Errors in moral reasoning

Events occurring and how they relate/affect Anabaptist faith and culture.
haithabu
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Errors in moral reasoning

Postby haithabu » Thu Aug 17, 2017 2:28 pm

I'm putting this under Current Events because it is highly pertinent to what is going on in American society right now.

Here are some common fallacies or errors I see people committing in assessing the right or wrong in various situations. This is not some theoretical philosophical discussion but I see them has having the potential to lead to real evil and disorder in society.


1) That moral responsibility is a zero sum game.

There is a tendency to interpret the criticism of one aspect of a position or action or event as a corresponding support for or justification for the other side. We see this repeated over and over in the near universal criticism of Trump's statements on Charlottesville. I myself just got my feathers singed on FB in trying to make what some others deemed to be inappropriate moral distinctions. But God judged Adam and Eve and the serpent separately for their respective sins without assigning any one credit for the contribution of others, and so He will each of us.

People who rely on the zero sum concept for self-justification are less likely to examine themselves for wrong actions and attitudes and are more likely to judge others harshly.


2) That passion is an index of virtue.

That your commitment to a value and therefore your virtue is measured by how vociferously and how intemperately you advocate for it. But I believe that moral reason is like a computer: it doesn't work properly over a certain temperature. In watching the storms of emotion rage through the body public today I am reminded of W.B. Yeats' words:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


Movements which elevate passion in moral, religious or political questions are more likely to be complacent about extreme actions by their members and even though the majority may be otherwise reasonable people, the more extreme members tend to set the direction for the rest because they are assigned the moral high ground within the movement and are thus given the capacity to shame the more moderate members into following them or at least not opposing them.


3) A failure to balance values - the idea that one value should be supreme over others.

I think of justice and mercy as values which are conceptually opposed. Justice means to give to someone what is due them for their wrong actions. Mercy means to refrain from doing so. Yet both are necessary and the moral task of humanity under God is to balance the two. An exclusive focus on one over the other leads to objectively evil outcomes.

The same thing applies to human rights codes. A code contains a laundry list of rights and they are all listed co-equally, but there are various situations where different rights come into conflict. It is the job of courts to balance them in an equitable way. If the court were to privilege one right absolutely over another, the second right would be on its way to being nullified or marginalized.


4) ...and that therefore the end justifies the means.

If one value or cause reigns supreme in the moral universe, then petty considerations of reason, truth, integrity, fairness, compassion or legality may be subordinated to that pursuit. Stalin or Lenin are variously reported to have said "You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs". The irony in their case is that though millions of eggs were broken, the omelette never arrived.

The problem with this thinking occurs on several levels:

a) The supreme Good that is pursued in the case of a utopian or millenarian or morally perfectionistic movement never arrives. It is either unattainable or the movement moves on in pursuit of ever higher levels of purity. In the end the movement breaks down and its adherents find that they have committed real evil in exchange for an illusionary good.

b) It degrades the person morally. He may persuade himself that these tactics are necessary to achieve his Good, but in the end he becomes his tactics or he becomes what he habitually does.

c) It is immoral (I would say wicked) because the practitioner of these tactics in effect is penalizing his opponents for their virtues. The pushing aside of certain values may give the activist a momentary advantage over his opponents - but only because they are not doing the same themselves. So someone who is committed to telling only the truth is punished for that because no matter what the truth is, the liar can tell a better story.

d) Which leads to the moral degradation of society as those depreciated values go out the window on all sides. Some may think of this as a temporary price to pay on the way to victory, but a society which loses the values of truth, integrity, fairness, civility, social peace and tolerance will not quickly recover them. A generation after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia still struggles to recover the freedoms and rule of law which were denied to it by the Bolsheviks.


5) Moral supremacism - the temptation to think that there is no wisdom or virtue or good faith on the other side of an issue.

Another word for it might be moral narcissism, only this is a narcissism which takes place on a collective level rather than just on an individual level.

