Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Good

Well, this is the Year of Metaethics . . . and I will be following along with the text of the studies I will be taking next semester.

That text begins with basic value concepts.

So, let us start with "the good".

What is it for something to be good?

Good = Is such as to fulfill the desires in question.

This is the start of it. If anybody says that something is good - a knife, a law, a person, an action, a law, a system of government, a painting, a book - then either they are saying that it is such as to fulfill the desires in question, or their statement is false. There are other options, but they mostly involve significantly redefining the meaning of the term "good" and using that new and bizarre definition. We can rule those out as not being a part of a serious discussion of the topic.

This leads to some questions: What is a desire? What are "the desires in question"? And what is it to "fulfill" a desire?

I can - and often have - given a technical definition of these terms. But let's see if I can explain these in terms that will not have the reader running away in fear.

What is a desire?

You have an aversion to pain. I suspect you do. There are historical records of some who do not - and apparently this condition can be created by certain drugs. But I am going to go with the idea that you have experienced pain and generally it is something you try to avoid. This is your aversion to pain or what could be described as your "desire that I not be in pain".

A desire provides a motivating reason for making it the case that the thing that desired is true. The aversion that I not be in pain motivates the agent to make it true that "I am not in pain"

A desire to have sex is a motivating reason for making it true that "I am having sex".

A desire to go to a Jimmy Buffett concert is a motivating reason for making it true that "I am at a Jimmy Buffett concert."

Right now, as you read this, you are reading this because you have some desire, and reading will make whatever you desire true in the real world. Perhaps you have a desire to know what good is . . . a desire "that I know what good is" . . . which is your motivating reason for making it the case that "I know what good is". I hope that I can fulfill that desire - that is my reason for writing this. I have a desire . . . I have a desire . . . that I know what good is that resulted in several years of studying philosophy. Now, I think that I have an idea.

I am motivated to write this blog based on my own desires. I have a desire to know what good is and, by writing this blog, I am making it possible for somebody to put something in the comment section that says, "You idiot. You have it all wrong," along with some proof and useful instructions. And, (2) because if I do not have it wrong then maybe it would be useful to let other people know what "good" is so that those people do not waste their lives chasing things that are not good.

So, a desire is something in the brain that motivates the agent to make that which is desired true in the world.

Now, I suppose I can go to that technical definition I warned you about at the start of this post.

A desire that P is a mental state that provides the agent with a motivating reason to make or keep true the proposition 'P'.

An aversion to pain . . . a desire that I am not in pain . . . is a mental state that motivates me to make or keep true the proposition 'I am not in pain'.

A desire to know what understand 'good' . . . a desire that I understand what 'good' is . . . is a mental state that motivates me to make or keep true the proposition 'I understand what 'good' is'.

What is it for a desire to be fulfilled?

So, now that we know what a desire is, what is it to fulfill a desire?

That's easily enough to understand. Insofar as I have an aversion to pain, then I have a desire that I not be in pain. My desire that I not be in pain is fulfilled . . . or, I sometimes use the term 'realized' . . . whenever it is the case that 'I am not in pain' is true. If I want some pumpkin pie, then this desire is fulfilled in any state of affairs where "I am eating pumpkin pie" is true.

If I want my child to be safe . . . if I desire that my child is safe . . . then this desire is fulfilled whenever "my child is safe" is true.

So, a desire that P is fulfilled in any state of affairs where 'P' is true.

Again, what is it for something to be good?

Let us go back to what it takes for something to be good. Well, pain is bad . . . and that is the opposite of good. If I have a desire that I not be in pain, then any state of affairs where "I am not in pain" is false (that is to say, any state of affairs where "I am in pain" is true) is bad. This is something I want to avoid. This is something I have a motivating reason to avoid.

If I want some pumpkin pie . . . if I desire that I am eating some pumpkin pie . . . then a state of affairs in which "I am eating pumpkin pie" is good.

