Tag Archives: Ethics

Apathy and Responsibility: The American Response to the Holocaust

There were millions of people dying unjustly at the hands of the Nazi regime in the end of the 1930s and the beginning of the 1940s and the American population and government, for all intents and purposes, were permitting this atrocity, or at least allowing it to happen. The pseudo history that is presented in the United States today about Americans being the “heroes” of World War II is only part of the story. What is usually not entailed in these Hollywood retellings is how many Americans denied the truth and urgency of what later became known as the Holocaust, which in its general form means total destruction. Furthermore, the utter lack of acknowledging that there were pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic organizations active on American soil during the 1930s that were engaging in propaganda campaigns, protest, and violence is slanted to paint the U.S. as more responsive, at best. History tells a different story. The moral burden of the people in the 30s and 40s was paramount because the unprecedented liquidation of an entire ethnic group was occurring and responsibility was both unclaimed and undetermined. There were arguments on all sides, but while the American government officials were engaging in arguments about what to do, if anything, the Jewish population was being exterminated in Europe. On the one hand, people were screaming for justice and for help, screaming for anything other than America’s complicity in Hitler’s plight. On the other hand, there were the skeptics, non-believers, and or non-confrontationists who indicted the screamers as being war mongers, as liars, as being unprepared for the true tasks ahead, and “quietly and gently” calling for America and the people to wait.[i]  And at the heart of the argument was the question of responsibility, because it is on that conception that acceptance or denial to act hinged.

It is perhaps not difficult to understand and conceive that many people in the 30s and 40s felt a sense of urgency to help and alleviate the suffering of the millions of Jewish people, Jewish-sympathizers and dissenters from Nazi rule in Europe. It is probably more difficult to conceive of people lacking a sense of urgency, who either, believed the reports coming out of Europe were fabrications, or were devoid of any sense of responsibility to their fellow humans. Fred Eastman was of the latter sort and in 1944 having sufficient knowledge of the situation in Nazi occupied Europe, he wrote a cold and calculated critique of the people with a sense of urgency, titled, “A Reply to Screamers.”[ii]

The document written by Eastman is a response to an author named Arthur Koestler, who was a novelist that wove into his narratives some of the tragic tales he had experienced in Europe. Eastman admitted in his response that the “reports of the mass murders of Jews and countless others are too well authenticated to be denied,” but yet lacks any motivation to join the screamers because he believes it is after the war that that real effort will begin; “the long-term task of building peace.”[iii] He thinks the screamers are responding emotively in eruptions or fits, but does not provide any reason not to have an emotional response to what he termed “no blacker crime,” and that is why he comes across as cold. For example, Eastman draws upon the Biblical parable of the Good Samaritan, which is a story that is supposed to express one’s duty to help those in need, and he could have chosen any example or explanation to follow it, but he chooses to quote a girl so young she cannot form the ‘th’ sound and whom has, as he calls it, an “emotional regurgitation,” instead of the correct moral response, which would have been a desire to help.[iv] The implicit analogy Eastman is making with this young girl is that the screamers are uneducated and immature children who do not understand morality or duty to others, and are in need of guidance. It is this unfeeling and unsympathetic, matter-of-fact, disregard for human connection and the bonds that actually motivate duty to others, that makes Eastman’s response to Koestler so cold. In addition, Eastman believed himself to be a typical representative of the American population who was in opposition of the war and the efforts to help the Jewish people in Europe.[v]

In stark contrast to Eastman, Freda Kirchwey, wrote an article in 1943 titled, “While the Jews Die,”[vi] blaming the United States and the United Nations for their complicity and failure to do their duty to help those in need.  After opening the article with an enumeration of the Nazis’ program of extermination, Kirchwey, straightforwardly identifies the blameworthy by stating; “In this country, you and I and the President and the Congress and the State Department are accessories to the crime and share Hitler’s guilt.”[vii] The “you” is a general you and given the context of the sentence it is found in, it seems most appropriate to assume the audience and recipient of the condemnation is the American people as a whole. Thus, Kirchwey lays blame flatly on both the citizens and government of the United States for their skepticism, apathy, complicity and “share” in the oppression and extermination of the Jews in Europe. Whereas Eastman believes the correct moral response is to wait, Kirchwey believes the Americans have already waited too long and the correct moral response is to act now to help the Jewish people. Kirchwey’s article was written a nearly a year prior to Eastman’s response, when more proof had been compiled, but the evidence was not enough to motivate many Americans to accept the burden of duty, with a sense of urgency to help those in need.

It is too easy of an analysis to suppose that it was anti-Semitic sentiment and prejudice that motivated the apathy of the American people although, this was certainly a factor for many people’s judgment, the reality of the reasons for the lack of urgency are more nuanced than that. There was a lack of faith in the credibility of the reports, but also questions about the motivations of the people making the reports or screaming for action, and a belief that a conflict of this magnitude was inevitable. Eastman argues that the conflict with Hitler and the Nazi regime was a “mighty conflict…over [different] philosophies of life,” that was destined to occur.[viii] Behind Eastman’s belief in this conflict rested a nest of religious and political conflicts about the origination and fruition of rights; God-given rights that lead to democracy and state-granted rights that lead to tyranny by a “master race.”[ix] This fatalistic perspective of the war with the Nazis and the extermination of the Jewish people in Europe omits autonomy, free-will, and choice from the reckoning and thus, attempts to absolve responsibility. Notwithstanding the success of this line of reasoning, the objective was to assert that if there was no responsibility, then there was no duty to help those in need and thus, no need for any moral urgency to help the Jewish people in Europe.

