A Facebook Case Study In How People Cripple Their Ability, And Ours, To Make Ethical Distinctions

I inadvertently stumbled over a provocative Facebook post by a friend of a friend of a friend. My friend is a principled and intelligent liberal: apparently I stumbled on to a chain where each link was a little more detached from reality and reason.

The stranger’s post involved the story from two weeks ago, in the aftermath of the collapse of a crucial  highway bridge in Atlanta. Investigators found the the collapse was caused by a fire.There were no deaths or injuries caused by the fire and the explosion it sparked , but i  severed the vital roadway that runs north-south through downtown Atlanta and carries 250,000 vehicles daily, City Fire Department investigators arrested three homeless people on suspicion of involvement in the fire. Eventually only one was charged:  Basil Eleby, a homeless man, was arraigned on charges of first-degree arson and criminal damage to property. He had many previous drug and assault arrests, according to Fulton County jail records.

To this my friend’s friend’s friend—his name doesn’t matter—responded,

Three people are now under arrest for the fire that led to the freeway collapse in Atlanta – 3 homeless people. I predicted this. But rather than seek out revenge on these 3 for the tremendous inconvenience they’ve caused, can we take a moment to realize that no person reading this has ever known the reality of sleeping under a bridge. None of us have been compelled to light a fire under that same bridge in order to keep our bodies warm.

And can we please have a conversation about funding mental health for the homeless? And can we please have a conversation, not based in shame, not based in revenge, about getting homeless people off the street?

Yes, these 3 folks have done something that has inconvenienced many people. Lighting that fire is something they have probably done countless times before. Can we take this as an opportunity to deal with the real problem? It gives me no satisfaction that the person charged with the worst of this situation will have his homelessness solved by a jail sentence.

Now, I’m sure this individual is a really kind, compassionate individual. I’m also sure he’s the kind of person who is always saying things like “Why is anyone going hungry in the richest country in the world?” to the vigorous head-nodding of his friends, and his friends’ friends. (I am willing to bet money that he was a passionate Bernie Sanders supporter; probably Occupy Wall Street too.) This kind of statement, however, is policy and ethics static. It literally makes people stupid, and leads them away from useful, objective, dispassionate analysis, not towards it.  It is an irresponsible Facebook post.

Of course, it is also flagrant virtue-signalling and grandstanding. Now everyone knows that this guy is oh so compassionate and such a good Christian, who rejects revenge, and wants us to apply the Golden Rule to the poor and the weak. Applause, please. Yes, you’re a wonderful human being. Unfortunately, thinking like this impedes policy solutions to problems, by simplifying them and dumbing them down into their most emotionally distracting components, while pretending that hard truths don’t exist.

Are the misleading components of this advocacy intentional? I don’t know. I see both types of social justice warriors: those who just don’t process the facts that undermine their leaps of faith, and those—journalists are the best example—who deliberately leave out the aspects of an event that undermine the sympathy, compassion and outrage that they are trying to spread. “Inconvenience, ” used twice, is certainly an intentional weasel word. How cruel we are to take away a poor man’s freedom because people were inconvenienced! The explosion, fire and bridge collapse could have easily killed people; that they did not is just moral luck. Hundreds of thousands of lives were and will be disrupted by the collapse. The cost of repairing it will be many millions of dollars, some of which could have been used for schools, hospitals and other important municipal projects. Describing it as mere inconvenience is deceit.

The writer also terms punishment for a crime with substantial consequences to the society as “revenge.” Is he really that ignorant about how laws work, or does he just object to the rule of law? Crimes involve penalties. As a member of society, we make a social compact to abide by laws, and to accept the penalties attached to their violations. Punishment isn’t “revenge”; those who describe it as such are playing cognitive dissonance games, or they are as ignorant as box of bricks. “Revenge” is unethical: if law enforcement is just revenge, then law enforcement is unethical. No, the reality is quite simple: if there are no penalties for breaking laws, then we won’t have laws, and society will be chaos.

