"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Friday, November 11, 2005

Original Sin, Mea Culpas, and the GOP

I'm a Republican, and it's my fault. My most grievous fault. Mea maxima culpa. Now, then, and in advance.

Picking through the MSMspeak auspices of my LA Times (one must learn how to read the entrails of his newspaper), I discover/divine that budget cuts are being thwarted by the smaller number of GOP "wobblies" and those from heavily Democratic districts. And, it should be needless to say, every single Democrat.

Of course the GOP as a whole is blamed. Even in the Times' headline and in the lede itself. (Duh.) Some things will never change. Perhaps it's original sin or the Mark of Cain, but it's not exactly media bias (altho every little bit helps):

When the Democrats shut down the government in 1990, demanding more taxes to maintain spending, it was the GOP's fault. GHWBush gave in, and read my lips on this, it cost him the 1992 election.

When Newt Gingrich shut down the government in 1995 over spending, it was the GOP's fault. Bill Clinton hung tough, and that helped him toward his 1996 re-election victory.

Spending wins, but even more precisely, opposing spending cuts is a winner.

Fact is, if the Democrats wanted spending tamed (or illegal immigration for that matter), it would already be so. The threat of their demagoguery hangs like a veritable Sword of Damocles over the GOP pols, who are learning to like being the majority party.

But there's a structural weakness in being an anti-government party that finds itself in charge of the government: The GOP gets credit neither for cutting spending nor for increasing it.

Now, the Democrats have the same problem on foreign policy, where they are the anti-government party. The impotence of the Carter and Clinton administrations was palpable and near-disastrous, and each time ushered in a Republican. But Democrats enjoy a structural advantage: when (and if, ever again) they are remotely credible on national security, their home field advantage on domestic policy will take home all the marbles.

Progressivism in domestic policy is enticing; things can always get better. Wi-fi for the disadvantaged, geez, why not? Anyone who can promise cost-effective dental care for stray dogs has our complete attention. Or if anyone can promise to ease the plight of the poor, boy, we feel good about voting for that, too. We see poor people everyday, and not just on TV. Somebody ought to do something, even if it only requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part. Everybody knows that it's the Democrats who are just the guys to do it.


Hunter Baker said...

Tom, I have to disagree on something here. The failure of the GOP during the Bush years has been that it should have had the votes AND the off-year political opportunities to cut spending and hang tough. They forced Clinton into signing the welfare bill (that was a stupendous success) and they could have done more of the same with all three branches. Good grief, Clinton almost nationalized health care. You'd think we could engage in a bit of belt-tightening, particularly given the dot.com spending orgy based on swollen tax revenues.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I hear you, HB, but the article indicates that it's just the type of soggy Republican that Stephen Moore's Club For Growth targets who is holding up the show.

I hate demanding ideological purity from anyone in our big-tent coalition, but it seems that by refusing to hang together, our soggies are ensuring that we will hang separately. Although they may save their own rubbery necks. ;-)

(I hope you'll entertain the "structural" riff a little, which was triggered by your original post. At least a cup of coffee, maybe some Danish...)

Hunter Baker said...

I'm a big fan of the Club, though I don't understand why they dumped Steve Moore. The problem with these soggy GOP dorks is that they entertain the stupidity of the bell curve as it relates to American politics. The essential thinking is that if a conservative is good, a watery conservative should be super popular. Idiots. If that were the case, why did Ronald Reagan do what a Gerald Ford or even a Nixon never could? If there is a bell curve in American politics, then Reagan put that sucker on his back and moved it to the right.

connie deady said...

I think it is more natural for Republicans to be fiscally conservative. They are much more cynical about spending money actually resulting in anything good happening and they tend to be distrustful of government.

That said, I have maintained that for the most part budget cuts depend on whose ox is being gored. When the Republicans talked about wanting budget cuts, the goal was more to reduce spending on programs they didn't like, as opposed to feeling an overwhelming desire for a balanced budget. We're all willing to spend for things that we think are important, it's the spending for what the other guys want we hate.

Matt Huisman said...

We're all willing to spend for things that we think are important, it's the spending for what the other guys want we hate.

