Danny Cardwell's picture

    Immoral Morality, Hyper Hypocrisy, and America's Denial of Domestic Terrorism

    Australian philosopher and Princeton professor Peter Singer developed a thought experiment in which he asked people if they would jump into a swimming pool to save a drowning child if it meant ruining a thousand dollar suit. Every person asked, without hesitation, answered yes they would jump in to save a drowning child. Then he asked the participants to send the thousand dollars they saved by not jumping in a pool to a charity that helps children dying overseas. This was a much tougher proposition. It’s hard to make sacrifices for people half a world away, harder when they pray to a “different God”, and even harder when they don’t look like you.

    When I watch television, read the comments section on websites, or read letters published in newspapers there’s one reason consistently given for not helping Syrian refugees: fear. I don’t care how articulate or inarticulate the arguments are presented; fear is almost always the central thesis. Fear is a reasonable response to trauma. We live in a dangerous world, but are we to driven by fear? Is it immoral to deny help to someone because of fear? Is it reasonable to be more afraid of terror half a world away than the terror in our backyard?

    I want to, in my own fallible way, demonstrate how we (Americans) focus more on terror threats abroad than the attacks we face at home. Paris made the world pay attention, yet with our eyes focused on the middle east and Europe we missed several terrorist provocations and attacks in our own country. The viciousness of the Planned Parenthood attack made us address a painful truth many in our country reflexively avoid: domestic terrorists are more likely to hurt or kill us than Isis.

    Since 911 cowardly American terrorists have murdered and shot almost twice as many innocent Americans than their middle eastern counterparts, yet we don’t obsess over this. We’ve become very skilled at explaining away the actions of our fellow citizens. We dismiss their cunning as mental illness, we say they’re loners- even when they act in unison, we systematically disconnect the string of politically and racially motivated shootings and murders over the last few years because not doing so would force us to admit we’re under siege by someone other than dangerous people from Mexico, Chicago, or the middle east.

    When Muslim Americans in Irving, Texas were greeted in front of their Mosque by a dozen well armed “Patriots” the terror they felt wasn’t plastered all over television. The young man in Fairfax, Virginia who planted fake bombs at a Mosque in Falls Church isn’t a household name. When five Black Lives Matter members were shot in Minneapolis last Monday night I had to look for information about the investigation because it wasn’t deemed worthy of media coverage. I’m convinced that a nationwide 90 day black out from politically driven, racially divisive cable news outlets and Yellow journalism websites would actually make some of our fellow citizens more informed than they are now.

    I understand how rational people feel compelled to intervene in traumatic situations facing them, but I can’t understand how the same people can use the same side of their brain to deny the carnage around them. The nine Christians murdered in a terrorist attack in South Carolina weren’t murdered by Muslims, The almost monthly ritual of school shootings aren’t being committed by illegal aliens, and it wasn’t thugs from Chicago pointing guns at federal law enforcement officers at the Bundy compound last year.

    Our cowardice and inability to talk, in an open and honest way, about these issues is telling. One undeniable proof of privilege is being able to avoid conversations that are uncomfortable or call into question your worldview. Every few weeks we see a breaking news story about children getting shot down like dogs in their classrooms, and all we get from our political class is an admission of impotence. They tell us there’s nothing we can do to stop gun violence in a free society, yet we’ve seen fast moving bipartisan legislation to slow down the refugee process for our Syrian brothers and sisters- who, by the way, are created in the image of our God. This kind of moral inconsistency doesn’t go unnoticed. As a nation I wish we were more John Brown than Jefferson Davis when it comes to affirming the humanity of a person, but I’m old enough for my wishes not to hurt me.



    I don't think the "$1000 suit" is a fair example.  Most of us couldn't imagine what we would wear that would prevent us from diving into water, mud, or anything else to save a drowning child.  Donating an equivalent amount to an unknown group to save a hypothetical child is different.  Here is why:

    Most places that show starving children, animals, or suffering in general ask us for donations, and many of them provide a very small portion of that donation to the victims portrayed in the films, radio announcements, etc.  

