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bear by san

March 2017



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bear by san

President Herbert Hoover on the Mississippi flood of 1927:

"I suppose I could have called out the whole of the army, but it turned out, all I had to do was call out Main Street itself."

I probably misquoted that somehow, but that gets down the gist of it.

It's biochemically wired into us, she said, mixing her metaphors, to cooperate during disasters. It's the same response that has bunny rabbits and cougars fleeing forest fires side by side. Game theory--we hang together or we hang separately, and it's in the genes to recognize that there are threats that do not recognize the difference between fit and unfit, predator and prey. It's the source of a great deal of the nobility of human spirit, that urge, and it's also exploitable. Exploitable for good--because charity donations surge massively in the aftermath of disaster, and in the aftermath of attack, people band together, pull together, do great and heroic things--or for ill--people in that mood are easy to guide and quick to bite if they think an outside enemy can be identified (and in some ways this makes a crisis which appears to involve agency more complex than one that simply follows on the wrath of morning), and they'll do things they may wake up in the cold light of morning and shudder at.

They need to do something. It's not a desire. It's a need. It is biological.

The arguably positive things that get done range from airmen rescuing infant kittens from drowned New Orleans and the construction of Hoover Dam (a response to another national crisis) to American involvement in WWII.

I hesitate to call a war positive, mind you, but WWII is kind of a special case. And yet in the cold light of morning, we have to look at things like Dresden, and Hiroshima, and if we are human, we need to wish we could have found a better way. Sometimes you can't find a better way, of course. Sometimes, a C.J. Cherryh noted, any decision, even a bad one, is better than no decision.

And then there are the scammers, those who take advantage of a crisis situation to press their agenda, the people who have somehow escaped the wiring, or whose wiring is to freeze and wait for the storm to blow over, or whose idea of what might be the best response to a situation complicates the situation. The false charities, the would-be warlords--the successful warlords, for that matter.

Because people need to do something. Anything. No matter is it's wrong.

On this anniversary day, I think it's appropriate to remember the greatness of the human spirit, and the behavior of ordinary Americans in a time of crisis, and to acknowledge and honor both our own citizens and the solidarity offered by other nations in our current time of need.

And to pause and think very carefully about the directions our responses to crises take us in. To remember Dresden while we're remembering 9/11.

We're a remarkable species. Let's remember that, too.


And to pause and think very carefully about the directions our responses to crises take us in. To remember Dresden while we're remembering 9/11.

The most frightening thing to me, four years ago, was what our fear might do to us--even more damage than any outside enemy. It hasn't been pretty, but at least some people have, like you, reminded us to think about what we're becoming.

Thanks for a beautiful post.
Thank you.

And completely offtopic...

is that an elk?
I think it's a moose, but I've never seen one in real life. Not local! Found this somewhere. I thought it was nice of a moose to kiss a cat. And brave, too.
It's adorable.

Have you seen stillsostrange's pepsi-drinking camel icon?
And your horse isn't bad, either. Will keep an eye out for the camel.
I surfed here, and... well said. Beautifully said. *applause*
Thanks. *g*

Come back any time--we're here all week.
A beautiful post; thank you.

I used to feel the way you describe about WWII, but learning more history has kiboshed even that for me. If we had actually been fighting for the people in the concentration camps, rather than working like ... (well, not quite like the Bushies) to keep that secret from our population, I'd agree more with you.

At any rate, that's a quibble to a truly valuable sentiment. Thanks again!

Thank you!

(lengthy clarification follows)

Actually, I never said we were fighting for the people in the concentration camps.

We weren't fighting for the people in the concentration camps, or for the Brits holding the line in London, or for the resistance in Europe--which is why it took an attack on American soil to get us involved. Which is why it's an appropriate example for a post about the effects of disaster and attack on the human psyche, to my mind anyway.

We should have been involved earlier, and I think it's a scab on our national consciousness that we weren't. But that's besides the point.

Hiroshima was about Pearl Harbor, not the Rape of Nanking.

