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Jewish Geography

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Jun 20, 2018

Why Can't We Talk to Each Other?

America is in an ongoing crisis. Right now it's expressing itself concerning families trying to immigrate to the US and the way they're being treated by the authorities. And on this, as on many other issues, it seems that people can't even talk to each other. They can't possibly understand how a person with any serious morality, with good intentions, and with access to accurate information could possibly be on the other side. Here's how.

I walk through my understanding of the chain of events, and then break down the competing moral frameworks functioning on both sides of the issue.

Moral Foundations Theory

My approach here depends primarily on the theories presented by Jonathan Haidt in his book "The Righteous Mind.", which I highly recommend reading! But if you don't have time for the whole book, here is the 'TED Talk', TLDR version of this theory.

Please Leave the Nazis Out of This

The episode ends with a plea to stop comparing current events to the Nazis, an explanation of why the comparison is both false and not useful, and some alternate historical analogies that hit closer to the mark.

Rabbi Eitan's Show Notes

The following were my notes for the show, which lay out broadly what I spoke about in the podcast. Feel free to follow along here if you like, or use it as notes to help pull things together. Scroll to the bottom for credits. For more from and about me, your host, go to


-What's Happening and Why
-Under Obama they were aggressively arresting illegal immigrants in 2014-15. The 9th circut court of appeals ruled that they could not keep children in jail more than 20 days, so they had to be removed from their parents.
-After these separations started to happen on a large scale and get reported, Obama switched to a 'catch and release' policy, where they selectively chose not to prosecute families with children crossing the border, thus allowing them to enter the country freely.
-Trump decided to aggressively enforce the border, prosecuting every illegal immigrant. This is the 'discretion' involved. Once the parents are arrested and being prosecuted, after 20 days the government is REQUIRED to remove the children.
-It seems some of Trumps people see this issue with the children as a deterrent and some see it as an unfortunate by-product of enforcing border security.
-over 90 percent of the American people, in both parties, agree that the children should stay with their parents. But while conservatives insist that this must be solved while continuing the arrests and prosecutions (thus solved by passing a law enabling them to stay together in custody), liberals want to go back to catch and release (an admittedly quicker fix). So even though almost everybody thinks the current situation sucks, they can't agree on what to do about it. Why?
-How can anyone see it differently?
-Jonathan Haidt's book, "the righteous mind" outlines 5 basic categories of moral intuitions held across societies. Care, Fairness/proportionality, (in-group) Loyalty, Respect for (legitimate) Authority, Sanctity/Purity.
-Liberals and Conservatives have different moral palettes. While liberals care a lot about Care and Fairness, they care very little for Loyalty, Authority or Sanctity, seeing those as illegitimate sources for moral reasoning if not downright immoral in and of themselves. Conservatives use all 5 of these areas, and the most conservative members of all the many societies surveyed by Haidt and his team gave each of the 5 'foundations' similar weight.
-Let's apply this to the current situation. If I'm very liberal, I look at what's going on and I see that something unfair is happening. These people just want a better life, something I also want, and I have no right (FAIRNESS) to deny it to them. That would be UNFAIR. And I have a duty to CARE for them and their children and take care of them.
-It may surprise some liberals to know that conservatives have those same intuitions. But they also value LOYALTY to an INGROUP over outgroup members, thus I do HAVE A RIGHT to treat people who are not US citizens differently from US citizens, and do not have an equal responsibility toward them as I do to others. And they also value respect for authority, seeing only anarchy and great suffering as the result if we all challenge and disobey authority according to our own moral intuitions. Thus their preference for working out this issue through passing a new law instead of selectively not-enforcing it.
-In short, when a liberal person sees these people suffering, it seems that it is happening for NO GOOD REASON. Because the moral arguments for strict border enforcement only make sense in a conservative moral matrix. Thus there is NO EXCUSE for these bad outcomes. Conservatives see the border enforcement as MORALLY NECESSARY, and therefore they see the bad outcome of family separation as a negative side-effect of a good policy (strict enforcement). Thus they want to ameliorate the worst consequences but refuse to go back to 'catch and release.' They see crossing the border illegally as not only illegal but IMMORAL. They have disrespected our group and our laws, and at the very least they should not be allowed in. Liberals feel that we OWE THEM MORE for the sake of FAIRNESS, and therefore what right do we have to refuse to help them if they ask for it?
-I hope that clarifies things a bit.
-Many pundits have been quick to jump to the comparison between what is happening now and the Nazis. As my wife says, "until they are tearing babies from their mothers' arms and throwing them alive into a pit full of burning bodies, don't talk to me about Nazis." Not all bad things are the same, and the comparison with Nazis just makes you sound detached from reality. Don't stop because it bothers me. Stop because it doesn't work and it makes you sound stupid and ignorant.
-Of course, it could be that the main reason everybody jumps to 'Nazi' as their basis for comparison is because that may be the only great historical evil they are aware of. Allow me to offer some different, and still imperfect but at least closer-to-the-mark comparisons. These are a few I thought of off the top of my head:
-Native American children taken to boarding schools and forced to speak English in the 1800s.
-The 'Rabbit proof fence' which 'caged in' Australian aboriginal children.
-The internment of Japanese Americans in WWII (different because families went together AND because they were American citizens, but there are some similarities too).


The rendition of Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah, which serves as the shows theme music was created by Andrés Rodríguez (“androz” on 
Most importantly, many thanks to the Creator of the Universe, for bringing about all these wonders, without which, I would have nothing to talk about.