Any number of pundits have recently found it worth noting that, among other deficits, the American President suffers from an insufficient appreciation of America's exceptional status in God's plan for the universe. Which may well be accurate and, from where I sit, a good thing, since sourcing a pernicious characteristic, which is what American exceptionalism is, in the deity is the height of arrogance. Imagine Satan proclaiming that because God made him he is good.
Extractive, exploitative, exceptional and self-centered, to boot, is what the Euro-American population has always been. Touting these characteristics as virtues is perhaps relatively new. We're not talking about making lemonade out of lemons here or breaking a few eggs to make an omelet. We're talking about behaving like vandals and calling it civilization.
Though, come to think of it, saving the savages from perdition was an early objective among the religious colonists. Necessary, perhaps, because it gave purpose to what had to have been a very uncertain and risky enterprise. Setting off into the unknown across the wide expanse of the oceans had to be motivated by something beyond the sense of self-preservation. So, the illusion of doing the will of a deity served to fortify human frailty.
However, what has since evolved is something else. The wanton extraction and exploitation of nature for the accumulation of material wealth can't be justified as doing the will of God. And, indeed, it isn't. If the Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, is to be believed, there's a new standard of behavior afoot in the land, neatly encapsulated in his observation that:
"The public is more willing to accept pain and difficulty, more than they have ever been before."
In other words, the moral value of an act is defined by whatever the victim is willing to put up with. It's an objective standard, but not in the sense that was originally meant when good and evil were defined by an external principle that was recognized to exist "beyond good and evil." The new objectivity locates the moral valuation of an act within the recipient or object, rather than confronting the agent of an act with a universally applicable standard, regardless of the victim's reaction or response. This mental slight of hand not only relieves agents of all moral responsibility, it strips all action directed at non-sentient nature (including creatures who can't bite back) of any moral implication. So, without objection, human behavior is rendered value neutral. Even self-satisfaction or self-gratification is no longer an issue.
Of course, if objective acceptance is the standard of behavior, there's no need to evaluate behavior ahead of time. And no need to take a negative response or rejection into account either, if only because that's logically impossible. If a moral judgment can only be rendered by the victim after the fact, then there's no need/purpose to look ahead and anticipate that judgment to deter action. Abuse isn't abuse and there is no deprivation of rights, unless and until the abused call a halt, and the failure to do so is evidence that there's no abuse and no violation of law.
I'm tempted to conclude that what we have here is another failure by design, another instance where failure, if not a good thing, is at least neutral. This is not, however, an example of the glorification of badness. The conversion of bad behavior or evil into good is what we arrive at when the failure to object to abuse and deprivation, as evidenced in the torture of alien detainees and the groping of airline passengers, is hailed as a positive. When the bodily integrity of a person is challenged or invaded, whether briefly or permanently, that's bad. Period. When such behavior is hailed in the service of some supposedly spurious greater good, that's evil being glorified.
This raises two questions for which I have no answer, as yet. The first concerns how it happened that people supposedly committed to religious principles which clearly define good and evil behavior, regardless of the intent of the agent or the reaction of the recipient/victim, came to accept "objectivity" as the new standard. Is it just the inevitable consequence of having to locate responsibility somewhere else once "being saved" removed it from the subject or is the effective negation of responsibility intentional? How was it discovered that having to choose between good and evil could be avoided by relocating the valuation process from the subject to the object?
The other question has to do with why negating responsibility for good and evil isn't enough. Why does bad behavior have to be redefined as good? What prompts a Chris Christie, for example, to proclaim that the public is "accepting" of pain? While there is a long tradition of Christian churchmen touting earthly suffering as a prelude to an eternal reward, it wasn't, for the most part, suffering that the churchmen caused. In the instant case, the "pain and difficulty" being experienced by the residents of the supposedly richest nation on earth is clearly being caused by the people in charge of the money bags. Which might well lead one to wonder why the public continues to be "accepting." If so, then perhaps Christie's assertion is more a denial of what he knows in his heart should be -- increasing resistance by good people to the evil being inflicted on them.
So, there's a third question. Why are good people not more resistant to the evil that is done to them? And the answer there, I'm increasingly certain, is that good does not recognize evil and does not recognize itself as a target, while evil, perhaps because it resents being overlooked or ignored, aims to inflict injury on the good, both to get attention and because it can. If so, then "do good and avoid evil" is perhaps not the best advice.
If evil aims to get attention, then avoiding it won't keep it at bay. Evil has to be stood up to and countered and that has to be accomplished by an outside agent. It's actually what we organize government for. Moreover, recognizing it ought not to be too hard, once we realize that evil is a show-off. Abuse is only secret if good people close their eyes.
Addendum--I am stunned to be on the REC list and, as I said, at a loss for words.