Monday, April 03, 2006

Forcing One's Values Upon Others

In reading about what others are writing about the call in Afghanistan to execute Abdul Rahman for converting to Christianity, I have read a number of surprising claims. Some people have written that if we condemn Afghanistan for seeking to execute Rahman, that we will be forcing our views on them, and that would make us as bad as they are.

That is to say, if we were to seek to prevent Rahman’s execution, we would be as evil as those who are trying to kill him. Our guilt will rest in the fact that we are willing to force our views on another culture.

But let me ask any who think like this if it would be permissible for Rahman to resist execution? If Rahman were to protest, and to try to flee Afghanistan (which he has done), ultimately saving his own life, does this make him evil? After all, did he not force his values (that he not be killed) on the people of Afghanistan, by running away, thus depriving the people of Afghanistan of his execution?

Would be not be forcing our views on Rahman if we sought to prevent him from escaping execution?

It would seem that, no matter which position we took, we would be forcing our views on somebody. If we help Rahman escape, we are forcing our views on those people of Afghanistan who sought his execution. If, instead, we seek to help the people in Afghanistan, we would aiding them in forcing their views on Rahman. We seem to be caught in quite a moral dilemma here. Both options appear to be wrong.

Perhaps we should do nothing?

Somewhere out there – Rahman, perhaps, and any true friends he might have – likely thing that we should do something. If we do nothing, then we are forcing a particular set of values on those who think we should do something. And if we do something, then we are forcing a particular position on those who think we should do nothing. Clearly, once again, we find ourselves in a moral dilemma where nothing we can do is right.

Of course, we can reverse these dilemmas. It makes just as much sense to say that nothing we can do is wrong as it does to say that nothing we can do is right. After all, if we aid in the execution of Rahman, then we would be supporting the values of those who sought Rahman’s execution. That would have to be considered right, from a particular point of view. Right?

As long as we can find one person who wants us to do something, and who thinks it is right, then it is in fact right for us to do. If somebody wants us to round up all the Jews and execute them, this would be right, because if we refuse to round up the Jews and execute them, we would be forcing our values on those who value having all the Jews rounded up and executed.

Indeed, how can a person who protests one person imposing his values on others – a person who calls it “wrong” – say, without contradiction, that I ought not to force my views on others? If he tries to stop me, then is he not trying to force his views on me?

And, yet, here he is, telling me that I ought not to force my views on others – because it is wrong – while he seems to think nothing at all of forcing on me his view that I ought not to force my view on others.

Here is a way of answering people who make this type of claim.

Okay, I am out waling with my significant other. Suddenly, a thug steps out of the shadows and starts to attack my significant other. What you are telling me is I should stand there and do nothing. This is because, if I should interfere – if I should try to stop him from attacking my significant other, I would be as bad as the thug. You are saying that this is true because I would be forcing my values on the thug, by saying that he can’t attack my significant other. This is as bad as the thug attacking my wife. If I do not want to lower myself to his level, I should do nothing. Right?”

Actually, if some thug attacked my wife, I would certainly – to the degree that I am able – impose my values on that person. And if a thug should attack my neighbor, I would do the same thing, to the degree that I am able. And if I hear of a man in Afghanistan who converted to Christianity, who has become the target of some religious thugs who seek to kill all converts from their religion, and I should say that he is my neighbor, I reserve the right to do the same thing, or to support those who would do the same thing.

When the subjectivist comes up to me and shouts his subjectivist commandment; “Thou shalt not force thy values on others, or else,” I will greet him with the derisive laughter that his self-refuting, incoherent, and irrational moral principle deserves.

I would suggest to him that, unless he is the type of person who would stand aside while his children are attacked because he is opposed to forcing his values on his child's attacker, that he give up this prohibition on forcing one's values on others. Some values, such as 'do not attack children' and 'do not kill those who convert from one's religion' are quite legitimately forced upon others.

The issue can never be whether to force one's values upon others, but which ones? Are we to force values that generally tend to help others, or to harm others?

1 comment:

Oz said...

This sounds a bit like a common answer to the problem of evil, i.e., God doesn't want (can't?) interfere to stop evil because that would mean violating free will (awful like forcing values, no?).