Thursday, July 28, 2016

"Trumpian" Ethics - Bigotry

People object to many of Donald Trump's policies, but seldom offer more than grunts of disapproval.

This is an ethics blog, and I want to look at the reasons why Trump deserves these grunts of disapproval.

Imagine that you are walking down the street on a warm sunny day wearing a green shirt when some other pedestrian hits you over the head with a broom handle.


He answers, "When I was driving down here this guy in a green shirt cut me off and nearly made me wreck my car."

"It wasn't me," you protest. "I took the bus."

"I know that," the assailant says. "The guy who cut me off was bald. But he was wearing a green shirt, just like you are."

My guess is that you would feel angry. You would judge the assault to be entirely unfair, vicious, and malevolent individual. You would certainly not be inclined to vote that person into public office. You would feel justified in having your assailant punished for his unjust assault.

If your assailant had a red shirt, how would you feel about the legitimacy of finding somebody else in a red shirt and assaulting him?

These are emotional reactions, and the mere fact that one has a particular emotional reaction does not justify the action. We can identify a number of emotional reactions people have had, and still question whether those reactions are legitimate or appropriate. We can include disgust at interracial relationships, anger at disobedient slaves and improperly servile royal subjects, offense at somebody who said something one disagreed with. We cannot point to the fact that a particular emotional reaction exists and say that it is sufficient to justify the action. We need something more.

In fact, the person who struck you over the head with a broom handle acted was having an emotional response - one that gave him satisfaction by hitting anybody with a green shirt. If having an emotional reaction justified an action, then his hitting you with a broom handle was justified. That is an absurd conclusion that fully discredits this method of proof.

Here's the test: Take that emotional reaction and ask if people generally would be better off - whether they have reason - to promote that attitude so that it is common within the community. Imagine living in a society in which people generally found satisfaction in assaulting anybody wearing the same colored shirt as somebody who committed a perceived wrong. Compare that to a community where people were averse to harming the innocent - who felt that it is important that only the guilty are to be punished.

I am going to assert that we have more and stronger reason to prefer the latter type of community over the former.

Donald Trump, however, is a champion of the former option. He is an advocate of striking back at anybody wearing a "Mexican" shirt regardless of the guilt or innocence of the wearer. He advocates attacking anybody wearing a "Muslim" shirt, without regard to who they are as individuals - even if they are children.

"The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don't kid yourself. When they say they don't care about their lives, you have to take out their families," Trump said.

If we look a little more closely at Trump's "ethics", we see that it harms - even kills - a lot of innocent people.

Imagine a community who accepts Trump's ethics where it is permissible - even obligatory - to retaliate against anybody wearing the same color shirt as somebody who is perceived to have committed some wrong.

In this community, somebody with a blue shirt unjustly kills somebody with a black shirt.

As a result, somebody with a black shirt adopts the attitude that anybody wearing a blue shirt is "fair game". He takes a weapon and kills a number of people wearing blue shirts.

As a result of this attitude, everybody wearing a blue shirt feels threatened any time they have to interact with somebody wearing a black shirt. Consequently, when they interact with people wearing black shirts, they are far too quick to use deadly force. Some of them, if they accept Trump's ethics, will use deadly force precisely because they are using it against somebody wearing a black shirt - and anybody with a black shirt is "fair game".

Nobody is safe in this environment.

To create a safe environment we condemn anybody who argues that they may legitimately retaliate against anybody wearing a blue or a black shirt. In its place, we promote an attitude that only those individuals who commit the aggression deserve punishment, and the innocent shall be left to live their lives in peace.

Of course, we also can't have it be the case that people get away with their crimes - and are given support and protection - just because they are wearing either a blue shirt or a black shirt. We will actually have to hold the guilty accountable for their wrongs.

This is not likely to happen if the leader of the community is somebody who holds, defends, and asserts "Trumpian" ethics (i.e., the leader of the community is Trump himself). Instead, we can expect the violence to continue, and a lot of innocent people to suffer the consequences.

You do not need to know a lot of history to know of far too many instances where "Trumpian" ethics has lead to violence.

We see it in small cases such as the Hatfields and McCoys - where McCoys targeted anybody wearing a "Hatfield" shirt and the Hatfields felt justified in retaliating against anybody wearing a "McCoy" shirt. We see it in conflicts between gang, where every person wearing the opposing gang's colors is considered a legitimate target.

We see it in larger cases where "Protestant" shirt-wearers target anybody who wears a "Catholic" shirt, and "Catholic" shirt-wearers feel comfortable killing anybody wearing a "Protestant" shirt. Similar, we see it in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and between Shiite and Suni Muslims.

The Nazis took out their aggression against anybody wearing a "Jew" shirt, and many Europeans in America adopted the slogan that, "The only good Indian is a dead Indian".

