Today we introduce identifying better alternatives, the moral engagement counterpart to advantageous comparison.
As discussed in Monday’s post, the moral dis-engagement mechanism of advantageous comparison operates by helping people believe that whatever violence they approve will have a better outcome than not using the violence. Basically they are endorsing the common assumption that what is portrayed as the lesser of two evils is in fact moral.
Identifying better alternatives, according to psychologist Albert Bandura, takes two forms:
- Acknowledging that there is never a permanent advantage to using violence in the pursuit of power, and
- Recognizing that the greatest long-term advantage to the human race comes from identifying peaceful alternatives to violence.
Regarding the first form, as Andrew Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, said in a recent (June 27, 2010) Washington Post article: “Long wars are antithetical to democracy. Protracted conflict introduces toxins that inexorably corrode the values of popular government.”
Bacevich expressed concern over the so-called “volunteer force” created in the U.S. after the Vietnam War, and warns of the dangers of creating a force that allows the country to engage in conflicts without end: “Throughout history, circumstances such as these have bred praetorianism, warriors becoming enamored with their moral superiority and impatient with the failings of those they are charged to defend.”
In our view, it is also a more general sense of moral superiority that allows many Americans to tolerate the aggressions of their government.
History has many surprising examples of people who have chosen better alternatives than violence as a way to achieve security. Mohandas Gandhi and Nelson Mandela are obvious examples. People in power in various countries have realized the advantages of ending aggression–consider South Africa when it ended apartheid and Northern Ireland when both Protestant and Catholic leaders undertook peace talks.
A tragic example can be seen in the case of Spc. Alyssa Peterson, an Arabic-speaking military interrogator in Iraq who was reprimanded for showing empathy for prisoners. She ultimately chose suicide over participation in the torture of prisoners.
Our government must develop better alternatives for responding to people of conscience who resist engaging in inhumane behavior.
Kathie Malley-Morrison, Professor of Psychology