I have to get this one in before I forget.
In the interest of non-partisanship and fairness, I resisted the temptation to call 21A “The Planned Parenthood Excuse.” It was a close call, for it was a Planned Parenthood debate that made me realize that this rationalization was missing from the list.
Opponents of Planned Parenthood who want to see the organization defunded believe that abortion is morally and ethically wrong. In 2013-2014, Planned Parenthood performed 327,653 abortions. Arguing that this should not cause even abortion opponents to seek to defund the organization, its defenders inevitably argue: “Abortions are just a small part of what Planned Parenthood does.”
The Washington Post’s factchecker examined various claims about what proportion of Planned Parenthood’s activities involve abortions, which misses the ethical point entirely. If abortion is wrong, indeed unnecessary homicide in most cases, then it doesn’t matter what else an organization does in addition to 327,653 abortions, or what proportion of its total activities taking 327,653 innocent human lives is. “Abortions are just a small part of what Planned Parenthood does” is a ridiculous defense, except to those who believe that abortions are nothing to get upset about, and the equivalent of removing a polyp. That is not, however, the perspective of those who oppose abortion, so the argument isn’t an argument at all.
For someone who accepts that abortion is a legal but unnecessary and therefore unethical taking of life, “Abortions are just a small part of what Planned Parenthood does” is a pure rationalization: a lie that makes people feel better about their own wrongdoing, or the wrongdoing of someone else.
In the interests of not getting social policy mixed up with the rationalization, however, we’ll describe the new entry without reference to abortion.
Rationalization 21A. The Criminal’s Redemption, or “It’s Just A Small Part Of What I Am!”
21. Ethics Accounting (“I’ve earned this”/ “I made up for that”) holds that someone can eliminate or mitigate wrong doing by loading up the good side of the ethics ledger so that the bad side looks puny by comparison. Unless, however, those virtuous entries include measures to undo the wrong on the bad side and to make any victims whole, the imagined justification is just that: imaginary. Good people have no more leave to be unethical than anyone else, and nobody earns the right to be unethical without consequences.
21A resembles its parent by using unrelated activities as counterweights to clearly unethical ones. It’s delusion, however, is that unethical deeds shouldn’t be measured by their own content but by the proportion of an individual’s total activity they represent. Imagine a defense attorney arguing to a jury in a case where his client has been proven guilty of a single, calculated, gruesome murder. “Yes, my client killed,” she intones…
“But he is so much more than a murderer. Indeed, this single, admittedly horrible act is a tiny part of his life! He is 45 years old! He has been a loving son, a devoted brother, a faithful husband and a wonderful parent! He has been a community leader, a successful businessman, an animal lover, a donor to many charities! He has been a good and loyal friend to hundreds of people in this an other communities! He is an author, an inventor, a funny and clever companion who makes all around him happy. This one, single murder is an infinitesimal portion of who he is, the least representative portion of them all. It is unjust to judge him, indeed to disproportionately punish him, his family, and his community by preventing him from doing all the other things that characterize this 99.99999% good citizen and honorable human being, because of something that doesn’t fairly represent who he truly is.”
The response to this should be: baloney (but nice try, Counselor!). Murder is murder, and someone who commits it is a murderer, 100% The percentages don’t matter. Even Genghis Khan, Hitler and Mao spent didn’t spend the majority of their time killing, and so what? The fact that someone’s unethical acts don’t dominate their lives in terms of time, expense or dedication does not and cannot alter, improve or mitigate the unethical nature of the act itself.