“Can we take a moment to realize that no person reading this has ever known the reality of sleeping under a bridge”–What is the purpose of that statement? How does sleeping under a bridge compel someone to set a fire that brings down the bridge? Is the writer saying that law ‘s enforcement should be calibrated to punish poor people less severely for the same conduct that other citizens are punished harshly for? I’ve also never known the reality of using crack. Did the writer know that part of the story?  If he did, he is being willfully deceptive. If he didn’t, then he is trying to make excuses for the accused without bothering to find the facts first. The fire appears to have been started by crack-smoking, not the need for warmth. Even if it had been a fire set for warmth,  citizens have an obligation not to cause harm to others, and when we do, we are accountable.  The author seems to believe that those in need no longer have to be accountable or responsible, a common progressive delusion.

No, the author doesn’t really know what he is saying, implying or recommending. He just wants us to know how compassionate he is.

Then we have this cry in the wilderness:

And can we please have a conversation about funding mental health for the homeless? And can we please have a conversation, not based in shame, not based in revenge, about getting homeless people off the street?

I really slammed the guy for these sentences; he responded by taking down my comment—censorship and silencing is the way the Left wins arguments these days.

Sure, we have had no conversations about how to deal with homelessness and the mentally ill. It’s just a policy area nobody talks about or cares about. Let’s move past the fact that there is no evidence that the man arrested is mentally ill, though many homeless are. Let’s even ignore that fact that when a homeless man is paying scarce funds for drugs rather than shelter, clothes or food, he has made conscious choices that contribute to his plight. The Facebook Friend of a friend of a friend…let’s call him FFFF…just wants to call for these persistent problems to be fixed. Fix it! Fix it! FFFF has no constructive recommendations how to fix the persistent problems of the mentally ill or homelessness, but he is signalling that he is virtuous by demanding conversation, and everyone else has been negligent, apathetic, and cruel.

The legal, social, financial and Constitutional obstructions to addressing these problems are daunting, and thousands upon thousands of professionals, scholars, researchers, and policy makers devote their lives to trying to find some solution that is humane, affordable, practical, proportional, and that presents the possibility of long-term amelioration. How dare this clod imply with a few impulsive  key strokes that they have callously and irresponsibly ignored problems with such searing consequences to society, the individuals and their families?

His “get the homeless off the street” is the smoking gun of the whole lecture. What is he recommending? How is the jailing he deplores different in kind from coercive warehousing, which was the long-standing government treatment of the mentally ill that judges—mostly liberal judges— declared a violation of Constitutional rights when such citizens pose no clear threat to others or themselves? We’re supposed to be compassionate and understanding, and also stop people from living where they want to live. Lock them up! Don’t lock them up! Let them set fires under bridges, and be understanding when it causes a disaster! Fix it! Do something!

This is purely emotional venting, disguised as virtuous, compassionate analysis. It is impossible to objectively focus on complex problems when these so nice, so compassionate people frame them this way. It is not just incompetent public discourse, it is confusing, destructive and insulting public discourse.

40 thoughts on “A Facebook Case Study In How People Cripple Their Ability, And Ours, To Make Ethical Distinctions

  1. This guy has a broken moral compass and deceives himself about “the homeless” and the cause for their condition. It is true that the patient rights advocates in the 1970s pushed hard to close down mental hospitals as they were inhumane and people had legitimate concerns about psychoactive drugs that the mentally ill were forced to take. However, when they were released, funding was not provided for community mental health facilities to deal with psychotic patients and provide them with treatment. So many who didn’t have families to care for them wound up on the streets. In addition, a large number of the homeless were and remain alcoholics or street drug addicts. All these people have access to food stamps, free clothing, and many homeless shelters have been built and operate to serve the needs of these people. Many of the homeless don’t like to follow the rules in order to reside in these shelters so they are in effect, homeless by choice.

