“I am right, therefore …” or, A Heuristic for Detecting Pitfalls in Ethical Behavior

It is very easy to presuppose—implicitly and subconsciously—that one is right, unknowingly using that assumption to justify later claims.

Oftentimes we therefore fall into a fallacy of ethical reasoning where we assume, because we have the right position, that we are licensed to do actions that someone else—coming from the morally wrong position—is not permitted to do. We can therefore arrive at a heuristic for ethical reasoning: If an action’s moral right- or wrong-ness is determined solely by whether its doer comes from the ‘right’ or the ‘wrong’ position, then the justification for the rightness of an action is probably faulty.

This seems like a contrived pitfall, but is actually quite common:

In public shaming, we see this often. People find it acceptable to find someone’s personal information, track them, cost them their jobs, reputations, and cause their humiliation, because they feel that they represent the right side. Doxxing and public shaming seem to be morally wrong if associated with shaming Tyler Clementi to death, yet somehow acceptable to shame another private person on twitter for for being racist, homophobic, or sexist, as was the case with Justine Sacco’s unfortunate tweets. In reality, both are wrong.

In world conflict, this faulty logic is often the justification of unending cycles of violence. Those performing acts of terrorism in the West use the deaths of their countries’ civilians abroad as a justification to target and kill civilians in the west. From the terrorist’s point of view, the only thing differentiating their actions from the imperialist regime they claim to fight is that “We are us and they are them.—Since we are right, it is also right to …”

We see this in the Palestinian Israeli conflict. Rightist, Orthodox Israeli political parties believe it is right to expel or subjugate Palestinians, control the entire West Bank, and are okay with the many civilian casualties of the campaigns like the Gaza War. The basis for the Justification is that Hamas believes it is right to expel Israelis so that the entire land that constitutes the state of Israel is part of a Palestinian state, and are okay with civilian casualties as part of rocket or bombing operations. This is largely true; Hamas believes they are right and Jewish Home or United Torah Judiasm are wrong because… they are on the right side of the conflict. The same applies to either side.

Oftentimes indeed, one side of a conflict chooses to justify its actions towards another side solely because it presupposes that it is right. This is never an appropriate justification.

“I am right, therefore, I am right.” How unfortunate, but also, how inherently human.

In the west, thinkers and laypersons are getting over moral relativism. This is sometimes good, but also exposes new challenges. Indignation and self-righteousness are sweeping the internet. We condemn the conservative shaming campaign of Monica Lewinsky, but endorse the shaming campaign of Justine Sacco for her racist tweet. Conservatives shamed Lewinsky for her “lack of family values”, they viewed sexual modesty as a moral good and frowned on her impiety and acts of adultery. They labeled her a slut, a whore, and a tramp. Progressives will argue that these are bad reasons to shame someone. But unlike the conservatives, progressives often believe that casual racism and insensitivity are just cause for public shaming.

If you condemn one side for committing the same action you did, but justify your action with the fact that you decided a priori that you unlike others, actually represent the right side, then you are likely wrong.

What is the lesson here? The lesson is not to be a total relativist and never act against injustices we perceive, but rather, to seek further justifications, in hope that those justifications will inform our behavior and allow us to act with moderation.

Take Justine Succo for example. I argue that we should reject the naive argument that “unlike slut shaming, racism and bad and thus racist shaming is acceptable”. So now, we ask ourselves again: should we act? Sometimes, the answer becomes ‘no’. Sometimes, though, we now see real reasons to act behind the layers of indignation and revenge. If we allow racist speech to propagate, racism propagates, and becomes further embedded in our society, victimizing many. Therefore, we seek more enlightened ways to act: sometimes, we reach out to said person and offer to have a conversation; at other times, we decide to counter negative speech about one group with positive speech, or simply speak out to disagree (without personally shaming an individual), so that the public atmosphere is not polluted by these statements.

In international politics, it means stepping back from an “us versus them” mentality, and realize that our arguments are often 100% equivalent to “we should do X to the other side because they do X to us”—always a bad reason to justify anything. Maybe then we will advocate to more moderate or long-sighted policies, and put aside the very basic intuitive bloodthirsty retribution-seeking impulses.