These are all historic examples of "Trumpian" ethics - Trump's way of conceiving and organizing the world - being put into practice.

Do you think that more of this - do you think that this way of thinking - is going to make you feel safer?

In fact, "Trumpian" ethics is the ethics behind terrorism. The 9/11 attacks were carried out by people who think that everybody wearing an "American" shirt deserves to die. A person who sets off a bomb in a bus, or enters a club and opens fire indiscriminately, is somebody who is killing others based on the shirt that they wear, rather than punishing people specifically because of wrongs for which they, individually, have been convicted by an impartial jury.

This leads to another question.

What happens when Trump fails?

Trump has promised to end terrorism and to end crime. Yet, as I have argued above, Trump's harming of the innocent is going to generate the very types of resentment and anger - as well as provide the moral foundation - for retaliation against innocent people. When this retaliation takes place, people are going to turn to Trump and say, "But you promised!"

How is Trump likely to respond to this failure - to these terrorist attacks that he failed to stop after he promised the he is the only one who can stop it?

If he follows historical tradition, he is going to respond by claiming that we have not gone far enough. He is going to argue that harsher steps be taken against the target population, that more burdens and costs be placed on the innocent, that those wearing the "Muslim" or "Mexican" shirts be subject to even harsher treatment.

This is where authoritarians tend to adopt principles such as, "If you kill one of my people I will round up and kill 10 of your people," or "That village has been aiding the enemy so let us kill everybody in that village - man, woman, and child - and utterly destroy it." This is where Authoritarian leaders tell the people, "I do not like concentration camps, but peace requires that we round 'them' up and put them into camps. That is the only way we can have peace."

Or we just kill them all outright, and when they are all dead then we do not need to worry about their attacks anymore. Then we can have peace. This is actually the only way to bring their attacks to a full stop, so Trumpian ethics cannot end until it ends here. Trump cannot actually keep his promise with anything short of this final solution.

Nothing Trump has said has suggested that he is unwilling to take that road. In fact, many of the things that Trump has said suggest that he would not be willing to entertain taking any alternative road - a more conciliatory road. He may not like these solutions today. However, when his original plans fail, when America faces further terrorist attacks in spite of his original actions, history shows that under people who think like Trump - people who embrace "Trumpian" ethics - the inconceivable becomes conceivable, and then becomes actual.

A lot of people are responding to Trump's claims with grunts of disapproval. However, there is more behind this then just a set of dislikes and grumblings. Trump is the type of person, and "Trumpian" ethics is the type of ethics, that has brought about the worst atrocities in human history. There are a lot of many and strong reasons to grunt in disapproval.


Eneasz said...

I think this misrepresents the bigots. In your analogy, shirt color does not carry any information about the person wearing it, and so it is unjust to assault people due to what is an arbitrary reason. Imagine a world where only murderers wear green shirts. In such a world, seeing someone in a green shirt conveys the information "This person has murdered someone", and it wouldn't be unreasonable to base actions on that information (crossing the street, not hiring them, etc. Perhaps some people would feel justified assaulting them).

Bigots believe that wearing the "Muslim" shirt (for example) conveys relevant information about the wearer, and that this information includes things like "Supports an ideology that is actively working to destroy my civilization, and endanger me and my loved ones." These people may feel that assaulting someone wearing the Muslim shirt is a good act, as it may deter others from wearing that shirt (or at least from doing so openly), thus making society a little bit safer.

The goal in this case isn't to demonstrate how unjust it is to attack people for things that carry no information (like shirt color). They already agree with us on that, and pretending that they don't just makes us look like idiots. The goal is to demonstrate that wearing a "Muslim" shirt doesn't convey the information that the bigot thinks it does. This will be a much harder goal.

Anonymous said...

Most bigots don't even want to outright attack the Muslim shirt guy. But when literally 76% of afghan Muslim shirt wearers think honor killings against women are permissible and literally 99% of them support sharia law (see pew research center data), why is it such a bad thing to not want to indiscriminately invite them to your BBQ?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

In the same way that I can condemn reckless driving without condemning people in green shirts, and condemn the assassination of people in blue shirts without condemning people in black shirts, I have no problem condemning honor killing and condemn that which us bad in Sharia law without condemning people in Muslim shirts.

I do this by condemning specifically and by name that which deserves condemnation, not by condemning an overly broad category that includes many who are innocent of the charge. It's extremely easy to do.

So, even if it turns out that 87% of green-shirt people happen to be reckless drivers, and 87% of reckless drivers happen to wear green shirts, when I condemn reckless drivers rather than green-shirt people, I condemn only the 87% who are guilty and not the 13% who are innocent.

Furthermore, I am not letting the 13% who do not wear green shirts off the hook - the way that people who confuse "wearing a green shirt" and "reckless driving" are prone to do.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Upon further thought . . .

