Until I started to parse U.S. ambassador Paul Cellucci's speech of last week, I was always shocked and awed by the supremacy American conservatives give to family values.How can they proclaim the primacy of family values, I used to wonder, in a country where there are so few social services fostering them?
But the light finally went on for me when Cellucci proclaimed that since family members are supposed to come through for each other, "many in the United States are disappointed and upset that Canada is not fully supporting us now."
American ultra-conservatives -- and Cellucci, former Republican governor of Massachusetts, with a better record for tax-cutting in Taxachusetts than George Bush had in Texas, is certainly one of them -- aren't talking about the positive virtues of close personal ties. They use "family' metaphorically to describe a belief system aimed at exclusion. In the field of international relations, this is a dangerous metaphor.
I think back to the term "amoral familism' coined some decades back by researchers trying to understand crime families and the Mafia. The ethic of amoral familism meant total and unswerving loyalty to one's own family, with no thought to the consequences for others.
In this construct, family is about blood and bonding. Society, especially international society, requires that people think beyond blood ties. Social cohesion is based on bridging, not bonding. And if bridging is not sufficient, there's the rule of law, for which amoral familism cares not a whit.
Which is why Cellucci didn't think once about whether international law, under which the U.S. invasion of Iraq is almost unanimously conceded to be illegal, might ever trump family in Canadian decisions.
Making family ties the bedrock of human relations is one of the key moral failings identified in Jonathan Glover's book Humanity: A Moral History Of The Twentieth Century, a gruesome review of atrocities, holocausts and inhumanity.
"Our species won a dominant position on earth," says Glover, "partly by using intelligence to devise methods of killing at a distance." It's as much about psychology as technology. Creating distance is the mechanism that enables people to treat others cruelly. Family and its opposite, non-family, is one of those mechanisms for creating distance, legitimizing a different standard of morality.
There's another set of conditions that Glover says overwhelmed moral resources during the 20th century. Dogmatic and unquestioning belief "is at least as dangerous as tribalism," he argues, because it lays the basis for "ruthless consequentialism." If the "evil" is great enough, any imposition of pain to defeat it is justifiable, a creed most notably associated with Stalin and Mao.
Belief and ruthless consequentialism also figure prominently in Cellucci's speech, as they do in the proclamations of the U.S. president who appointed him and approved his speech.
"The war in Iraq, we believe, is a necessary step in the global war on terrorism," Cellucci said. Not "we worry," "we think," "we argue," "we suspect," but we believe. "We believe we have to remove that threat from the planet," Cellucci continued. Not to "overcome," "counter" or "minimize," but to remove from the planet. If this is not ruthless consequentialism, then ruthless consequentialism has no meaning, as some speechwriter might put it.
There may be consequences now that Canada's not acting like family. We might get voted off the island. Security trumps trade, Cellucci said in an unscripted remark to reporters.
That's interesting, given that Cellucci also spoke at some length on the Bush doctrine about "failed states," countries where people live in abject poverty, and terrorists and drug cartels take hold. Canada and the U.S. are working together through the World Trade Organization to help failed states "establish the rule of law" that will create "a positive climate for trade and investment," and thereby counter terrorism.
Until now, the U.S. has been unforgiving to poor countries that claim their need for food security trumps trade. The U.S. always insists that global free trade trumps all domestic considerations. The WTO doesn't provide for double standards, one for the family, one for non-family.
But with the Cellucci doctrine, maybe that whole WTO world will fall apart. It would be a nice thing for the new family on the bloc -- the human family.