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Rationalizing Ethics

Recently, I have been saddened and outraged by the attacks in Paris upon innocent citizens. But as I write this blog, I am struck by the fact that we differentiate “innocent” from what? Guilty? Non-innocent citizens? Who are they?

There is certain ugliness in projecting our pain and fears onto those we consider “others”. Philosophers have been analyzing this phenomenon for thousands of years and still find paradoxes in human behavior. We, as sentient beings, tend to ostracize those who we do not perceive as one of us. However, often they are not one of us merely because we don’t know them personally. We continue to apply these rationalizations in our “conflicts” and wars. It became particularly heinous in WWII when the U.S. government chose to “quarantine” Asians and their decedents in internment camps right here in the United States of America! We, as a nation, now universally agreed that this was a shameful thing to do.

The condition we tend to associate with this kind of alienation becomes a rationalizing trap. There are myriad ethical fallacies that we apply to justify our biases and more disturbingly our prejudices in our rationalizations. (SEE for a listing of 15 excuses for doing something “dicey”.)

I’d like to say I was proud of our legislator’s response to the Paris attacks fulfilled by individuals and groups who think they have been persecuted as well. But tragically the perpetrator’s response to their own persecution is, in turn, to continue the persecuting and punishing—a vicious and unending cycle.

This leads me to the concept of safety. Shouldn’t we prevent others (namely refugees) from crossing our borders and possibly conducting another horrific attack we label as terrorism? Why not make SURE those people are not getting in? But the question that seems to forever be unanswered is—should we protect ourselves at any cost? I think not, my dear readers.

“If we sacrifice freedom for safety then we don’t deserve either.” (Benjamin Franklin)

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