There have been a several incidents recently where a person has caused offence by their actions and language, and been accused of racism. Roger Scruton said that Chinese people were like robots, Danny Baker tweeted a picture of a chimpanzee, Priti Patel used an antisemitic dog-whistle, Louise Ellman faced deselection on Yom Kippur, and Alastair Stewart quoted Shakespeare.1
In each case, when a complaint has been voiced, other people have chimed in to say that the offence caused was unintended.
But this only fans the flames of the row. Those who have taken offence (or those who are offended on their behalf) claim that the intent of the person giving offence doesn’t matter. Rather, our moral judgments should be based on the effect it has on those on the receiving end of the words or actions.
This makes me uneasy. I don’t think that our moral judgments can be based only on how it affects those who are the perceived target. I think intent is indeed part of the moral equation.
Here’s a thought experiment. Continue reading “Offence and Intent”
The Intercept journalist James Risen has published a fascinating retrospective on his time covering intelligence and security for the New York Times. He discusses how many of his stories exposing CIA wrong-doing during the Bush Administration were spiked by editors who nevertheless gave front-page coverage to stories that appeared to confirm the existence of the fabled Weapons of Mass Destruction that were the pretext for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
He also writes about his court appearances in 2014 and 2015 when the Obama Administration threatened him with imprisonment for not revealing confidential sources in stories about the CIA’s activities in Iran.
NYU Professor of Journalism Jay Rosen says this was “the most important thing published about journalism today.” Risen’s piece made me think of this tweet from the last days of 2017:
Risen’s account of when and why some of his stories were spiked reminded me of the wonderful ‘Road To Damascus‘ episode from Season 2 of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast. It deals with the story of how the CIA recruited a double-agent, how that fact was leaked to journalist Tim Weiner, and how the reporting of that story in the New York Times probably caused the death of that double-agent. It was one of the most compelling things I listened to in 2017.
In my earlier post, I wrote:
And perhaps students, at the cutting edge of culture and knowledge, have a greater and particular duty than the rest of us? …No Platform is the political equivalent of fly-tipping. Rather than dealing once and for all with the unpleasant rubbish, the policy causes the mess to be dumped elsewhere.
There is a coda to this which I think is important to acknowledge.
If we compare No Platform to fly-tipping, then it follows that that the task of debating reactionaries is an unpleasant experience.
If we ask trans* activists (or feminists, or members of a marginalised group) to debate those who have disparaged them, we should at least acknowledge the unpleasantness of the task. Continue reading “The Moral Demands of Free Speech”
Should the EU act to save illegal immigrants from drowning in the Mediterranean? Superficially, this question sounds a bit like one of those dilemmas presented by moral philosophers: do you switch the path of the runaway train so it kills one old man instead of a family of six?
But in this case, the question is not a like-for-like, life-for-life comparison. Instead, it boils down to whether we
- save the lives of dozens, or perhaps hundreds of illegal immigrants; or
- try to save a few million Euros of costs incurred by the Italian navy
… and I suppose, a few million more Euros caused by the inconvenience of being stuck with a boat-load of Africans without identity documents.
Students in ‘Introduction to Ethics’ seminars should not find this example particularly troubling. Since we are not weighing up human lives, a few humane heuristics will see us through. One of those is that if its a choice between people and money, you save the lives. When confronted with someone in clear and present danger, and the power to save them, we should not sit on our hands and watch them drown.
Really, what is so hard about that? Continue reading “Our humanity drowns in the Mediterranean”
Alan Hemming has been murdered in Syria. What a disgusting, inhumane act.
Few of us have much faith in the tabloids to show much restraint in these situations.
However, Stig Abel, Managing Editor at The Sun, says his paper will not glorify the killing and will instead focus on celebrating the life of a kind and decent man.
Continue reading “A modest proposal to improve the tabloid press a notch”