Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Defining And Defeating The Morally Different

     About a month ago, I made a point that in my estimation “should” be “obvious.” However, I forgot that what’s “obvious” to me isn’t always clear to others who’ve left their thinking caps at home. “Obvious,” after all, does mean overlooked. At least, that’s the way the word is most frequently used.

     Since I posted that piece, I’ve received a number of requests for clarification. “Obvious” notions “shouldn’t” require clarification. Either they arise from the simple implications of openly available evidence – i.e., they’re the nearest thing to self-evident – or they’re not as “obvious” as all that. And with that, I’ll declare a moratorium on the ironic use of quote marks and proceed normally. Well, normally for the Curmudgeon Emeritus to the World Wide Web, anyway.

     If you’re one of the Gentle Readers who’ve hoped for a clarification, please read what follows slowly and with your best attention.

1. Defining the Morally Different.

     If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination. – Thomas de Quincey

     I routinely use the term moral as shorthand for morals and ethics: paired codes of constraint to which an individual adheres. However, moral and ethical codes are technically distinct from one another. One’s morals concern what one must and must not do when no one else is likely to be adversely affected by one’s decisions and actions. Typical subjects under the heading of morality include sexual conduct, the use of intoxicants, and cheating at solitaire. Ethics concern decisions and actions that are likely to involve harm to others. That covers the mala in se of the criminal law such as murder, kidnapping, rape, theft, and vandalism, as well as unprosecuted deeds such as refusing to go to the aid of a drowning man or deceiving one’s spouse about the source of the red marks on one’s shirt collar. And having made that linguistic distinction, I shall use moral and morality to refer to both moral and ethical decisions and actions henceforward.

     If Smith and Jones differ morally, they feel themselves to be constrained by different rules. A fair and commonplace example occurs in many white-collar workplaces. Smith would never dream of raiding the company supply cabinet for materials to be used at home; he considers it stealing. In contrast, Jones helps himself to whatever he might find useful and takes it home for his personal use; he considers it a perquisite of his employment, regardless of what company policy might say. In that regard and perhaps in others, Smith and Jones are morally different.

     That example might elicit shrugs from some Gentle Readers. “So what?” they might say. “Jones takes some pens and paper home from the office? Big deal. Everybody does it.” I shan’t argue the point, except to note that he who says “everybody does it” is really saying “In his situation, I would do it.”

     My central point is that it constitutes a moral difference between Smith and Jones. Davis, who employs them both, can rely on Smith in ways he can’t rely on Jones. Were he to become aware of their moral difference, it would probably result in a difference in the way he treats them – and that could have serious effects on Jones’s career.

     Plainly, some moral differences are graver than others. Yet it is observably the case that such seemingly small differences often blossom into graver ones over time.

     Jones may steal from “the company” with a clear conscience on the grounds that “the company can afford it.” But he might come to view Smith in the same light: as one who has possessions that “he can afford” to lose, while acquiring them would benefit Jones greatly. The retardant here would be the impersonality Jones probably attributes to “the company” versus the plain and obvious personhood of Smith, a working stiff much like Jones himself though perhaps better compensated. Still, one once has accepted pilferage as a means of improving one’s own circumstances, what dividing line is guaranteed to hold forever?

     Now consider the moral difference between Smiths whose moral codes are never broken and Joneses whose “morals” are completely expressed by one consideration: “Can I get away with it?” There cannot be any sort of trustworthy interaction between those two groups. Indeed, the Joneses will see the Smiths as sheep to be shorn, and will shear them at every opportunity...unless and until the Smiths put an end to the threat the Joneses represent.

     Even more dramatic moral differences are possible between men. We confront one today: the moral difference between normal, decent Americans and the scum that call themselves “AntiFa.”

     Smith, a decent American, adheres to a moral code that forbids doing harm to an innocent, under which term he subsumes all non-aggressors. Smith might occasionally be provoked beyond his ability to resist – a sufficiently grave insult, for example, might be answered with a punch in the nose – but if asked about his attitude toward interpersonal violence, he would condemn it. He might qualify that for particular, well-defined contexts – “I won’t start a fight, but I will finish one” – but he will insist that normal interactions with peaceable others must be violence-free.

     Jones, a member of AntiFa, holds to a completely different code. His code says violence is a legitimate – possibly even mandatory – way to get the political results he seeks. Moreover, he regards any attempt, whether verbal or physical, to prevent him from doing such violence as violence directed against him and his fellows — which he considers immoral. Consider the following, which I believe was posted at Twitter:

     The anonymous complainant has expressed his moral code:

  • He gets to perform various acts of violence and vandalism;
  • But legal consequences for those acts are “not fucking fair...”
  • ...because “we’re the good guys!”

     Would Smith regard Jones as a “good guy?” Or would he consider that the legal system was doing its assigned and proper job: protecting peaceable persons and property against violence and vandalism?

     Imagine how Jones would regard an “informal,” on-the-spot forceful response to his violence and vandalism. Imagine what he would think of an equal or superior number of Smiths, ready and willing to meet the Joneses with force: fisticuffs, melee weapons, or guns. If being arrested and tried for his crimes offends Jones's sense of “fairness,” imagine what he would think of being on the receiving end of a beatdown.

