By Popular Demand: Welcome Ethics Alarms Rationalizations #55, “We’re Better Than This!” and #56, “Think of the Children!”

Think of the Children

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

The Facile Fad Rationalization “We Are Better Than This,” The Democratic Candidates, And The DHS Deportations


I am trying to decide whether “We are better than this,” the suddenly resurgent short-cut around actual reason and analysis, deserves to be added to the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List.  What do you think?

All of the other sixty have broad, everyday applications, while this one is usually restricted to matters of public policy, which is why I hesitate to include it. On the other hand, it is a particularly insidious rationalization, and cynical too. It attempts to win policy debates by implicitly accusing any opposition of being beneath the advocate on the moral and ethical scales, while never actually offering a reason why the advocate’s position is superior and wiser.

The statement is also especially objectionable when it issues from partisans who normally deny the fact of American exceptionalism. They can’t have it both ways: either the United States is unique in its values, aspirations and accomplishments, and thus is “too good” to engage in certain policies that others nations don’t shrink from at all, or it isn’t. Choose your construct, hypocrites! When the acolytes of Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky and other habitual villifiers of our history, motives and culture—such acolytes encompassing a large chuck of the progressive community—say “We are better than this,” they should be laughed at, in the face, hard. Better than the genocide-mongering, racist, sexist, greedy, exploitative, arrogant colonial power that has impoverished the world? HA! Cannibalism isn’t better than the country you think we are. According to you, we’re not better than anyone or any thing.

There are policies that there is every reason to say the United States is better than. Prime among them is engaging in torture, which not only violates international treaties that we led the way to establishing, but also because it violates our founding principles. There are, in short, tangible and substantive reasons why the United States is “better” than the nations who torture our soldiers, and they can be articulated without resorting to bumper stickers.

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.

Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley started spouting versions of the Facile Fad Rationalization upon the release of  new report that the US Department of Homeland Security plans to raid and deport hundreds of families who illegally entered the U.S. through the southern border.  Note, please, that what is being proposed is called “enforcing the law.” Democrats and progressives have somehow managed to get away with arguing that while the United States “of course” should control its own borders, it is somehow inhuman, cruel and wrong to take action against foreign citizens who intentionally violate those laws that are intended to exact such control.

This is irresponsible, I dare say insane, but with the assistance of the news media and the collusion of business interests that love having fearful, low-wage workers they can exploit to keep costs down, the insanity is routinely extolled as compassion.  Adults who continued their illegal status in the U.S. long after discovering it and having ample opportunity to abide by the law (and leave) have been anointed with the lovely euphemism, “Dreamers.” (The definition of “Dreamers” is “illegal immigrants from childhood who have continued to defy the law, lie and pose as citizens due to a self-serving belief that they have a right to be here, when they don’t.”) Beautiful Dreamers! Continue reading