This is certainly true...but what's interesting about the left is that when they want to spend, they demand everyone spend with them. The gov't is their great charity with this really cool ability to force the rest of us to chip in too. And because this 'charity' doesn't have to prove itself worthy in order to receive funding, it's effectiveness and efficiency suffer incredibly.

I've always found it interesting that the people that demand higher taxes never seem to chip in to this charity voluntarily on their own (in fact, many hire professionals to look for ways to minimize their taxes). They demand support for their cause, then sneak off to minimize their level of participation.

What a bizarre form of charity.

Stephen J. Herman said...

I do not really believe that Bush intentionally "lied" to Congress and the American people in making his case for war. Nor do I think that too many people really ever believed that the War in Iraq was about weapons of mass destruction.

I think it's unlikely that the “outing” of Valerie Plame was either a vindictive act of retribution or a way of sending a message to other would-be whistleblowers critical of the Administration. But let’s assume, further, that Libby and Rove and anyone else from the White House who may have told or confirmed for the press that Joe Wilson’s wife in the CIA was the one who suggested that he go to Niger were engaged in a completely innocent, legitimate, political debate.

Still: What was the point?

Does that mean Wilson’s not credible, for some reason? Or unqualified? Does his wife have some type of secret political agenda that we don’t know about? Was this some sort of private investigation, not sanctioned by the government? He was just over there free-lancing it, on his own dime, having some fun?

If the investigation was bunk, then aren’t these guys in the White House ultimately only criticizing themselves?

My wife was a top prosecutor in the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office. If she had suggested that I participate in some type of investigation, I don’t think we would have seen the D.A. running to the press complaining that my wife got me the job. I think people would be asking him the question: If this guy Herman is so unqualified, or biased, or unreliable, and only got the job because of his wife, what the hell kind of office are you running?

So, let’s accept the Administration’s spin on things. Our government needed to find out whether someone had arranged for the sale of yellowcake uranium to Iraq. So some low-level administrative non-covert non-sensitive unimportant CIA employee with a desk job suggests that we use her husband, and the Vice President or the CIA or whoever says, “Okay.” Then he comes back, and it turns out that he was completely incompetent, with a secret political agenda to attack the President, criticize the War in Iraq, and undermine the re-election campaign. Well, what the hell kind of office are you guys running?

I had an interesting conversation a few weeks ago with one of my parents’ neighbors about the War in Iraq. He made a very strong case that, although they couldn’t say it publicly, the Bush Administration sincerely believed, based on classified evidence, that will likely never come to light, and which may or may not have been reliable, but in which there was a reasonable and good faith belief, that the best way to protect America’s long-term security interests was to make a statement, take hold in the region, neutralize the most immediate likely threats of a bio or chemical or nuclear attack on American soil, and introduce a Westernized climate of freedom and modernity, which would move Muslim governments from extremist to more moderate positions, and which, in fact, is what the Iraqi people and the entire Middle East, if not the entire world, are longing for.

Of course, this is just the bottom line. The interesting thing about the discussion was the way in which the ground kept shifting. We were never really debating, but merely talking past each other. There was a disconnect. And later that evening I realized that the disconnect was ultimately a function of the fact that I am essentially Kantian, while my parents’ neighbor is essentially Utilitarian.

What I mean by this, (at least as I remember it from college), is that there are essentially two lines of moral thinking, from an ethical or philosophical point of view. One line of thinking, sometimes referred to as the Epicurean line, is utilitarian. The means essentially justify the ends. What is “right” is what maximizes the greatest public good. The other line of thinking, typified by Kant, is a rule-based system of right and wrong. The ends never justify the means. What is “right” is defined by a universal or ideal set of “categorical imperatives”.

There has always been, and will always be, an inherent tension between Kantians and Utilitarians. Intentionally or unintentionally, one genius of the American system is that it allows for a blending of both approaches. The legislative branch, and certainly the executive branch, enjoy the flexibility of adopting utilitarian solutions. But subject to the categorical imperatives set forth in the Constitution, and, in particular, in the Bill of Rights.

(Which is, parenthetically, why there is such frustration, from all sides, with what is perceived as “judicial activism” or “restraint” – Utilitarians become frustrated when the courts apply strict rules in challenging situations, and Kantians become frustrated when they don’t.)

