Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Nice-Guyism And Ethical Imperatives

     In his Hurricane-Harvey-themed piece of yesterday, the esteemed Dystopic incorporates an observation that isn’t made often enough:

     All a good man has to do is fight. But so often, good men do not fight them. When disaster strikes, it is comparatively easy for him to jump in a boat and go rescue and help out. This is because, for him, the greatest challenge is knowing his cause is just. Once assured of that, the rest is mere execution. This is why SJWs attack people the way they do. They plant doubt, they try to create cognitive dissonance, to make him see his cause as somehow unjust, or to create enough conflict that he is pushed to the sidelines.

     It’s not an utterly new observation, of course; William E. Simon made it way back in the Seventies:

     As is so often the case in our society, when the liberals orchestrate a nationwide uproar over good versus evil, all those defined as evil suffer an acute loss of nerve. Businessmen and bankers, who seem to value respectability more than their lives, are incapable of tolerating this moral abuse. Invariably they collapse psychologically. And whatever they may think and say in private, in public they either go mute or stumble frantically over their own feet as they rush to join the moral bandwagon. – William E. Simon, A Time For Truth

     And of course there’s “Edmund Burke’s ‘and therefore,’” which apparently really originated with John Stuart Mill:

     Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. – John Stuart Mill

     Others, including your humble Curmudgeon, have made similar observations many times since then. The truth of it appears indisputable. So why isn’t it common knowledge? And why isn’t it acted on far more often?

     Grist for a frustrated writer’s motivational mill.

     I wrote some time ago about the “nice-guy trap:” the tendency to promote uncritical amiability and a go-along-to-get-along spirit above a hard-edged, defensible system of ethics: i.e., the elevation of feelings over an understanding of right and wrong that separates them unambiguously from one another:

     Compromise is potentially constructive only when it's strictly about means: i.e., when the two sides angling toward a compromise sincerely agree on the end to be sought, and are both willing to allow that they might be wrong about what means would best serve that end. Under those conditions, everyone involved will be watching the outcome and judging the means applied by that standard alone. When the ends are opposed to one another, compromise must disserve one or the other. It cannot be any other way....

     We're indoctrinated practically from birth about the goodness of "sharing," and how Nice Guys should "try to see both sides" -- of everything. Nice Guys mustn't declare others to be The Enemy even when The Enemy has already done so in the plainest possible ways. That's because confrontation is bad, don't y'know. At any rate, it's unpleasant, which in modern "thought" amounts to the same thing.

     Hidden beneath the Nice-Guy Trap is a pair of steel jaws that can snap any principle cleanly in half. This is so obvious as to be tautological: He who compromises on principle has surrendered it to some other end.

     A principle is a fundamental rule of ethics that divides the universe of possibilities into sharply separated zones, one marked “you may,” the other marked “you must not.” Today, principle is almost entirely absent from practical politics as we know it.

     You cannot hold some rule to be a principle if you’re willing to compromise on it. That willingness, all by itself, demonstrates that you hold some other priority higher than the maintenance of the principle. But if that’s the case, then your “principle” has nothing to do with ethics, rights, or justice; it’s merely a talking point you find useful in some range of circumstances.

     (NB: At this point some Gentle Readers will be contrasting the above with Kurt Schlichter’s recent column decrying the Republican establishment’s self-exculpating folderol about “principles.” The opposition between my sentiments and Schlichter’s is not as dramatic as all that. Keep in mind that I’m a fiction writer and editorialist, whereas Schlichter is a soldier. The former focuses on ideas, the latter on victory. But more on that at another time.)

     One of the signal problems of our age is the dismissal of principle in favor of nice-guyism, especially among those we have trusted to defend our rights. Even when in an unquestionable majority, “our” politicians can’t – or won’t – do as they promised us they would do...yet we keep sending them back to their offices.

     One must ask why. One must insist upon an answer consistent with the observable behavior of politicians. One must refuse to reject the answer for any reason other than a detected inconsistency. And of course, one must extend the answer to the electorate, which has consistently returned liars, thieves, and the hirelings of special interests to high office for many decades.

     At base, the causal mechanism is our quasi-democratic political system itself. The dynamic of our system has functioned to filter out the Horatio Bunces and promote the Barack Hussein Obamas, to the point where the former have been effectively excluded from political involvement. In simpler terms, the route to power is more easily traveled by those who play upon what Dystopic has called weaponized empathy — i.e., our desire to look like Nice Guys.

