I’m not talking about a morality that appears when you mix two components; I’m talking about a morality that can only exist in one of two states: “bad” and “good”.
I’d been thinking about a kind of ‘Gresham’s Law’ of morality, in which weaker moral judgments make it increasingly impossible to make strong ones, when I read Orson Scott Card’s column referenced below.
What I’d been thinking about is a kind of moral refinement in which any bad thing is so bad that it immediately becomes the equal of the worst thing….A good example is the column on immigration referenced by Dean Esmay. His comment sums up the issue perfectly: “Apparently, bureaucratic hassles = police state.” It’s the same process that leads us to the foolish trope that “Ashcroft’s treatment of Muslim immigrants=Kristallnacht.”
No it doesn’t.
No one who knows anything about history can begin to claim that they are equivalent events. When challenged, the response is that morally, they are the equivalent – that it is just as bad to interview (and often intimidate) people, and occasionally to incarcerate them – typically with some cause, sometimes without – is the equivalent of sending the brownshirts through Dearborn, destroying, looting, and beating. I’m not a fan of most of the domestic security steps that have been taken, so don’t take this that way. But you can argue against them without this kind of nonsensical exaggeration.
It’s fundamentally a way of taking morality out of the equation; since I can find some stain on everyone, it must be true that they are all equivalent – that bombing a Passover seder full of Israelis is the same as bombing an apartment building housing a leader of Hamas. So it’s a matter of picking a team; kind of like choosing the NASCAR driver you are going to root for. You can’t judge, because you’ve given up any criteria on which to judge.
I choose this example (bombing that killed Salah Shehada) carefully, because to me it is the closest kind of call we have to make. Innocents die on both sides, and to me both are impossibly tragic. Yet to me, they are as clearly distinct – morally – as noon and midnight.
Adulthood is about being confronted with tough moral choices…between varying shades of grey. Children can throw their hands up and say “it’s all bad”; when I hear that from an adult, it makes me quite dismissive of that person’s judgments. Because yes, it is all bad, it is all good, there are no clear bright lines we can use to sort the saints from the sinners.
But if you’re willing to look hard, to get your hands dirty, to act like Hoderer and say: “Do you think one can govern innocently? Purity is a matter for monks, clerics, not for politicians. My hands are dirty to the elbows. I have shoved them in filth and blood,” (in Sartre’s ‘Dirty Hands’) you can act in the world, and in turn ultimately stand to be judged on your actions.
Morality is not a binary function, and cannot be reduced to one. People who say it can be are selling something.
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