If I desire that my child is safe, then any state of affairs in which "my child is safe" is true is good. I don't even have to know that my child is safe. If I had to choose between believing that my child is safe while he is being tortured, and believing that my child is being tortured while he is safe, I would choose the latter. This is because the latter is a situation where "my child is safe" is true - and that is what I want. I want it to be the case that "my child is safe" is true.

"My child is safe" is such as to fulfill the desires in question - where the desire in question in this case is my desire that my child is safe.

Now, I also have a desire that I not experience the anguish that would come from believing that my child is being tortured. So, I also desire that I not believe that my child is being tortured. But, all things considered, my desire that I not believe that my child is being tortured is pretty weak compared to my desire that my child is safe. Consequently, I would choose "I believe that my child is being tortured, but my child is safe" to "I do not believe that my child is being tortured and my child is not safe." The first option is better than the second. It is better because it fulfills the most and strongest desires.

What are the desires in question?

This part is going to be difficult to understand. People who make a mistake understanding this position tend to make the mistake right here. They think things like, "So, if I desire that I torture a child, you're saying that any state of affairs in which I am torturing a child is good." Which, of course, is nonsense. So, that defeats the whole position right there.

But, really, when we talk about the goodness and badness of torturing a child, are we REALLY talking about the desires of the person who wants to torture the child? Honestly, this is NOT the correct "desires in question" that we are referring to when we talk about the goodness and badness of torturing the child. We are talking about the desires of the child, the child's parents, the whole of society. How does "torturing a child" stand in relation to the desires we are almost always talking about when we talk about the goodness or badness of torturing a child? It's a pretty bad thing . . . in fact, it is difficult to think of things that are worse. So, no, this doesn't say that torturing a child is good. It says that the person who desires to torture a child has a motivating reason to torture a child. I agree that torturing a child is such as to fulfill his desire. But, as i have already said, when we talk about the goodness and badness of torturing a child, his desires are not the desire that we have in mind. The statement that "torturing the child is such as to fulfill the desires in question" - when we seriously and honestly identify the desires in question when we make this statement - is false.

This really is the most common mistake. People take something like torturing a child and claim that this theory calls it "good" when it is obviously not good . . . because they choose the wrong "desires in question". The "desires in question" or those that make the most sense out of the evaluation. When it comes to evaluating the torturing of a child, the desires of the person wanting to torture the child does not make the most sense of our evaluation. So, the claim that I am calling this "good" is a mistake.

So, we pick up what "the desires in question" are from the context in which we make the statement. If I say, "That was a good supper," I am typically saying that the supper fulfilled my desires regarding what I like to taste. If I say, "that was a good movie" I am probably talking about the desires of people who like that kind of movie. If I say, "This is a good knife" I have in mind the desires that knives are typically built to fulfill - a desire to cut things or, for certain types of knives, cutting certain kinds of things (e.g., a bread knife, a butter knife).

Once again, what is good?

Whenever something is called "good" either it is "such as to fulfill the desires in question" or the statement is false. This applies to all types of goodness. Try it out. You can't have a conversation without somebody making an evaluation - saying that something is "good" or "right" or "better" or "bad" or "worse". See if you can pick out the "desires in question" and, if you can, see if the object of evaluation really is "such as to fulfill the desires in question".

Now, of course, you will come across people who use the term "good" or some similar evaluative term without referring to "the desires in question". Typically, they are claiming that something is intrinsically good - that it has good regardless of whether or not it is such as to fulfill the desires in question. This happens a lot. Those claims are false. If you want an evaluation to be true, then it has to be "such as to fulfill the desires in question". If it is not such as to fulfill the desires in question then the claim that it is good is false. Feel free to tell them they are mistaken.


This, then, is where it all starts. This is goodness.

Any questions?

Friday, December 14, 2018

Semester Over

I am back. The fall semester is over.

It's not OVER over . . . I still have a final exam and a paper to work on over the break. But, I feel the pressure slipping away. I got worried about grades and keeping up with the work at around the first of November and hunkered down some.

