About a week ago, I asked readers whether “We’re better than this!,” at the time being wielded like a club by Democrats to counter various Republican proposals to control, limit or cease the immigration of Muslims into the U.S., was a true rationalization that deserved inclusion on The List. The response suggested that most of you felt it was, and upon reading the responses, I agree. A rationalization is an invalid and dishonest argument used to advocate or defend questionable conduct. “We’re better than this!” fits that description, and thus I officially dub it Ethics Alarms Rationalization Rationalization#55, “The Idealist’s Delusion,” or “We’re/ You’re Better Than This.”
Like the other rationalizations, “The Idealist’s Delusion” may sometimes be fair and true, but it is still an unethical argument if there is nothing more substantive to back it up. Think of it as the reverse of #14. Self-validating Virtue, in which unethical conduct supposedly becomes ethical because the person doing it is deemed—usually by himself— incapable of wrongdoing. Rationalization #55 uses presumed virtue to claim that a potential actor is too good to do something…without ever making the case that the considered conduct is really wrong or unwise. #55 is a pretty neat trick, when you think about it: it simultaneously appeals to an individual or organization’s self-esteem while unilaterally declaring an objective, motive or methods demeaning. This relieves the advocate for avoiding the conduct in question of the requirement to make the case with more than vague declarations of principle. If #55 is effective, it can only be because those persuaded never engaged in critical thinking, asking and answering such crucial questions as what are the benefits of this proposed action, who will it benefit, what ethical principles does it follow or violate, and are the intended results worth the cost? The Idealist’s Delusion is a cynical tool to bypass ethical decision-making by assuming the result, and using ego and guilt to stifle objective analysis. As I wrote in the earlier post.
When “We are better than this” is followed by “because..’ and more substantive points, I have no objection to it, although “we should be better than this” is fairer. It can begin an analysis, but is not an analysis itself. However, when it is used as a substitute for analysis, it is pure rationalization.
I am also finally adding “Think of the Children!” to the list, as Rationalization #56, The Universal Trump. Continue reading