I wrote this comment in reply to an article on Ethika Politika published on November 15, 2013 (Conscience: Evolved or Deformed?).

Andrew M. Haines wrote:

Here’s an interesting idea: are we experiencing an “evolution of conscience” in the modern West? Howard P. Kainz makes the case in an article today at First Things, citing everything from our pandemic aversion to “genocide” and “slavery” to the sacrosanct status of individual human rights. It makes you wonder.

conscience isn’t only awareness. In fact, it’s primarily not awareness at all; rather, it is a judgement by reason that identifies the moral quality of a particular action. (Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1778.) So far as knowledge of alternatives is required for judgment, conscience needs sensitivity to operate. But conscience is, at bottom, active rather than passive.

I replied:

I think it’s very complicated to claim that we have evolved in terms of conscience. Perhaps in a book-length discussion, one could examine how conscience has evolved regarding a particular topic and compare and contrast changes. But in general terms?

I think Americans are particularly lacking in conscience, both in terms of awareness as well as morality in such a long list of topics that it becomes rather shoddy form to argue, in a general sense, that conscience has evolved.

“The current, almost universal, abhorrence of genocide stems from examples in the modern world—Hitler exterminating Jews, Turkey’s massacre of Armenians, Serbian atrocities against Muslims in Bosnia, Sudan’s systematic extermination of black Christians. Genocide may still be going on; but for the Western world in general, it is considered execrable. The possibility of future genocides horrifies our conscience.”

Horrifies? Really? As I recall, while the Rwandan genocide was going on, President Clinton was busy playing golf and most Americans were home happily watching football, drinking something, and eating pizza. So horrified were they that they did nothing.

While most people condemn not only the idea of genocide but also the practice, when they do nothing about it, even though they condemn it, it also shows that their idea of having a conscience is particularly bourgeois, flimsy, and profoundly self-centered. And their words of condemnation show themselves to be quite cheap after all.

Which leads us to ask:
Which one is worse: a Roman soldier who thinks he is doing his job by exterminating a people conquered, or a 20th century American who may even believe genocide is wrong, but plays golf while it happens?

Advertisements