This attitude makes its holders correction proof. It impedes their goals by creating unnecessary conflict and resistance to their ideas. Any movement which runs on this basis finds itself splitting into factions over time because its adherents will apply the same intolerance for dissent toward each other as they do toward people outside the movement.

I wrote in another post about "gratuitous hatred" which according to the Talmud was the cause for the destruction of the Jewish nation. The rabbis go on to say that this mutual hatred between Jews took the form of various faction disputing, then fighting, then hunting each others' members down over the question of who was the better Jew. Isn't this what is happening today? That Americans are starting look at each other with fear and loathing over the matter of who is the "better Jew". Or more accurately, who is the better white American.


6) Language abuse to muddy the water. Strictly speaking these are not usually errors but deliberate strategy. But for those who are taken in by them it does lead to errors in moral reasoning.

One is the use of constructive language to describe values, so that terms like "love", "Justice" and "tolerance" are used with special ideologically constructed meanings which are different from, and in some cases opposed to their common everyday meaning. This is wrong because unless those special definitions are made explicit they are deceiving to ordinary folk. They are often used manipulatively to put opponents into a false position where because they oppose the specific application which is being advocated, they are portrayed as being against the value altogether.

Related to that is the use of baggage filled cant phrases to express a position without actually reasoning it out or fitting it to the circumstances. "Person of color" is one such. It immediately invokes a narrative of oppressor and oppressed which is intended to produce a certain reflexive response to any situation where it is applied.

Both of these practices are described in detail by George Orwell under the heading of "Newspeak".


7) Outsourcing moral reasoning to others.

The idea than a group as a whole has a truer moral instinct than any individual in it is based in part on the idea of the wisdom of crowds. However studies where this has been tested for quantifiable matters (the only way this theory can really be tested) have shown that the principle only works when people reach their own conclusions individually without referring to others. So I suggest that the path to collective moral wisdom always runs through each individual's own moral compass.

When people look to the group itself as the ultimate moral arbiter, then its "wisdom" becomes an artifact of the views of its more dominant or vocal members and the benefit of collective wisdom is lost. In some cases, a relatively small but cohesive and coordinated vocal faction can create an apparent consensus where there is none and lead the group in a direction where most of its members in fact do not want to go.

Part of this view is rooted in my personal experience. As someone who was a socially awkward outsider, I learned in middle school that the group was not to be trusted; that individuals who were quite civil one on one could become publicly cruel while in the group setting. If the people I knew while growing up were at their worst in the group, why should I look to the group for my moral cues?

And looking at recent history: those who stood against Hitler (since everyone is talking about Hitler nowadays) did so in spite of, not because of the apparent social consensus around them. Those who went along did so because they did not trust their own moral instincts over the apparent values of their neighbours.
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Robert
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Re: Errors in moral reasoning

Postby Robert » Thu Aug 17, 2017 2:48 pm

Well, I clicked the heart about 10 times. It just toggled on and off, but I felt better.

I may sticky this and lock it. This is how much "I" agree with it.

But locking it would just be a way of controlling conversation, so that is out. :shock:
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haithabu
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Re: Errors in moral reasoning

Postby haithabu » Thu Aug 17, 2017 3:31 pm

Thank you. :)
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Bootstrap
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Re: Errors in moral reasoning

Postby Bootstrap » Thu Aug 17, 2017 3:32 pm

haithabu wrote:There is a tendency to interpret the criticism of one aspect of a position or action or event as a corresponding support for or justification for the other side. We see this repeated over and over in the near universal criticism of Trump's statements on Charlottesville.


Could you please make a bullet point list of what you think was wrong on each side? And ditto for everyone who is trying to be careful to point out what both sides did wrong?

When I do that, I see some overlap - it was wrong for Antifa to attempt to combat racist terrorism with violence, and both sides used clubs and chemicals. But I also see the white extremists doing a lot of terribly wrong things that Antifa did not do. I'm not sure if you see those things or not. I think Peter does. And I am not hearing a clear condemnation of those things from you or Robert or Mike. The overwhelming message seems to be, "well, it all balances out".