    I get at LEAST three or four emails daily asking me to sign my name to a petition that I completely agree with, or ask me to donate $3 to a cause that I completely agree with.  Once the petition is finished, I am asked to donate (and there is no way to even get out of the site without just exiting), or otherwise making me furious for the BS way that they are trying to scam me into donating.  After that, I get 4 MORE emails daily from each of these sites.

    I refuse to sign any more petitions on-line for this very reason.  I am sick of it.  

    And your "One thousand dollar suit" meme has the same stinky smell.  Forget it!  It is insulting to try to make people feel morally superior for knowing that they would  jump into a hypothetical pool to save a hypothetical child. And the challenge that they would not just fork out the money instead?  The whole concept is beyond simplistic.  No one else called this Aussie out on this?  Well, maybe there are a lot of people who are used to simpleminded parables.   Maybe no one else is sick of it, but I am.  

    I am not swimming in money and I have to choose where my donations go.  I refuse to be put on a guilt trip because I opt to give locally to those who I can see are in need and I can see that I help.  I also give to NGOs that I have looked into, and provide actual service, but it is important to check them out.

    That said, I am among those locally, who are trying to make a place for Syrians in our community.  I am hopeful that we will soon be able to welcome several families here.  


    I get your point here, and it's a reasonable one. No, the example Danny cited may not be the best one. But berating him for someone else's idea just because he used it to make a point isn't fair, C'ville.

    Just a thought ... try unsubscribing to those places sending the offending emails.

    Bare-footed, I was not in any way berating him for someone else's ideas.  It was those very ideas that he put in the first paragraph of his post, as though they had something for us all to learn from.  

    I simply made the point that it is rather simple-minded to give an example that he gave in order for us all to learn some lesson about how far we are all willing to go to help one another.  Oh, yes!  I would definitely jump in a mud pit with my Sunday best on to save a drowning child -- my point is that how many Sundays is he asking us all to donate  $80 - $100 for the "cause" just in case a child might get thrown into the mud pile?  

    And to my point about the offending emails -- sorry that went over your head -- every effing time I agree or sign a petition, I get at least 4 more emails, requesting more and more.  Are you able to multiply?

    I agree CVille. It was a very poor example, so annoying and stupid that it distracted me from reading the rest of the blog. And it was the first paragraph so it seems like it had some importance to him.

    I wonder how many participants actually had a $1000 suit. I don't even spend that much a year on clothes. I wear nothing but hand me downs and thrift shop clothes except for a good pair of hiking boots and socks.  Even my hiking boots are sometimes hand me downs. So yeah I'd jump into the water to save a child and it wouldn't even ruin the holely rags I usually wear.


    Well, I can ever so slightly manage to add the number of complaints about emails you've mentioned, but am still apparently too dim to understand why you can't manage your inbox.

    Cville I have no extra money and I receive the regular requests every damn day. ha

    I have also read that many charity organizations end up 'giving' ten percent of their 'gross'.

    And aint that gross?

    I will take some time to understand what Danny is writing about?

    I am hopeful that we shall find a place for the dispossessed. 

    WE own almost everything.

    WE have a duty.

    DDay. I never said we don't have a duty.  I just disagree that jumping into a swamp with our Sunday clothes on should be equated with anything else, because it strikes me as a childish, simplistic comparison.  

    Sp disagreeing with Danny means that I haven't taken the time to understand what he is talking about?  From what I have read of his writings, I think you are cutting him short; he is completely capable of letting us all know how he sees this.  But that is just my opinion.  

    I love your opinions Cville.

    I am not sure where you got the idea I don't?

    Anyway I shall attempt to read further.

    I do not even get his comparison!

    I do know this.

    We discuss many many things all the time and on this blog, I see little hesitancy to write about anything.

    CVille, your point is relevant. And Danny's post is excellent.

    Both of you support of charities or organizations you know are doing good work. So should we all.

    Peter Singer is a stellar example of an overly preachy holier than thou purveyor of frankly ridiculous 'moralistic' academic 'thought experiments'.

    Maybe this guy should work in some of the poorest districts in the nation or the world, and take note that what the people ask for usually doesn't come with a dollar sign attached. Ask a Syrian refugee.