The fatalistic reasoning Eastman employs probably did not have as much resonance with the American people as did his critiques of the screamers wherein he claims that they “do not tell us specifically what they want us to do.”[x] This was the claim that founded his assertion that the screamers are calling for an “emotional regurgitation” instead of educated correct moral responses. Eastman ends this particular critique by appealing to the fact that his sons were in the war fighting the Nazis and that the screamers were non-combatants armchair moralizing, but not assuming any of the risks. What is revealed through these connections, in correlation with what has already been mentioned is that Eastman blames the Jews and the screamers for an imposed duty to risk life and limb for a people and a cause that it was not their responsibility to do so for. In the broader context, even given the anit-Semitic sentiments that existed within the United States in the 30s and 40s, the lack of moral urgency was more an outgrowth of the lack of moral responsibility than prejudice alone.

At the heart of the issue of the American apathy concerning the oppression and extermination of the Jewish people in Europe were conflicts with trust. At first it was the unbelievable characteristic of the reports coming out of Germany and Europe, but many of those reports were verified and still people continued to remain skeptic about the severity of the problem and their responsibility in the situation. Noted above, Eastman made two claims; that the screamers made no specific demands and that they were also non-combatants, and while that may have been the case for many, it was not always the case. Varian Fry was an American journalist who volunteered with the Emergency Rescue Committee in France in 1940 and also created an underground network to help Jews escape Nazi extermination; was what Eastman would consider a screamer.[xi] Thus, it is not the case that the screamers were not taking risks and responsibility, but were in fact acting on their convictions while simultaneously calling on others to act as well.

In 1942, Fry wrote “The Massacre of the Jews,” which moves from being accommodating and understanding of why skepticism exists, and transitions to condemning with focused anger the apathetic and skeptical American population and government. Important to note in this account is the list of specific actions being requested that Eastman claims does not exist. Fry calls on President Roosevelt and Churchill to make public statements and to “speak out again against these monstrous events.” Fry also screamed for the development of Tribunals to “amass facts,” for Diplomatic warnings to be issued to the countries in the Balkans region, for the Allies to form a blockade, to provide asylum for refugees, and to feed the Jews in the occupied territories. He also called on the Christian churches, the Protestant Leaders and the Pope, to excommunicate and condemn anyone who assisted the Nazis. Lastly, Fry suggested that any efforts that are made should be broadcasted and made public because the Nazi actions required secrecy and hoped to “create resistance” and foster “rebellion” among the people. This is a very specific list of things that can be done to assist the Jewish people and hardly any of them hint at combat, and this also shatters the conception that the “screamers do not tell us specifically what they want us to do.” What is revealed is that the America population was not listening to the screamers and chose to label them as war mongers as a justification for not assuming responsibility and displaying the moral urgency necessary to prevent or end the mass extermination of the Jewish people in Europe.[xii]

This account should not be taken to mean that Americans did not play a pivotal role in WWII and the liberation of the Jewish people from the Nazi concentration camps and occupation, because that is not true. This account was meant to convey a portion of the complex and disparate moral and ethical views of Americans in the 1930s and 1940s by analyzing their own words and setting them into context with one another. By doing so, I hope this exposition has challenged the pseudo history that presents the decision to go to war as a simple and contradicted it. There is great sacrifice in going to war for any reason, especially when it is for another country and people. Not only was Nazi campaign unprecedented in history, but so was the Allied response to Hitler’s Nazi regime, and it had to be justified both to the United States Congress and the American citizenry. For some, the mere numbers, methods, and length of time of the oppression and extermination of the Jews were enough justification to warrant the moral urgency. However, others were either, reluctant to believe, felt the need to wait, or were not willing to sacrifice the resources and lives necessary for a people they did not feel obligatory duties towards. The volume of people killed and the scope of the Nazis’ plans brought the ethical dilemma; “to kill or let die,” to the surface, wherein America’s apathy was indicted for being; “accessories to the crime” as Kirchwey says and thus, responsible to act with moral urgency.

[i] Eastman, Fred, “A Reply to Screamers,” Christian Century, February 6, 1944.  American Views the Holocaust 1933-1945: A Brief Documentary History, Edit. Robert H. Abzug (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999), 171.

[ii] Eastman, 170-174.

[iii] Eastman, 173.

[iv] Eastman, 172.

[v] Eastman, 171.

[vi] Kirchwey, Freda “While the Jews Die,” Nation, March 13, 1943. American Views the Holocaust 1933-1945: A Brief Documentary History, Edit. Robert H. Abzug (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999), 152-155.

[vii]Kirchwey, 153.

[viii] Eastman, 172.

[ix] Eastman, 172.

[x] Eastman, 172.

[xi] Fry, Varian, “The Massacre of the Jews,” New Republic, December. 21, 1942.  American Views the Holocaust 1933-1945: A Brief Documentary History, Edit. Robert H. Abzug (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999), 126-127.

[xii] Fry, 132-133.

Consequentialism: No Longer An Alienating Morality

People tend to believe that their special ties and projects are morally relevant considerations, but traditional consequentialism does not justify partial consideration as morally relevant. The problem with this as Peter Railton has pointed out is that this can have an alienating effect on and individual, and as Julia Driver has pointed out, has the potential to obligate benevolent “angels of the world.” However, when consequentialism is conceived of with a contemporary lens, taking into account of the value of the bonds all humans have to other humans, neither of these problems are intractable.