As for Donald Trump's statements, the people who have criticized his statements now include five of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, many people on Trump's CEO council, and many Republicans - including the leaders of both houses, two former Republican presidents, and the last two Republican candidates. Donald Trump is not a person who normally has difficulty with clear condemnations. He has been more scathing toward many members of his own party and people who work for him. These groups claim that they are supporting his program, and that they are the ones who got him elected. He should clearly tell them not to use his name, and that he does not support them.

The people who have praised Donald Trump's statements on Charlottesville include David Duke, a former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and the Daily Stormer. Here's what they had to say:

Image
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Re: Errors in moral reasoning

Postby Robert » Thu Aug 17, 2017 4:03 pm

Bootstrap wrote:As for Donald Trump's statements, the people who have criticized his statements now include five of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, many people on Trump's CEO council, and many Republicans - including the leaders of both houses, two former Republican presidents, and the last two Republican candidates. Donald Trump is not a person who normally has difficulty with clear condemnations. He has been more scathing toward many members of his own party and people who work for him. These groups claim that they are supporting his program, and that they are the ones who got him elected. He should clearly tell them not to use his name, and that he does not support them.


So are you saying we should just go along with the mainstream thought here? Well, these same people believe in just war. I guess it is okay too.

Bootstrap wrote:Could you please make a bullet point list of what you think was wrong on each side?


[*]Each side only speaks and does not listen.
[*]Each side thinks they are morally right and anyone who disagrees are wrong and deserve whatever they get.
[*]Both sides see violence as a tool to get their way.

Are both sides equal in evil? I suspect not. I just do not think "the lesser of two evils" means "one is right and the other is wrong."

Bootstrap wrote:And I am not hearing a clear condemnation of those things from you or Robert or Mike.


Then you are reading with shaded eyes or are trying to read into what I posted instead of reading what I posted.

Bootstrap wrote:The overwhelming message seems to be, "well, it all balances out".


Again, not what I said at all. Again, taking what I posted and projecting.
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Bootstrap
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Re: Errors in moral reasoning

Postby Bootstrap » Thu Aug 17, 2017 4:13 pm

Robert wrote:
Bootstrap wrote:As for Donald Trump's statements, the people who have criticized his statements now include five of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, many people on Trump's CEO council, and many Republicans - including the leaders of both houses, two former Republican presidents, and the last two Republican candidates. Donald Trump is not a person who normally has difficulty with clear condemnations. He has been more scathing toward many members of his own party and people who work for him. These groups claim that they are supporting his program, and that they are the ones who got him elected. He should clearly tell them not to use his name, and that he does not support them.

So are you saying we should just go along with the mainstream thought here? Well, these same people believe in just war. I guess it is okay too.


No, I am saying that the President of the United States should announce that he is taking white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK seriously, he wants to distance himself from them and he deplores what they stand for. Maybe that's a mainstream opinion. Maybe the rule of law is a mainstream kind of thing. That doesn't make them bad. I think every single president since Nixon would have gotten this one right.

Instead, he announces that we need to protect Confederate monuments - the reason they gave for the rally - and considers pardoning Joe Arpaio, one of their heroes. That's a pretty clear signal that he is on their side. At least, that's the signal they seem to be hearing if you read Stormfront. (I can only read the public portion of Stormfront since I don't want to register, and The Daily Stormer lost their public homepage.)

Robert wrote:
  • Each side only speaks and does not listen.
  • Each side thinks they are morally right and anyone who disagrees are wrong and deserve whatever they get.
  • Both sides see violence as a tool to get their way.


So ... what are some of the ways they are different? When people say the two groups are not morally equivalent, do you have any idea what they are getting at?
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Bootstrap
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Re: Errors in moral reasoning

Postby Bootstrap » Thu Aug 17, 2017 4:18 pm

Robert wrote:
Bootstrap wrote:And I am not hearing a clear condemnation of those things from you or Robert or Mike.


