Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Quick Logic Lesson

Earlier today, I published a post exploring the idea of America exiling its prisoners instead of incarcerating them (specifically to Madagascar). I don't seriously endorse the idea but given the burden our prison system is under, I thought it was interesting to explore. However, I decided that it needs to be thought about more carefully so I unpublished it and saved it for a later date.

In the brief time it was up, a commentator wrote (and I'm paraphrasing because I forgot to copy/paste) that Hitler wanted to send Jews to Madagascar (I think we chose the same island) and he/she hoped I wasn't planning something like that. That doesn't work.

The ethical problem with Hitler's plan was not that he wanted to exile a group from a country. It is that he wanted to treat a group of people differently from everyone else on immaterial grounds (ie, religion). Ignoring the nature of the crime for the moment, treating prisoners differently from non-prisoners is not unethical; we do it everyday when we send them to jail. The Hitler analogy is false.

5 comments:

Tanya said...

It's like you're saying: "The ethical problem with Hitler's plan was not that he wanted to gas people, but that he wanted to gas people on immaterial grounds." This is not a complete answer. The immateriality of the grounds is not the only ethical problem. You'd still have to prove that gassing (or exiling) people on "material" grounds is ethical. Your earlier post today did not convince me that exile, even for criminals (non-violent drug offenders, your earlier post specified), is ethical.

David said...

Well, in the case of gassing people, you can make a capital punishment argument, one that I would agree with. But I don't see anything inherently evil about exile.

In the context of the comment, it seemed clear that the emphasis was on Hitler's antisemitism, not his interest in the mechanism of exile. This is probably because the arguments against antisemitism are obvious and well established, as is Hilter's immorality. The same cannot be said for exile.

Tanya said...

The question is not whether it is evil, but whether it is ethical, esp. in the circumstances you specified. Judging something by whether or not it is evil is setting the bar too low.

I'd say that Hitler's immorality is evident not only in his antisemitism, but in the mechanisms of punishment he considered and employed as well.

CalLadyQED said...

Careful, David, by the way you've structured your words, you imply that "treating prisoners differently...is not unethical" BECAUSE "we do it everyday." I'm sure you did not intend to make that logical misstep.

Here's how I would say it (in 20-20 hindsight!):
Treating certain kinds of people differently isn't necessarily unethical. If we did not treat prisoners differently then, by definition, they would not be prisoners. For the purpose of the coming discussion about exile, let's assume that making wrong-doers prisoners is ethical. (There are valid arguments against imprisoning criminals, but we need to make this assumption in order to get anywhere with the exile debate.)

Btw, since arguments involving Hitler are usually fallacious ("reductio ad Hitlerum"), it's wise to avoid them.

-Jenny's Little Sister

CalLadyQED said...

I'm going to be a brat are point out that someone could have just as validly (or more validly) compared this to Lincoln's racist ideas about exiling blacks to Liberia.

-Jenny's Little Sister
(David, I really am Jenny's sister, btw.)