So my parents’ neighbor and I were never going to see exactly eye to eye. But I did find his argument somewhat compelling.

So let’s assume that the real reason we went to War in Iraq was not, so much, to diffuse a short-term or immediate threat of terrorism, but a long-term, big-picture, idealistic plan for seizing political and economic stability throughout the world, and in particular for America, for generations to come.

It’s a tough decision. A hard choice. Will require much sacrifice. Will provoke, at least in the short term, political, diplomatic, economic and perhaps even military responses from many in the international community. But, in the long run, it’s the right decision, for not only America, but for Iraq, the Middle East, and the entire world.

Now that’s something I could get behind.

Questions, to be sure. Reservations. Doubts. Even fundamental disagreement. (See, for example, the issues raised in my original Bush Doctrine piece.)

But at least it’s something bold. Presidential. Visionary. Like Winston Churchill, (who, as Evan Thomas puts it, writing about Libby and Cheney, “warned in the 1930s about the gathering Nazi storm, who were ignored and shunned – but then vindicated at England’s finest hour”). Abraham Lincoln. John F. Kennedy.

So, (assuming that’s the truth), why not “sell” that to the American people?

The political Right frequently talks about the hubris of liberal politicians who are offensively paternalistic, believing that they understand, and can provide for, the needs of the underclass.

But isn’t the Bush Administration’s attitude toward the American people equally (if not more) paternalistic?

We can’t trust you, the American people, to decide whether this bold vision should be adopted. To commit the capital. To make the sacrifices. To send your children off to war.

Trust us. The Government. We will protect you. We know what’s best.

Isn’t that the Bush Administration’s attitude toward Iraq?

You don’t want Saddam. You don’t want Islam. You don’t want extremism. You want freedom. You want democracy. You want Christianity. You want capitalism.

Trust us. We will liberate you.

Isn’t that what the Bush Administration says to the rest of the world?

One problem with Utilitarianism is defining the “public” in public good. If the public is the United States, then that’s one thing. That’s who elected Bush; that’s the subject of his oath of office; that’s where his primary responsibility runs. If the public is something larger, like the entire world, with respect to foreign policy issues, or future generations, with respect to domestic issues, then the calculus is significantly altered.

Wasn’t Hitler sincerely, in his own mind, acting for the “good” of Germany when he invaded Poland? (Likely, in his own mind, he was acting for the good of Poland.) Wasn’t Saddam Hussein acting for the good of Iraq when he invaded Kuwait?

Of course, in the long run, the answer turns out to be: No.

Which is, perhaps, the same risk facing the United States.

Backlash. Reciprocation. Unintended consequences.

How can you expect other countries to respect your boundaries, or protect the environment, or refrain from torturing your soldiers and citizens, if you are not willing to do the same?

Sure, in the 24 situation, where the time-bomb is ticking, I, like Jack Bauer, am going to vote to shoot the guy in the kneecaps and sort out the legalities later.

But that’s got to be the exception, and not the rule.

If our policy is that torture is okay to protect our national interests, then it’s okay for other countries to use torture to protect theirs.

It’s one of Kant’s categorical imperatives: Don’t do unto others as you would have them not do unto you.

It is inherently nonsensical to promote self-rule through invasion. To prevent terrorism through torture. To promote freedom by quelling dissent. To protect the free market through no-bid contracts, and pork barrel projects, or heavily weighted tax cuts, and subsidies. To pursue uncompromising ideals by any means necessary.

Why “out” Valerie Plame? asks Jonathan Alter. Because Joe Wilson “had the temerity to offer public dissent.... The same president who seeks democracy, transparency and dissent in Iraq is irritated by it at home.”

Bush pretends to be a man of uncompromising Kantian categorical imperatives and ideals. (And I think, in his own mind, he sincerely believes that.) But clearly, he isn’t. The question, in my mind, is whether he is simply Utilitarian; or whether he ultimately subscribes to the third type of moral structure, rare in today’s world, from the age of Greek Tragedy, which is simply: Help your friends; hurt your enemies.

Give the Bush Doctrine the benefit of every doubt. Cast it in the most favorable light.

