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Post Thoughts on Selective Moral Indignation
Created by John Eipper on 03/20/17 12:00 PM

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Thoughts on Selective Moral Indignation (Cameron Sawyer, Russia, 03/20/17 12:00 pm)

I agree with Tim Brown's analysis of history's atrocities, and agree with him about the evil of selective moral outrage. I do have a bone to pick on one little thing, however--these things are not relative.

I mean--just because American Indians wiped each other out from time to time, does not in the least make it OK that we wiped them out. Just because the Viet Cong committed unspeakable atrocities, does not make it OK that we carpet-bombed Hanoi and Haiphong in 1972, killing thousands of civilians (including the grandmother of a good friend of mine, who was working as a nurse in a hospital which we bombed flat, which makes it rather more personal for me than a footnote in a book), or indeed that we were in Vietnam at all in the first place.

Selective moral outrage works both ways--every American child learns in detail about the depredations of the Germans in WWII, particularly, the Holocaust. But we hardly heard a word about our own crimes, like the intentional destruction of residential neighborhoods of German cities, particularly by fire-bombing such as in Hamburg and Dresden, which killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people--primarily women, children, and old people, as military-aged men were mostly with their units and not at home. The Holocaust does not indeed make that OK.

As every child learns as probably the very first principle of morality--two wrongs does not make a right.

JE comments:  Every child learns this, but society has always struggled with it--blood feuds, Old Testament wrath, retribution, revenge served cold, eye for an eye, tit for tat...

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  • Selective Moral Indignation, Revisited (Tor Guimaraes, USA 03/23/17 1:33 PM)
    I completely agree with Tim Brown (20 March) that in many cases "ideologically selective moral indignation is profoundly immoral." Except when the moral indignation is really self-judging and in search of the truth, not seeking to place blame on anyone.

    The really unfortunate thing is that we humans throughout history continuously seem to be quite fond of showing indignation regarding their rivals' misbehavior while neglecting to control our own behavior and speech. As Cameron Sawyer correctly reminded us, "two wrongs do not make a right." Nevertheless, many talk and behave as if that were not true, only to compound the problem and contribute to a world with increasing social, political, economic dysfunction.

    Because two wrongs do not make a right, as Cameron stated, "just because American Indians wiped each other out from time to time, does not in the least make it OK that we wiped them out. Just because the Viet Cong committed unspeakable atrocities, does not make it OK that we carpet-bombed Hanoi and Haiphong in 1972, killing thousands of civilians."

    On the other hand, human atrocities seem to vary widely in terms of their human impact and abhorrence. For example, an atrocity where a group of millions of innocent productive citizens suddenly become the dictator's scapegoats, and are condemned to extermination, should be considered as a much greater atrocity than the incineration of the innocent inhabitants of an entire city from this same country which is engaged in total war and doing the same thing. Similarly, an atrocity where the world's militarily most powerful nation invades a backward Asian nation of farmers (fighting for decades for their independence from foreign invaders), uses their complete air domination to defoliate the hell out of the countryside, and carpet-bomb and napalm at will, is hardly in the same category with relatively focused cases of unspeakable atrocities by the enemy against its own people accused of supporting such an invader. Both sides are wrong, but these atrocities are clearly not equivalent.

    Contrary to Tim Brown and Cameron Sawyer's opinions, selective moral outrage seems justifiable in such cases.

    JE comments:  Should we place moral outrage directed at oneself or one's own nation on a higher moral plane?  Physician, heal thyself and all that?

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    • Selective Moral Indignation: Brazil and East Africa (Robert Gibbs, USA 03/24/17 3:04 AM)
      In Tor Guimaraes's post of March 23rd, he seems to be skipping the reality of Tim Brown's and others' critiques. War, slaughter, and genocide are not just occurring in, or a monopoly of, Western civilization.

      They are and were a part of every culture in the world, even his beloved Brazil--aside from the corruption, there is a slaughter and enslavement going on right now of Amazon basin Indians. Then there is the West African slave trade.  Yes it happened, and Western governments put an end to it in the costly and deadly anti-slave patrols in the 19th century. It is not an excuse, just a fact.

