Guest post

23 Aug

Dave Hoffman lets rip with a great op-ed piece in today’s South Bend Tribune.
I hope he forgives me for reprinting it. 🙂

Several years ago I worked for a company whose manager routinely remarked “Life isn’t fair” whenever he did something unjust to an employee. A few years later I listened in uncomfortable silence while a prosecuting attorney told my law school class that a man she had been prosecuting was convicted, even though she thought he was innocent. She concluded her story with a dismissive “Oh well!”

These two examples, and countless others like them, confirm an unfortunate and often dangerous reality: The human mind possesses the capability to rationalize anything, even when the foundations for these rationalizations are built upon specious arguments.

The manager, for example, was simply regurgitating the already debunked theory of social Darwinism — that concepts of evolution and “survival of the fittest” could be adapted to sociological and economic situations. In response to the growing appeal of social Darwinism, Darwin himself emphasized the difference between unfair situations caused by uncontrollable, natural forces and the ability of a person to consciously choose whether to act in a fair or unfair manner.

But she had no response when I reminded her that it was her decision to place this man in front of a jury in the first place, and had she not done so, there would have been no risk of a wrongful conviction.

During the past few years this same power of specious rationalization has transformed South Bend/St. Joseph County into a haven for bigotry, injustice, discrimination, boredom, violence, intolerance and fanatical Puritanism, all cloaked in the guise of conservatism, religion or “community values.” The result is other counties with similar populations moving their citizenry into the 21st century, while this area stagnates in regression and repression.

I have labeled this rationalization “The Morality Scam.” A Voice of the People contributor recently pointed out that there is more to the term “morality” than issues involving human sexuality. As an example, he cited the irony of how the University of Notre Dame used morality to frame the debate over whether sexually oriented plays or organizations should be allowed on campus, yet avoided the mention of morality when student activists argued that university service workers were being underpaid.

The truth is, the greatest immoralities in the world do not involve issues of human sexuality at all. It was immoral for an innocent South Bend man to be imprisoned for more than five years without compensation. It’s immoral for hypocrites to feign concern about crime to attack adult businesses when they are conspicuously silent about crimes that occur on even a greater scale at other businesses. It’s immoral for members of the power structure to demand ethical standards for their subordinates that they callously ignore themselves. It’s immoral to bask in a veneer of haughty superiority when one’s success is based not upon talent or ability, but upon inherited wealth, or family, marital or political connections. It’s immoral to hide behind religion to conceal one’s greed, selfishness, hatred or hypocrisy. And it’s immoral to be arrogant enough to assume that one has the right to choose what other consenting adults can view, patronize, listen to or read, as long as such materials or establishments also feature consenting adults.

On the national level, it’s immoral for so-called pundits and politicians to base their assessments of right and wrong not on what was done, but on who did it. It’s immoral to spend millions of dollars to impeach a president who lied about an extramarital affair, and not impeach a president who lied about the motives for a war that has cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives. It’s immoral for the attorney general of the United States to play the outraged moralist when dealing with sexually-oriented materials, while defending illegal surveillance, detentions without charge or trial, and torture. It’s immoral to steal an election, and then proclaim that God placed you in power.

Finally, on the economic front, it’s immoral for stores to self-servingly advertise their refusal to carry certain books, videos or CDs because these items are not “family-oriented,” when they demonstrate nothing but contempt for the families of their employees by paying sub-poverty wages and providing shoddy benefits. It’s immoral when such stores reap massive profits from imported products made in Third World sweatshops, oftentimes by child labor. It’s immoral to promote “downsizing” or “outsourcing” of others if one would not want to be downsized or outsourced himself.

This list could go on, but you get the idea. And while some readers may not agree with all my definitions of immorality, that’s precisely the point: Morality is a fluid and relative term. There is one constant however: The Golden Rule says, “Treat others as you would wish to be treated.” Too bad the rule in South Bend/St. Joseph County has become, “Treat others as unfairly as you please. Just pretend to blush when dealing with issues involving human sexuality and you can delude yourself into believing you are a ‘moral’ person.”

David R. Hoffman lives in Mishawaka.


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