     The moral difference between Smith and Jones is sociopolitically significant. Compare it to the rise to power of the Nazis in Weimar Germany, or Mussolini’s Fascists in Italy of the same period. In those places and times, the violence unleashed by the Nazis and Fascists was not met by a forceful response, whether legal or “informal.” The consequences should be well known by anyone over the age of ten.

2. Defeating the Morally Different.

     When force is made the standard, the murderer wins over the pickpocket. -- Ayn Rand

     To defeat the morally different, it is first required of us that we recognize the moral difference between us and them. That can be a hard thing for a Smith, who tends to assume that Jones, however “misguided” he may be, holds to the same moral code as Smith. But this is not the case. Worse, the belief that it is the case paralyzes Smith. He finds himself unable to do anything but talk – and talk will not defeat the morally different! They have placed themselves outside our moral code. They are, quite literally, outlaws, and therefore properly subject to whatever degree of forceful response is needed to bring them down.

     Mind you, there is still much difficulty involved. The forces of order must be mobilized and must act. The Joneses must be rounded up and incarcerated at the very least. A great part of our present problem arises from the lack of forceful counter-action: first on the part of the police, second on the part of the military. For there is this to ponder and absorb:

A group that has rejected the moral code on which our laws are based is in a state of insurrection against the nation.

     If the police cannot subdue the Joneses and subject them to the weight of the law, the military must treat them as a rebel army, to be defeated in the field. Whatever degree of bloodshed results must be regarded as the price of defending the nation, upholding its laws, and restoring its public order.

     To this point, very little of this has occurred. America’s largest cities are beset by violence and vandalism, under a banner that reads “Black Lives Matter.” No small number of lives have been affected. Some have died. We need not dwell on the ironies involved. We merely need to recognize the moral difference between decent Americans and the rioters, and meet the miscreants head on with whatever force is required to subdue them. Failure to do so will be punished by the loss of our nation.

     All that having been said, I yield the floor to my Gentle Readers.


Jess said...

I'm thinking Trump is allowing the military to take care of many of the necessary tasks covertly. I might be wrong, but it would work, keep the media out of the picture, and ultimately destroy enemy combatants.

WalkingHorse said...

Heinlein, as usual, had a pertinent observation:

"Your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes. Keep this in mind; it may offer a way to make him your friend. If not, you can kill him without hate — and quickly." -- Robert A. Heinlein

We are rapidly converging on the latter course of action.

George True said...

I am a long time lurker here. I have rarely commentee, but I must today. Mr Poretto, tbis essay is one of your best, perbaps THE best ever. You have quite eloquently, and with no wasted words, distilled down to it's essence what the real situation is, and exactly what must be done, and why.


I keep quoting Solzhenitsyn - from memory:

"To get people to do evil, convince them they are doing good."

Col. B. Bunny said...

Patriots in the U.S. and, more to the point, our political class (two separate categories, let it be said), have allowed the concepts of treason, subversion, sedition, insurrection, and invasion to disappear from public debate and from the official armamentarium. No attack or initiative of the left from any of these directions causes any heart to skip a beat. We tolerate any assault on the true body politic. Or any desecration of the sacred. As with the nation, our beliefs and traditions can be defiled without penalty.

Compare and contrast Singapore that punishes vandalism with a caning and drug dealing with the death penalty. Freedom is possible without a craven surrender to the scum of the earth - the traitor. But now, millions of Americans have convinced themselves or accepted that there is nothing against which to commit treason.

Linda Fox said...

Several things occur to me:
- Yes, arrest the ones committing the felonies. Convict them, allow them to escape all but a month or two of actual prison time - in FEDERAL prison. At that point, rather than keep them in that very expensive place, allow them to be "shock-paroled" for 1st time convictions. BUT, release them with the conditions that (1) They have, for a LIFETIME, lost their right to vote. Any attempt to evade or fight that restriction will result in the sentence being service IN FULL. (2) Any further activism in the streets - or, with any connection to street activity - will also result in serving that full sentence. (3) They may NOT apply for a law licence, or work in any educational facility - K-12 or post-high school.
- They can NEVER work for any institution that receives federal money. They can NEVER be employed by the federal government. If married to, or the child of, someone who has or is receiving a federal pension, they may NOT have residual rights to it after the relative's death.
- They may not receive any loan that is guaranteed by the federal government, whether for a home, FEMA disaster, or education.

You want to revolt against our government, let's see how well you do without it.

Paul Bonneau said...

"They can NEVER work for any institution that receives federal money..."

There is no such thing as "never" in the world of politics. Promises are kept until the next election, at best.

Being an anarcho-capitalist, more or less, makes me think the ordinary Smiths can handle the Joneses just fine on their own, due to vastly outnumbering them and also because Smiths are more serious. The real problem here is that defense has largely (if not completely) been outlawed, and the prison-industrial complex remains willing and ready to jail Smiths who dare defend their property, even if reluctant to do the same to the Joneses. The Joneses do not threaten the profitability of the government protection racket, while an organization of Smiths (AKA vigilance committees) surely does; therefore it must not be allowed to exist.