      There was also a very lucrative and deadly East African slave trade, which was in many ways deadlier to Africans than the West African slave trade. It is a trade that most scholars and others are completely ignorant of and never want to discuss. In some cases it is not allowed to be discussed. In West Africa, most if not all the slaves were prisoners of the various internal wars, and instead of killing them the warring tribe sold them. It is perhaps true that some of these wars were started to gain slaves for the West, mostly going to Brazil first. But in East Africa the Arab traders would raid villages (cutting out the middle-men and killing what they could not carry to the great trading posts of Madagascar and Mombasa made fortunes off the slave traded that sent slaves throughout the east after castrating the men and executing women who got pregnant. And least we forget, Saudi Arabia abolished slavery in 1962 and went for another form of slavery such as is practiced now on Filipinos and Bangladeshis to name a few.

      The thing is no one, but no one, wants to ever discuss (and some refuse to discuss) this nefarious traffic in East Africa.

      What I am arguing is in this world from atheists, Buddhists to Catholics--all of us have sins. So are sins only in the eyes of the beholder or years after the fact? Native Americans slaughtered European immigrants and the immigrants slaughtered Native Americans. It is not a particular Western phenomena. This is in the past and nothing can change it. Today we have the reintroduction of chattel slavery and only a very few bother to discuss it, let alone try to end it.

      So Tor, there are still places for you to demonstrate your indignity without going to the unchangeable past. You might even go to Brazil and try to protect the Amazon Basin natives? You know you could leave your comfortable surroundings and really do something and not just point fingers at safe targets.

      In the meantime you might also consider what Western civilization has given to the world. There really are values worth having. We may not be perfect, but we have done a lot for the world.

      Herodotus once observed that "if all nations of the world were to bring their sins to one spot in hopes to exchange them for others--once there they would be happy to return with their own sin."

      JE comments:  Or how about this one:  "Illness strikes men when they are exposed to change."

      Robert Gibbs is wrong that no one is combating modern-day slavery.  It just happens to be "Not for Sale" week at Adrian College, and our very vibrant chapter of this anti-trafficking group has been organizing events around campus.  Among other initiatives, they have raised money for a home in Thailand for children rescued from slavery.  Our chaplain, the Rev. Dr. Chris Momany, sponsors the group and has done much to keep alive the abolitionist spirit of the College's founding years.


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      • Righting the World's Wrongs (Tor Guimaraes, USA 03/25/17 12:00 PM)
        For some reason Robert Gibbs (March 24th) assumes that I don't realize "war, slaughter, and genocide are not just occurring in, or [are] a monopoly of, Western civilization. [And that] they are and were a part of every culture in the world."

        The misunderstanding is probably my fault, because I tend to use illustrations related to my adopted, beloved and most powerful USA, and my Western culture which has dominated mankind for the last many decades. I know we are not the only evildoers in the world, but we are in the best position to change humanity's stupid behaviors, to set a higher standard for mankind, to rise above all other past great civilizations by doing good, not evil. After studying the incredible rise and fall of Nazi Germany, it dawned on me that if Hitler had embraced science instead of mythology, peace rather than military conquest, humanity rather then racial superiority, so much misery, death, and destruction would have been avoided. Also mankind would probably have been much safer today colonizing other planets rather than wallowing in world mass misery and ignorance as we increasingly are.

        Robert is right that native Americans have slaughtered each other before we did, Genghis Khan was a nasty person, Africans were direct participants in the US slavery enterprise before white Americans killed each other over it, while the English fought against it. I have also heard that some Brazilian farmers have parachuted food to the Amazon Indians a few times, followed by explosives which were detonated to wipe them out. Yes, everyone should know that all cultures, organized religions, and countries have historically committed evil deeds. The sad thing is, despite our rosy self-assessments, we humans have not improved much in the last 10,000 years. Our capacity for destruction has grown dramatically but our self (personal, group, nation, culture, world) assessment, our discipline, our conscience, and our behavior seems to be getting worse.

        Last, I accept Robert's criticism: "So Tor, there are still places for you to demonstrate your indignity without going to the unchangeable past. You might even go to Brazil and try to protect the Amazon Basin natives? You know you could leave your comfortable surroundings and really do something and not just point fingers at safe targets."

        I admit to not having done enough to change the world except expressing my opinions. Indeed I don't know what else to do and am frustrated. On the other hand, I hope Robert is gracious enough to tell me what is his reaction to these problems. So Robert, how have you demonstrated your indignation about mankind's evil deeds? Have you ever left your comfortable surroundings and really done something?

        JE comments:  As an officer in the US Army, Bob Gibbs was a part of several UN and NATO peacekeeping forces.  He is a modest guy, so I'll speak on his behalf:  Bob has risked his own skin on numerous occasions to save defenseless people from certain slaughter.

        Tor Guimaraes gets me thinking, too.  What have I done to stop humanity's stupid behaviors?

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