My professors this semester made me work. I turned in multiple drafts of papers with edits and criticism that I then had to respond to with more drafts. One of the criticisms was that my writing was too casual and it read too much like a journalism article than like a philosophy paper. Well, what do you expect? I've been writing philosophy in the form of blog posts for 10 years. Well, that was one of the reasons I set aside the blog for a while - I wanted to focus on writing the types of papers that philosophy professors think is appropriate.

You may notice that there will be some change in my writing style. Arguments are going to be a bit more explicit and a bit more structured than they have been. I think that is for the best.

Oh . . . and I am done with my core requirements now. Logic class . . . check. Classes in metaphysics/epistemology . . . check. History of philosophy class . . . check. Well, that's the one that I am needing to finish up during the break.

2019 is going to be the year of doing what I want to do.

I have two courses next semester.

Course 1: The British Ethical Theorists from Sidgwick to Ewing. (About 1880 - 1950.) For anybody familiar with philosophical ethics, the class covers the likes of Henry Sidgwick, W.D. Ross, G.E. Moore, C.D. Broad. I don't know why Sidgwick gets a real first name . . . he just does. Anyway, these were the influential thinkers until the emotivists took over. These were meta-ethicists, so covering these theorists means covering such topics as the definition of "good", intrinsic value, and intuitions. Right up my alley.

Course 2: Metaethics: Internalism vs. Externalism about Moral Motivations. I am an externalist. "Internal" motivation requires that the agent have a desire. Morality is about the desires that exist. Many of the desires that exist are external to the desires that the agent has. Thus, many of the reasons that something is morally right or wrong have to do with reasons that are external to the motivational states (desires) of the agent himself. Well . . . this is actually going to be the first class I have taken where I get to be a full-blown unapologetic true-to-life desirist. I am looking forward to it.

I have already started studying for the semester, and I am going to be posting my notes here.

Oh . . . and these courses will be the foundation for my masters' thesis. So . . . there's that to look forward to as well.

It's good to be back.

Be talking to you again shortly.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Nationalism 018: Reparations vs Distributive Justice

We, as a society, have engineered a set of sentiments whereby somebody who is wronged may demand help, but a person who is merely harmed but not wronged may only ask for assistance. I do not see good reason to engineer society in this way. It is something that people with wealth and power who are concerned about their treatment at the hands of others with wealth and power have reason to engineer. Concern for the poor provides them with no benefit, so they have an incentive to dismiss it as supererogatory. However, this does not justify the practice.

I come to this point in a consideration of reparations for colonization, enslavement of its people, and other wrongs committed by one nation against another.

Imagine a particularly eventful weekend morning. As you are walking down the street, off to your right, a hapless stranger is struck by a meteor shattering his arm, breaking a major artery, and he is laying on the ground bleeding to death. On your left, an individual has been badly beaten unjustly – on the basis of race or religion or having something the attackers wanted – by bigots or gang members either for fun or for profit.

Why is it more important to help the person on your left who is the victim of an injustice, and not the person on your right who is the victim of an accident?

Helping the person on your right is widely considered supererogatory – above and beyond the call of duty. You may help him if you want to – and we will praise you if you do. At the same time, we are anxious to find somebody to blame for the attack on the left and to make sure that the victim is restored to his former state. If the person on the right is left to die of his wounds, there is a good chance that nobody will be arrested or punished. In virtue of being wronged, that person on the left has a claim against others – a claim that he can use to demand assistance. The person on the right has no such claim. He may ask for help, but may not demand it.

This came to my mind as I read the following from Mills’ essay:

Moreover, a reparative normative project has traditionally been seen as more urgent in ethical theory, since it is obligatory for all liberals to correct violations of negative rights, whereas poverty relief is too easily pushed over the moral border into the realm of the supererogatory, praiseworthy but not (for right-wing liberals) required of us. (Mills, Charles W., “Race and Global Justice”, p. 27)

Though it may be a coincidence, I think it is useful to note the fact that if a group of wealthy people were to get together and choose a moral theory, they would have reason to choose this distinction. The political and economic elite have reason to demand compensation or reparations from other members of the elite that cost them money or position. However, they may well expect that they will not have much use for an overall concern for the poor, nor would they have reason to cultivate such a sentiment in others (or to allow others to promote such a sentiment in them).
Kok-Chor Tan defended the use of reparative arguments on the grounds that they work.