Consequentialism is a moral theory that is concerned with the consequences or outcomes or results of an agent’s actions, which are often times measured with some valuation of The Good that is produced by the action. Different moral theories, even within the consequentialist perspective measure the good by different standards, but it tends to be the case that Right Actions, or actions that an agent should perform in a given situation with a given set of circumstances is determined by the amount of the good that will result, i.e., the amount of the good that will be the consequence of the action. In other words, the action that maximizes the good is the right action for an agent to perform, impartially and without consideration of any special relations or projects. This tends to be the case with most consequentialist theories, regardless of whether it concerns act consequentialism wherein a calculus is to be performed to determine the good each action will produce, or it concerns rule consequentialism wherein a given type of action is prescribed because the result tends to produce the most good, e.g., not lying or telling the truth. An agent’s motivations tend not to be a relevant consideration in consequentialist theories because the reason for performing an act, whether good or bad does not change the results of the action, and the consequences are what are important when determining the rightness of an agent’s action.

Consequentialism, as it has traditionally been conceived and as a result of the maximizing principle can be perceived as being too demanding, i.e., it requires too much of those whom are morally responsible. The reason for this conception is that without qualification the maximizing principle does not place a limit to the obligations of the morally responsible agent to promote the good. Instead of a limit, when either the calculus is performed or the rule is observed, the right action or the moral act is to produce the greatest net good impartially considered. This means that the morally responsible agent is not entitled to value their special relations, such as their friends or families or selves, or their personal projects, such as life plans; more or prior to anyone else’s. The morally responsive agent, according to the traditional conception of consequentialism is not justified in favoring their special relations and ties above or more than those they do not share those ties with, regardless of how much their actions have promoted the net good. For example, in one moment the impartially right action that maximizes the net good is to donate to a charity, and the next moment the impartially right action is to volunteer at a soup kitchen, then to save a drowning child and so on; all the while there is a child at home who is well fed that could use attention, but is otherwise better off than those his parent is obligated to act for. Thus, a morally responsible agent may be required by traditional consequentialism to sacrifice their special ties and projects when selecting or deliberating the right action, i.e., the partiality to choose to act for one’s child is not justified according to the traditional conception of consequentialism, if the net good is not promoted by doing such. For these reasons and others like them consequentialism has been conceived of as being too demanding; it requires more of the morally responsible agent than is suggested by intuition. Notwithstanding intuition, it may very well be the case that to be a morally responsible agent much is required.

Conversely, if and when an agent does honor and respect all of their consequentialist obligations to promote the net good of humanity, there is the potential for an agent to become what Julia Driver calls, “the angel of the world” in the article Consequentialism and Feminist Ethics (2005).[1] The angel is derived from an excerpt out of Virginia Wolf’s Hampton and Driver develops the character in the passage into “the angel of the house” who she says “is not presented as a real person, but rather as a danger that someone caught in a benevolent ideal needs to be weary of.”[2]  The obligations placed upon the morally responsible agent by traditional consequentialism requires benevolence because that is of what promoting the net good is a description—which seems to be a contradiction given that benevolence is generally understood as a choice and not an obligation. Giving to charity is thought to be a benevolent act, and yet, it may not be thought to be benevolent if an agent’s only reason for donating was to avoid incarceration, then it may not seem as much like benevolence as self-interests. However, for the sake of argument, I will assume that benevolence can be justifiably obligated. As the argument continues, entailed in this benevolence is the almost complete disregard for agent, their special ties, and their special projects. In the home when this plays out, as Wolf identifies, the angel sacrifices nearly everything of herself to ensure others are cared for.  The “angel of the world” follows by corollary and is an agent “who gives her all to others,” throughout the world, “impartially considered.”[3] This means that she promotes the net good, as the right action, without any particular concern for her own welfare or those whom depend on her, such as her children or romantic partner because this is what morality requires. (The same example can be applied to males because consequentialism requires the same obligations of men as for women and the same results may obtain. So, this description and example is not to suggest that there is anything particularly different because I have used a woman in the example.) Two problems with the concept of the angel which stand out are that it seems very unlikely that most humans could live up to this standard, which seems obvious in that the angel does not represent a real person; and the angel does not seem to have any care for herself and is happy about this state of affairs.

The issue with the “angel of the world” is that the completely objective and impersonal decision making process that disregards the agent, their special ties and projects that is required is what Peter Railton terms “alienation” in the article Alienation, Consequentialism, and the Demands of Morality (1984).[4] Railton said that this alienation was from “one’s personal commitments, from one’s feelings or sentiments, from other people, or even from morality itself,”[5] which is precisely what has been being described as one of the major objections to traditional consequentialism. Railton argues that objective or general reasoning can cause an agent to forego considerations of the particular things and agent is bond to, which give the agent’s life point, value and purpose, i.e., meaning and instead to opt for a dissociated and impartial rational when determining or justifying their actions. Railton further argues that being concerned only with the consequences of one’s actions insofar as they promote the maximum net good may dislocate an individual from their social and historical connections to the people around them.[6] However, it is impossible to dislocate the individual from their historical and social contexts without thereby also destroying what it means to be moral, and as Railton asserts, it is the social and historical context which provides the right decisions with their meaning and value.[7] The “angel of the world” is a case of objective decision making procedures that overtly stresses this dislocation of social and historical context, and alienation from personal commitments, sentiments and other people, which echoes what Driver says, it’s “a danger that someone caught in a benevolent ideal needs to be weary of.”[8]

The foregoing should however, not be taken to mean that consequences are not an important moral consideration and that it is only the motivations for an action which should be relevant; it is the case that both are important. Driver argues that when evaluating the rightness of an action, especially when one is considering only the consequences, that the results that obtain are founded on moral luck.[9] However, I disagree with the statement that follows which argues that the only thing that can be evaluated are the intentions that the agent had in the selection of an action because it has been shown that people who intend to help those in need in foreign countries have sent money to oppressive and tyrannical regimes that cause a tremendous amount of harm.[10] In contrast, the body of Michael Brown was left in the street for four and a half hours, arguably with the symbolic intention to send a message to the African American population of St. Louis to stay in their place, and the outcome was a unified African American population nationwide stepping out of their consigned role fighting for systemic change. It must be noted, that while I believe there is probably much forethought and deliberation that goes into donating to a charity or foundation to help those in foreign countries, it is probably not the case that much forethought went into the police’s actions with Michael Brown’s body, in terms of the consequences of their actions. Nonetheless, both the intentions and the outcomes are important and by implication, so are the social and historical contexts from which the rightness of action derives. From the preceding it is clear that alienation of an objective and impersonal consequentialist perspective is inadequate.

