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Monday, October 29, 2012

Moral Empowerment
"Justice, only justice shall you pursue,"  -- Deut. 16:20

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in a massive nuclear arms race.  The Soviet Union was aggressively pursuing an effort to bring a significant part of the world under its power.  The United States was struggling to block that expansion.  The nuclear arms race was a tactical means of achieving the Soviet's strategic goal.  If they could build a large enough nuclear arsenal, the threat of a nuclear apocalypse could block other nations from deterring them from achieving their strategic goal.

Both could choose to arm or disarm.  Disarming, while your opponent continues to arm, would have led to military inferiority and possible annihilation.  If both sides chose to arm, neither could afford to attack each other, but at the high cost of maintaining and developing a nuclear arsenal.  If both sides chose to disarm, war would be avoided and there would be no costs.  If your opponent disarmed while you continue to arm, then you achieve superiority.

Although the 'best' overall outcome is for both sides to disarm, the rational course for both sides is to arm.  This is indeed what happened.  The United States adopted a strategic policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD). Ultimately, the economy of the Soviet Union collapsed under the pressure of the arms race.  Although there were localized wars during this period, there was no nuclear exchange.

This is a global demonstration of the validity of the "repeated prisoner's dilemma" in the science of game theory.  It has led to a dozen Nobel Prizes.  It has been applied to conflict resolution and economics.  The principal behind this goes back to the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (1780 BCE) - "an eye for an eye".  It later appears in a revised, more humane form in the Biblical codes of justice. 

Robert Aumann, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, pointed out that simplistic peacemaking can cause war, while arms race, credible war threats and mutually assured destruction can reliably prevent war.  History, science and religion have joined in establishing the moral value of "peace through strength".

From a kabbalistic point of view, an eye for an eye and the prisoner's dilemma evolve from a single concept, reciprocity.  In this context, "an eye for an eye" takes on the broader meaning of "measure for measure".  Reciprocity, in turn, rests on the principles of balance and connectedness.  Once again, we arrive at the bedrock of justice and morality.

These examples are global; applied on a grand scale.  You would be right to ask, how do they affect me at a more personal level?  Let's try to answer that through the following parable.  Suppose you were an alien anthropologist studying one of Earth's cities.  You have no knowledge of the language.  Your assignment is to determine if this is a just/moral society.  Your only tool is behavioral observation.  What would you look for?

The observer might start by determining if people left the doors of their homes and cars unlocked, day and night, with no fear for themselves, their families or their property.  Are they able to walk the streets, day or night, without fear?  Can they be comfortable in knowing that, if something untoward happens, people will hurry to assist them?  Do the merchant and customer both receive value for value in any transaction?  Clearly, human beings do not meet these standards.  However, these are not absolute measures, but are set against a scale to determine how close the society has come to achieving these goals.

Take note that the answers to all of these are based on reciprocity.  If I am going to leave my home unlocked, I must have reasonable certainty that no one will violate my property or me.  On the other hand, every other person must have the same confidence that I will not violate what is his or hers.  This means that the moral force acting on the society must be strongly directed toward achieving this outcome.  Morality can only be determined by outcomes.

The kabbalist recognizes that the human being is not intrinsically moral, but has been created with the capacity to be moral.  Furthermore, it makes clear that the achievement of morality is entirely our responsibility.  This is the essence of moral empowerment.

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