So supplementing arguments from equality with arguments from reparation for colonialism can help motivate compliance with the demands of egalitarian justice. It appeals more directly to people’s moral intuitions that individuals must take responsibility for their wrongdoing. (Tan, Kok-Chor, “Colonialism, Reparations, and Social Justice”, in Reparations: Interdisciplinary Inqiries by Jon Miller and Rahul Kumar, (eds.), Oxford University Press, p. 286).

First, it doesn’t work if the person who needs help was harmed but not wronged. In the story I told above, reparative arguments may motivate people to help the person who was wronged but provide no additional motivation to help the person who was hit by the meteor. It only works in cases where an individual was both wronged and harmed.

Second, I have not questioned the descriptive claim that a perception of wrongness motivates. Tan may be correct – pointing out that the person was wronged may, in fact, motivate people to give more and faster help. This is something for psychologists and public relations and marketing firms (firms whose job it is to determine how best to motivate people to act) to answer. I am interested in whether it should be the case that mere harms – harms that are not caused by wrongs – fail to motivate.

Tan has another argument available to defend claims that an individual has been wronged as relevant and important – when they are true. This is to help to establish and set the norms of society – to acknowledge the fact and to teach the lesson that decent people do not behave in this way. Condemnation reinforces the norm. It helps to make it the case that similar actions will not occur in the future because people know better. There is reason to do this. However, it is also possible to do this while giving aid to the person struck by the meteor. This does not answer the question I posed at the start of this essay – it asks the question in different words. Why are we not working to establish a norm whereby those in need of help, even if they have not been wronged – are helped by condemning the failure to help?

Here, I am drawing on the fact that praise and condemnation are processed in the brain to produce rules for behavior - social and cultural norms - that will, in turn, influence future actions. We have reason to condemn colonization and slavery as a way of promoting social norms against them, so as to reduce the possibility of similar crimes being committed in the future. A demand for reparations provides just such a statement of condemnation. In this case, one has reason to use the reparations argument - but it does not explain the supererogatory nature of helping those who were harmed but not wronged.

Charles Mills makes use of this argument in writing about the importance of recognizing the role that race has played in the past and that it currently plays in our political and social systems. It would be fundamentally dishonest to pretend that wrongs committed on the basis of race did not exist. They did not exist, and what we have now are the effects of those historical events. This provides a reason to say, “those people were wronged,” and to seek some form of correction. However, this does not justify the attitude that the person harmed but now wronged may be ignored.

Here, we may conceive of two ways of looking at the person who was wronged. We can debate whether that person is to be helped because he was wronged or because he was harmed. Mills’ arguments and Tan’s as well provide reason to insist that we correctly and honestly describe that person’s situation as that of a person who was wronged. This is because, according to Tan, people are more likely to help him and, because of Mills, because these facts are important – they ought not to be ignored. However, we are still ignoring the person on the right – the person harmed but not wronged.

There is a practical problem here that I do not have any idea how to solve. A morally concerned individual apparently has obligations to end climate change, end the abuse of international domestic workers, prevent the buying and selling of blood oil, resolve race relations, end the refugee crisis, end global poverty, oppose fascism . . . all at once. Any one of these would represent a full-time commitment – and no human being has the capacity to become fully involved in all of them. With so many problems to fix and each of them taking so much work, it suggests that there is no way any individual has any chance of to avoid being a villain.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Fox News playing Joseph Goebbels

Fox News is playing the role of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels to Trump’s Hitler.

Is this your typical election hyperbole?

Every election is filled with exaggerated claims about Presidential intentions. Every administration is met with warnings (from the other party) about how the administration is secretly planning to create a dictatorship and, thus, must be removed from power.