It may turn out to be pro-American-Interests. (And I hope that it is.) But it’s, at the same time, in many respects, un-democratic, un-Christian, un-American, and un- everything else it purports to be.

For more on the Media, Politics, Literature, and the Law, please visit: www.gravierhouse.com.

connie deady said...

Stephen, thanks for your interesting thoughts. They parallel what I have been arguing with Tom Van Dyke across various threads. My two thoughts are:

1) Agreed this is a means focused administration and I've always argued the sanctity of the process. Wrong means seldom are justified.

2). I think this hubris of the people who went to war comes from their association with followers of Leo Strauss. I don't disagree that this may have been their thinking in going to war, in fact Tom even implies that in his Cindy Sheehan post. A Straussians, they believe it is okay to lie because the masses of the electorate are unable to see the truth or the big picture. They believe Plato's allegory of the cave and that we only see the shadows and they see the true nature of the shadow.

connie deady said...

This is certainly true...but what's interesting about the left is that when they want to spend, they demand everyone spend with them. The gov't is their great charity with this really cool ability to force the rest of us to chip in too. And because this 'charity' doesn't have to prove itself worthy in order to receive funding, it's effectiveness and efficiency suffer incredibly.

I have to take issue with this. I consider a lot of the military spending to be "charity" to Lockheed, Boeing, etc. I take issue with them taking my money and deciding to give charity to large corporations. And surely you would't argue that military subcontractors are known for effectiveness and efficiency in spending our tax dollars? They are horrible because they don't appear to get much scrutiny and oversight. Look at all the Haliburton overexpenditures.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Connie, I believe Stephen was spamming our comments section, looking to co-opt our readership. His windy and boilerplate post has nothing to do with the topic.

This even happens with some of our regulars, who hijack our comments threads to spew on subjects of their own interest instead of ours.

I see there's nothing I can do to get you to prove your slanders of Strauss or Straussians for that matter; they're just gonna keep on coming regardless.

The source is one Shadia Drury, an obscure Canadian philosophy prof, and the calumny has been widely popularized by followers of Lyndon Larouche. You are eyebrow-deep in the fever swamp.

Matt Huisman said...

I have to take issue with this. I consider a lot of the military spending to be "charity" to Lockheed, Boeing, etc.

There's certainly an element of life support there, similar to what most state DOT's do with their roadwork projects. But you can't argue that these are at least core gov't functions (unlike wealth redistribution programs) that have little if no chance of being handled in the private sector. But let's imagine the alternative to using Lockheed...we would have a giant military/public works department...and all of a sudden, Lockheed starts looking like a real bargain.

connie deady said...

Matt, what you are missing is that social programs, to some degree, are a necessary function of government.

I can certainly agree as to their mass ineffectiveness, but to say they serve no purpose misses the point that throwing some bones to the poor may be necessary to keep them from revolting against you.

connie deady said...

Tom, I'll agree that the article you linked is rather swamp feverish, but you forget that my impressions of Straussians is based on personal experience with his disciples. I thus had that impression of Straussian followers long before that "slander" was ever written.

You certainly can well understand that at Claremont in the 1970's there were Straussian disciples in abundance and I not only took a class from one, I had them all around me and I studied him and read some of his books in my political philosophy class.

If you believe that you can see the truth that the masses cannot it tends to lead to an end trumps means philosophy. You yourself seem to believe that, or at least you have argued against focusing on the means.
My one overriding impression of Strauss's disciples was overweening elitism.

Matt Huisman said...

Connie, I don't believe I've said that social programs serve no purpose, but they're not core responsibilities of gov't.

And so, to the extent that gov't goes beyond throwing 'a few bones' to the poor and we start identifying wealth redistribution rights, I find the method of liberal charity somewhat odd.

James Elliott said...

My uncle had the chance to take many classes with proteges of Leo Strauss when he was Claremont-McKenna. Many of the professors at Claremont's political science and government department in the sixties and seventies were former proteges of Strauss. My uncle said, and I quote, "I have never heard a more cynical, pathological, and utilitarian impression of human nature than I heard from these men." It's pretty black-and-white in the writings of Straussians like Irving Kristol, too.