To remedy the problems of alienation and the “angel of the world,” both Railton and Driver have proposed new formulations of the traditional consequentialism. Railton has proposed a theory called sophisticated consequentialism, and Driver has proposed that the bonds, which are the basis of partiality is perfectly consistent with consequentialism, so long as there are also impartial qualities incorporated into the determination of right actions. Railton argues that subjective consequentialism is primarily about the deliberation process for determining the right action; that objective consequentialism is primarily about the outcome of the right action; and that sophisticated consequentialism is about leading an objectively consequentialist life without being consigned to any one decision making procedure.[11] Furthermore, the sophisticated consequentialist may not do the right action and not be blameworthy because the disposition to act, given that the type of act promotes the good. This will still be the case even though sometimes the agent acts worse than if a calculation would have taken place. This type of consequentialism overcomes alienation as Railton’s example of Juan reveals, he does know and respect objective moral principles that guide his actions, but is more responsive to commitments, sentiments and special bonds when determining the right action.[12] Driver’s formulation of consequentialism, which incorporates some partiality in a moral theory mostly composed of impartial norms suggests that the relationships and agent has in their life is part of happiness; it does not contribute to happiness. Thus, it follows that because the relationships are a component of happiness that they must be respected and incorporated into deliberations of the right action. Furthermore, that an agent is completely justified, like Juan in Railton’s example in favoring and acting partially toward one he has a special tie with. As a result, the “angel of the world” is not an obligated identity of a morally responsible agent who has to disregard special ties and personal projects.

The impartiality of a moral theory such as traditional consequentialism, wherein partial sentiments tend not to be justified because partiality may lead to favoritism instead of the promotion of the maximum net good, and would thus form a contradiction of the objectives of consequentialism. To protect against this seeming contradiction of objectives, traditional consequentialism seeks to equate the good of everyone so that there is no hierarchy of value concerning particular agents. This seems to be counterintuitive however because proximity tends to heighten awareness and connection between particular agents. Furthermore, society and individuals tend to attribute varying levels of responsibility to different types of relationships because of the bonds characteristic of those relationships. A mother or father or both have a particular type of bond with their child that somebody, another agent who also happens to share with the parent(s) and child the bond of nationality, nonetheless does not share in the bond being a parent to the child with the requisite responsibilities and obligations inherent in those bonds. Thus, it is clear that intuitively, the bonds and by corollary partiality are important characteristics in moral or ethical decision making procedures. This is why the “angel of the world” seems to be unsettling and jarring. Now while it could or may be praiseworthy for an agent to sacrifice everything, i.e., their special ties and personal projects to maximize the good impartially throughout the world; there is still a sense that the agent may also either, be blameworthy for not being morally responsive to the needs of those the agents shares special bonds with; or that the agent though not blameworthy has been obligated by morality to sacrifice too much, i.e., the moral obligations were too demanding on the agent. It is also the case that the obligations and the decision procedure of traditional consequentialism alienate the agent from their personal commitments, sentiments, and other people which neither seems to promote the maximum good, nor account for human nature to behave partially. However, as it has been shown, consequentialism is not contradictory to some partial sentiment on a general level. This addresses some of the demandingness and some of the alienation of traditional consequentialism.

[1] Driver, Julia. Consequentialism and Feminist Ethics (2005), p. 187

[2] Driver, p. 187

[3] Driver, p. 187

[4] Railton, Peter. Alienation, Consequentialism, and the Demands of Morality (Princeton University Press, 1984)

[5] Railton, p. 134.

[6] Railton, p. 167.

[7] Railton, p. 167.

[8] Driver, p. 187

[9] Driver, p.  188

[10] Wenar, Leif. Poverty Is No Pond (   ), p.   .

[11] Railton, p. 152-153.

[12] Railton, p. 150.

Rude Awakening

I had a rude awakening a few weeks ago. It probably started some time during the last school year, but it came to a head a few weeks ago. The reality of, what I considered at the time, to be a bleak future sunk in and it was like a huge Linus cloud decided to rain all over my parade. I decided to go to school to learn how to be an effective leader to help our civilization become sustainable, just, equitable, fair and all the other normative and evaluative qualities necessary to ensure not only survival of our species, but a good quality of life as well. Therein lays the issue because in order to figure a way out of the injustices that our civilization suffers, one must first understand those injustices. It makes no sense to attempt to address a problem before the problem is fully understood because then more problems are likely to be created in the process. At least that is the logic behind why I decided to major in both History and Philosophy.

As I began to learn about all of the injustices that are currently occurring to people all over the planet and even to the planet itself, which in turn visits injustice upon the marginalized communities or our planet, but then I also see this pattern repeatedly played out throughout history. Concomitantly, I also discover the stories of several figures who have attempted to inform many leaders and populations throughout time of the dire consequences of particular policies to little avail. Sure, they may have had some success; African Americans are no longer slaves and Women have earned the right to vote in most societies. These examples are particularly acute and salient being an African American male in the United States. However, by simply grazing through one introduction a person can become acquainted with a new form of Jim Crow and legalized slavery that reveals that African Americans are still not truly free of the oppressive nature of the system, but rather, that it has only taken on another form. Just as important, while women can vote, they are still treated as second class citizens and are consistently paid only 3/4 that of men, even when they do the same jobs, in the same companies, have comparable educations and levels of outputs; the only difference is their genders. So, while on the surface it appears that success have been made in terms of justice, the situation is really just rearranged to limit power in some other less obvious manner and people are still oppressed and suppressed and thus, suffer from injustice.