And, for the record, I am not talking about a secret conspiracy to establish a dictatorship. All parties are “playing it by ear”. But, like a tsunami coming in from the ocean, the fact that the water did not conspire to destroy the city does not imply that the city is safe.

In this tsunami, Trump is a showman with no moral compass. He tells people what they want to hear with absolutely no sense of tight and wrong. Fox News (like Joseph Goebbels) sees profit in hitching it’s wagon to the showman. Goebbels had a very prominent role in Nazi Germany by promoting Hitler. Ambitions at Fox News are served by serving Trump in the same way. “Do you want to talk to Trump? You get to him through us.”

But there is far more to it than taking advantage of a relationship.

Hitler gained power on a message that somebody needed to protect Germany (and Germans) from a fictitious “Jewish Menace.” Goebbels accommodated Hitler by filling the media with images and messages of a fictitious Jewish Menace. Together, they filled the German people with a fear and hatred of Jews. At first, it was just words. Then, some took to violence - vandalism, assault, murder. The laws grew harsher. The levels of hatred and fear grew - probably not by anybody’s design. Like a natural disaster, there were natural forces at work. They formed a tidal wave - a tsunami - of hatred, immorality, and violence that left 60 million dead - and that was just a small fraction of the cost.

Trump gained power on a message that somebody needed to protect America (and Americans) from a fictitious “Immigrant Menace.” Fox News accommodated Trump by filling the media with images and messages of a fictitious Immigrant Menace. Together, they filled the American people with a fear and hatred of immigrants. At first, it was just words. Then, some took to violence - vandalism, assault, murder. The laws grew harsher. The levels of hatred and fear grew - probably not by anybody’s design. Like a natural disaster, there were natural forces at work. They formed a tidal wave - a tsunami - of hatred, immorality, and violence that will leave untold numbers dead and that will be just a small fraction of the cost.

Fox News is playing the role of Goebbels to Trump's Hitler.

Fox News is lying to us about the immigrants in Mexico. They are a threat to us in the same way that the family living across the street is a threat to you when they bundle up their children and run in your direction as they flee murderers and rapists who have invated their home. Or, they are just as much of a threat as you would be if you bundled up your family and ran away from murderers and rapists who have invated your home. Fox News wants to fill us with fear and hate because that allows them to keep their position on the right-hand side of Trump. Goebbels wanted to fill the German people with fear and hatred of Jews because it allowed him to keep his privileged position on the right-hand side of Hitler.

“That can’t happen! You are exaggerating.”

If something DID happen, then it CAN happen. And, remember, I am not talking about a conspiracy. I am talking about natural forces coming together to create a very dangerous situation. (1) A political leader that completely lacks any sense of right and wrong, (2) a population of human beings disposed to rally around a leader who promises to "protect" them from an imagined enemy, and (3) a propaganda organization willing to deliver the message that this imagined enemy is a genuine threat.

Trump gives us (1). Fox News gives us (3). Will the American people give us (2)?

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Press and The Enemy of the People

In our current political environment, Trump is playing the role of Hitler and Fox News the role of Joseph Goebbels. And, the election ends in one week from this posting.

Hitler delivered a message of hate and fear, and Goebbels amplified that message in the press. Or, Goebbels filled the media with a message of hate and fear, and Hitler exploited that message to become Chancellor of Germany. Both routes lead to the same well-known conclusion.

Comparably, Trump and Fox News are delivering and profiting from a comparable message of hate and fear. They fill the same two rolls.

When I make this comparison, is this comparable to Trump saying that “the press is the enemy of the people?” If somebody were to send a pipe bomb to Trump or Fox News headquarters, would my rhetoric be in any way to blame? Ought I to not write these things in the name of civility?

Anybody who knows my writings knows that I argue that political violence is legitimate only if peaceful options have been eliminated. As long as we can cast meaningful votes, we may not legitimately use guns and bombs.

