Saturday, February 20, 2010

Agreeing with Terrorists



Here Neil Cavuto asks Scott Brown for his reaction to Joseph Stack's terrorist attack on the Austin TX IRS offices and the "crazy stuff" on the web page he wrote just before going out to (apparently) attempt mass murder, and Brown seems to be saying that it may have been an instance of the mass disaffection with the system that swept him into office. (For a more sophisticated statement of a similar idea, see this.)

Okay, he's put his foot in it, but his maladroit answer raises an interesting ethical issue: What should I think or feel if people who hold some ideas that I also hold do evil acts on the basis of those shared ideas?

I see two possible arguments here. One says something like this: Maybe these ideas caused that person to do that evil thing. Therefore, maybe I should not believe this idea, or express it too vigorously. It causes bad things to happen. Basically, this is what I call "the climate of hate theory." I think it is a very bad idea. Essentially, it is an argument against drawing conclusions that might make some people, who believe those conclusions, angry. It is an argument against drawing conclusions that imply there is something seriously unjust about the system you live in. It's hard to imagine an argument that is friendlier to established power, or more hostile to dissidence of every sort.

Ideas that radically dissent from the established order will tend to make people who accept those ideas angry. As a group of people becomes generally more angry, it becomes more probable that some nutcase will do something violent. So what? Is that a reason to stop radically dissenting? I say it is not.

The other possible argument would be something like this: Maybe these ideas would justify the bad thing that person did. Therefore, maybe I should not believe this idea, or express it too vigorously. It implies that things that are unjustifiable, are justified. This is a perfectly good argument. Obviously, an idea that would justify evil is a wrong idea: it has false implications.

If I hold ideas that would justify what Joe Stack, or the Unabomber, or Dr. Hasan did, then I jolly well ought to take another look at those ideas. Fast.

On the other hand, I am not per se responsible for the bad things that people who agree with me do.
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