Are we morally obligated to become activists?

In the comments to Pied Cow’s post about the annoying condescension of “radical” anti-war pundits, High Arka writes:

The only honest answer for those of us on this side of the sword is that we’re guilty, rich cowards, playing the same terrible game as the others, only not winning as much treasure.

To which I responded:

This strikes me as an attempt at one-upsmanship on the moral purity scale. Were the pre-2003 residents of Iraq guilty of supporting Saddam’s evil regime? I’m sure George, Donald, and Dick thought so. I guess we’re all complicit on some level because we haven’t overthrown the government in Washington, but I don’t feel particularly guilty about the possibility that Obama might decide to send the drones after some guy on the kill list without asking for my opinion first.

Even though I disagree with Arka’s conclusion, I still think it raises a good question: Are Americans who don’t actively resist the US government (by not paying taxes, moving to another country, etc.) moral cowards who are complicit in its crimes?

Like I said, I tend to disagree with this, for two reasons (implied in the passage above): 1) Because we don’t pay taxes voluntarily and the government does what it does regardless of whether we consent, and 2) I don’t think the average American is morally obligated to pay for Dick Cheney’s crimes.


8 thoughts on “Are we morally obligated to become activists?

  1. “Are Americans who don’t actively resist the US government…moral cowards…”

    Yes. Cowardice is nonetheless justifiable, given the punishment and ostracism regime in place.

    “…who are complicit in its crimes?”

    No. No more than a child raised by a rapist is complicit in the rapist’s crimes. That is, until he becomes one himself, or actively assists in the commission of a rape.

    • I’m still not convinced that cowardice is a fair charge in most cases. Leaving aside the people who don’t have a problem with US policy at all, I’d still say there are plenty of legitimate considerations besides fear of jail/persecution that might lead someone to decide active resistance isn’t worth it. Pied Cow mentions some below.

      I agree completely with the second part of your response.

  2. I think it’s all part of a continuum.

    Everybody has to define what they think is right and act according to that definition.

    Does paying taxes, voting, etc., make one complicit? Of course it does. But the analysis doesn’t end there because there’s a lot of other considerations to take into account: family responsibilities, a legitimate desire to have a generally happy and meaningful life, and so on.

    I think it’s entirely compatible to disagree completely with the present status quo but still to lead a respectable life here. In fact, I could say that those who choose alternatives are the real sellouts, because instead of trying to do something to help, they just take their ball and go home, bragging about it all the way.

    • We’re technically complicit, I guess, but I don’t put much weight on it because it’s coerced.

      As for your second paragraph, I’d say that’s exactly right. I was even thinking the same thing (“taking their ball and going home”) when discussing this with Arka over at your blog.

  3. As a rapist himself, Jack would know about rape, and about moral cowardice in practice.

    Only a rapist accuses all who disagree of being rapists themselves. Project, deflect, Rove-it-out. Joey Gerbils = Jack Crow. Moral coward manipulating with words.

  4. Of course it has no bearing on anything. Nothing “Jack Crow” says has any bearing on reality. That’s the point. The entire “Jack Crow” schtick is to pretend at moral superiority due to immense moral vacuity, arising from embarrassment and self-hatred because he is the very thing he accuses others of being.

    Context is everything. Unless you’re dead.

    Anyway, equivocation suits you. Nothing matters, unless you say it does, and what you say is irrelevant, so again, nothing matters.

    • You’re a master of selective comprehension, aren’t you? I said, “I don’t see how it has much bearing on what he said above,” not “it has no bearing on anything.” I’m not Jack Crow’s psychologist so I have no idea if he’s pretending at moral superiority to cover up feelings of moral vacuity. But again, so what if he is? What bearing does that have on the question of whether the average American has an obligation to protest the government?

      But feel free to interpret that as me saying “nothing matters, unless I say it does.”

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