    One of his most famous collection of thought experiments were in his 1999 essay "The Singer Solution to World Poverty".

    The title in itself summarizes his real or pretended ego/conceit, first that he knows there is a solution to the age old problem of poverty, and two, that he knows what the solution is. From the Solution to World Poverty essay:

    In the end, what is the ethical distinction between a Brazilian who sells a homeless child to organ peddlers and an American who already has a TV and upgrades to a better one —knowing that the money could be donated to an organization that would use it to save the lives of kids in need?

    His conclusion, buying a bigger TV is immoral. In America. I suppose folks in Brazil have fancy TV's too,  but he doesn't make moral judgments about those.

    Singer also has supported euthanasia of disabled children, without, however, saying who would qualify for it, or who would choose the victims.

    In the interview, which was ironically conducted as part of a press tour Singer is currently on promoting his new book about charities, "The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically," the professor advocated the shocking claim that health care laws like the Affordable Care Act should be more overt about rationing and that we should acknowledge the necessity of "intentionally ending the lives of severely disabled infants."

    My rule: Follow the advice of Danny or CVille, not guys from Princeton.

    Thanks for another excellent post.

    Carly Fiorina railed about Planned Parenthood killing babies to make profit by selling body parts. That was a lie. Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal appeared at a conference chaired by a pastor who advocates execution of Gays and views the deaths of abortion providers as righteous retribution. Ted Cruz received the endorsement of the guy who authorized the faked video tapes Fiorina cited. The Cruz supporter believes that a just government would execute abortion providers. None of these people will be blamed for the deaths at the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs. Think of what happens when police were stalked in killed in NYC and Texas. Black Lives Matter was implicated as setting the stage for the murders of the police.

    The rhetoric had been stirred up to the point of having abortion provider groups request that the DOJ CLASSIFY arsons and other attacks on abortion clinics be classified as domestic terrorism. This request was before the attack on the clinic in Colorado Springs. The Right has gone crazy and the mainstream media is treating them with kid gloves.

    Regarding the shooting at the protests in Minneapolis, the media response does prove that black lives don't matter. Literally zero coverage. As you are aware there was a Million Man March in August that received virtually no coverage by mainstream media. The protests against violence and crime in black communities are rarely covered. The media then criticizes blacks for not protesting urban crime. 

    The GOP demonized Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood was attacked at multiple clinics. The GOP demonized Black Lives Matter. Bill O'Reilly called BLM a hate group that he would destroy. Black Lives Matter was attacked in Minneapolis.If Democrats were setting a tone that led to attacks on Rightwing institutions, the media would be calling for Democrats to apologize. The media refuses to identify the GOP as an instigator of violence.

    I don't think it's that we don't want to help Syrians, or anyone else in the world, it's that most of us, if we have any money left over, are more likely to give it to those in need we know personally, or to causes in our own country.  The needs are endless right close to home.

    I understand your frustration about our seeming lack of humanity.  Besides all the incidences you cite, we're bombarded, for example, with the press's irrational celebration of Trump's head-long leap into fascism--as if we're watching a movie, with no cares once we leave the theater.

    Even after all the talk about that terrible shooting at Planned Parenthood I saw the publisher of the New Hampshire paper endorsing Chris Christie talking about why he is their choice.  The first words out of his mouth were about Christie being pro-life and promising to shut down Planned Parenthood clinics.  Oh, and he's the best choice to take care of Isis.  Taking care of all the evils, in other words.

    We do need to talk about our own home-grown terrorists, with the emphasis on why we let it happen.  It's more than just guns and mental illness, it's an entire culture, spurred on by a ratings-driven mainstream media, a rise in hateful old-testament religion, and the inclusion of rabidly anti-government "public servants" in local, state, and federal offices.

    I wish I could say I'm surprised at the insensitivity and outright cruelty from those people trying to keep refugees out of our country, but I'm not.   We have to work at eradicating hate and instituting  kindness--not just giving it lip service but actually making it our policy.  Sort of like it's supposed to be.  

    We're a mess, but you write beautifully,  Danny.  There's something to be said for that.

    Thanks Ramona!

    First, I don't own a thousand dollar suit. Second, if we progressives could get people as worked up about childhood poverty, inequality in the justice system, or jobs with a living wage as I apparently have by using a questionable analogy then we would be on to something. I tried to give a brief account of Peter Singer's argument. If someone feels compelled to publish work that negates his moral and ethical theories; there's a space for those criticisms. The greater issue, for me, is the lengths we, as a nation, go to dehumanize the other. Fear is powerful, masquerading fear as machismo is dangerous. When I write anything I accept the fact that I'm opening myself up to criticism. I can take it. I thank everyone who took the time to engage this post. Have a great day!

    Danny, I just want to say that I focused (to my own detriment) on that "suit" metaphor, and I missed the whole point of your excellent post. I have nothing to add to the points you brought up about the blind eye that so many maintain about the pain and misery (and carnage) around us.  I think the President has done a very good job of showing his utter disgust at the NRA and its lobbyists (otherwise known as Congress), but his hands are tied. If nothing happened after Sandy Hook, I don't know what it will take.  This mis-placed and hateful rhetoric against Muslims seems to me a slippery slope. 

    Thank you for writing this, and please accept my apology for going off on a tangent.

    Being able to avoid conversation is a privilege in the sense that many people can keep a distance from problems and contradictions, maintaining a gateway community of the mind. The avoidance can also be understood as a dysfunction; the presence of an absence.

    One indicator of the condition can be seen in the widespread acceptance of this statement by Margaret Thatcher (channeling Hayek):

    "I think we've been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it's the government's job to cope with it. 'I have a problem, I'll get a grant.' 'I'm homeless, the government must house me.' They're casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It's our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There's no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation."

    The passage has often been discussed in terms of the limits of political solutions but it is not primarily about that topic. The radical privacy expressed here does not merely advance the concerns and obligations of an individual above those of the "commons." The statement removes the individual as an agent beyond whoever he or she is able to influence personally. If one were to multiply this limited agent many by many times and force the result to live and work in close proximity to one another, the result would be a society of non agents who share the consensus view regarding their collective inadequacy.

    So the problems of domestic violence are not seen collectively as a matter of policy because the sources are individuals growing up inside of individual families. The society of non agents can recognize that many of those individuals and their families failed and since Society does not exist, who does that leave to blame?

    Case solved.

    For reactionaries, Society only exists when they have a problem. A reactionary legislator from the "heartland" can tell an urban legislator that there is not enough government money to pay for Hurricane Sandy, yet yell for aid if flooding or a tornado hits the good people of the heartland.

    Yes, the inconsistency of the reactionaries is all about selective use of the "commons."  But note how your example involves what is often described as an "act of God."  Problems involving how we make choices for our families and ourselves get treated a different way and not just by people of a particular political leaning.

    The privacy thing is not all bad. But it doesn't explain or propose options by itself. It is not self sufficient. The belief that it is sufficient is the problem.


    I agree that Islamophobia is a big part of our reluctance to harbor Syrian refugees.  But I think the fraught economic circumstances in which most Americans find themselves also plays a role.  So many of us are barely getting by.  Even though providing a safe haven to a few hundred thousand refugees would probably result eventually in a wealthier nation as waves of immigrants in the past helped enrich American, too many of us can't think much past our next pay check and the first of the month when the rent is due.  In such an environment, right-wing demagogues who appeal to our worst instincts thrive.  Thanks for an important post.

    That's a valid point. With jobs being so scarce. It's natural to wonder how we would deal with an influx of labor. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    Even though providing a safe haven to a few hundred thousand refugees […]

    The current administration is proposing 10,000 accepted refugees through 2016. They are, in part, children and elderly people - none of whom will immediately impact the native workforce. Then there's the obvious fact that even if all 10,000 were able bodied and hired, the effect would be negligible within the population at large. That's one of the reasons that the federal government (no matter the president) works with states throughout the union when integrating refugees/asylum grantees - spread them out.

    Do a few dozen families with even fewer eligible workers really impact a state's local unemployment?

    If democrats voice that argument, they're simply wrong. We know better.

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