Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Hero's Welcome For Ramil Safarov: Universal vs Tribal Morality

Pictured Above: Ramil Safarov, Ax Murderer and Tribal Hero?

Systems of ethics and morals vary from culture to culture. To better understand the nature of conflicts between nations and groups, it's indispensable to understand this moral paradigm. Every culture lies somewhere on the spectrum of universal morality vs tribal morality. A key difference in both ends of the spectrum is the extent of the "ethical radius." The best example is seen in the Mafia, whose members are not defined so much by a lack of ethics, but rather by a very limited ethical radius. More specifically, "thou shalt not steal" and "though shall not kill" only applies to members of their own tribe who uphold their code of honor. Moral restrictions rarely extend to individuals who dwell outside of their tribal circle.

When a culture, or for that matter, an individual is oriented towards universal morality, their judgement of an action will be made largely independent of who the subject and who is the object of an action. For example, I and the vast majority of Jews would view it as immoral if a fellow Jew massacred Muslims Civilians, in spite of the hostility that exists between our groups. And it would be an ethical imperative to defended the civilians, even if it meant "going against one of our own." Granted, even the most committed follower of universal morality shows some tribal bias; Socrates could not support Euthyphro pursuit of charges against his own father. And within limits, we naturally display greater empathy towards those who we consider members of our in-group, but the bottom line is that we recognize individual rightsmoral responsibility and principles of basic fairness that transcend group identity.

Conversely, when a culture is oriented towards tribal morality, its member will judge the action based on who is the author and who is the recipient. Or put simply, the guiding moral principle is: that which helps our group is always good and that which harms our enemy is always justified. This is seen when Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani hacked an Armenian, Gurgen Markarian, to death while he slept. Before we continue it's essential to note that this did not occur in a battlefield, but rather in a military academy in Hungary, in which both individuals were attended English Language classes, organized by NATO. What is most shocking is that upon return to Azerbaijan, Ramil was given a hero's welcome and rewarded with: a promotion to the rank of major, a new apartment and 8 years in pay for the time he was incarcerated! Clearly for Ramil's supporters, the sole determinant of the desirability of his action is that the perpetrator was "one of their own" and the victim was a reviled out-group. As we will see in the following post, the clash between universal and tribal morality is highly relevant in American politics.

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