By Thomas Whittaker
Consider for a moment the sheer gravity of this truth: that a society is fully capable of being blinded to the clear and absolute evil of an ideology, practice, or undertaking. Just think about it, regardless of your views; there is simply no denying society’s capacity for the normalization of that which even the most reduced and open of moral perspectives could find to be abhorrent. In the absence of an absolute moral code, pragmatism and rationalism step in to establish acceptable social norms. Society justifies the moral structure through what is perceived as being necessary to the maintenance of the status quo.
One needs to look no further than our own country’s history. For slave owners, slavery was critical to the maintenance of their plantations and farms. For many individuals, particularly in the South, the American way of life was seen as being contingent upon slavery remaining a socially acceptable practice. As such, the sin of slavery was neutralized as an associated cost to the benefits of free labor, and the practice itself became normalized. It was considered by many to be a ‘necessary evil’.
Have we already forgotten this? Have we forgotten the fight which we had to endure in order to see the horrors of slavery ended in this country? Have we forgotten how, in the century after slavery was illegalized, we still had to continue fight against the evils of racism and racial segregation? Do we not remember how it was a ‘common thing’? How it was widely accepted? Have we forgotten how denying another human being the freedom to live their own life was once ‘acceptable’ and ‘popular’?
So where are we now? In wiping out the stain of slavery from our culture, have we achieved some sort of societal nirvana where we now are incapable of blinding ourselves against such evil? I do not think so, in fact, I know we have not.