A few nights ago at a panel discussion (on the theme "Is It World War III?" inaugurating the David Horowitz Center for Freedom) a woman asked the panelists a very important question. "What can I say to my neighbor when she says 'If it's OK for us to have nukes, why isn't it OK for other nations have nukes?'" Perhaps it was because they had already addressed the absurdity of moral equivalency so many times that, by way of response, they chose to chuckle about the example of a sign seen at a recent demonstration saying, "Queers for Palestine!!" Apparently the people proudly upholding that sign didn't realize that, if they lived in Palestine, the people they were supporting would kill them. Open homosexuality is a crime punishable by death under Muslim law. One member of the panel mentioned that in the whole Middle East the sole "gay pride" parade took place in the streets of Tel Aviv, Israel. While it was an amusing example of the ignorance of equivalency, it wasn't really a direct answer to the woman's sincere question. Here are some tips for her and for those of you who would like to be able to confront the moral equivalency argument.
Step one. You have to get back into the habit of acknowledging that some things are right and some things are wrong. This might be the hardest thing you have to do, especially if you've internalized the idea that "what's right for you may not be right for me." Of course, there are a myriad of things that are morally irrelevant, like the 'right' way to make a cup of coffee, or the 'wrong' way to dress for a cocktail party. Those things are not right or wrong; they are fashions or opinions. That's why opinions can be argued forever. When we're talking about moral right and wrong, we're not talking about opinions, but rather truths. It's wrong to murder and steal. It's wrong to betray a promise. It's right to help the needy and protect the innocent. It's right to try to prevent dangerous people from obtaining weapons with which they are likely to harm others. These are truths in every culture and will always remain true.
Step two. You have to decide who is right and who is wrong. Yes, this means using that neglected faculty called "moral judgment." Remember when President Reagan called the USSR the "Evil Empire?" Most liberals didn't really care what names he called them. What really upset them was that he was saying that "we are right and they are wrong." Consider what this implies to moral relativists who could rationalize their irresponsible behavior by saying that what they did was 'right' for them 'at the moment.' It certainly would turn their "if-it-feels-good-do-it" lives upside down. They don't want to make any hard choices so they distract from their own weakness by complaining that we're insulting someone else. They didn't care about President Reagan insulting the Soviets any more than they cared about President Bush insulting the Axis of Evil. They just didn't want their immoral, irresponsible groove disturbed. And a lot of them were actually uncomfortable with the idea that America was "better" than some other nations.
If you still find yourself saying, "as long as they are happy, it's OK with me" then go back to step one. Get used to thinking that "right" and "wrong" really only apply to moral questions. Remember, we're not talking about fashions or opinions; we're talking about truth.
After you've completed this exercise in moral inquiry, you will know the answer to "why shouldn't Iran have nukes?" You will recognize that Iran is now controlled by a dangerous regime. This regime has publicly announced that they want to kill the millions who live in Israel. That's why this regime is not right. They are wrong. Letting dangerous people acquire weapons of mass destruction would be totally irresponsible for those who try to do right. It is right to protect the innocent from wrong-doers; we do it with our police force, with the virus-blockers on our computers and with our military. It is the right thing to do.
If you're still not convinced, consider this example. Two small children of your acquaintance are playing with scissors. One of the children doesn't seem to know how to handle the scissors safely or else its mean streak is emerging, in either case, endangering the other child and itself. You know it's right to prevent them from coming to harm so you take the scissors away from the mean kid. It's pretty simple. We are watching that same logic being played out on a much larger and more complex scale in international politics. One thing that doesn't change is that right is right and wrong is wrong.
Peter and Helen Evans, "http://peterandhelenevans.com. This husband and wife team - freelance writers and speakers - teach a philosophical approach to conservatism, and are scheduled speakers at Blogging Man "http://www.bloggingman.org/" . They are also real estate agents in the Washington, DC area.
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