Comments Of The Day: “The Friday Ethics Alarms Open Forum” ( Forced Cultural Shifts Thread) [Corrected!]


This is really an Ethics Question and Answer of the Day.

Steve Witherspoon [ Notice of Correction: I erroneously attributed this to the wrong Steve, not that Steve-O-in NJ doesn’t also ask provocative questions. I apologize to Steve W, and thank Other Bill for the correction…] asked a provocative question in our last Open Forum, which is what the Ethics Alarms open forums are for:

When a large segment of a society wants to shift their culture in a very major way and in a way that has historically been widely opposed, is using propaganda and intimidation to “force” the desired cultural shift on a population ethical, in other words, when trying to shift culture does the ends justify the means?

Before answering, think about major cultural shifts in the USA’s history. A few examples of major cultural shift are when the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and the Constitution were written or when slavery was abolished or when electricity and phone lines were wired across the USA or when automobiles began to gradually take over the streets across the USA or when airplanes became common place or when the population began to shift from print media and word of mouth as their only sources of information to radios and then to televisions or the civil rights marches in the 1960’s. There are a multitude of examples of major cultural shifts in the United States.


When trying to shift culture, does the ends justify the means?

Commenter Ryan Harkins provided an excellent and thought-provoking answer:


Let me answer your question with another question: When did Christians acquire the most sincere converts?

When they lived a solid Christian life and were willing to die (peacefully) for their ideals, or when the Christians held the reins of government and could force conversions? As an anecdote to that, consider the problems that arose due to forced conversions of Jews in Spain. At a point in time when religious tensions wavered between tolerance and intolerance, when any district might see either Christian or Muslim rulers, depending on the year, Jews were pretty much tolerated. Once the Christians gained ascendancy in the mid-fifteenth century, with the Muslims mostly defeated (though the last Muslim stronghold would endure in Granada until 1492), sentiments turned against the Jews, and they were given the choice to convert or leave. Many Jews chose to convert, and gave rise to a body of Christians called Conversos.

The Conversos ended up holding much wealth, many high offices, and aroused a great deal of resent from “true” Christians. It did not help that the Conversos both retained many Jewish practices, and spoke of their own superiority because they were “blood brethren” to Jesus. And so sentiment turned against the Conversos. Local mob violence started to broil against the Conversos, and many were accused of heresy. The accusations and vigilantism grew to such a proportion that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella petition Rome to form an Inquisition. This Inquisition had the purpose of sifting out the falsely accused from the true heretics.

In a very real sense, the Spanish Inquisition started in the defense of the Conversos. But the Inquisition brought with it its own problems. While the Catholic Inquisitions were considered far more just and fair than secular courts, the accused often faced exceedingly long waits for their trial, and they could face torture to extract their confessions. The vast majority of the accused were acquitted, but again, the process could take years as the Inquisitors accumulated evidence, conducted interviews and interrogations, and finally assembled court for the accused to make a defense.

What can we make of this? I think the obvious conclusion is that when a party attempts to force a major cultural shift even on a minority population, it will breed a great many more issues than if the culture was allowed to shift based on good will, reasonable argument, and the willingness to walk the walk.

Forcing a change down the throats of the unwilling and recalcitrant will create a subculture of distrust. Can you really believe that someone has had a change in heart if they only profess the creed at gunpoint? The conversions could be real, but those who forced the conversion will always have to struggle with the grain of doubt, and in seeking for continual affirmation will likely drive wedges further until the culture breaks apart in violence.The only alternative is to suppress the dissidents, relegating them to second-class citizenry, shunned from all social places, or liquidating them as enemies of the state.

10 thoughts on “Comments Of The Day: “The Friday Ethics Alarms Open Forum” ( Forced Cultural Shifts Thread) [Corrected!]

  1. Interesting and enlightening exchange. Congratulations to you both for the CoTD.

    One great thing about this place is that so often, I learn things that I either never knew or have long since forgotten — no telling which — and that just adds additional value to my time spent here.

    The very best commenters are the ones that add value to a blog. As a person with almost a decade in charge of one, I well know how much I revered those who helped make the site not just entertainment, but an invaluable source of new bits and pieces of information that expanded the minds of our readers.

    Regarding the subject matter of the post itself, I doubt many on the Left have considered the potential consequences of attempting to force the opposition into capitulation and second-class citizenship with attendant ideologically-driven investigations, trials, and punishments. My feeling is that they have no compunction about it whatever, and are willing to suffer significant loss of life to achieve their goals. I could be wrong, and hope I am.

    I’m not sure we’ll find out anytime soon. The current makeup of the Senate, with a few Democrat senators not fully committed to destroying the institution and remaking it into a smaller version of the House, may permit cooler heads to prevail and prevent the apocalypse that many on the right fear. If that happens, two years is not enough time to do the kind of damage Democrats did in Obama’s first two years. Looking back, I think we can all thank God that Democrats were so feckless during that time, and that most of the damage they did do has been undone.

    The one thing that gives me the most hope is that parties who attain the most power always allow their reach to exceed their grasp and sour the public on their agenda.

    • Don’t know about that. If D.C. and Puerto Rico are admitted as states the Democrats will have a solid majority in the Senate for years.

      • True, but unless the Democrats are able to undo the filibuster, that’s not going to happen. That’s what I meant there in the beginning of the 5th paragraph, even though I didn’t say it explicitly.

          • He certainly has more power than he did before, but he’s not the only one. There are several others including Krysten Sinema and Jon Tester. Any one of them would be enough, and there are probably others.

        • Agreed. Puerto Rico has put US statehood to national referenda numerous times and each time the measure failed. Four years if Donald Trump’s presidency haven’t changed anything. Why would Puerto Rican’s want to join the Union? They already get most of the benefits of statehood without having the same obligations.


  2. As a graduate of Catholic schools, this perspective of the instigation, implementation and unintended consequences of the Inquisition is more history than I was taught. Thank you for the lesson. It reminded me of what we all know– if you don’t understand our history, we are doomed to repeat it. Given the deplorable level of education in our schools and universities, it’s no wonder we’re seeing history repeat itself.

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