Granted, the Republican Party has bent over backwards to weaken the right to vote. Through Gerrymandering, voter suppression, and other tactics, a Democratic vote now counts for about 0.9 Republican votes. That is to say, 1 out of 10 Democratic votes are either gerrymandered into impotence or diluted by the need to represent people who are kept from voting through voter suppression tactics. To the degree that the Republican Party continues these practices, to that degree they threaten the legitimacy of the rule of law. But, they have not eliminated democracy. It is still possible to vote them out of power, even though it takes a supermajority of about 55% to do so. While peaceful options remain, bombs and bullets are prohibited.

Also, violence against Trump and Fox News would not work. They are not the source of the problem. They are symptoms of a problem that actually never goes away.

Trump has a simple heuristic. He says something and listens to the audience response. If the audience cheers, he repeats it. If not, he drops it. He is simply an echo of the sentiments of his audience. However, in echoing those sentiments back at the audience, he amplifies them. They grow louder and more extreme.

If Trump had run as a Democrat, it is likely that the same thing would have happened, only with a different message. Instead of unleashing white and Christian supremacy and directed the nation in the direction that Nazi Germany took, we would be at risk of rehearsing for a modern version of the French Terror where we lined billionaires, corporate executives, and priests up at the guillotine for execution. But, he did not run as a Democrat, so we do not have those problems (yet).

The same is true of Fox News. They say something and look at the ratings. If the ratings go up, they repeat it. If not, they drop it. Truth does not matter. Evidence does not matter. Future implications do not matter. Current ratings matter.

So, the problem rests, not with Trump or Fox News, but with what the audience cheers and what is echoed back to them. One is not going to solve that problem with bombs and bullets.

More to the point, it is not wrong in itself to say that the press is an enemy of the people. It is another way of saying that the press is not serving some of the public's interest. Much of the press does not. They prefer to print or broadcast half-truths and deceptions that promote a political tribe. They look at what gets "like" and "shares" and care nothing about truth, evidence, or long-range implications.

The problem is with doing this recklessly or with malevolence.

Imagine that you and I are walking down the street. You are armed. I point to somebody on the other side of the street and shout, “MY GOD, HE HAS A GUN! HE’S GOING TO MURDER SOMEBODY.” You then shoot and kill this person.

It is not wrong in itself for me to shout this. That depends on whether he has a gun and he is about to murder somebody - or whether I at least have credible and responsible evidence to that effect. Given the potential consequences, I had better have very good evidence.

Similarly, it is not wrong in itself to say that the press is the enemy of the people. It is not wrong to say that a caravan of refugees is an enemy army coming to invade our country, kill and rape us, and perhaps even eat some food if they are hungry and it is generously provided. What is wrong in itself is saying on a public news broadcast day after day when all of the available evidence suggests that it is false, “MY GOD, THEY ARE RAPISTS, MURDERERS, AND MIDDLE-EASTERN TERRORISTS FUNDED BY DEMOCRATS AND JEWS ON THEIR WAY TO CONQUER OUR NATION!”

When somebody mails pipe bombs, another shoots two black people at a grocery store, and a third kills 11 Jews after hearing such a message, there is good reason to condemn the people who delivered the message. This is true in the same way that if you were to kill the person across the street on my perhaps malevolent, perhaps reckless assertion that he was about to murder somebody, I would share moral responsibility for those consequences. Decent people are neither malevolent nor reckless about such things. Decent people condemn those types of lies and recklessness.

Trump is playing the role of Hitler. Fox News is playing the role of Goebbels. And we are having an election where we can still peacefully defeat these people.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Nationalism 016: A Refugee's Right to Work

There is no sense to the aversion to employing refugees in the host country. Such an aversion does a great deal of harm, and no actual good. The good attributed to these attitudes is imaginary.

A substantial portion of the problem of refugees is caused by humans.

Here, I am not talking about the humans who created the refugees - either through violent conflict of environmental degradation. That is one of the ways in which we cause the problem, but not the one that concerns me here.

It is caused by the fact that, once a refugee enters a camp in a host country, she is not permitted to contribute to that country. She is forced to sit in a shelter and receive handouts. She becomes a much greater burden than she needs to be and, in fact, a much greater problem than she wants to be (in most cases).

