Why did the Holocaust (the Shoah in Hebrew) occur? Why does any genocide happen? Why the inhumanity of attacking the defenceless and vulnerable? It is not enough that we annually remember the murder of millions of Jewish and other people by the Nazis and vow ‘never again’. Today we see anti-Semitism on the rise and the propagation of inhumanity. What next and who will be the next victims of intolerance? We need eternal vigilance (to observe and act) based on an understanding of how to prevent the descent of a slippery slope where there is ultimately no legal or moral restraint on inhumanity.
Clearly our leaders and opinion makers bear a responsibility here because it can be risky and difficult to defy them, and many will trustingly follow them without ‘giving it a second thought’. Yet those who could lead us to better standards may actually be part of creating slippery slopes through undermining or discrediting legal and moral restraints, and making it acceptable to target sections of our society for demonising, de-humanising and/or scapegoating.
Our society needs a common set of appropriate mores or values to function well; to enable us to live together freely, harmoniously and prosperously; a common denominator applicable to us all of enforced, just laws and a shared morality with each improving the other. Shared morality should be concerned with promoting the common good of an inclusive, humane society and placing necessary limitations on individual behaviour; it is a consensus of what is, for example, right or wrong, good or bad, just, fair, honourable, noble, honest, ethical, virtuous etc.. So, here there is always work to be done to monitor the existing situation and improve it in the light of current knowledge and invention, thereby pre-empting the appearance of a slippery slope.
Yet it is not so easy to get everyone on side. If we uncritically regard all civilisations, societies or cultures etc. and resulting mores or values as equally civilised, promoting the common good will be undermined. For example, it is hard to see how endemic deception and cronyism is compatible with efficient wealth creation, the rule of law or democracy; something would have to give way.
Further potential impediments include: isolation; ignorance; incompatible existing beliefs and prejudices; arrogant self-righteousness and ‘certainty’; inability to feel compassion especially in the sight of human suffering; reluctance or fear to actually do or even say anything which ‘rocks the boat’. There is also the problem of failure to develop a sense of ethical behaviour and self-restraint, for example, as in the Wild Westminster of MPs’ expenses, spin, insensitive ideology, bullying etc.
Drilling down deeper into what lies behind laws, morality and behaviour there must, (in addition to our human natures or personalities), be a paradigm or conceptual framework of knowledge, beliefs, assumptions and values. Tucked away here can be an imperative for progress or regression. From our Judaeo Christian tradition has come a strong humanity elegantly described by Hillel the Elder and Saint Paul – the result is a love-love paradigm; the more you love this, the more you should love that. The Nazis by comparison had a love-hate paradigm; the more you love this, the more you must hate what we tell you to. Thus even apparently noble ambitions are turned into a slippery slope of inhumanity; the warning signs are in the language being used and emotions being stirred.
Clearly a society that values human life, individuality and kindness is a better place to live than one that doesn’t. Better still is when it also brings people together where each is freely and mutually valued. Our British way of life, within Western Civilisation, with its emphasis on individuality, freedoms, humanity, rule of law, social justice, and free enterprise prosperity, was a serendipitous happening that progressed over time. Eternal vigilance is the price for preventing its descent, however slowly, on a slippery slope of inhumanity.
And the voices of victims can touch head and heart; this is one from the Shoah:
I believe in the sun though it is late in rising.
I believe in love though it is absent.
I believe in God though he is silent
Photo: Wikipedia Creative Commons