Yesterday, in the United States, was Memorial Day, 2013. There was a little parade in our town and the whole panorama of American Conflict marched by: Revolutionary War re-enactors , Civil War re-enactors, the American Legion, and today’s local soldiers. It was a beautiful day here in Massachusetts, and a lot of young men and women never lived to see this day or to have anymore more beautiful days. We owe a great deal to the people who fought and died in very real and necessary conflicts, and perhaps, an even greater debt to those who lost their lives in unnecessary conflicts – conflicts that the world was manipulated into by the twisting and manipulation of information and image.
I would suggest that this debt should really preclude us from taking the easy way out, when we deal with these issues of altered information and image, of corrupted concept and manipulated meme. It is really not acceptable to shrug our shoulders at the complexity of moral issues. Bertrand Russell suggested that ethics is the last bastion of modern philosophy. So maybe we should be responsible and take these big questions on.
The essential responsibility and the essential solution must lie within us, as individuals. Government has pretty much made a right dog’s breakfast of dealing with these issues. I know that a lot of this very complicated problem – indeed of all complicated issues – consists of gray areas. Platitudes get us nowhere. And I am keenly aware of the delicate balance between the exercise of social responsibility and repression of civil rights and liberties.*
So maybe we should begin by focusing on the black and white questions. Whenever we see photographs or information manipulation designed to mislead and corrupt our political process, don’t laugh it off, rail against it, even if it supports your own political point of view. The first responsibility of a civilized society is to protect its innocents. A society that allows the victimization and exploitation of innocents, such as the use of children as sex objects in the fashion photography industry, is a failed society – despite all the trapping of technical and economic greatness (and it doesn’t matter which nation we are speaking about), it is a failed society.
We have spoken before about the fact that science and technology offers us choices. It is product neutral and maybe that’s a cop out. Choice is the dilemma. Let us strive to make the right ones.
* This delicate balance is succinctly, yet poignantly, dealt with in Ellen Alderman and Caroline Kennedy’s thoughtful book “In Our Defense, The Bill of Rights in Action.“