Connie, what years were you at Claremont? You might know my uncle or my aunt. That would be weird.

Matt, it's interesting that you would say that. Studies have shown that areas with higher "wealth redistribution" - i.e. social welfare - also have higher levels of charitable giving. Studies also show that charities are no more efficient or effective than government programs.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"...throwing some bones to the poor may be necessary to keep them from revolting against you."

Yes, Connie. I was trying to reconcile the Enlightenment priority of "the relief of man's estate" with Mr. Karnick's definition of classical liberalism as the pursuit of both liberty and order.

You have done so, reconciling relief with order, at least in the lingua franca of our age, utilitarianism.

As for Strauss, you must look to Plato. Socrates' affair with the truth is a suicide pact. That is seen as fine and noble, but truth does not require one to turn himself into cannon fodder before the savage arms of popular prejudice.

This is where Drury misunderstands Strauss, because she herself is of the leftist elite who call the rest of us poor stooges mindless sheep, then wonder why it never fosters good.

Because good and truth are not identical, and neither are always beautiful.

Those who do not understand this lump those three in along with nobility, and use the concepts interchangably, as Drury and I suppose Claremont sophomores do.

But Strauss is not Machiavelli. In fact, he calls him a "teacher of evil."

Although Machiavelli has never been refuted, impotent moralizing aside. ;-)

connie deady said...

You lose me when you refer to leftist elite because I have no idea who that is. It's certainly not me.

I'm not sure I'd agree that Plato didn't equate good and truth, but honestly I haven't read him in 25 years, though at one point I could have cited you chapter and verse. Philosophy got lost along the wayside of practicality as I grew up. Now I'd rather watch the Phillies with my spare time. :)

How would you say they differ to Plato and why would it matter that they did? Machiavelli would define power itself as the goal with no real values for which power was being attained. I think that Strauss condemns Machiavelli not for his willigness to lie to achieve ends, but for the pursuit of ignoble ends - that being power with no noble goals to attain.

Yes, Connie. I was trying to reconcile the Enlightenment priority of "the relief of man's estate" with Mr. Karnick's definition of classical liberalism as the pursuit of both liberty and order.

You have done so, reconciling relief with order, at least in the lingua franca of our age, utilitarianism.

I'm not sure what you mean by this or how the recognition of the need to achieve social order equals utilitarianism. Personally I would help the poor because it's the right thing to do. I figured that conservatives would understand the need for social order to protect their property. When you end up with too much concentration of wealth and too much divide of rich and poor, the poor will generally revolt in some manner.

Tom Van Dyke said...

We are actually agreeing, Connie. I do not consider myself a member of the rightist elite either, and I think neither do my fellows. We take great pains to convince instead of condemn, I think. (And it's often painful, lemme tellya.)

Even Machiavelli had a soft spot. He believed a prince had a noble end in mind, the good of his people; but his experience had taught him that in observing the niceties of means, nice guys finish last. Usually dead.

I appreciate you using the vocabulary of utilitarianism on your point about the poor. We God-influnced classical liberals use it too, because it is the common language in our post-Enlightenment age. We speak Straussian when we're in secret conference.

But we help the poor because "it's the right thing to do" as well. But why it's the right thing to do is unanswered by modern philosophy. (Machiavelli is the father of modern philosophy, y'know, untethered by all that Bible mumbo-jumbo.)

The brave and hapless Immanuel Kant (who I think was a secret Aquinian) notwithstanding.

(You were echoing Kant in your defense of truthtelling as a necessary moral habit, BTW, as well as in his concept of sharing the full truth, out of egalitarian respect and trust in one's fellow man. I've been meaning to pass along my compliments on that.

I do think if Kant would have gone into politics, he'd have ended up dead, and therein lies the rub.)

connie deady said...

You're still talking in circles, or I lack the ability to understand.

Machiavelli was either lying to others or delusional. Hitler thought he was doing was best for the good of Germany.

Jesus taught compassion for the poor. I assume that guides most Christians. Others live by the golden rule. My philosophy is that hopefully when my time on earth ends, the world was a better place for my having been there.

