Yesterday’s murder of Shinzo Abe, former Prime Minister of Japan, is one more disturbing “sign of the times.” Along with Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, with tactics that prioritize destruction of the civilian environment; Covid; China’s hegemonic military intrusion into the South China Sea; the collapse of public support for President Joe Biden in the U.S.; the resignation of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister of Great Britain; and the success of populist autocratic nationalisms, such an individual act points to systemic destabilization in the current era of human history.
Which leaves us, once again, to ask the question: “What is to be done?”
If what the Biden Administration touts as the “liberal world order” is in decline, what will take its place? The old Athenian realism that, “The strong do what they can, the weak suffer what they must?
Can we find and have the skill and fortitude to construct a new reality of social justice for all?
But how does one overcome destabilization? Where can be laid the foundation for system and reliable expectations of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, both individual and communal?
The Caux Round Table was founded to consider meliorating capitalism, creating for that purpose ethical principles for business. It then recognized that capitalism lives within a cocoon or chrysalis of government and so advocated ethical principles for government, as well.
The third sector of civilization is society – families; civil organizations of church; healthcare; education; philanthropy; and other mediating structures of journalism, rotary clubs, etc. We have, therefore, suggested ethical principles for civil society organizations.
On learning of former Prime Minister Abe’s murder by a 41-year-old individual male, as a learned reflex, I thought immediately of previous assassinations of political leaders – Abraham Lincoln, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand – or the sectarian murders carried out by Islamist extremists. In those cases, the motivations had in origin in some political or religious grievance. But what if this murder was not political in any sense? What if it was just the craving of a dysfunctional man living uncomfortably with his anger and resentments?
I then thought of John Hinckley and his attempt to kill President Ronald Reagan.
In recent mass shootings in the U.S., the perpetrators have been isolated, alienated males from dysfunctional families, young loners drifting aimless through life. To me, they seem overwhelmed by some psychosis, which breeds in their minds a compelling narrative of victimization and justified rage, which legitimates their psychosis as a rational response to life, as it has impinged on them. One such destabilized young man then takes his revenge, I suppose, first on his mother and another on his grandmother and only after that on innocent, young children.
Which leads me to ask: do we also need ethical principles for a moral society?
Such a society, I presume, would not be dysfunctional or destabilized. It would be neither nihilistic, nor theocratic. It would sustain an equilibrium between the individual and the collective, using one to check excesses in the other.
As American philosopher William James proposed, “The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual. The impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community.”