February 08, 2005
A bit more on international law

Sorry I've been absent from the blog -- I don't have any good excuse, just general distraction. But I have been thinking a bit more about the question of international law, especially after I commented at beppeblog on what went wrong with Star Trek. Especially the bit about how its creators couldn't envision a peaceful future Earth without making it basically monocultural.

As I said when I was discussing abortion law a while back, I think that for a legal code to work it needs a critical mass of citizens who support it -- or at least, a critical mass who either support it or who could go either way. Making something official certainly helps solidify this mass and perpetuate the principle to future generations, but I still think you need that basic starting point. Otherwise, the law either goes largely unenforced, or you have a civil war on your hands.

When it comes to the United Nations and the laws it promulgates, it seems like mostly the former is happening. And I think that's because, while you can garner lip-service agreement for basic principles of human rights and so on, there is no deep cultural consensus on those issues. This is apparent just in the makeup of the U.N.: governments run the gamut from democracies to monarchies to dictatorships to one-party states. Hell, I'm not sure how many Americans would sign on to the Geneva Conventions, given some poll data.

So while I understand the Platonic ideal of international law as Neil laid it out, I don't think the world is currently in a state to have it. I do, actually, agree that moral law is very broadly similar around the world (hey, I don't always differ with C.S. Lewis). But the philosophy of government, the extent to which rulers have different moral laws unto themselves, and just how much moral law should be written into civic law to begin with, is a matter of much greater disagreement.

There's also the fact, as I mentioned not long ago, that even if your morals are similar your epistemology may be different. When I look at myself now vs. pre-church, I don't think my morals have changed, but my view of the universe has changed, and that has altered how those morals are applied. I don't think total pacifism is really feasible without the assurance of eternal life, for instance, because not every threat can be met with an effective nonviolent solution. (This is another reason why the Star Trek premise failed, but that's another subject.)

So does Pax Christi's emphasis on the U.N. do anything for this? I tend to think it's too legalistic and top-down an approach to really resonate with people. But of course, top-down vs. bottom-up was one of the original disputes between Anabaptists and Catholics, so I suppose I would think that, wouldn't I?

Posted by Camassia at February 08, 2005 11:44 AM | TrackBack

I think the premise of the original Star Trek is even more sinister than you make it out to be! It's basically liberal-universalist and militarist-interventionist! The Prime Directive was blatantly disregarded by Kirk and crew in virtually every episode and this was almost always presented as a good thing. Whenever some alien culture didn't live up to the high standards of the Federation, it was go time!

Basically I think ST was a reflection of Kennedy-era America and the idea of spreading freedom and democracy equated with the spread of American civilization (hmmm, some things never change...). The Prime Directive was like the lip service the USA always paid to "self-determination" - something that was disregarded as soon as intervention seemed justified (not that the Reds/the Klingons were any better, mind you).

Of course, since everyone "deep down" really wants the same thing (i.e. freedom as the west defines it), interventionism could be justified by an appeal to a higher law (and if they don't want it, they are ipso facto irrational and maybe less than fully human...?).

Okay, maybe I'm reading too much into this.

Posted by: Lee on February 9, 2005 06:09 AM

Actually Lee, I think you're basically right. From what I've read of Roddenberry's original thinking I believe that he meant well, but like most idealists he didn't realize how his ideals might run against each other: he wanted peace and diversity and individual liberty and economic redistribution and morality and tolerance and so on and so on. I think the later series dealt with these contradictions somewhat more realistically. The Next Generation took the Prime Directive a lot more seriously and there were several episodes wrestling with the consequences of non-interference. Also in Deep Space Nine, I remember one angry alien saying the Federation is really just like the Borg, since it wants to keep expanding and making everybody like itself, only the Borg are more honest about it. I can't help thinking the writer was talking back to Roddenberry's ghost, pointing out that this socialist utopia he'd bequeathed them with was getting darn near impossible to keep looking good as the series went on.

Posted by: Camassia on February 9, 2005 08:23 AM
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