Jordan and the Arab-Israeli Conflict

While Jordan engages in normalization with Israel, it does not engage in neutralization. Please, do not confuse the two; the feelings, emotions, views, and motivations of the Jordanian people and their leadership remain the same: in full support of the Palestinians, we discovered, however, that our pro-Palestinian message and efforts are best conveyed in an atmosphere of peace and dialogue.

This one has been on my mind for a while. The current political situation in the Middle East is one of the topics I’m truly interested in, and I’ve been writing numerous posts related to the issue. One thing that caught me attention was that I was addressing a lot of Arab concerns against Israel and its regime (which I firmly believe in), and in so forgot to address my personal concerns about Arabic politics when it comes to the conflict.

I also decided to write this after a long conversation I had with a friend (whose also Arab) who believes that Jordanian politics regarding the issue, especially the 1994 Wadi `Araba Treaty, indicates that Jordan (or the government/king) has – in a sense – betrayed The Cause and other Arab countries.

I think that’s a completely wrong approach, and I believe the truth is that Jordan is a pioneer in seeking peace, and a Just Solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Had other Arab countries followed Jordan’s footsteps in large, then Arabs would’ve done their part in promoting a just peace, and stability in the region would’ve been a much more probable reality.

Since I think such belief that Jordan went against the Palestinian Cause (and Pan-Arab Values, fraternity, and unity) is utterly misconceived on numerous levels, I find it hard to find where to start. This is why I’ll divide the post into separate arguments that will hopefully complement each other.

(The outline is basically as follows: 1: Jordan was not alone in pursuing peace in the 1990’s, 2: Jordan did not go against Palestine, 3: While Jordan has peace, Jordan is not a neutral nation, 4: Other Cases of Jordanian Commitment to the Pan-Arab Cause).

1) Jordan was not alone in pursuing peace in the 1990’s

King Hussein of Jordan had Middle East peace aspirations even before the war of 1967. That did not stop him, or the country, from being properly aligned with the Arabs in the war of 1967, where Jordan, lead by King Hussein, entered a full-force war against Israel, and lost a considerable amount of land from the West Bank, which, at the time, was part of the Kingdom of Jordan. (Many people have doubts about Hussein’s intentions in the 1967 war, these will be discussed in future articles). As a matter of fact, while King Hussein talked to Israelis (as did Egyptian, Lebanese, and Syrian officials), he only allowed such talks to translate into a treaty much later on.

While Anwar El-Sadat was alone in signing a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, King Hussein’s 1994 treaty happened in a different light that Arabs of today forget: Continue reading “Jordan and the Arab-Israeli Conflict”

Conflict in Gaza

As if an anti-humanitarian siege wasn’t enough, our peaceful neighbors have done it again, this time with a full-fledged war against the (people?) of the Gaza strip.

Israel – as any sovereign entity – has the right to exist, granted. Israel – as any other nation – has the right to defend itself, again: granted. But these two statements cannot justify an entire military operation with the magnitude of what is going on now, because they are irrelevant.

Is Hamas’s decision to fire al-Qassam rockets at southern Israel wrong? Sure it is. Does Israel have the right to defend itself from ‘attacks’? Yes it does. But: how can THIS be seen as a self-defense act?

From the ‘hundreds’ of Qassam rockets fired at Israel, only 3 Israeli civilians died. My deepest condolences to their families, really. But how can the death of 3 prompt a massacre being launched against Gaza? How can the death of 3 citizens justify the death of 915 from Gaza? Why is Palestinian blood being considered that cheap? Its normal for a government to value the lives of its citizens, but when 3 civilian lives are valued more than nine-hundred-something (and still rising) lives on the other side, something is unjust.

Israel isn’t attacking Hamas, its attacking the people of Gaza. Maybe it doesn’t mean to attack them – but the bottom line is: the people of Gaza are the ones suffering, so what is the point really?

Israel is breaking the Fourth Geneva Convention, which it ratified, because its military actions and hostilities are collective measures that fail to distinguish between civilians and militias (the “hostile entities”).

The head of the UNRWA in Gaza made an emotional televised appeal yesterday, I recommend you search for it.

And here’s a nice statistic: for every Israeli that dies (that is, including members of the Army), 71 Palestinians are killed by the Israeli forces in the Gaza conflict. When taking the entire Arab-Israeli conflict into consideration, Ehud Olmert states that – in 2008 – for every Israeli killed by Palestinians, 25 Palestinians were killed by Israel. TAKE THAT, Human Rights!