Engaging Peace began its blogging career by introducing the ideas of psychologist Albert Bandura about moral disengagement and moral engagement . Moral disengagement involves unconscious mental processes that enable otherwise good, caring people to act in inhumane ways—often as a result of deliberate manipulations undertaken by leaders pursuing their own self-serving agendas. Moral engagement processes, by contrast, enable other good, caring people to summon the strength, courage, and moral fortitude to resist the abundant pressures in our societies to behave cruelly and inhumanely.
In the wake of the misery, the anger, the blaming, the fear, and the despair that characterized this election year—along with the elation of some people at the outcome–I am embarking on a quest to review, in a series of brief posts, the mechanisms of moral engagement that might help this country heal its wounds and move in the direction of peace and social justice.
As explained in an earlier post , “Moral engagement requires moral agency–active engagement in resisting pressures and justifications for behaving inhumanely, and proactive efforts to engage in and promote humane behavior. Key contributors to moral agency include humanizing the other, and empathizing with the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of the other.”
One major mechanism of moral engagement is the use of principled moral arguments.
Principled moral arguments are dramatically different from the pseudo-moral, spuriously “moral” justifications that some people advocate to convince others that, for example, deadly warfare is the best way to make the world safe for democracy or that assassinating a few potential terrorists is ethically superior to maybe, possibly, perchance risking the lives of thousands of innocent victims (and laws, human rights, and Constitutions be damned!).
Principled moral arguments rest on principles like the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”), Kant’s categorical imperative (“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law”), the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and the messages in favor of love and brotherhood in various Holy Books.
My advice to everyone distressed by the nature and results of this election is to continue to work for a truer and more complete democracy, characterized by the pursuit of peace and social justice, in a morally engaged way. This means understanding, among other things, the difference between principled moral reasoning and the pseudo-moral arguments that attempt to justify harm-doing.