Instinct and Morality

For better or worse, the murder of innocent children is a contentious debate topic between Atheists and Christians. This is usually in relation to Old Testament commands from God, and how modern people should “instinctively know that premeditated / brutal murder of innocent children is wrong.” A lot could be said about whether events recorded in the Old Testament really happened or not, but that is a post topic for another time. I wanted to briefly dig into how “instinct” is mis-used here.

Whether killing children is wrong or not is a question of morality, not instinct. Instinct is a pattern of behavior in response to stimuli. Instinct would not look at a child and say “it is wrong to kill this child, so I won’t.” Instinct would kill the child if it was perceived as a threat, or otherwise just leave the child be. To instinct, murder is not right or wrong – it is only a response to certain stimuli.

This is important because we have to realize that morality is not something we are born with like instinct. Morality is a social construct that we can give a definition for at any given time, but that definition also changes over time. The people that recorded the premeditated / brutal murder of children in the Bible did so because their social construct of morality at the time did not see this as wrong, or even “brutal” per se. Again, this is a huge topic to explore, as the ancient world was often dog-eat-dog, might-makes-right, you-died-too-bad-who cares. But the reality is that they had a different moral standard back then.

The point being: morality is not some absolute truth that we are just now figuring out the one right construct to apply to it. In order for there to be one right moral code that we have to figure out as a species, morality would have to be a rational being that can understand thousands of languages and historical culture changes in order to let us collectively know what is “morally correct.” In other words, in order for there to be a universal morality, this morality would have to be able to understand new inventions like the Internet, and let us know how moral codes apply to our actions there. It would also have to have learned English at some point in order for us in America to understand it, as well as for it to understand the unique way Americans think about morality in our language.

Some would say that this is proof that God exists. Well, not really. it just proves that you can’t reject the idea of God while relying on the concept of “Universal Morality” as a global guide for humanity. Universal Morality would need to be a rational being – i.e., a god – in order to do so.

The more accurate way to look at morality is that it is a social construct that is evolving all the time. For example, the ancient Israelites had a different moral view on the killing of innocent children than we do now. Did you know that term “genocide” wasn’t coined until the 1940s as a way to describe the atrocities committed by Germany in World War II? Why didn’t Universal Morality have us label it a thing before that? Because Universal Morality is not a thing – we evolved the social construct of morality to say that this thing Germany did was wrong, and then we gave it a new word (genocide).

I know that some people are really convinced that across all time and all cultures, certain moral codes have remained true. Kind of… but also not really. It is true only if you generalize these concepts to gloss over important cultural norms. But that was not day-to-day reality for most people that had to live with those norms, and there are also still big differences across the globe and back through time. Overgeneralizing practical morality to derive Universal (historical and cultural) Morality erases cultural differences than made each culture unique.

It also means that in 100 years, people will look back at even the most enlightened among us and say “wow, did they get morality wrong!”

To me, this does not prove God exists in the least, but it also makes it pretty inappropriate to take 2019 Western American sociocultural normed moral codes and apply them as proof for or against God or Goddess or gods or supreme beings. Calling your sociocultural moral codes “instinct” is just passing the buck to some nonexistent Universal Morality or Supreme Being, claiming that one of these genetically programmed you to believe what is right and wrong. You and I need to take responsibility for how we have been influenced by our modern sociocultural context, and how we have chosen to follow those influences as a guide for what we do or do not believe in.

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Why is Trump’s Border Wall Seen as Immoral When Existing Border Walls are Not?

One of the more debated positions of the liberal side of the “Battle for Trump’s Wall” is that the Trump Wall is immoral. To be honest, I can’t claim that all or even most of the left believes, but there are some that are very vocal about that aspect. Of course, anyone that hears this statement on the right will latch on to it and use it as an attack point against any criticism of Trump’s Wall (even if that criticism said nothing about morality of Trump’s Wall). “If the Trump Wall is immoral, should we also tear down what is already in place along the border? Or is only the NEW wall immoral? Or is it that the new ‘fence’ that Trump wants to build is immoral because Trump called it a ‘wall’?”

The problem here is that one side of the debate is unnecessarily over simplifying the belief of the other side. Which we all know happens on both sides. But for now I want to focus on this specific misunderstanding, and expand on the differences between the existing system of walls/fences and the proposed new additions from Trump.

The existing system of walls and fences and technology has been effective for a long time – bringing illegal border crossings down to the lowest levels in decades, while making many border cities some of the safest in the nation. However, the side effect of that has been that migrant workers have changed tactics: they now come in legally to visit and overstay. That is where more than half of illegal immigration comes from currently: overstaying.

Now typically, officials just turn a blind eye to people that overstay as long as they don’t break any laws, which most undocumented immigrants are glad to comply with. Less law enforcement entanglement, less chance of getting deported. I live in Texas, and we see this all the time. But no one will write on it, no one will expose it, no one wants to bring a light to it. It just stays under the surface. Why is that? Because the flip side is that this situation creates a work force of millions of undocumented workers that business owners (especially in the South) take advantage of. These business owners pay these workers less than the law requires for minimum wage, and typically abuse and exploit them (because they will avoid going to the police at all costs).