    • I would have been tempted to rant if I’d seen this Facebook post too. Skid Row in Los Angeles has been a never-ending Woodstock of homeless people (thousands of them) for 100 years. Downtown LA being prime real estate these days…believe me. If the combined forces of government, religious charities, private enterprise and science, in tandem, could solve that problem and “get the homeless off the streets” they would have done it. DECADES ago. If this clown had invested 30 minutes into reading a couple of the many, many articles about Skid Row (to say nothing of the books) he would have kept his fool mouth shut.

      People have dedicated their entire lives to trying to solve this problem. Thousands have opened up their homes to homeless individuals (odds of this Facebook SJW having ever done so: not favorable) and others have spent almost every night of their lives among the homeless, providing them with food and warmth.

      The LA Dream Center has a bed, a room and three meals a day (including rehabilitative programs to get you into the work force) if you’re willing to kick drugs and stop sleeping in a tent on the sidewalk (spoiler, most of them are not willing.) The city has tried everything, including rounding them up and jailing them (turns out that’s not Constitutional.)

      How about converting old military housing into free homes for the homeless an offering to take them there and situate them? Been tried. Turns out Skid Row folk don’t want to live inland. They want to live on Skid Row. Many of them also don’t want to abide by the rules of non-homeless society. And it’s not legal to force them at gunpoint to live in a house.

      That is why it’s so maddening when someone says, “When Are We Going to Have a Conversation?” There’s been a conversation going on since Jesus walked. You just didn’t know about it because useless people with no ideas or contributions weren’t personally invited to the conversation.

  2. Not germane to this, but being that the author’s points are at leas as irrelevant, I wonder if he knows the etiology of the term “skid bid”? It’s now used to describe any relatively short-term prison sentence, but it was originally used because of an annual phenomenon. Every Winter in the colder parts of the US, the jail population skyrockets due to homeless people looking to trade hunger and coldness for “3 hots and a cot” by committing petty crimes. Judges tend to be hip to it, and will often adjust their sentences to keep them in at least until early to mid-Spring.

    • Connecticut closed all but one of its long-term inpatient mental health facilities, and most of these people, thousands of them, are now warehoused primarily at Garner Correctional Institution.

      • Not this best place for them although the alcoholics with repeated DUI belong there. Btw, a certain percentage of homeless druggies and alcoholics own cars and vans which they sleep in. Where do they get the money for gas you ask? The answer is making a bum sign and standing in freeway off ramps holding it. The other possibility is exploring the possibities for theft. Many of these people have no intention to work or get vocation training if they need it.

  3. Look, blaming the homeless for being homeless is disingenuous. WE,/b>are responsible for many of these guys, because our Mental Health Codes found them to be victims, and booted them out of State supported hospitals. Why? Because their basic human rights were being violated…they were being incarcerated without ‘due process’ and they were being forced to take medications to which they had not given consent (court ordered), they were kept in locked wards (“back” wards) and were not being treated like “productive members of society”. Well, guess what…they AREN’T productive members of society. They are, in fact, the mentally ill, the unable to cope, the lazy, the drug-addicted, the non-functional alcoholic and many other “Non-dangerous” diagnoses. These folks are, in fact, a danger to themselves, because they do NOT possess the skills necessary to survive in this society. Thus, they are, in fact, a danger to themselves. I have no idea what the eventual solution to this problem should look like, but kicking these lost souls out, into the streets, with no hope nor any relief in sight, because we are protecting their “RIGHTS” is inhuman in the extreme. I hope we fix THAT soon, but we probably won’t. After all, we must be compassionate, we must protect their rights…to die, uncared for, unloved and unlamented.

    • The mentally ill I have more compassion for although they frequently will stop taking their meds when they are out on the street. It was a lousy idea to close down mental hospitals without having a strong system of community support. Reforms were need such as prohibiting electoconvusive “treatment”. As far as alcoholics, some suffer from depression and anxiety disorders. Others are more likely to be sociopaths.

