By Dr. Steve Best, PhD“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality.” Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)“To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all.” Elie WieselMartin Luther King said that if a person hasn’t found something to die for, he isn’t fit to live. He is suggesting two things: first, that do we gain meaning and purpose in life when we find and fight for a cause; second, that we have strong obligations to help others and therefore ought to embrace a cause. Ethics calls upon us not only to avoid doing harm to others, but to actively work to bring about the good, and therefore change social arrangements. The ethical life is inseparable from the political life.A “cause” is a goal or principle one serves with passion and dedication. As a general value, a cause transcends the wants and interests of the individual who gives voice to it. Indeed, persons who champion causes often subsume or sacrifice their own life to that of a cause. Marx, Gandhi, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, and Dian Fossey immediately come to mind.Despite the nobility of a cause, people often are suspicious if you advocate any value other than yourself, your country, or your favorite sports team. In a pathologically individualist, narcissistic, and greed-oriented society such as ours, those who champion rights and justice causes often are derided. Anyone who has stood on the street with a protest sign has been regaled with the cry, “Get a life!” — as if real life were realized in being a worker and consumer rather than a concerned and engaged citizen. Political advocacy breaks with polite protocol, apolitical norms, and rigid boundaries between the personal and political. It threatens those who cling to prejudices of one kind or another, whether racist, sexist, elitist, homophobic, or speciesist.The contempt for causes is evident in the vilification of progressive values as “PC,” as if struggles against racism, sexism, and classism were Nazi propaganda rather than legitimate justice issues. Such ridicule inspired the classic Elvis Costello song, where he asks indignantly, “What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?””The depoliticization of everyday life is dramatically evident in academia, where young minds are trained to do research that is self-serving, abstract, apolitical, and largely meaningless to social problems and moral progress. Workers in research factories, specialists in fragmented knowledge, oblivious to the social and ecological crises that demand our attention, professors take their designated place in a one dimensional society that presents what “is” as what “ought” to be.To help solidify the attack on rights and liberation movements, mass media frame activists as weirdoes, extremists, alarmists, and even terrorists — when they consider their viewpoints at all. Journalists refer to animal rights and environmental activists as eco-terrorists, as if the corporate-constructed term were objective; conversely, the media portray the real terrorists who exploit animals and the earth as respectable business interests threatened by thugs and criminals.The Ethical Life is a Political LifeNot all causes are good causes, of course, as fascism, totalitarianism, imperialism, genocide, racism, speciesism, and environmental destruction are causes that corporations, governments, and many people have affirmed in thought and action.In fact, it’s the prevalence of bad causes that make it urgent that as many people as possible struggle for justice and ecology. As noted by Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

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