But that's besides the point; the point is that the war was a war of self-defense, not aggression, and the American involvement, whatever its motivation, made a difference, and Pearl Harbor galvanized this nation into acting (more or less) as a unit--just as most of us are acting with unity in response to Katrina, and as we acted with unity in response to 9/11. (Remember those approval ratings?)

And I'm trying to avoid imposing any moral judgements there, just for today, but I do leave it as an exercise for the class, as it were.

The point is, it's not the motivation for an action that makes it a moral or immoral choice. It's the outcome. And very few choices are straightforwardly black or white.

You gotta ask yourself, is this worth Dresden?

(end lengthy clarification)
Thanks for the lengthy clarification! We agree on absolutely everything except "It's not the motivation for an action that makes it a moral or immoral choice. It's the outcome," a statement on which I would take the exactly opposite position. However, the next sentence "very few choices are straightforwardly black or white" is truth incarnate.

Hmmm. WisCon panel?
See, I'm deeply opposed to the concept that the end justifies the means. *g* So, yeah. Panel! Let's go!

Okay, now I can't let it go for months and months.

I feel like saying "the outcomes determine the morality" is exactly saying that the ends justify the means. You clearly feel the opposite.

Here's how it maps out to me: if the outcomes determine the morality, then good ends make an otherwise immoral choice moral. If the reasons for the decisions determine the morality, then the decisions are made on the best information available, and the outcomes aren't a determining factor.

Here's a historical example: Lincoln suspended much of the U.S. Constitution to prosecute the Civil War. At the end of the Civil War, the slaves were freed. Does that make it right for Lincoln to have made those choices?

(We should take this to the top level of somebody's journal; it's too good to bury.)

If you want to post it up, please feel free. *g*

Okay, speaking in context here, what I mean when I say the outcome determines the morality is--well, I'll stick to the Dresden example. Was WWII a just war, on the American side? To my mind, pretty obviously. However, comma, one of the results of that war was Dresden, a massacre of refugees, civilians, and even Allied POWs by Allied forces.

Was Dresden moral? Pretty clearly not. I don't think that makes the entire war immoral, mind you--but arguing that Dresden helped end the war faster (as people do) doesn't, to my mind, justify Dresden.

It may have made it *necessary.* But needful is not always right.

On a simpler level, is stealing a loaf of bread wrong? Pretty clearly yes. If it prevents you from starving to death, though, it's needful. Not right, as in, not ethical--

--but stealing a loaf of bread is a lesser evil. Dresden is a lesser evil than Auschwitz.

The *intent* of bombing Dresden wasn't to free those interned at Auschwitz--they're not directly causally linked. But the good done in liberating concentration camps somewhat defrays the evil done at Dresden.

Doesn't justify it, mind you. But defrays it.

Now say you choose *not* to bomb Dresden, and as a result, the war drags on longer, more people die on the front lines, more people die in concentration camps.

I would say in that case that the decision *not* to bomb, while made on ethical grounds, has such a negative outcome that it becomes an immoral decision.

"Right" and "wrong" don't really enter into it in this context.

Lincoln made an immoral decision when he suspended the US Constitution in your example. Did he have a better option?

Not to the best of my knowlege, though I'm not a scholar of the Civil War. There are those who would argue that the moral choice was to let the South seceed, of course, and that the Civil War wasn't about slavery at all, but about imperialism.

That doesn't mean his decision was "right." Or that's its justified by good outcomes. Defrayed, perhaps, but not justified.

A lot of the time, there simply is no moral choice.

So we go for the one that seems likely to benefit the most people, or the people we care about most, in the long term.
In other words, where you say "end" to mean "outcome," to me, it means "motivation."

"Toward what end?" in other words. If my motivation for an evil act is good, it doesn't make the act less evil.

If the outcome of an evil act is positive, however, it helps defray the evil.

Not lessen, but balance.

Re: Wasn't that the flood that caused the shift to the left

I believe that's how the story goes, yah.

Re: Wasn't that the flood that caused the shift to the left

It suited my mood. *g*