Those are your moral preferences, Megan, not mine

Ms. McArdle says:

I think that a state which commits cold-blooded murder is a brutalized state, and I have a visceral horror at the idea of putting a man in a cage and declaring to him the day that he will die. The process of executing criminals damages the moral fiber of all who are engaged in it, including the voters, a cost far in excess of the benefit to be gained from either deterrance or retribution.

Why does she feel the need to speak for the rest of us on what damages our moral fiber? Moral fiber can’t be observed and its a pretty subjective thing. If I don’t think my moral fiber is being damaged, but Megan does, who’s right?

Besides, I’m pretty sure executioners don’t see it her way or at least they’ve weighed the moral cost of doing their deed against its (monetary) benefits and found executing to be in their best interests. Who is she to tell them their preferences are wrong?

If executioners can do this calculation, then the rest of us can. It may be for Megan the costs are greater than the benefits to such a degree that she’s willing to move to a jurisdiction without capital punishment. For some of us, there may be no moral cost just emotional benefits of revenge killing or maybe we feel the deterrence effect of capital punish outweighs the moral costs.

There’s an interesting third group of people for which the moral costs do outweigh the benefits of executions, but not by so much that its worth it to take on the fixed costs of moving to a different jurisdiction. There’s probably quite a few people who don’t like the death penalty but don’t think its worth it to move to Canada. It seems the extent of the political economic market is a problem for these folks. The market, perhaps due to policy restrictions (i.e. the monopoly of current governments), just doesn’t provide enough varieties of jurisdiction.

The funny thing is Megan actually fits in this third group. The cost to her outweigh the benefits but she’s not willing to pay for a change in jurisdiction. Apparently, she finds it more cost effective to try and brow-beat the rest of us into changing our moral preferences.

8 thoughts on “Those are your moral preferences, Megan, not mine”

  1. Say the norm in your community is to gang rape all blue eyed girls to death on their sixth birthday. Is it preferable to try to stop this practice, or to say “Oh well, I guess I just have different morals,” and quietly move to the next county over. Who are you to tell them that their preferences are wrong?

    They just don’t seem like morals unless you believe that they are universal. What distinguishes morals from preferences? I know you’ve brought this up before.

    Execution is a strange topic anyway. Opponents of capital punishment feel that killing criminals is immoral. Straightforward enough. Some proponents of capital punishment seem to feel that *not* killing criminals is immoral – the community wastes resources keeping them alive, they might escape to do more harm, it’s unjust to let them enjoy living after their crime, etc. You’re damned as immoral regardless of your stance.

  2. Will is right in that merely expressing your moral judgment is worthless.

    Will is wrong if he thinks that segregation is the answer, since for some people, their morality instructs them on the desirable state of the world and not merely of themself or their community. — What you do in your bedroom is not acceptable to a fundamentalist.

    Either someone made an error in their judgment, given their own values and axioms, in which case you can point the (purely logical) flaw, otherwise we’re facing a conflict. And conflicts are settled with bargaining or force or both. That, or general rules we happen to follow and accept.

  3. “You’re damned as immoral regardless of your stance.”

    That’s why I think arguing over what is and isn’t moral, in an absolute sense, is a silly waste of time. Some behaviors, like 6 y.o. blue-eyed girl gang rape, cause such harm to most people not doing it that the optimal moral community is likely to be very large. That said, there’s probably at least a few “moral relativists” out there for which it would cause no harm.

    Gabriel, I’m not sure segregation is the right word. People may belong to several moral communities. Also, fundamentalist may care about what you, their neighbor, is doing in your bedroom, but they don’t care (to the point of doing something) about what I’m doing in mine half-way around the world.

    I have evidence. In Russia over 50% of pregnancies end in abortion. This is about twice the rate as the United States. Chinese, in absolute terms (probably the statistic that matters when considering the effect of abortion on our souls), have about 15 times as many abortions as Americans. (If you’re curious, there have been over 300,000,000 abortions in China since 1971). In terms of moral harm, there’s much more of it going on outside of the borders of the U.S. and yet very few American opponents of abortion travel overseas to picket abortion clinics there.

  4. That’s my take on it too. Segregation requires isolation. No flow of goods, services, or information.

    Extra credit question: Will communication and media technology soothe or inflame intra-moral tension?

  5. “Will communication and media technology soothe or inflame intra-moral tension?”

    I think these things increase conflict between groups at least at first. This sounds like a bad thing, but I think there’s an innate human desire to build community (BTW, I just rewatched dazed and confused… remember the scene where the nerdy guy wants to get in a fight with the greaser guy and says something like “I can get a good punch in and before he can hit me back people will stop him because people desire calm in the herd” or something). With more conflict there will be more desire to restore calm in the herd.

  6. …yeah. If I remember that scene correctly, the greaser gets up after being punched, tackles the nerdy guy, and beats him silly.

  7. “and beats him silly”

    …while onlookers cheer. Part of is that big guy in the herd beating up on the little guy is/could be really just a manifestation of “order in the herd”. It’s all about what kind of herd you want to belong to.

Comments are closed.