Moral Equivalency of War

11 Jan

We use the term “hero” too much, along with “battle” and “war,” to talk about things that are none of those things. Are we really fighting the good fight?

William James have a speech a hundred years ago at Yale University called “the Moral Equivalency of War,” talking about the idea of using the language of war that gives people the sense that they are feeling as if they are soldiers, so that they see the moral rightness of their position.

After all, it’s one thing to say, “We’re fighting climate change,” it’s far more appealing to say, “We’re fighting to face the Earth!” It feels like a righteous crusade instead of just a cause.

The problem is that it’s been overused. Every election is the most important election of our time. Every issue is a fight against evil. When everything is so damn important, then you start to feel that nothing is important. The reason why every day is not Arbor Day is because if it is, then… Well, it’s just a day.

What I learned when I ran for office (10 years ago, third party, got 8% of the vote) is that everyone has an opinion and everyone has a cause. Just one. You might say you care about everything, but we only have one thing you’re passionate about. There’s only so much “give a damn” in our lives and you have to focus it. If you choose to raise the banner for one issue, there’s a thousand other issues you don’t have time for.

My cynicism is showing, I’ll admit it, because I’ve been burned before. I marched in parades, in political rallies, ran for office, and I can’t even say I believe the same things I protested for anymore. If you’re willing to fight for what you believe in, so you can change the world, go ahead… But accept that it’s going to take a long time and it might take your whole life to accomplish it.

Take the 27th Amendment to the US Constitution, passed in 1991, actually proposed in the Bill of Rights in 1790. A college student thought it was still a good idea (any pay raise that Congress votes itself doesn’t go into effect until the next election), wrote it in a class paper, and got a C. However, that became his cause, and spent the next ten years convincing state legislatures to ratify it. That was his life. He succeeded – but he got lucky.

How long are you willing to fight for your cause? How much time are you willing to spend to change the world? Are you willing to give up your career, a family, and friends just to accomplish it? I guess I’m in awe of those who do, at the same time, understanding what they had to do to achieve it. They fought the good fight, but like any veteran, they bear the scars of what they sacrificed.

Do you have an activist you admire? Would you really want to meet them in real life? Share your person in the comments below!

One Response to “Moral Equivalency of War”

  1. Ashish - Proxywords January 11, 2021 at 9:27 am #

    Very thought provoking writeup. Yes, we cannot fight for all the things in this world. We only fight for what is our passion and from which we are benefitted in some way or the other. All of us cannot fight for all the rights. May be that’s why some people protest for one cause and rest others for another one!

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