Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Pledge Project: The Race Analogy

I put a lot of weight in this project on claiming that a pledge of allegiance to 'one nation under God' is like a pledge of allegiance to 'our white community'. Similarly, I often compare a sign on the walls of city hall or in a classroom or on the money that says, "We Trust In God" with a sign that says "We Are White" or "We Are Not Jewish."

Some people may hesitate at that analogy, so I want to explain why it works.

First, a word about analogies in general. An analogy says that, "Since A is like B in all relevant respects, since X is true of B, we can expect that it is also true of A."

The phrase 'in all relevant respects' is important here. In all cases of analogy, there are differences between A and B. The analogy does not assert that A and B are identical. It only asserts that their differences are not relevant.

For example, you want to know the gas mileage that Car A will get. You look at Car B. Car B is exactly the same make and model as Car A. It has the same engine type with the same settings, the same body design and weight, the same drive shaft properties, the same kind of tires, and was driven under exactly the same conditions that Car A would be driven on. However, as it turns out, Car B is blue, while Car A is red.

The color of a car has no effect on its gas mileage. Therefore, the color of the car is not a relevant difference when it comes to drawing an analogy from the gas mileage for Car B to the gas mileage to Car A. Anybody who came along and said, "This analogy does not work because Car B is a different color," can be dismissed – not unless he can show some genuine relationship between car color and gas mileage.

The same is true with a sign in City Hall that says, "We Are White" or "We Are Not Jewish” and a sign that says "We Trust In God" or "We Are Not Atheists". Yes, there are differences between racism and religious bigotry. The question is whether there are any relevant differences? Is there anything about trust in God that justifies a sign in City Hall that says, "We Trust In God" that would not also justify a sign that says "We Are White?"

I know of none.

The relevant property – the property that makes the analogy work – is that there is no necessary connection between trust in God and patriotism or moral character, just as there is no necessary connection between race and patriotism or moral character.

The person who asserts that there is a connection between race and patriotism or moral character is a racist. She is guilty of pre-judging the members of that race based on an irrelevant quality, and this is guilty of the moral crime of prejudice. There is no argument that can be given for putting up a sign in city hall that says, "We Are White People" that is not ultimately grounded on prejudiced and bigoted assumptions that white people 'belong' in this community in ways that non-white people do not.

Similarly, the person who asserts that there is a necessary connection between religious belief and moral character or patriotism is expressing exactly the same sort of bigotry. The only evidence of a connection between atheism and immorality or treason exists in the imagination of the person who believes it. He believes the connection because he wants to believe it – just as the racist believes in the lesser moral qualities of blacks merely because he wants to believe it.

The reasons why people would put up a sign that says, "We Are Not Atheists" in city hall and on school room walls are substantially the same kinds of reasons that they would use to defend a sign that says, "We Are Not Jews" or "We Are Not White". Those reasons would have just as little merit.

Some people will bring up the fact that blacks have been treated significantly worse than atheists in this country.

That’s not a relevant difference.

The proposition, "X has been treated unjustly" is not proved false merely by pointing out "Y has been treated more unjustly than X." The injustice inflicted on X depends solely upon the nature of behavior towards X, and does not depend in the slightest on society's worse behavior towards Y.

Assume that a person walking through a park is robbed. The robbers make off with $200 in cash. Later, it was discovered that somebody else walking through the same park was robbed of $300 in cash and beaten. Now, imagine going back to the first person and saying, "Because the second person was treated more harshly than you were, we must now judge that no crime was committed against you. The people who took your $200 did nothing wrong in doing so, given that somebody else was robbed of $300 and beaten."

The argument makes no sense.

Putting up a sign that says, "We Are Not Atheists" remains a moral crime against atheists in the same way that putting up a sign that says "We Are Not Jews" would be a moral crime against Jews or "We Are White" would be a moral crime against whites. Greater moral crimes may have been committed against Jews or blacks, but that does not justify society in committing this particular moral crime against atheists.

Another difference that somebody might bring up is that race is not a matter of choice, while religious beliefs are a matter of choice.

This also is not a relevant difference.

Let us assume that race is a matter of choice. A physician has come up with a way of programming a bunch of nanites into altering a person's genetic code, altering their race. So, people gain the option of choosing their race. It would still be wrong for the government to post a sign that says "We Are White People" because society has no reason to try to coerce all of its citizens into being white.

Make no mistake about it – a sign that says "We Are White People" is an attempt at coercion in these conditions, in the same way that a sign that says, "We Trust In God" is an attempt to coerce citizens into trusting in God.

On the other side of the coin, imagine that scientists discover that a particular organization of brain cells near the hypothalamus is associated with rape. One hundred percent of the people whose cells in this region are organized in a way that scientists call Structure S, it turns out, commit rape. So, rape (in these cases) is shown to be something less than a choice.

In this case, this discovery may cause us to move the disposition to rape from the category of 'criminal' to the category of 'illness'. However, it would not make rape a legitimate and permissible act. This is because the discover that the desire to rape is (in these cases) caused and not a matter of choice does not change the fact that rapists do harm. In virtue of the harm done, people have reason to pressure citizens into pursuing whatever medical options exist that would make them less of a danger to others.

These cases illustrate that choice is not the relevant factor here. It is a disposition to cause harm. Race is as relevant to the disposition to cause harm as religion is.

So, it remains the case that as far as relevant differences, a sign that "We Trust In God" remains morally analogous to a sign that says, "We Are White People." There are no morally relevant differences between the two situations. There are certainly differences, but there are no differences that would give a sign that says, "We are not atheists" any moral status different than one that we would give to a sign that says, "We Are White People," or "We Are Not Jews."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Alonzo,
Your "analogy" posting is well done. The most "hated" thing I have done over the past 50 years is to use appropriate "analogies" in my debates, discussions or "challenges from others". For many "extremists", this is some form of "cheating" because appropriate uses of "A equals X therefore B equals X" logic only fits into valid arguments and failure to accept these "analogies" is an open admittance of ignorance. I "collect" analogies. They are my weapons. It is only when I occassionaly depart from using them that discussions get "heated" and "non-porductive".

Analogies work!