Reference: Why Denying Refugees the Right to Work Is a Catastrophic Error. This is an edited extract from their book, Refuge: Transforming a Broken Refugee System

It is absurd to think that a population of, let us say, 50,000 people who are productive contributors to a state on one side of an imaginary line become a burden to be warehoused on the other side of that imaginary line. This is a part of the absurdity of, "they are taking our jobs". This is scapegoating.

It is as if you were to be so kind as to offer refuge to somebody stranded in a life-threatening snow storm, then deny them any opportunity to help clean the house, chop some firewood, or fix a meal because your "prosperity" depends on doing this yourself. Meanwhile, you are providing this person with food and other necessities, complaining about the fact that he is such a "burden" on your household, and promising never to be so kind in the future.

This is a significant part of the tragedy of the current system for handling refugees - the fact that prohibiting peaceful and honest contributions to the host society feeds a hatred of refugees that, in turn, feeds a resolve to offer no more aid. This is not only harmful to the refugees, it is harmful to those who are acting on an irrational hatred of "foreigners" as opposed to the same type of rational cooperation and mutual support (and mutual benefit) that one provides to fellow nationals.

So, you have a tent city with 50,000 refugees in it. Why not make it a city? You will need infrastructure. Well, there's people in that city capable of working - building structures, developing roads, putting in a sanitation system, teaching, sewing, capable of operating indoor gardens and farms, sewing, manufacturing, collecting and reporting news, providing entertainment from poetry and literature to singing and stage performance, and the like. These things happen in a camp anyway. However, because these operations are officially prohibited, they are not policed, contracts cannot be enforced, and the best businesses are those that do not require any type of capital such as tools (e.g., prostitution).

Indeed, a refugee community permitted to actually work and earn money will have money to spend. Thus, it has the potential to be a source of jobs for members of the host country - providing the refugees with goods and services that will help them in the businesses.

A recent study commissioned by the Refugee Studies Centre in Oxford and conducted in Uganda - one of a few nations that allows refugees tow ork - shows that they can make a contribution. In Kampala, the nation's capital, 21% of refugees run a business that employs at least one other person; of those they employ, 40% are citizens of the host country.

Again, this does not include the contribution that these businesses make as consumers of the goods and services provided by others. This also does not include the tax revenue that legal and open refugee-run businesses provide to the state.

The average length of stay in a refugee camp is 17 years. Putting one's life on hold for 17 years is a tremendous burden. It is not unreasonable to compare this to having no life at all. It is little wonder that so many refugees avoid the camps and become illegal residents in urban centers. It is little wonder that so many refugees pay smugglers hundreds or thousands of dollars to smuggle them into another country - a journey where they risk life and limb (including rape, torture, and drowning) . . . because, all things considered, it is better than wasting away in a camp.

The article referenced above describes a pilot program between England, the World Bank, and Jordan to provide work opportunities to Syrian refugees who have fled to that country. One of the points they make is that it has proven to be easier to create work opportunities for these people nearer their country of origin - where they speak the language, know the culture, and in many cases know other people - than to find them work in countries such as Germany where they lack the language and other training skills given to those who grow up in Germany.

The bottom line is . . . let the refugees work. They are made better off. Those around them - those in their host country in particular - are better off. And, when the situation changes in their original country and they are ready to return home, it is not such a long journey to make.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Nationalism 015: Refugee Options

We have created a grotesquely immoral system with respect to refugees.

In my previous posting, I discussed what counts as a refugee. I am following the convention that a refugee is somebody who must leave his country to find or establish a minimum level of security - security from violence, from thirst or starvation, and from death caused by natural disaster (e.g., rising sea levels).

We have created a system that a person with good desires and lacking bad desires would find unacceptable.

This posting is based substantially on work by Serena Parekh. In 2018, she gave a speech at the Naval Academy that discussed in greater detail the points mentioned below.