  4. There are already programs to house homeless people, with no strings attached. In addition to the ethical arguments for it, it is a practical monetary investment because it prevents them from requiring hospitalization. There’s no shame, and everyone wins.

    Can we have a conversation not based in shame about having a conversation not based in shame?

    Also, am I the only one who is wondering why there was enough flammable material under the bridge to bring down the bridge? Did the guy drill a hole in a gas line, or what? How did he set fire to asphalt and concrete by accident?

    • I am glad you asked the questions about how the fire started. Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that the homeless guy started it while smoking crack. How did it go from a glass pipe to a full-on conflagration, with enough heat to cause a huge section of a concrete road to collapse? I simply can’t wrap my brain around that part of the story. I saw the flames in the newscasts. How did that happen?


      • …I heard (read) that it was a lot of PVC pipe that was lit, either stored there unwisely, or parked on a truck temporarily. I have not heard this confirmed.

        If it WAS PVC Pipe, terrorists do not need bombs to cripple a city… and THAT is frightening to me.

      • It is possible that the ‘heads’ in Houston are richer than San Antonio, but I doubt it. Down here, crack is a rarely-afforded luxury, for most Mad Dog 20/20 and pot. However, I have no problem with a ‘camp-fire’ type fire that got out of hand. They are fairly common. But, I know literally nothing about the Atlanta homeless population.

  5. I had this discussion, briefly, yesterday on the page of an artist “friend” on fb who I still keep around because, unlike a lot of performers who are Bernie-or-bust liberals and often quite rude about it, she has principles and is not a mindless liberal down the line (pro-life, notably). She reacted with somewhat understandable horror to the strike on Syria, since she’s generally opposed to conflict and the taking of life, but at least listened respectfully when two of us explained the underlying politics and policies and why this was a necessary and proportional military action, taken to both deal with an emerging problem and send a message, also known as “gunboat diplomacy”. One of her friends of course challenged us and started going on about the military-industrial complex and how Trump owns stock in Raytheon (the company that supplies the US military with cruise missiles) and was launching a war for profit, and said the only way out was to apply diplomatic pressure. I went on her page and it was all drugs and anti-Trump and Occupy stuff. Why even bother?

    As I have often said, I have appreciation for principled peaceful people, but zero respect for those who confuse peace with conspiracy theories, hatred, and mindless opposition to everything the supposed pro-military party stands for.

    • Uninstitutionalized people really are claiming that Trump launched the attack for personal enrichment? (It is true that his incurable conflicts open the door for such paranoia, but still…) When does this truly edge into clinical territory? When does the magical thinking that “diplomatic pressure” will have the desired effects start waning in the face of the overwhelming evidence that it usually doesn’t?

      • Too often artists have lots of passion, lots of creativity, but very little practicality or understanding of the real world. Magical thinking will probably stop when would-be Bob Dylan’s stop husking “Blowing In the Wind” to twanging guitars and John Lennon wannabes stop plunking out “Imagine.”

        • To be fair, Bob’s song just says that there are no answers to those eternal questions, that the answers are elusive and ephemeral. John, who had neither Bob’s acumen nor subtlety, suggested that “the world as one” was not just a dream, but an achievable reality if everyone would “join us.” Bob is and was a truthteller; Lennon was an classic leftist sap.

            • Nope, I was wrong. There is a connection, though: “In his sleeve notes for The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991, John Bauldie wrote that Pete Seeger first identified the melody of “Blowin’ in the Wind” as an adaptation of the old African-American spiritual “No More Auction Block/We Shall Overcome”. According to Alan Lomax’s The Folk Songs of North America, the song originated in Canada and was sung by former slaves who fled there after Britain abolished slavery in 1833. In 1978, Dylan acknowledged the source when he told journalist Marc Rowland: “‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ has always been a spiritual. I took it off a song called ‘No More Auction Block’ – that’s a spiritual and ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ follows the same feeling.”[7] Dylan’s performance of “No More Auction Block” was recorded at the Gaslight Cafe in October 1962, and appeared on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991.”

