Friday, March 11, 2011

The Institutions of Law and Justice

My posting on ethically breaking laws (referring specifically to the claims made by Berrett Brown, an alleged spokesperson for the group Anonymous, drew the following comment from a member of the studio audience.

Here is one difference where I have to disagree with the premise. Anonymous is defending against illegal actions by adversaries that not only are themselves overwhelmingly powerful but are also able to invoke the wrath of the state, again, illegally.

Right. This is always true, 100 percent of the time, with no possibility of error. The members of Anonymous are morally and intellectually perfect. These claims I made about the dangers of self-deception and confirmation bias do not apply to them because if their superhuman qualities.

Every villain that has ever existed has been able do describe his actions in the most noble terms, at least in his own mind. The question is, "How do you know? What institutions are in place to check for the possibility of error?"

Because these are the only three options that exist:

(1) We are incapable of error.

(2) We are capable of error but errors do not matter. The possibility of unjust harm to innocent people is simply unimportant to us.

(3) We are capable of error and errors do matter.

If you go with option 3, then this demands that institutions be put in place that reduce the possibility of error - institutions that respect the most common sources of error. These common sources include conflict of interest, insufficient information, confirmation bias, selection bias, and the like.

Where an organization lacks these institutions, we may ask, "Which is it? Are you saying that you are incapable of error, or are you saying that error does not matter?"

And what happens when one discovers that an error does do harm to innocent people? What's the plan then? Are tree methods set up to compensate those who are harmed? Or is the plan to just shrug one's collective shoulders and say, "Well, that's their problem, not mine."

One option describes the morally responsible agent. The other option describes the immoral agent.

I live in a system of law. If I do harm to others, institutions exist to determine if I am in fact guilty and, if so, what I owe the victims in terms of compensation. This system is not perfect - nothing designed by humans ever will be. But it is far superior to a system that utterly ignores or, worse, undermines the principles embodies in such a system.

Neither Anonymous nor Wikileaks can ask or expect governments to intercede on their behalf, and, operating in the international ether, both they and their adversaries are functioning in places the law has yet to tread. Like the wild west, justice can sometimes only be delivered from the barrel of a [keyboard]. To expect -or wait- for due process would be to give further license to the banksters, who have already proven themselves immune to prosecution.

Here is one of those irrationalities that people use to excuse wrongful action - the false dilemma. "I only have two options: A or B, and A is clearly unacceptable, so I must choose B." a person who wants to choose B for whatever motive merely has to pick the correct A to put it up against.

"We must condemn and seek to abolish homosexual relationships or a vengeful God will visit us with hurricanes and earthquakes. We must do whatever we can to prevent the angry God from attacking us with hurricanes and earthquakes,"

You take the conclusion that you like, put it up against a horrendous alternative, and then proclaim that you actions are necessary, given the alternative.

This does not have to be done consciously. A person with no desire to see a third option has no motivation to look for a third option - or to find some excuse for dismissing any proposed third option out of hand. In their own mind, they are stuck with the options they described

They WANT to see themselves as being stuck between those two options, so that the option they like seems necessary.

This is just one of the tricks people use to judge themselves to be innocent and virtuous - by refusing to see the options that a truly virtuous person would have seen.

For one thing, there is nothing in this argument that prevents Anonymous from creating a set of institutions designed to protect innocent people from the harm of those who would use violence through institutions that respect the most common sources of error.

The wild west was not so wild. In the absence of access to formal courts, many mining camps created their own court - their own mining law. They elected trustworthy arbitrators and systems of arbitration - institutions where people brought their evidence before an impartial judge and jury.

Of course, it did not always happen this way. However, the relevant point here is that it should have happened that way – that this is the option that good people would have strived for. When it did not happen that way it is because not-good people – corrupt, greedy, or otherwise morally bankrupt people – got in the way.

1 comment:

marcellus said...

The trouble with disobeying in a civilized fashion is that it relies on your opponent being relatively civilized in their response:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/03/ivory-coast-women-killed

:(