So while conservatives are all trying to get in “sick burns” on the Libs for looking at new and existing walls differently… the existing wall is causing a scenario that leads to the abuse and exploitation of human beings that are made in God’s image. It would be nice if conservative beliefs led them to look beyond politics to the people behind the rhetoric, but oh well….

So now about the proposed wall. We now know that power tools can easily cut through the current wall/barrier/whatever design quickly, so this wall will not keep drug dealers out. They already keep power tools accessible for the current fences. We also know the Trump Wall design only extends 6 feet underground, and does not have the $10+billion extra dollars needed for anti-tunnel technology or designs deeper than that, so it won’t stop people from tunneling under it (in fact, the actual cost for what Trump wants to do may be $38 billion or more). It will only stop people that walk across the border.

That scenario does not describe how most criminals cross our borders. And we also looked at how undocumented immigrants (most of them migrant workers) have gone to other methods to get to the U.S. rather than illegal border crossing. There is only one group of people that try to walk up to our borders: people seeking asylum. They don’t carry power tools or tunneling equipment with them. Even if they had these tools, they wouldn’t bring them because they are literally just trying to present anywhere at the border.

So the new border additions are only effective against stopping asylum seekers. Any criminal elements trying to hide in these groups (which there really aren’t that many that we can verify, but people always ask) would be equipped to get through the current wall design, but would do so only after separating from the caravans in order to avoid attention.

This is why Liberals see the Trump Wall additions as immoral, especially those that are Christian. The Bible is very specific about welcoming foreigners (which includes those seeking refuge). The new wall additions are designed to stop refuge seekers from doing so (because once these groups gain asylum, they take tax money away from corporate bail-outs and war machines – and the upper 1% can’t have that). Again, this all goes under the heading of why the new Trump Wall is seen as immoral.

At this point, people on the conservative side of this debate will bring up the Gang of 8 and how it was a proposal to build more walls that Democrats supported not too long ago. So why won’t they support more walls now? You really need to look more into what the Gang of 8 deal was. If you really know what it was, you would know how highly inappropriate it is to bring it up in relation to Trump’s Wall plan. The specifics and details between the two are so vastly different from each other that there really is no comparison. Its like people that say the Bible and the Qu’ran are the same book because they both talk religion. The Gang of 8 had a lot of people on the liberal and conservative sides against it, but it was more of a comprehensive immigration reform package that looked at laws, border technology, and fencing – the exact stance that Democrats today are taking (and that Trump and the Republicans are opposing).

Look, I am from Texas – I have know of many people that live along the border. Don’t start with the “so many gangs crossing the border and causing crime!” lines. That is all made up stories from certain media outlets. People who live along the border itself often don’t really see that much of a “crisis” happening there. Then there are the times that people living near the border just lie about who they got in shoot-outs with.

To me, this whole debate is a just a way to avoid dealing with the immorality of our entire immigration system – one that is designed to create a slave labor force for the elite to abuse and exploit. But hey conservatives – you keep trying to pwn people for deciding to have different stances on different types of walls/fences, while continually ignoring God’s commands about how we treat foreigners in our midst.

And this is what floors me the most: you can point out how millions of human beings are being abused and exploited by the current system… and the most common response from many people is “there is nothing immoral about expecting people to follow legal immigration!” No one ever says anything about that aspect – but the people that use this re-direction response just want to completely ignore what was pointed out as the real source of immorality. Amazing.

And even if you want to look past the moral aspects of the wall, there are the specifics of how the Trump Wall will not work, and how many, many experts are speaking out against it. First of all, you have experts on international border walls using existing walls from three different places around the globe to examine how Trump’s Wall plan will not work:

http://hir.harvard.edu/article/?a=14542

Then you have a U.S. Conservative think tank calling Trump’s Wall plan impractical, ineffective, and expensive:

https://www.cato.org/blog/border-wall-impractical-expensive-ineffective-plan

Of course, geologists have weighed in as well on the problems with everything from the planning to the timeline to the construction of Trump’s Wall:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/vast-geological-challenges-building-border-wall-180962072/

Then you have historical experts looking at how medieval walls and other historical defense barriers did not work that well (despite what Trump claims about them):

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/01/10/trump-says-medieval-walls-worked-they-didnt/

And finally when it comes down to asking actual border agents what they need (apart from mentioning political stances), less that half a percent mention additional walls/fences:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/22/us/politics/border-patrol-wall-immigration-trump-senate-democrats.html

(Interesting how in that last article, higher level Customs and Border Protection officials tried to invalidate the results of the survey by saying that Border Patrol agents were not asked to propose solutions – when the results from the survey clearly showed they were asked for solutions. Whoops.)

But the reality is that many of us feel that Trump’s Wall plan as an addition to our current system is an immoral expansion of a system that already supports immorality. But this is not an absolute either/or stance, where we believe that the only other option is to get rid of border security and all fences or walls. This is a complex situation that needs reform and solutions that are more nuanced than “build a wall!” And yes, it may seem contradictory to some to say that current walls are working AND we don’t need Trump’s Wall plan… but it’s not really contradictory at all. It’s really not even that “metamodern” per se (but might seem that way to those from an extreme modernist mindset). Trump’s Wall plan is not just a generic “build a wall” plan, but a specific plan to build a specific wall to keep specific people out while not addressing most of our current immigration issues.

(Featured image photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash)