Sunday, October 23, 2016


I got into an impromptu Facebook debate over this quote:

To vote for Trump as the lesser of two evils is as much to say as there are circumstances under which you would vote for Hillary. She is an utterly corrupt politician, true enough, but anyone who thinks we couldn’t get a worse set of choices hasn’t read very much history. How about Hillary vs. Vlad the Impaler? We have gotten down to this atrocious choice because we have been following the “lesser of two evils” strategy for more than a generation.

Some NeverTrumpers are making the same mistake as Trumpkins in reverse. Just as Trumpkins redefine principles to support Trump, some NeverTrumpers are now at risk of redefining principles to oppose Trump.  

It's one thing to argue that choosing Trump over Hillary represents a misapplication of the lesser-evil principle, another thing to reject the principle altogether. To repudiate the lesser of two evils in principle leads to moral paralysis. Leads to positions like pacifism.

Steve Hays Actually, Vlad the Impaler saved his country from Muslim conquest and subjugation.

Christopher Wood That's like saying Dubya saved America from Muslim terrorists.

Steve Hays Your reply is an argument from analogy minus the supporting argument. What do you actually know about the history of Rumania in relation to Islam? Do you deny that Vlad repelled the Muslim invaders?

In what sense did Vlad "stir" them up? He didn't provoke them to invade Rumania. The Ottoman Turks were aggressors. Anyway, you're using my comment as a pretext to attack Bush's foreign policy, That has precisely nothing to do with my original comment. And, no, I don't agree that America stirs up terrorism. I do think the Iraq war was a miscalculation, and while the Afghanistan war was just reprisal, the nation-building component was a boondoggle. Again, though, that's all irrelevant to my original comment.

"It's not irrelevant, it reveals your position. You seem to think that 'they started it' is a reasonable defense."

A reasonable defense of what? If Ottoman Turks attack Europe, Europeans have the right to counterattack. Yes, it does matter who started an unprovoked war of aggression. 

If an armed burglar breaks into my house, I have the right to kill him. Yes, it makes a difference who started it. Sorry if that rudimentary moral distinction eludes you.

Perhaps you think the Ottoman Turks were peacenik vegans who wore love beads and Nehru jackets until Europeans "stirred them up."

"'Miscalculation' is a great euphemism for something that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians."

Since I'm not defending the Iraq war, I have no need for euphemisms. Of course, prior to the Iraq war, there were constant complaints about how the UN sanctions were killing innocent Iraqis. 

From what I've read, most of the civilian causalities in Iraq were inflicted by the "insurgents," not Coalition forces.

Speaking of which, it wasn't just an American operation. For instance, British forces made significant contributions to the war effort. Is it chauvinism that prevents you from making Tony Blair share some of the blame?

"And I suppose you think the regular drone bombings with their associated 'collateral damage' are also justified?"

That's obtuse. Since I said at the outset that I don't support the Iraq war, it follows that I don't think drone bombings in relation to the Iraq war are justified. 

Or were you referring to drone attacks in general? Just about every war has collateral damage. Drone attacks didn't create collateral damage for the first time in military history. So unless your a pacifist, what precisely is your objection? 

Collateral damage is justified if the war is justified, and collateral damage is a necessary side-effect of prosecuting a justifiable war. So the real issue take us a step back to whether the war in question is justifiable, and not the incidental, but inevitable consequences of said war.

"I'm sorry if the rudimentary moral distinction between self-defence and war eludes you."

That's simple-minded. Try to wrap your head around the principle of a common defense. Self-defense often requires people to pool their resources. So to posit a disjunction between war and self-defense is a false dichotomy. Any other logical fallacies I can help you with?

"Yes drone attacks in general, the US has been striking many countries in addition to Iraq."

So you're actually not talking about drone attacks in general, but US drone attacks in particular. 

"but so far as I know, bombing civilian targets has never been shown to be an effective strategy."

Tell that to the Japanese.

Moreover, you somehow treat collateral damage as synonymous with targeting civilians. Thanks for illustrating your basic conceptual confusions.

"Bombing military installations, airfields, and production is quite different to assassinating families or bombing schools and hospitals."

That overlooks the use of schools and hospitals as human shields. Something Muslims in Israel routinely do (to take one example).

"Are you really saying Vlad's violence was all justified, incidental and inevitable?"

If that's what I was really saying, you could simply quote me saying that. If you have to ask, then the question answers itself.

"War is simply common self-defence only in ideals, not the real world."

Except that you deny that you're a pacifist. So where does your dichotomy between self-defense and common defense leave you? Are you saying self-defense is moral, but common defense is immoral? Yet you apparently grant the necessity of common defense in some situations.

"US is just the most prolific example (by far)."

You still don't get it. The question at issue is whether you reject drone attacks in principle. 

"There is little doubt that Japan was going to surrender even without the city bombing."

What was the incentive to surrender? Fear of invasion from the US or Russia? That would have resulted in massive civilian casualties.

"Granted it may have taken slightly longer, but that doesn't justify the massive loss of life."

You suffer from persistent inability to keep track of the argument. I didn't comment on the morality of nuking Japan one way or the other. Rather, I responded to your allegation that "so far as I know, bombing civilian targets has never been shown to be an effective strategy."

Whether or not nuking Japan was justifiable is a separate question from whether that was an effective strategy. You need to acquire the mental discipline to follow the argument and stick with one issue at a time. 

From what I've read, Nagaskii was a secondary target. The primary target was Kokura, which had greater military significance. However, it was cloudy over Kokura when the bomber arrived at the site, so they fell back on Nagasaki.

"No, targeting civilians is often called 'collateral damage'"

Often called by whom? By people who don't know the conceptual distinction? 

"Whether a case of 'we bombed these houses because we thought a target was in them' or rules of engagement that encourage firing on non-combatants."

Typically, an ethical distinction is drawn between intended harm and foreseen harm as an indirect, but unavoidable effect of doing good. 

"So if someone uses your family as human shields, you think it's simply justified to kill them?"

Try to keep more than one idea in your mind at a time. The answer depends in part on which side of the conflict is in the wrong.

"Then you should take back your statement about 'the incidental, but inevitable consequences of said war."

Which, once again, illustrates your failure to grasp the distinction between targeting civilians and collateral damage. "Targeting" civilians is a term of art. Pay attention to the ethical distinction I drew a few sentences above.

Just war theory maintains a distinction between combatants and non-combatants. I was talking about the loss of life of Japanese civilians."

i) I haven't framed the issue in terms of just-war theory. I haven't used just-war terminology. Rather, I've talked about what's "justified" or "justifiable". 

ii) Since I'm not Roman Catholic, I don't regard just-war theory as morally authoritative. It makes sense for Catholics like Elizabeth Anscombe and Germain Grisez to espouse nuclear pacifism because they treat just-war theory as dogma, but that's not my framework. I'm Protestant. 

iii) The distinction between combatants and noncombatants is often ad hoc. Is the guy who flies bombers fair game, but they guy who builds bombers off-limits? Just defaulting to the combatant/non-combatant false dichotomy is morally frivolous. We need a more fine-grained analysis.

On the face of it, your position is morally incoherent. On the one hand you deny that your'e a pacifist. On the other hand, you seem to repudiate the permissibility of collateral damage.

i) There are situations where harming the innocent is unavoidable regardless of what you do or refrain from doing. Either you will harm them or you will permit the enemy to harm them, because you refuse to intervene.

ii) Given that forced option, it is permissible to harm some innocents with a view to saving other innocents. 

iii) You should minimize the harm done consistent with doing good. 

Put another way, There are situations where an agent performs an action that has two effects: one good and one bad. Moreover, inaction on the agent's part will have a bad effect, without the compensatory good effect.

The action may still be licit provided that the intended effect desired by the agent is good while the bad effect is merely foreseen, and not intended.

An advantage of inflicting harm yourself, rather than leaving it to the enemy to inflict harm, is that you have more control over how, where, when, and to whom the harm is inflicted. You can be more discriminating than the enemy, and minimize the harm, or mitigate the harm the enemy would do.

If you reject that principle, you need to explain why you're not a pacifist.

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