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
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 www.rabbieitan.com.
-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
-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
-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.
-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
ONE LAST THING: Nazis.
-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
-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
The rendition of Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah, which
serves as the shows theme music was created by Andrés Rodríguez
(“androz” on Fiverr.com
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.