Any of those works for me as a philosophy for helping those in worse circumstances than myself. Perhaps it's in my genes. I come from a long line of ministers, doctors, missionaries and other do-gooders.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm not talking in circles at all, Connie, but I am trying to indicate the depth of Strauss' thought, and why shallow critics like Shadia Drury confuse it for endorsing "lying."

connie deady said...

The reason I say you are talking in circles is you say that it is wrong to construe Strauss as endorsing lying and then you justify lying. So which is it? Is it okay to subvert process for ends you believe are just in Strauss' world or not? Is it okay in your world and under what circumstances?

Matt Huisman said...

Matt, it's interesting that you would say that. Studies have shown that areas with higher "wealth redistribution" - i.e. social welfare - also have higher levels of charitable giving.

I'm not sure how this is relevant to my point. I'm not saying that taxation for social welfare is wrong because it 'steals' money from charities (although I believe it does). I just have always found the rationale for me to tell you how much you must to give to a my charity somewhat odd. I suspect the libs do too, which is why we keep discovering new 'rights' all the time.

Studies also show that charities are no more efficient or effective than government programs.

On a side note, if true, this really would have potential to change some of my thinking. But I have to admit that I have some real skepticism about what types of groups are being compared here.

connie deady said...

Connie, what years were you at Claremont? You might know my uncle or my aunt. That would be weird.

Sorry James, I missed your post earlier.

I was at Claremont Grad School Government Department from 1975-1978. Though one of my doctoral majors was poitical science, I never took a class from Harry Jaffa. I encountered a number of Straussians in classes and took one class in American Government from a black Straussian. I think he must have been a relative of Clarence Thomas - he was bluntly an elitist pig.

connie deady said...

BTW, Claremont-McKenna was Claremont Mens College when I was there. I never took classes there - way too conservative. Pitzer college was basically the liberal haven and I took classes there.

Tom Van Dyke said...

In the Straussian world, it might be fair to say that one is not responsible for purifying every prejudice of the populace in order to act. Harry Jaffa (the head Claremont Straussian) reflects on Lincoln making certain statements along the lines of that although he wanted to free the Negro, he would not insist on social equality.

These statements may have represented Lincoln's actual thinking, but what if he were "lying" so he could get elected and end slavery? It's quite clear that the moral absolutism of abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison wasn't getting anywhere.

Now, I don't even know how I feel about that scenario myself, or if I would do what Lincoln putatatively did, but my moral uncertainty would extend far enough that I could not condemn him.

(BTW, in the Strauss world, philosophers do not wish to rule. Philosophy is the best life.)

James Elliott said...

Well, Connie, looks like you were a few years behind my uncle. He was already at Harvard Divinity and then Stanford Law. I think my aunt was out of Pitzer and at Stanford by then, too. That would have been weird if you'd met either of them.

My uncle took a number of classes with Jaffa and found him to be utterly insane.

Tom Van Dyke said...

First your uncle goes to divinity school then law school? Sounds like quite an interesting fellow himself.

You're supposed to do it the other way around, eh, Hunter?

connie deady said...

Tom, while I understand your example, I don't see it's application. Freeing the slaves was different from social equality. If Lincoln had run on a platform supporting slavery and then tried to free the slaves, that would be lying. It might even be noble, but then he no doubt would not ever be re-elected.

Telling a country you are going to warm to save us from WMD being given to terrorists, when your real goal is to set up a U.S. base of operations in the middle east doesn't seem to have any moral equivalency. Hitler believed he was doing what is best for Germany. Where does one draw the line between visionary and delusional insanity? One could put a finger on a button that would blow up the world in the belief that one is actually saving the world.

That's my problem with Straussian ideology. I've let to see you deny that they believe it is okay to lie for a greater goal.

Tom Van Dyke said...

What can I say? I've yet to see you prove it.

I've sought out the proof myself and not found it.

Hunter Baker said...

Hey Tom, I haven't done divinity school yet. I'm in a religion/politics Ph.D. right now, but after law school I was petitioning for divinity school and the wife wouldn't entertain it. I'll fit it in before I'm done, though!

Tom Van Dyke said...

Of this I have no doubt, but I've already begun thinking of you as The Divine Mr. B.