One of the most common arguments I have encountered in defense of bigotry comes from those who assert something like, "If you don't condemn people in green shirts, then you are condoning reckless driving."

Of course that's utter nonsense. It is so absurd that about the only motivation I can think of to embrace this "reasoning" comes from a hatred of green-shirt people and a need to feel that one's bigotry against them is somehow justified.

For my part, I have no trouble at all defending freedom of speech and the rights of homosexuals and women without condemning "Muslim shirt people." In doing so, if 95% of Muslims hold views conflicting with these values then, by extension, I will be condemning 95% of all Muslims.

However - I do not because they are Muslims. I condemn them because they violate the principles of freedom of speech and the rights of homosexuals. And I do so without my condemnation spilling over onto the hypothetical 5% who are innocent - who embrace freedom of speech and the rights of individuals to live their peaceful lives as they see fit.

One of the hopeful effects of this is that it will grow the 5% who share these values, support them, and turn them into allies instead of enemies - and shrink the 95% who are worthy of condemnation.

Anonymous said...

That still doesn't quite answer the question or accurately identify the bigot's concerns, though. Of course you are correct that we can condemn the actions or beliefs of the majority of green shirt wearers (or muslims in Afghanistan) without condemning the broader group. And of course a failure to condemn green shirts or muslims generally isn't equivalent to a failure to condemn reckless driving, honor killings, pedophilia, etc. But ideological opposition and practical physical prevention are two very different things. (Remember that Trump's stated immigration policy is a temporary ban on muslim immigration from countries with largely radicalized views -- temporary until there is a reliable vetting system in place for individuals.)

The argument is not that you are failing to ideologically condemn the bad things. Rather, the argument is that you may practically erode the integrity of a system by dogged ideological adherence to individualism even without the vetting institutions to make individualism work. If you want to treat people as individuals, that's great. I like that. But we have to have the means to do so. If we don't, and if making a judgement about someone is consequentially important and pressing, then we have to go with the next best thing, even if that is using an imperfect but still potentially useful heuristic (like one's religion or geographic location.)

If, hypothetically, you didn't have a good vetting system in place for granting driver's licenses to green shirts -- in other words, you didn't have a good system for ensuring those from the 87% stayed off the roads and those in the 13% were allowed -- would you then indiscriminately allow the green shirts on the road? What if green shirts were 76% (or 99%) pedophiles, and you didn't have a reliable method of determining which greens are good and which greens are bad -- would you indiscriminately allow green shirts to your daughter's birthday party?

Here is a fun hypothetical to consider: What if you were commander of The Enterprise in Star Trek, and you received an incoming transmission from an alien vessel. They are stranded and running out of supplies. They request you lower your shields so they can come stock up, and trade with you. But suppose also that this vessel is from a region we will call Region X, and suppose that literally 99.999999% of cases where Region X vessels are asking for help, they are actually preparing an attack. And Region X vessels are particularly powerful in some circumstances -- they cannot penetrate shields, but if they can fight you without shields, they would win every time. Also suppose you currently have no way of knowing whether they will attack or not until you lower your shields. Wouldn't keeping your shields up be the prudent thing to do? Or should you lower the shields? (Note: this isn't quite analogous to the muslim immigration case because the percentages and potential consequences are different, but similar "bigoted" actions are taking place in that you are making non-individualistic judgements based on a regional-origins heuristic. I'm curious whether you think playing the bigot in this scenario is morally permissible or not, and why.)

Whether indiscriminately allowing muslim immigration from Afghanistan (where 99% support Sharia law and 76% think honor killings against women are permissible) is a bad thing or not might be debatable. But taking the pro-temporary-ban side in this case isn't obviously completely unreasonable, nor does it seem to be worthy of the level of moral condemnation and outrage I am seeing from the Left.

Shmuel Warshell said...

Another point to consider:if 87% of green shirt wearers are murderers and you see someone in a green shirt then you can have 87% confidence that this person is a murderer. Is this correct or am I missing something here?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

At the start, I am accepting your assumption on face value that 87% of green shirt wearers are murderers as opposed to, say, 0.0087% (or 87 murderers per 1 million population). We would not want to begin with a prejudicial assumption that green shirt wearers are more violent than they are in fact - exaggerating the threat.

Of course, if 87% of green shirt wearers are murderers and you see someone in a green shirt then you can have 87% confidence that this person is a murderer.

What does this imply?

Does it imply that 100% of green shirt wearers shall be treated as if guilty of murder?

Does it imply that it is just to limit the employment and other liberties of innocent green-shirt wearers, intentionally reducing the quality of their lives - asserting that (all) green shirt wearers deserve this treatment in virtue of the fact that they wear green shirts?

Should we target green shirt wearers rather then murderers (which has the additional effect of letting off the hook murderers who are not green shirt wearers)?

And how would these implications be effected if the number was, in fact, closer to 0.0087%