In the past, when a society or civilization was facing similar crises, the collapse of their system, it did not also include the collapse of every civilization on the planet, and possible the destruction of the planet itself. This is not the case in the world we live in today with the set of circumstances that we are currently confronting. Yet, instead of the people coming together to address the problems we are pulling further apart from one another, stratifying and polarizing our societies both internally and between societies themselves. This is only exacerbating the problems and factors that led to the crises in the first place. I am referring specifically to the competition for the acquisition and control of limited resources and land, wherein this competition is driving a wedge between those with access and control of resources and those without. This is of course completely consistent with the ideology of conquest and by corollary, capitalism. However, this is inconsistent with any theory of justice unless one can somehow manage to make the successful claim that the powerful controlling the resources is somehow for the benefit of those who are not in control of the resources. For this claim to be substantiated though, it would have to be shown that the people who are not in control of the resources are actually being benefitted, and the evidence shows that it is quite the contrary. Poverty and famines are rampant throughout the non-industrial regions of the world, the wars fought for the control of these resources continue to murder thousands of innocent people, and those who stand in opposition to this system are systematically silenced and in some extreme cases are removed.

To make matters even worse, the environment we depend on for our survival is being damaged to the point that it is about to cross the threshold of repair. This means, that even if somehow we as a civilization we able to cease all our wars, provide food for all those who need it and to redistribute the wealth into a manner that is more equitable, that if the practices we currently employ in terms of production are not changed, that we will still perish. This drastic change requires that the way of life and standard of living that most of the industrialized and post-industrialized regions of the planet will be irrevocably altered, and most likely decreased. This proposition in itself is contradictory to human nature, at least as we understand because it means that people will have to make an active choice to harm themselves or alternatively, that a governmental institution imposes these alterations on them. In either case, this will prove to be problematic.

On the one hand, people tend to act in their own immediate self-interests. This is especially the case in industrial and post-industrial societies and is extreme in the United States where people tend not to be socialized to sacrifice of themselves for the greater good. For most people it is almost nearly impossible to submit to a diminished existence today for a better future for their children. They can however, save money today, or suffer through a college education for the hope of their own future benefit, so it must be possible for people to do this for future generations, but as yet, we have not witnessed this occur on a massive enough scale to make a difference in the course that our civilization is on. It seems that the problem lays in the situation that has been set up, that people can stay off the immediate benefit for their own future benefit, but once they are no longer the one receiving the benefit a road block is encountered and the suffering of future generations is discounted. Thus, it does not seem likely that this level of change will occur voluntarily unless something very paramount occurs to encourage people to institute this type of move on their own or it is somehow made to benefit them in the near future.

On the other hand, though governments do have the power to impose such a dramatic change in the lives of the people that they govern, but not only would this be political suicide for any pundit that proposes it, but we would likely experience a global civil war. The justification for these claims follows directly from the previous discussion of self-interests. When the people see that their self-interests are not being served and their own existence is being discounted for future generations civil unrest will emerge. If the people have the power to impeach, then this is the likely outcome, which will subsequently be followed a repeal of any enactment the former government instituted. If they do not have the power to impeach, then the most likely outcome is an internal implosion as civil war erupts. If this outcome seems to be overstating the point and reaching beyond the premises, then all one has to do is acknowledge that the corporations, who are the ones controlling the resources and land are also in control of vast mercenary armies. Once this is acknowledged, then it will become apparent that if their claim to control of those resources is subverted that they will be the ones following their ideological bend and leading the revolt.

In either case, it is certain that there is an uphill battle when we are addressing the environmental crises that we are confronting as a civilization. It is a fact that the planet is warming and it is also a fact that much of the warming is human caused. This means that our cumulative use of fossil fuel and coal and nuclear power because of our civilization’s dependency on energy to function at a consistent standard of living is destroying the planet. It is at the very least, destroying the conditions that make life for humans, and creatures like humans possible. There are many options on the table that address many of the issues which have already been mentioned, but nonetheless, the harm that is requisite cannot be fully overcome, so there is pushback against any of it. Yet, while there is inaction because those in industrial and post-industrial societies do not want to manage a reduced standard of living for a period of time, those who are not privileged enough to live in those societies are suffering today. It also means, that as the polar icecaps melt because the planet is warming that the oceans will continue to rise and many of the coastal and island regions will soon be uninhabitable.

Many of these island regions are home to marginalized groups of people and as such do not have the resources necessary to defend themselves. This alone reveals that the actions of those in control of the resources are not managing the system so as to provide benefit to those not in control of the resource. Furthermore, it reveals that a harm is being done to these marginalized groups of people, so those, myself included, are blameworthy and responsible for this harm; however, unintended it may be claimed to be.

Nothing about these circumstances is consistent with utilitarianism, libertarianism, virtue ethics, deontology or any moral framework that I have thus far encountered. Utilitarianism is all about the Greatest Happiness Principle and provided the maximum benefit to the majority. However, the actions of the many now are making harm for the many in the future and that is something that is inconsistent with the calculus. Libertarianism is all about self-interests, but only insofar as no harm is being done. However, are harm is clearly being done now and will continue to escalate if our behaviors do not change. In virtue ethics, what is proposed is to considered what the virtuous person would do given the constraints of any particular situation in accordance with the flourishing of the human society. However, as I have clearly identified, the actions of our civilization are contradictory to the flourishing of our society. And lastly, deontology is focused on rules and the only rule that is necessary to point to is that it is wrong to cause unjust harm. That of itself reveals a contradiction and makes the behaviors of this civilization inconsistent with the moral framework. But, furthermore it also suggests that people should not be used as mere means, and if we are subjecting not only the marginalized groups of people today but also future generations to harm for our own personal benefit, then this also make the actions inconsistent with deontological constraints. Thus, in consideration of any moral constraints, the behaviors of our civilization are immoral, and as such are unjust.

