Monday, March 11, 2013

What We're Up Against

One thing I've tried to focus on in this blog is the form of unjustified bias, specifically biases that limit our moral consideration of other individuals on the basis of morally irrelevant characteristics. Most salient in my discussion thus far has been the bias of speciesism, which entails the privileging of members of certain species, typically homo sapiens. I've argued at length that this is unjustified, and will continue to do so.

One of the features of this case that contributes to my confidence in the indefensible nature of speciesism is structural similarities it shares with other forms of bias, such as racism and sexism. Most intelligent people in my culture at least purportedly reject racial and sex discrimination, but this has not always been so. Given the racist and sexist history of the world, we should not be surprised to find other unjustified biases that are still widely accepted, and this thought in part led me to my own investigation of the validity of a human/animal ethical divide.

But there are other unjustified biases that exist that still command widespread acceptance, and are not the subjects of well-publicized advocacy. One that I've been thinking about more recently is the extent to which many (if not most) people are quite nationalistic. For example, as I've discussed, the benefits to people in other countries of our immigration policy is mostly ignored in public debate. But people in other countries, who want to come here, are nearly by definition worse off than we are! That's the most compelling reason to want to come here. You can talk about the immigrants who are here, whether legally or illegally, but it's practically unheard of in mainstream politics to consider what we owe to those people whose lives could be vastly improved (indeed, some of whose lives could be saved) by moving here. This is outrageous.

Another form of bias, perhaps even more controversial, is bias against criminals. I think we likely have good justification for punishing criminals. But this is a very different from the view that it is a good that criminals are punished and suffer. I think there is something deeply regrettable about the fact that criminals have to be made to suffer, even though we have good reason for it. We should therefore go out of our way to make sure they do not suffer excessively, and we should offer them tools for re-entry to society. I think our current incarceration system is a huge site of enormous injustice, but even some of those who might agree to that statement still don't feel a great urgency behind it. It's so easy to forget about the criminals, because we just assume that they deserve what they get. I don't believe it's true that people can deserve bad things to happen to them (though again, we might have justification for a system of punishment), but even if they did, it's even more difficult to believe that they deserve what incarceration often provides.

Each one of these kinds of biases demands it's own arguments, and requires a lot of work to even try to begin to dismantle. There are certainly more than I discussed here, and there are likely some that I'm not aware that I ascribe to. I've been focusing on speciesism, for many reasons, but I think it's important to understand and oppose all the forms of prejudice we can. It's a lot of work, but it's what we have to do.

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