              • Interesting. I had never interpreted Bob’s song to suggest that there are no easy answers to life’s eternal questions, rather I thought “blowing in the wind” meant that the answers were in the idealistic movement of the time he was performing in. The interpretation that the answers are elusive at best, ethereal at worst, and simply “blow away in the wind” certainly does make sense, though, and is a bit more of an answer everyone can relate to. Pete’s equivalent, based on an old Russian song that I think was referenced in the novel “And Quiet Flows the Don,” is also a bit more realistic, talking about the cycle of love and war and when will it be broken.

                I see we all agree that “Imagine” was lefty fiction. Despite all the feel-good kid stories out there, neither a song, nor a story, nor a romance ever brought an end to a conflict. I’m no warmonger, and I don’t think the world would be served well if America led it into repeated conflicts a la Tom Clancy or Larry Bond, but to lead it back into the 20s and 30s, where the West wrote peace pact after peace pact while Italy and Japan and the USSR got aggressive and Germany rearmed would be idiotic.

                • As I’m sure I’ve hinted more than once, “Imagine” drives me nuts, and symbolizes the intellectual flabbiness of the 60s as well as dreamy-eyed liberalism. It’s Give Peace a Chance, Make love, Not War, “Can’t we all get along?”, pacifism and Utopianism all stuck together by spit and sappiness and rotting Hallmark cards.

                  The purveyors of this ignorant brain-pablum elect irresponsible demagogues as leaders, live by the “just one life” rationalization as a guiding light, and generally make competent and clear-eyed policy debate impossible. If they had their way in the 40s, we’d be speaking German today and Jews would be in Natural History museums next to Giant Ground Sloth.

                  • You have in fact hinted at it more than once, although I’d call it intellectual bankruptcy, not flabbiness. There is room in this world for ideals, but, contrary to another saying, it is NOT better to shoot the moon, thinking that if you miss you will land among the stars. There is a very real chance you will come to grief. Anyone who bothers to read the history books knows that great times of peace never last and frequently come crashing down when people start taking things for granted, and anyone who knows Greek knows that utopia doesn’t mean “the perfect place,” it means “no place” or “the place that is not.” Anyone who reads the history books also knows that the truly ruthless can’t be stopped by diplomacy or ideas, the examples are too many to even begin to discuss. Anyone who gives the history books more than just a passing glance knows that even times like the 1960s and the end of the Raj were not some rosy, happy era where love, happiness, and peace won out over an authority class that just couldn’t pull itself out of its repressions. Unfortunately, it’s a little hard to read your history, leave alone understand it, when you’re nodding off, drifting about stoned, or devoting your waking energy to getting into some coed’s panties.

  6. I’m glad to see this discussed again, as it has been before, and what I mean by “this” is the abuse of social media for virtue signalling, “safe space” and echo-chamber creation. As Jack says, it makes people dumber.

    Social media has created a virtual “safe space” where this sort of mindlessly emotional commentary can fester like the infection it is. I propose no cure, because I believe there is none. We can’t ban private companies from providing fora for discussion, we can’t police said discussion and still support the free exchange of ideas, and shouting it down is an exercise in self-cathartic futility.

    But the rise of social media — and Donald Trump’s abusive use of it is a perfect example — has been a major player in the polarization of the country. We now, on all sides of the political spectrum, and even those out there who would aid and abet terrorism, have our safe spaces on social media to where we can retreat for “safety” instead of engaging the big, bad, evil opposition. And we can enforce said safety by turning off opposing voices on demand.

    Is it any wonder students, whom you can mostly see with phones inches from their faces at all times except during sleeping and feeding time, are demanding real “safe spaces” to match their virtual worlds? It makes perfect sense to me.