Thus, we come back to the Linus cloud that hovered above my head pouring down onto my soul threatening to smite my fire. I began to think that what I am learning and the path that I have identified is correct for my life is pointless. I forgot that the logic of the plan is to first, understand the situation before I begin to devise a solution to the problems, so that we do not create unintended problems in the process. Well, I am learning about the problems we are currently confronting, as well as, the problems that we face attempting to solve the original set of problems. Although, addressing the concerns of the future does seem bleak, it is not without hope.  The most important thing that I or anyone else can do right now is to inform ourselves and to inform those around us about the reality of our circumstances. Then and only then, can we devise a plan of action together because it will require all of us to address these problems. Only together can we make this world more sustainable, just, equitable, fair and all the other normative and evaluative qualities necessary to ensure not only the survival of our species, but a good quality of life for everyone and all the species we share this planet with

Research Project in Greece this Summer

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This summer, I will be living in Athens doing research on immigration by performing interviews of people, observing their behavior and interacting with them in stores, parks, buses, schools, restaurants, cafes, hotels, etc., which are many of the principal places where culture or conflict emerges.

So, for the most part this will be qualitative research. However, to place this research into the proper context I will also be analyzing the historical and economic impacts that immigration has had on the people in Greece, so it will have a qualitative aspect to it as well.

But the overall project will be qualitative in nature.

The interviews will entail asking difficult, politically sensitive and emotional charged questions that get to the heart of the immigration issues people are confronting.

My studies into the ethics of aid, assistance, and social contracts have revealed that in order to be of any assistance to people who are suffering in other countries, or in this country for that matter, it is imperative for me to understand the factors that have helped to shape and continue to influence the development of their identities and circumstances.

My background with human rights and international justice issues will be highly useful because the forced migrations and forced segregation that people are subject to are complex moral and ethical issues that are fused with politics and conceptions of justice.

By ignoring such factors, there is a potential to do more harm than good.

The ethnographic research of the project will help us to discover what the people, which includes both the migrants to and the citizens of Greece themselves believe shape their identities, the composition of the circumstances they face, what they consider just, permissible and impermissible, and what obligations they believe humans they have to one another.

Given that all of these factors contribute to the outcomes of any complex situation, especially one as sensitive as immigration during economically challenging times, it then becomes necessary to consolidate political, economic, and historical data, as well as, the qualitative data collected from individuals to correctly ascertain the development and constraints of that situation.

This is what I hope to accomplish, or at least begin while studying abroad in Greece this summer.

 

 

For more information on Immigration, Diaspora and Apartheid you can follow the link below: 

https://renaissancethepoet.wordpress.com/education-is-key/study-abroad-in-athens-2014/

Diaspora and Apartheid: Study Abroad Research

“If we can prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing something of comparable moral importance, then we ought, morally to do it.”

-Peter Singer[1]

(http://todayinlaborhistory.wordpress.com/tag/apartheid/)
(http://todayinlaborhistory.wordpress.com/tag/apartheid/)

 

This summer I will be participating in the JSIS/Hellenic Studies program hosted by the University of Washington in partnership with Harvard University in Greece, which is a research project that will analyze how apartheid and diaspora have and continue to impact the people in the Baltic region.

Apartheid:

Any system or practice that separates people according to race, caste, etc.

Diaspora:

Any group that has been dispersed outside its traditional homeland, especially involuntarily, as Africans during the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

People may choose to migrate of their own accord for many reasons, such as, migrating for survival or to improve their life chances, and in other situations people may be forced to migrate by an individual, group, institution or regime that has more coercive power than their victims. Regardless of our feelings about the morality of legal and illegal migration, and whether migrants should be allowed access into other states, the fact remains that our planet is stratified in a hierarchical system of inequalities wherein certain citizens of different countries (and even between citizens within a given country, such as those with caste systems) have different levels of access to opportunities and life-chances. And if it is the case that we have the “right” to seek the improvement of our lives, then their choice to migrate is justified by that right. How much more so is there a need to uphold this right when people mass-migrate to avoid a national catastrophe, such as famine or genocide because without such a right, then these people would be doomed to tragic deaths? In regard to the latter situation of forced migration of many people, which is most often associated with diaspora, violates the “right to improve one’s life” because the imposed migration supersedes the individual’s choice not to migrate and to improve their lives in the way they see fit.

However, in either case, one of individual choice (whether legal or not), or one of forced migration, the citizens and/or the governments of the host nations may or not welcome the migrants. In such cases where migrants are not welcomed, the potential for forced segregation, or apartheid, becomes much more likely and with the prevalence of language barriers it is even more difficult for the migrants to seek protection and reparation for the harms done to them. Harm in this context is being defined as making something or someone worse off than before the act was carried out. Recently, the New York Times published an article titled, “Africans, Battered and Broke, Surge to Europe’s Door,” about the migration of Africans into Spain, many of who were fired upon by the border control while attempting cross the border, the remainder were living in shelters for immigrants or in immigration centers waiting to learn of their fates.[2] This report reveals two phenomena; first, that there is a difference between countries and some are more desirable than others to live in; second, that states attempt to control who migrates and when with borders are protected by military forces against foreigners; third, that if and when people do make it across the borders of protected countries that they are segregated and mal-treated; and fourth, that this is still a prevalent and troubling issue for many people.

