Glen T. Martin
How are we to develop personal moral vision and the courage to speak out – to speak truly, justly, and honestly even in the face of power? The great philosopher Immanuel Kant said the basic principle of morality is to treat every person as an end in themselves, never merely as a means. This means that every person has dignity, basic human rights, that must not be violated or degraded, protecting what psychologist Evelyn Lindner calls the “equal dignity” of all. The difficulty is how to universalize this, to apply this to all human beings, not only those of one’s church, race, class, country, or cultural group. In my book Millennium Dawn, I argued that there are three key factors necessary to make this universal respect for human beings a reality: compassion, nonviolence, and effective critical thinking.
Compassion, or what sociologist Kathleen Barry calls “empathy,” involves the ever-increasing ability to feel as others feel. It draws upon our universal human condition, the fundamental humanity and sameness of every person on the planet, and requires continual and intentional cultivation. Our lives must grow into ever-greater levels of compassion and empathy for others. I believe that this is what Jesus Christ meant when he declared, in Matthew 22, that the great commandment was to love God and love other human beings as oneself. Agapē or compassion is the first requirement of an authentic moral vision.
Second, the realization that every human being is an end in his or herself, and our growing ability to identify with other human beings through compassion, leads to the personal decision to act in the world only with nonviolence. All violence destroys the dignity of others, denying their end in themselves status, and can only be executed through a lack of compassion, through dehumanizing them as an “enemy” or somehow unworthy of respect. Respect for the humanity of others is actualized in action through a life committed to nonviolence in word and deed.
Third, personal moral vision requires effective critical thinking. The dominant forces in any and every society in today’s world colonize the media to project a false picture of society and the world. These dominant forces attempt to cover up and legitimize what is deeply immoral: what is really going on and how things really work economically, politically, and militarily. The moral imperative to treat every person as an end in his or herself is deflected and distorted when we hold a false view of reality. One cannot have a valid moral vision if one remains duped, deluded, and unaware of the real facts and their context.
Nevertheless, these basic elements of personal moral vision that I have enumerated are among the most difficult things for people to achieve within most societies, including that of the United States. Since the Second World War, the United States has been the undisputed center of global capitalism and its correlative imperialism. It has presided over a world disorder that has reached the culmination and reaped the whirlwind of four centuries of capitalism. Today, more than 3 billion people (nearly half of humankind) live on less than $2.50 per day, in a condition of utter misery, hunger, and deprivation. In contrast, the richest 1% of the world’s population owns 50% of the world’s wealth.
Capitalism has devastated the planet. Its repeated collapses caused by the criminal greed institutionalized by law destroys the lives of billions of persons. It also devours the biosphere, our precious planetary environment, in its lust for profits. Yet American society is awash with the ideology and propaganda of capitalism. While 3.2 million Americans have lost their homes in the past three years, the U.S. government has bailed out the criminal banks with billions of dollars in tax-payer money. Some economists estimate that 22% of able bodied Americans are unemployed. Young people who wish to develop moral vision and courage must struggle with the pervasive power and systematic brainwashing of a society immoral to its very roots.
But the creation of massive poverty in the face of obscene wealth is not the only corruption of capitalism, for it could not throw the majority of humankind into misery without the backing of a gigantic regime of military force, systematic violence enforcing the institutionalized exploitation of the poor by the rich worldwide. Since World War II, U.S. forces have worked to overthrow democratically elected governments in dozens of countries and have directly invaded or launched aerial attacks against dozens of others, sowing immense levels of death and destruction.
You cannot have global capitalism without the corruption of military domination and destruction because ordinary people worldwide do not willingly work in horrendous sweatshops for starvation wages, nor do they willingly dismantle their social infrastructure through World Bank and IMF “structural adjustment programs.” They must be terrified and tortured into acquiescence. U.S. society is sunk up to its eyeballs in moral corruption and support for worldwide state-terrorist criminal activity.
Radford University, like most universities, is thoroughly integrated into the structure of American society. For this reason there is an inherent contradiction between the mission of Radford University – to promote the lifelong intellectual and moral development of students so that they become active citizens with integrity, vision, skill, and knowledge – and the integration of the university into the deeply immoral fabric of American society.
It is no accident that RU accepted a $750,000 grant from BB&T Bank to host a series of lectures on capitalism, which the university proudly announces as “RU’s Global Capitalism Distinguished Speaker Series.” It is also no accident that ROTC is thoroughly integrated into the university’s educational system. In the 26 years that I have been working at Radford University, I have never heard one faculty member or administrator, not one, ever question the educational legitimacy of training people to kill and destroy the lives, homes, and infrastructures of our fellow human beings around the world.
Just as the university quietly accepts brainwashing its students in the propaganda of capitalism so it passively accepts educating students into the system of murder and violence necessary to protect and promote capitalism worldwide. The educational mission of RU is hopelessly awash in such contradictions.
Instead of an institutional structure that promotes the student autonomy necessary for moral vision and courage, RU exhibits a paternalism that inhibits this development. In recent years, the United States government has embarked on a quest for totalitarian military domination of the entire planet under a veneer of lies called the global “war on terrorism.” It has also embarked on a quest to effectively destroy freedom and democracy within our own country through so-called anti-terror laws, the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, Homeland Security regulations, and massive espionage. If education really promoted moral vision and courage in students, it would be promoting revolutionaries, nonviolent revolutionaries, in struggle against this system. Radford University, by contrast, socializes its students into active complicity with the deeply immoral framework of the larger society.
Nevertheless, despite these impediments, students, like all human beings, are tasked to become persons of moral integrity with the courage to express this integrity publicly. The institutional structure of RU, like the culture of the U.S. in general, is designed to inhibit this development. But we cannot entirely blame these institutions for our personal lack of moral autonomy. The resources to become critically thinking, compassionate, nonviolent persons are all around us, on the internet, in libraries (including the RU library), and in the streets. That is the imperative laid upon us all as human beings: to activate our deepest humanity. Such development will not only bring incredible fullness and meaning to our personal lives, it will ultimately determine the future of humanity on this planet. Either we transform the world order with a deep moral vision developed from critical thinking, compassion, and nonviolence, or we will fail on this planet, and of our legacy will become nothing but death and ashes.
 Lindner, Evelin, Making Enemies: Humiliation and International Conflict, London: Praeger International, 2006.
 Martin, Glen T. Millennium Dawn: The Philosophy of Planetary Crisis and Human Liberation, Pamplin, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press, 2005, Chapter Three.
 Barry, Kathleen, Unmaking War, Remaking Men, Santa Rosa, CA: Phoenix Rising Press of Santa Rosa, 2011.
 Parenti, Michael, Against Empire, San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1995, p. 38 Klein, Naomi, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Metropolitan Books, 2007.