Connie, from your example

If Lincoln had run on a platform supporting slavery and then tried to free the slaves, that would be lying. It might even be noble, but then he no doubt would not ever be re-elected.

I conclude that you would see such nobility as an unconscionable violation of "process."

Interesting in its own right, but I believe you substituted primary colors for Jaffa's more subtly pigmented proposal.

connie deady said...

So what do you stand for Tom? Or do you stand for criticizing and poking holes in what others stand for. You say you've found no truth in what I claim, well what do you believe. You've yet to answer your believe regarding ends versus means.

Side diversions don't take one away from the issue. And again Lincoln and Anne Frank don't equal lying about reasons for going to war. Do you defend that or not.

Tom Van Dyke said...

You're asking for dogma. Sorry, no can do. I have not proposed diversions; these are classic illustrations that people still wrestle with, where Sunday school morality shows itself to be inadequate.

I haven't said I don't find any truth in what you claim. I'm wondering if examined more closely, whether you still can. If you're to dispense these claims, and you do, they should be tested.

Would I say there were WMDs when I knew there weren't any, in order to war on Saddam? No. Would I lie to halt the Holocaust? If it would save a single life.

Would I lie in court to save you from going to jail for twenty years for a couple of joints?

Yes, I would, Connie. I sure would. Screw "process." I am a man, and the state does not own my conscience.

Matt Huisman said...

I assume that your justification for 'Screw process' is that the bigger lie (the process) does not have grounds to morally press on you to conform.

My dad used to make the following analogy: If the Nazi's come to your door and ask, "Are there any Jews in your house?", how can you respond truthfully? He would say that the real question was "Are there any Jews in your house that we can kill?"...and the truthfull answer to that is "No".

Hunter Baker said...

Matt, that's a brilliant line from your father. I'm tucking that one away for use later. Hopefully not in the context in which you made your point, though.

Kathy Hutchins said...

"Are there any Jews in your house that we can kill?"

Matt's dad's answer is pretty much what I was taught in Catholic moral theology. Many people look at this like some sort of Jesuitical trick. (These are people who think 'Jesuitical trick' is a insult.... personally I think Jesuits are cool.) It's a sin to tell a lie because a lie offends against what we owe our fellow humans. You're not just allowed, but required, to use your intelligence to understand what question is really being asked. The priest who instructed me for reception into the church phrased the Nazi's question as: "Are there any subhuman beings whose destruction is necessary for the good of mankind hiding in your basement?" And as Matt's dad said, you truthfully say no.

I've heard objections that this confers blanket permission to lie whenever you want to. I might take this more seriously if the objection weren't usually raised by people who also claim the Pope makes you park your brain at the church door.

connie deady said...

Interesting questions.

Tom. I'm certainly not advocating an absolute commitment to process. Certainly I wouldn't commit to process in an unfair system. If you are a citizen in a society that is murdering jewish people, I'd argue one should be a revolutionary.

I really liked the buddhist concepts of evil you sent me - ill will, greed and delusion. In a way, it's a bit like Christian beliefs, in that it looks into the heart of the actor. One can kill another human and not be a murderer in our legal system. But I like the concept of delusion as an evil. I think if people honestly analyze their conscience and ask if their actions are motivated by ill will or greed, and if they are deluding themselves as to reality, then you probably have a good basis for making moral decisions.

Actually, the best example of individual conscience is a soldier given an immoral order, like in a Mai Lai situation.

I think we basically agree, though I might cling more rigidly to process in terms of defining how we should act. But ultimately the morality of all acts is a question of individual conscience.

JC said...

I think the morality of a decision is absolute (objective), but that does not mean that "process" should be treated absolutely. I think that process deserves a high level of respect and priority over minor to mid-level ethical questions, but in some cases we do have to fight it.
Regarding the Nazi and "immoral order" examples, I would argue that the abuse of process in those cases is great enough to justify lying or disobeying an order. However, I don't think we should generalize this too far. In both of the examples, a murder is clearly imminent, which trumps other considerations. If the government drafts you for a war you don't like (say, Vietnam to be more neutral), I think you are obligated to obey and serve your country; however, if they ask you to shoot a gun at someone whom you know to be innocent, then you can (and should) disobey.