Refugees are given three options:

(1) A refugee camp. A refugee who goes to a camp will be assigned a location - a building or tent - and told to stay there and do nothing with their lives until conditions change in their home country and they can go back, or they can be relocated in a host country. The average length of stay in a refugee camp is 17 years. In these camps, refugees (particularly women) are still at risk of violence (particularly sexual violence). It's not much different from a 17 year prison sentence in a massive prison - except, if one has children, one's children will be locked up - and can expect to grow up, reach adulthood, and start a family of their own, within the camp.

(2) Urban centers. Many (most) refugees go to the nearest city where they can disappear into the crowd. However, in this situation, they have no access to food or medical care. Their children have no access to education. Because they are there illegally, they are subject to exploitation by employers or others who can use the threat of deportation against them. The advantage is that, even though they are subject to these risks, they can at least build something of a life. They have options other than sitting in a tent for 17 years.

(3) Smuggling. The refugee pays a smuggler that will get them through the barriers that developed countries have placed around their countries. These smugglers also subject their "cargo" to rape and other forms of violence. Once the smuggler gets paid, they have little use for their "cargo". So, they put their refugees on boats (rubber rafts) that are cheap (since the boat will be confiscated), overcrowded, with too little food and water, and let the refugees take a risk of reaching the shore of the country where they are seeking refugees.

Parekh calls this "institutional injustice". People are causing (are morally responsible for) creating - not just with failing to prevent, but with actually creating - a great deal of harm by creating institutions whereby only harmful (or extremely risky) options are available. We give a person an option: "either cut off your right arm, or cut off your left arm," and then we deny responsibility for the fact that the victim is missing an arm because we say "it was her choice." We give refugees these poor options of lifeless camps, lawless life in an urban center, or human trafficking, and we deny our own moral responsibility because, whichever option they choose, it was their choice.

One of the principles responsible for this condition is that a refugee can not seek refugee status until after they have left the country where they are experiencing the problem. The problem that I am talking about here is a fear of death or other significant harm caused by criminal agents (an oppressive state, armed gangs that the state cannot control), cultural oppression (child marriage, genital manipulation, discrimination that deprives the individual of a meaningful life), or natural disaster (sea level rise, drought). By "problems", I am talking about somebody whose life is at risk of becoming tragic - a massive dose of human suffering.

So, we create rules where we tell these people, "You can only escape this if you can get to a country where people can take care of you", and then we put as many barriers as we can in the way of these people getting to countries where they can find refuge. Nations deny visas to individuals from countries from which they may be wanting to seek refuge. Navies patrol the waters with an intent to actually prevent the rescue of refugees at sea since recuse is a way of reaching the shores of the desired country. We build walls. We send in armies.

This is the rule that is causing the problem. If you can keep the refugee out of your country, you are not responsible for that refugee's fate. You can stand by and watch as they suffer and die, so long as they do not suffer and die on your property. Only then, according to this moral model, are you obligated to help.

The question to ask is whether the person with good desires and lacking bad desires only cares about the people who suffer and die on his property. It would seem difficult to justify this sentiment. If you are suffering and dying one one side of an imaginary line, your suffering and death matters . . . but if you suffer and die ten feet to the left on the other side of an imaginary line, the good person would not care.

We can reduce . . . not eliminate, but certainly reduce . . . many of these problems with one simple rules change.

Allow the refugees within the refugee camps to work and be productive - to earn money.

They do this to some extent anyways. They set up black markets in these refugee camps. However, this is necessarily limited and riddled with crime and corruption. Furthermore, it tends to involve the types of businesses that are not easily controlled - such as prostitution. It is a poor substitute to allowing the refugees to seek honest labor.

The objection here is that they will be taking jobs from the local population.

This objection makes no sense. You have a population where, when they were on the other side of the imaginary line, was making a net contribution to their own society - one in which they are able to take care of their own families out of their own pockets. They built cities that decidedly were not a burden on their neighbors. There is no reason to believe that, just because they moved to the other side of an imaginary line, that they could not make a meaningful contribution to that community as well.

We turn refugees into a burden because we do not allow them to make a contribution. We then promote an attitude of hostility to refugees because they are seen as a burden.