Then you are reading with shaded eyes or are trying to read into what I posted instead of reading what I posted.


Sometimes short, unambiguous statements are really helpful for this kind of thing. Make it really hard to ignore.
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Re: Errors in moral reasoning

Postby Robert » Thu Aug 17, 2017 4:24 pm

http://forum.mennonet.com/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=720&start=20#p18388

I totally reject and dislike the message of the KKK, which was stated by the southern Democrats and supported by Woodrow Wilson, and the Neo-Nazis.


Why is that not clear?

I can understand the offense of southern Civil War statues.


How is this ambiguous?
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haithabu
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Re: Errors in moral reasoning

Postby haithabu » Thu Aug 17, 2017 4:33 pm

Bootstrap wrote:
haithabu wrote:There is a tendency to interpret the criticism of one aspect of a position or action or event as a corresponding support for or justification for the other side. We see this repeated over and over in the near universal criticism of Trump's statements on Charlottesville.


Could you please make a bullet point list of what you think was wrong on each side? And ditto for everyone who is trying to be careful to point out what both sides did wrong?


1) The White Nationalists are wrong in their views.
2) The hit and run was murder.
3) The general violence was consensual as between the WN and Antifa. The WN came armed because they expected to be attacked based on the Antifa track record and they were not disappointed.

I feel no need to loudly denounce the views of the white supremacists because I believe it to be a settled question and there is no social need for it now any more than there was at Skokie when I was young. On the other hand I think white nationalism (not necessarily the same thing as white supremacism any more than BLM represents black supremacism or La Raza did Hispanic supremacism) may rise in reaction to the aggressive tactics promoted by groups on the left in support of racialist identity politics. This would be a bad thing.

Really, WN and Antifa feed on each other, and so I do see a social need to denounce the violence which Antifa employs because it is relatively unopposed and under reported by the main stream media. If taken too far it will escalate as it did in Charlottesville and contribute to a social unraveling of the US. Point #2 in the "Errors" post is based on what I observed in peoples' reactions after Charlottesville.

Here is a link to the FB post in question and the related blowback:
https://www.facebook.com/phil.garber/po ... 4420917939

Aside from that, the only reason anyone would ask such a denunciation of me is to "prove" that I am on the right side, which contains an implication that I have something to prove. Which I would naturally resent. :)

As for going any further in Charlottesville - I think we already have a thread for that?
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Re: Errors in moral reasoning

Postby Bootstrap » Thu Aug 17, 2017 5:23 pm

haithabu wrote:I feel no need to loudly denounce the views of the white supremacists because I believe it to be a settled question and there is no social need for it now any more than there was at Skokie when I was young. On the other hand I think white nationalism (not necessarily the same thing as white supremacism any more than BLM represents black supremacism or La Raza did Hispanic supremacism) may rise in reaction to the aggressive tactics promoted by groups on the left in support of racialist identity politics. This would be a bad thing.


I think Donald Trump does need to loudly denounce the views of the white supremacists because he was a leading figure in the whole birther movement, he refused to denounce David Duke until forced to, and the white supremacists tell people they are the ones who elected him and they are advocating Trump's program.

Members of his own party were questioning him on this issue during the primaries, including Paul Ryan and John McCain. Members of these groups say they are the ones who elected him, and that they are just promoting his cause.

haithabu wrote:Really, WN and Antifa feed on each other, and so I do see a social need to denounce the violence which Antifa employs because it is relatively unopposed and under reported by the main stream media. If taken too far it will escalate as it did in Charlottesville and contribute to a social unraveling of the US. Point #2 in the "Errors" post is based on what I observed in peoples' reactions after Charlottesville.


I agree that it is also important to report on Antifa. It's the wrong response to white nationalism.

But to say that with authority, I think it's really helpful to say, quite loudly, that we find white nationalism just as repugnant as they do.
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