The West has always been the fiercest in safeguarding its most preciously held moral convictions. And given the West's soul-piercing introspection after moral regressions, it is no wonder that this civilization has, for the most part, progressed past the phase where fear of physical pain is the only guarantee of moral rectitude. "There can be no more poetry after Auswitsch", these words by the philosopher Theodor Adorno encapsulate the hell the West's conscience went though after the horrors of WWII. We instinctively cringe when we hear about rumors of torture like in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. This is not so in other civilizations.
Getting back to Africa; has any African intellectual or political leader ever displayed the depth of moral anguish of an Adorno, when confronted with African horrors like, for example, the genocide in Rwanda, the mutilations in Liberia and the 2.4 million people who have been slaughtered in the Congo in the past 10 years? No. Having only the fear of physical pain to guide them, African dictators will only start criticizing their peers once their own physical security is threatened. This is the reason why African dictators cling to power with all their might; they will suffer physical pain (mostly death) when losing power.
This is not a problem in the West. It suffices to say that Western morality has never played a major part in any of the careers of 99% of African leaders and their people. Whether the morality of the West is the best, is obviously another story. Today's terrorist is tomorrow's freedom fighter (e.g. Mandela and Nazrallah), and the moral 'axis of evil' and 'coalition of the good' certainly stays in tune with the flux of time and the will of the powerful. But, the fortitude of the individual conscience will always be the cornerstone of all civilized behavior.
It is this entity which guarantees that the individual will think of the welfare of his fellow man, even if the consequences of his/her actions cannot be traced back to him/her. To give an example; why not rape a baby if you know the police will not catch you. South Africa has a 10% conviction rate for murder and a 4.3% conviction rate for rape. And why not partake in the mind-boggling corruption and graft that is part and parcel of Africa's mind-set? In short; why stop when you have no fear of physical pain or psychosocial and socio-cultural humiliation?
The third, and even more advanced, regulator of individual moral behavior is the fear of divine retribution – i.e. I'll suffer eternal pain when I join the after-life. This uniquely religious impulse is the motivating factor behind singularly self-less and self-sacrificing moral behavior. The individual with this conscience fears neither physical pain, nor public humiliation. And in combination with the Christian idea of brotherly love, this conscience is the stuff of legends, to put it bluntly.
The 'formation' of the Western conscience has a very long history. It started with the Biblical Adam and continued with Noah's righteousness, Socrates' refusal to bow to the non-questionable norm, Jesus' brotherly love, Luther's reaffirmation of human choice, the French Revolution, the abolition of slavery, de-colonization and the demolishing of Apartheid. All these paradigmatic moments have resulted in a conscience which is the most self-regulatory existence has ever seen. It is the reason why Hitler was defeated, it is the reason why white South Africans abolished Apartheid and it is the reason why whites didn't loot and shoot after hurricane Katrina.
The humanism of the liberal will now raise its hind-leg and state that human beings are inherently good (innocent) and that the fear of punishment actually causes morally 'bad' behavior. To give an example; liberal educators and psychologists firmly believe that a good smack on the bottom of a child who is sticking his fingers into a live power-socket, will lead to the child becoming a violent human being when he grows up. It suffices to say that all of recorded history has shown that human beings are not inherently good, and can therefore not be trusted do the 'right' (and sane) thing without some or other fear of pain to regulate their behavior. Yes Mbeki, AIDS is caused by a virus!
What regulates moral behavior in one civilization definitely does not regulate moral behavior in another. Does China really want to give universal suffrage and human right to its citizens, does India really want to uplift its lower classes and do African leaders really give a damn about the individual fates of their people? We would like to say yes, but that is only because we have the conscience of the West. And this conscience will also be our downfall.
Having stripped the God part from the true meaning of life ' Love God, and love your neighbor', we are stuck with the insecurities of a conscience solely motivated by loving our neighbor – i.e. the existential-humanism of postmodernism. Have we ever seriously asked ourselves the question whether our neighbor is also doing his utmost to love us as well? Even a cursory glance at the moral anarchy in post-1994 South Africa, clearly illustrates what is in store for the West in the next 50 -100 years. The loss of the regulatory power of the civilized conscience will cause such societal degeneration that serious inter-civilization and inter-racial conflict would be inevitable.
The individuals of other civilizations, Africans in particular, should seriously start asking themselves the question whether they are treating their neighbor, like they want to be treated themselves? The way Africans treat each other makes one ashamed to be human being. It is an open sore in the conscience of all that is civilized. And milking the conscience of the West for every tear that's is worth because Africans are slaughtering Africans on a daily basis, can never suffice as an excuse for the fact that Africa's conscience refuses to progress past the phase of fear of physical pain. What about moral pain? That pain which Africa causes the civilized world every time one switches on the TV and is forced to witness the horrors of primitive behavior unleashed. Grow up! Real pain comes from within. It is called a conscience.