The issues that migration, especially, when it involves diaspora and apartheid, reveal violations of human rights, listed in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR). Within the UNDHR, are such rights as the “right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state” (Article 13), the “right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution” (Article 14), the “right to life, liberty and security of person” (Article 3), and the “right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services” (Article 25).[3] The importance of the legal status of a migrant is undermined by the violations of their rights, which assume precedence. We have a moral obligation “not to harm” others, and I am sure that you will agree with me that being forced to leave your home by one power and then being forcefully segregated by another power in terms of nationality, country of origin, religion or race is a worse harm than their being in the county of another illegally.

Even if it can be shown that illegal immigration is somehow a harm to the citizens of the host-nation, say by appealing to an over-taxation of a nation’s resources, or even a violation of a citizen’s right to the “freedom of association,” two wrongs do not make a right, and that would not justify the harmful treatment that migrants are receiving. Responding to the former claim, Charles Beitz, in the article, Justice and International Relations, argues that the possession of resources is “morally arbitrarily,” and as such no one individual has a moral claim to any particular resource that is morally justifiable.[4] This only becomes important because of the concepts of scarcity and resource distribution, wherein there is a limited amount of resources and those resources are spread around the planet in an unequal distribution between the nations. What this means for people is that in the dependent on the places that they live, they have different levels of access to resources and thus, access to different resources that are positively correlated with life-chances. Responding to the second claim, Joseph Carens in, Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders, suggests that:

Citizenship in Western liberal democracies is the modern equivalent of feudal privilege – an inherited status that greatly enhances one’s life chances. Like feudal birthright privileges, restrictive citizenship is hard to justify when one thinks about it closely.[5]

In other words, this “right to freedom of association” is used as a means to sustain the hierarchical status quo of inequalities based on the morally arbitrary possession of resources. Both objections fail to establish the fact that illegal immigrants cause more harm and also fail a justification to project harm onto migrants, regardless of their legal status.

The concept that more harm is being done to migrants than to the citizens becomes exceedingly more apparent when we realize what Carens says about the average migrant, that they are seeking “an ordinary life,”[6] which includes working for a living, paying taxes, caring for their families, living in homes and peacefully interacting with their neighbors. In other words, being functional and contributing members to society and becoming part of the communities in which they live. Furthermore, when these migrants are discovered, if they have been able to achieve a measure of social stability like Carens suggests, they are then ripped from the homes they have made and extradited to their countries of origin, which is arguably more disruptive and harmful than granting them citizenship. There may be moral grounds to limit the migration of people, but once they have migrated, the obligation to treat migrants with dignity and integrity takes precedence to any previous claim to the right of freedom of association.

The situation that migrants face is plagued with injustice from beginning to end, from their reasons to migrate to their treatment after they migrate. However, in order to make the types of changes in policy and social behavior that will actually make a difference in regard to diaspora and apartheid we have to have accurate data about what the issues and concerns are from all the parties concerned. This is necessary if we are to make any arguments about the harms being done and further, to suggest plans of action to mitigate those harms. That is why we are traveling to Athens, we are on a social fact finding mission to ascertain the truth about the situation and are going to make recommendations based on the evidence we gather about how to address the problems our nations face. The results of the research will be evaluated and summarized in research papers and there will be a formal presentation of that material prior to leaving Greece before the parties that can make a difference in these people’s lives.

 

To Help Me Make This Research Possible, Please Contribute to the Fund to Get Me to Athens @ http://www.gofundme.com/7wx9m0

 

 

https://renaissancethepoet.wordpress.com/education-is-key/study-abroad-in-athens-2014/

 

[1] Singer, Peter. Famine, Affluence ,and Morality, p. 231

[2] New York Times, Africans, Battered and Broke, Surge to Europe’s Door, February 28, 2014.

[3] United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. http://www.ohchr.org/en/udhr/pages/introduction.aspx

[4] Beitz, Charles. Justice and International Relations, p. 367-370.

[5] Carens, Joseph. Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders, p. 252

[6] Carens, Joseph. The Case for Amnesty (Boston Review, May/June 2009)

 

The Relevance of Philosophy in Both Global and Domestic Debates

People quietly dismiss the relevance of Philosophy but proceed to complain about the state of the world and the state of our relationships with each other because we tend to hold others or feel that people share or “should” have some form of moral responsibility to others.

One argument against philosophy as a discipline for defining our moral responsibilities is for religion’s capacity to perform that function. Yet, with all of the contradictions found not only in one religion but between the religions of the world that becomes an exceedingly difficult argument to justify and support.

This however, would still prove to be of great benefit if we were not confronted with globalization wherein groups interact. In that type of situation the moral obligations of individual groups tend to conflict with one another, which is why there is so much tension of what people or nations are morally responsible to do or to abstain from doing.

Philosophy, at least as much as I understand it thus far, when it is concerned with morality and ethics seeks to define an over-arching ethical framework that transcends those boundaries. And is why I believe that Philosophy should not just simply be dismissed, aside from the fact that we all seem to practice and respect the fact that moral responsibility is important.

To Kill or to Let Die: That is the Question

In this essay I will be comparing and contrasting two ethical frameworks to ascertain both their relevance and effectiveness in deciding how to choose an action in a given situation. The two ethical frameworks being considered are virtue ethics as described by Aristotle and deontology as described by Immanuel Kant, and they will both be used to analyze a moral dilemma concerned with the theme of killing or letting die. However, before evaluating the dilemma it may be prudent to summarize the ethical frameworks first.

