We have talked about the empty grandstanding nostrum “Do something!” here quite a bit: there is even a tag for it, introduced in 2016, when the best the House Democrats could come up with to satisfy their anti-gun base that time around was a juvenile sit-in to demand suspension of the Fifth AND Second Amendments. Then I wrote,
The public debate over the various proposals to “do something!” about mass shootings is as depressing as any discussion I have ever participated in. The willingness of gun opponents, Democrats, journalists, pundits and otherwise intelligent people to not only defy the Bill of Rights guarantee of due process but to literally ignore its existence shows how close the stinking breath of totalitarianism is to the neck on our nation, and that it is much hotter than I realized. This isn’t an exception or an anomaly. This is a result of carefully bred contempt for American values.
The intense ignorance crossed with malice toward our Constitution reached a climax of sorts today on social media, as people who should know better (and people who do know better, like erstwhile Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren) applauded the cynical and hypocritical “sit-in” by House Democrats, who said they would hold their breath until they turned blue unless the Congress of the United States voted to allow the government to take away the rights of citizens based on “suspicion.” Only rationalizations can defend this position, primarily among them “The Saint’s Excuse,” or “It’s for a good cause,” “It” is this case meaning..
- Accepting the ethically and morally bankrupt principle that “the ends justify the means”
- Setting a precedent for allowing the government to abridge any rights it chooses once by some standard it finds a law-abiding citizen “unworthy”
- Enacting a provision that the ACLU has pronounced unconstitutional
- Establishing the principle that the Congress can and will abandon the rule of law as long as enough members of the public and media let emotion overcome reality
- Lay the groundwork for a President, like say, just to pick a crazy, impossible example out of the air, President Trump, who is as ignorant of the rule of law as the position’s supporters, to really start ripping up the Bill of Rights, beginning with Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Association.
To put it another way, it’s a really, really stupid and indefensible position.
But that’s “Do something!” That’s’ where it gets you.
For some reason, however, I didn’t realize then that not only is “Do something!” bolstered, enabled and pointed to by many rationalizations [ Among them…“I’m on The Right Side Of History,”“This can’t make things any worse,” “Just this once!,” “It’s for a good cause,” “If I don’t do it, somebody else will,” “There are worse things,” “I’m just giving the people what they want!,” “I have no choice!,”“It’s My Duty!,” “These are not ordinary times,” “Ethics is a luxury we can’t afford right now,” “I’ll do anything!,” “If it feels good, do it!,” “Think of the children!,” “If it saves just one life,” and “It’s the right thing to do”…] since it can’t be supported ethics or reason, it is itself a rationalization in its “I had to do something!” form or “You can’t expect me to do nothing, can you?” version. It is a very insidious and dangerous rationalization. I am angry that I didn’t see it before.
I see it now because the Santa Fe shooting really undercuts all of the previous “reasonable gun control measures” that had been proposed to end all school shootings forever, as the pompous Parkland naifs insisted. Banning assault-style weapons and “high capacity magazines.” Background checks and longer waiting periods. Tougher vetting of mental health records of gun purchasers. Not one of these, nor all of them together, would have stopped the shooting in Santa Fe. Rather than admit this like fair, rational people, the anti-gun mob has devolved into shouting, “Well….do SOMETHING!”
On my Facebook page, an old friend, a lawyer, not yet senile as far as I know, actually posted, “Hey guys, here’s an idea: let’s finally do something about all this gun violence!” And that was it. Something. No other recommendation. Something. Brilliant. Why didn’t we think of that before?
The clip that introduces this post, which I have run here before, is the famous moment in “Animal House” in which the Delta House members, led by wise-ass Otter and chaotic Bluto, conclude that the only response they can muster to being kicked off campus is a “really futile and stupid gesture.” Hence the title of #40A. I was tempted to call it Kelly’s Solution after this…
….but Otter’s is funnier, and illustrates perfectly what acceptance of “Do Something!” as a justification leads to…futile and stupid gestures, or worse. For example, it paves the way for totalitarianism, as a desperate public cheers on action for action’s sake, not paying proper heed to where the action leads.
Rationalization #40 A., Otter’s Solution, or “I had to do something!” is an invitation to be unethical, irrational, reckless and irresponsible, bypassing law, values, common sense, and any other obstacle that usually constrains bad policy and conduct. It creates an intellectually dishonest shortcut, making the decision to act before any effective action is considered, designating action the objective rather than what the objective of the action should be. Obviously this is backwards, and it is intentionally backwards, because it takes a detour around essential questions, responsible decision makers must consider before acting, like “Is this legal?” “Is this wise?” “What will be the long term consequences?,” “Can this work?” and “What are the costs?” Rationalization 40A makes the conduct itself the objective rather than the results of the conduct. The imaginary virtue is taking action—even if it is futile and stupid.
And, if one challenges the badly-reasoned “something” that 40 A supports, one often will be challenged by 40 B. The Lone Inspiration Excuse, or ” Do You Have A Better Idea?”
40 B. The Lone Inspiration Excuse, or ” Do You Have A Better Idea?” qualifies as The Lost Rationalization. I announced it two years ago, never entered it on the list, and forgot about it, until today.
I am not obligated to solve the problem you cannot solve without breaching ethics or law. Nor is it obligatory for someone pointing out why proposed conduct is illegal, unethical, dangerous, imprudent and wrong to posit alternatives for the verdict on the proposed conduct to remains valid. The Lone Inspiration Excuse suggests that a terrible course of conduct can become acceptable by default. How many catastrophes have been created by that warped logic? If a proposed measure is too wrong and reckless to undertake, it shouldn’t be undertaken. That’s the first step. Finding a better course comes later, or never, if there isn’t one.
The ethical response to someone who reasonably and carefully explains why proposed conduct cannot work and violates principles of law, ethics or common sense deserves a thank you, for that is valuable information. “Well, you solve it then!” is not a fair response. It’s a deflection, and a transparent one. If the only course of action being proposed is unethical, then the responsible and ethical better idea may be not to do anything at all.