     Weaponized empathy is used by villains to disarm us. We’re so determined to look like Nice Guys that we’ll surrender just about everything rather than face down a moral or ethical accusation. Dystopic gives an excellent example of the “edge cases” in this piece. I exhort you to read it – or reread it – and ask yourself whether you’ve ever been caught in that fashion.

     Really, how much more obvious could it be? We’ve become so averse to confrontation that we won’t even take our own side in a verbal exchange. When a politician promotes his “compassion” as a reason to support him, he’s playing on that aversion.

     The current foofaurauw over the “Dreamers” is a typical case. The Left is screaming about the “cruelty” of President Trump’s announcement of a sunset to Obama’s “DACA” order. No doubt among the 800,000 (estimated) “Dreamers” who would benefit from the perpetuation of the DACA order there are some who would make fine and upstanding American citizens. But every last one of them is here illegally, albeit in many cases not by his own choice. Which is the “principle:” the maintenance of a duly passed, entirely Constitutional law, or our desire to be “nice guys” to illegal migrants who consume resources paid for by funds taken from our pockets at gunpoint? Either we have a border-control and illegal-entry law or we don’t. So which is it to be: law or “feelings?”

     In the United States, legal and political principle takes the form of the Constitution. The Constitution – “the supreme Law of the Land” – defines the ethical rules to be imposed upon those who would govern it. Even if we leave aside the still-hotly-debated notion of “judicial review,” the existence of the Constitution and its supremacy over all other laws and all governmental exertions in the name of law establishes the ethical dividing line: Does legislative proposition X, executive action Y, or judicial decree Z conform to the Constitution as written in all particulars?

     There are only two answers. Neither one takes the least account of anyone’s feelings. Yet we favor feelings far more often than the bright-line rules of our supreme law. We set aside “our principles” to avert confrontations in which we might not look like Nice Guys.

     The Left has used that aversion to emasculate our Republic. And we, so eager to be liked and approved even by those who have openly declared themselves our enemies, have gone along with it.


Linda Fox said...

You've written about 'weaponized empathy' before. I sort of, kind of understood it at that time.

Today, after a truly Nice Guy (my kid brother) passed along a post decrying those dreadful 'Neo-Nazis' and 'White Supremacists', and asking "What is WRONG with them?", I fired off a response.

Original Google+ post:

Question for neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups:

"What is wrong with you?"

Check out @RealAliciaMayer’s Tweet:

My response:

From her perspective - White Woman, educated - life as a White person is GREAT!
From the perspective of a White man, little education, aging, eligible for no assistance in getting back on his feet, etc. - life is not that terrific.
No, it's not right to align with Neo-Nazis or White Supremacists, but you have to have at least a LITTLE understanding.
White guys of 40 and up, who are single/divorced, little education - they're dying like flies. Drug/alcohol addictions, depression, inability to find work - they are medically fragile, prone to suicide, and just falling apart.
Mike was one of those. It wasn't just the alcohol, it was the spiritual and relationship emptiness.

That 'Mike' I mentioned? He was my brother, who meandered through his short life unanchored to any support system. When a work friend - a very close friend - died, he snapped.

He descended into alcoholism, homelessness, and disconnection with just about all of his family - whom he only contacted when he was out of any resources.

He died, much too young, in December 2012 - alone, not missed until the smell alerted his neighbors.

Now, it's true that he did make his choices that led him to this end. He was offered multiple lifelines, many times.

But, it all came down to the fact: his society had no place for him. He was disposable. Like so many men.

Manu said...

The desire to appear as a nice guy is a sort of vanity. A bit of moral trumpeting, something the Bible warned us out. It is one of the more difficult things to get away from, though. I've been seduced by the nice guy tendency all too often.

It's one reason I write about these things. Digging out of the moral traps totalitarians lay out people can be rather involved. I'd like to supply folks with a roadmap of my own journey through it.

When I saw your comment, and this post, I laughed a bit about your quote from William E. Simon. I've never read any of his work (though now it must go on my already substantial reading list), but it just goes to show you, there's nothing new under the sun. It's good to be in such company.

MMinWA said...

I'm reading Bill Simon's autobiography, A Time for Reflection, right now and really am enjoying it. He was quite a man.