    Then there is the abuse of shouting down and demanding employment and legal consequences for those who use social media to take unpopular positions. This has had the effect of driving “nonconformists” out of that arena, or caused them to self-censor, emboldening the conformists not only to use more and more dramatic shame attacks, but to cease evaluating their own ideas and actions and see them as the revealed truth.

    Where will this all end? Chaos. (Yes, I’ve said this before).

    • I’m thinking civil war. When you stop talking to your opponent and don’t try to find some common ground, it’s inevitable.

        • Well, Usenet could be an echo chamber. It’s quite a bit different, as it lacks graphics (other than the groups sharing photos) virtually everybody’s anonymous and in some cases, it’s unmoderated, some cases moderated. Usenet drew mostly people at least marginally informed about the subjects under discussion, and definitely wasn’t for everyone like the social media platforms are.

          Different beast, and a much different experience. I used Usenet from the late 1980’s to the early 2000’s.

          Internet Relay Chat was a kind of Twitter precursor, although it was also a very different experience, and definitely not for everyone.

          • …and the flame wars made anti-Trump demagogues look like amateurs.

            Usenet drew the informed AND opinionated (like me) who were highly educated (in a time when that meant something) and willing to discuss ANYTHING… usually in the middle of the night 🙂

            Woe betide the Usenet commenter who was under the influence while commenting, too! (unlike social media today)

            • I learned much from Usenet.

              Christopher C. Morton, who was a frequent commenter on talk.politics.guns, greatly influenced my political views.

            • Usenet was something I remember with some fondness. And you’re right, if you go off on a tangent or type something without building in disclaimers for lack of information or failed to do at least minimal research, you’d get pounced on relentlessly. I remember repeating a hoax once after a hurried search. Brutal.

              With Twitter, the hoax would actually get worse. Usenet made you never want to go there again. 🙂

    • As it happens, there is a cure, but it doesn’t come from the government. The government can only redistribute resources (organization) and create rules (semantics). Many people, mostly liberals at the moment, seem to be pushing the government towards making everything they consider wrong illegal, and making everything they consider right mandatory. They’re trying to use semantics to do things it doesn’t do well, and they’re running into pushback from people who are actually considering or experiencing the consequences.

      The cure is twofold. First, perception mindset (analysis and synthesis) must be used to identify the questions that aren’t being asked and come up with ways of answering them. Second, empathy mindset must be used to lead people to care about those questions and feel comfortable listening to other perspectives.

      One particularly effective trick with empathy mindset is to call out as many points of agreement as possible before asking critical questions. You might have to dig back a little, but those points exist, and hearing them stops people from writing you off due to cognitive dissonance. The more similar to themselves they see you, the more they will desires your validation of their opinions.

      Once you have their attention, you can pose the questions they have neglected to ask, while affirming that you’re not going to pounce on them if they don’t have a good answer. People are much more likely to admit they’re wrong if they don’t fear the consequences of doing so.

      These skills take practice, but I find they’re well worth making into a habit.

      • …Once you have their attention…

        I fear you never get their attention in the first place. They have to WANT to be where you can talk to them, and there has to be some outside reason they would want to be there (this approach works in office meetings or small scale local government, for instance) but I have found this not to be the case for the progressives I presume you wish to educate.

        Your methodology looks remarkably like Project Management taught people skills for use on hostile stakeholders 🙂

        • I admit I don’t habitually travel in circles that bring me into contact with many irrational people. However, if you do want to reach them, the trick is to not only find them, but enter through the right door, metaphorically. The context through which they view what you say and do is of paramount importance. If you start out by affirming your agreement with the values they care about most, disagree with them in an unexpected way, and then propose an unexpected solution to help them get what they want, they tend to be intrigued enough to listen.

          I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Project Management taught this sort of technique. It’s highly effective.

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