Virtue ethics is an agent-centered ethical framework through which its practitioners seek to both determine and to develop the morality of individuals. Whereas an action-centered ethical framework such as Deontology is concerned with the act in which an agent engages, an agent-centered framework is concerned with the character of the agent. According to Rosalind Hursthouse in Normative Virtue Ethics, a virtue is “a character trait that a human needs for eudaimonia, to flourish or live well” (p. 130). Virtues such as wisdom, honesty, compassion, loyalty and justice, when practiced, aim the agent’s actions at achieving this eudomainonia or happiness, which Aristotle believed was the “chief good” and the ultimate end of all pursuits (p. 118). According to Aristotle, a moral person is one who has the ‘habit’ of acting in accordance with virtues or excellences (p. 120), as oppose to their converses which are considered vices and are thus immoral.

The practitioners of deontology on the other hand seek to classify the morality of the decisions and behaviors of an agent. This action-centered ethical framework is neither concerned with the consequences of an action, nor of the character of the individual who acts. Rather, it is concerned with the reasoning that precedes and compels an action.  Immanuel Kant established what he termed the Categorical Imperative in his work titled Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, which is a rubric for evaluating the morality of a given action. According to Kant, an action is only moral if it is done from duty, not concerned with the consequences of the action but a particular maxim (an intention or policy of behavior), and that the action is necessitated out of respect for the law (p. 107). The law, according to Kant, is determined by subjecting each act to the Categorical Imperative; where the universalizability of the act as a law is considered first, and if it can be universalized then it is determined whether the act will use any human as a mere means or also as an end (Woody Lecture Notes, Nov. 14). If the act passes both of these tests then it is considered to be moral.

The moral dilemma that I will consider through both ethical frameworks is as follows:

A group of four friends, all in perfect health and doing well in college, are on a hiking trip when they are overrun and captured by a gang bent on testing the limits of human morality. The gang randomly selects one of the four friends and gives her an ultimatum; either kill one of her friends, and her the other two will be set free, or all four of them will be killed by the gang.

At first glance, from both ethical frameworks, if she chooses to kill one of her friends it will be an immoral decision. The virtue of justice will not permit the violation of a person’s right to life, so it is not moral to kill from the stand point of virtue ethics. The act of killing a friend to save one’s self is using the friend as a mere means so, it is also not moral for her to kill in this instance from a deontological standpoint. At first glance it appears that the only moral option is to omit killing one and to let them all die.

However, if she omits killing one to save her and two friends from being killed, there is also the potential that she is making an immoral decision.  If by omission she violates the virtue of compassion for the two friends who would otherwise be saved by her killing the one, then here the lack of compassion is immoral. This is a potential interpretation of virtue ethics as proposed by Aristotle because a hierarchy of virtues is not provided discerning which virtues take precedence over the others. She also has a duty to help those in need when she has the capacity to do so. By omitting to kill the one she thus lets her and her friends die, she would make the immoral decision of not helping her friends, who have the need to not be killed, that otherwise could avoid being killed, if she were to kill the one. Thus, at a second glance it appears that of either decision she can make that neither is moral from either ethical framework. However, there may be a way to reconcile one or both of the frameworks with the current situation so that a moral decision can be derived.

Both virtue ethics and deontology are situated such that they are capable of addressing the nuances of individual situations, so it may be possible to illuminate a virtue or a universal maxim to derive a solution to this moral dilemma. If, a universal maxim could be derived as such that; if required to kill one to save three, then kill one, if and only if, all four sincerely agree to kill one and the one is agreed upon by all four; then kill one to save three. Wherein neither the one being killed, nor the one killing is being treated as a mere means because each is being respected “as a rational person with his or her own maxims” and they are also “seek[ing] to foster other’s plans and maxims by sharing in their ends” (O’Neill, p.  114), the ends being saving three. The problem with this solution however, is that although it has met with all the conditions for the Categorical Imperative, as it is both universalizable and avoids the treatment of anyone as a mere means, it nonetheless reveals that if this specific of a maxim can be morally permissive just because the situation deems it necessary, then the ethical framework is not restrictive enough to delineate between moral and immoral actions. In other words, it does not seem moral to be able to make up laws for each new situation because if it were the case that this was permissible then anything could potentially be rationalized as a moral act.

The outcome of the analysis of these two ethical frameworks, Virtue Ethics and Deontology when applied to the dilemma of kill or let die, has revealed that there is no decision that is more moral right than another. The point of an ethical framework is to help us humans figure out what we ought to do when we encounter dilemmas and however improbable this situation is to arise in most of our lives, it is nonetheless possible. Furthermore, variants of this scenario wherein a group has to decide between killing a minority of the group to save a majority of the group are perhaps more frequent, and in those situations the constraints of this scenario may still hold. This scenario has revealed that when a group is confronted with a situation like this, where a choice has to be made between killing or letting die there is no simple answer, no quick fix, no easy solution, and there may not be a correct answer. What is important to note, is that while these ethical frameworks have proved to be inadequate at deciphering a more morally right choice in this scenario, they nonetheless show that we are morally responsible for our actions and that decision of this magnitude cannot be made lightly.

Works Cited

Aristotle. “Selections from the Nicomachean Ethics.” The Elements of Philosophy:

Readings from Past to Present. Ed. Tamar Szabo Gendler, et al. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. 114-127. Print.

Kant, Immanuel. “Selections from Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals.” 1785. The

Elements of Philosophy: Readings from Past to Present. Ed. Tamar Szabo Gendler, et al. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. 105-111. Print.

O’Neill, Onora. “A Simplified Account of Kant’s Ethics.” 1980. The Elements of Philosophy:

Readings from Past to Present. Ed. Tamar Szabo Gendler, et al. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. 112-114. Print.

Woody, Andrea. Philosophy 100 Lecture. University of Washington, Seattle, WA, November 14, 2013.