The philosopher Chris Kutz described a moral problem that is rather difficult to answer. In this case, he described moral cases known as "makes no difference" or "over-determination." Specifically, Kutz described (in somewhat fantastical detail) the bombing of Dresden during World War II.
A disclaimer of sorts. I will not be making any overt connections between historical, murderous events and modern events. The intent of this discussion is not to equate the two. There are plenty of ill-informed individuals who will make those cases for themselves. I do not count myself among them. There are obvious attempts to "weaponize" language (see: the first half of this sentence) into egregious attacks of violence. I, for one, grow quite tired of a social movement that claims any act they disagree with regardless of its physical or abstract transgression against another, is an act of violence. If I say "no, I don't think implicit bias testing is an effective means of social justice" I am not committing anything remotely resembling violence against you. Further, if I say you are incapable of complex thought, too stupid for public discourse, and represent an affront to the very idea of intellectual honest, I am still not committing an act of violence against you. You may claim it, but it only proves my point - you are just too stupid.
The bombing of Dresden can be seen as one of the most horrific acts by the Allied commanders during World War II. It was (arguably) completely unnecessary and seemed to be motivated by a number of questionable factors. This will not serve as an historical indictment of anyone that defends or is offended by the bombing. It occurred and the extent to its occurrence is debated though we seem to have at the very least decided upon the death toll and the nature of the suffering inflicted upon the German people.
For brevity's sake, let's consider the time and place of the Dresden bombing. It occurred near the end of World War II when the defeat of Nazi Germany was all but imminent and the area-bombing campaign over three days was claimed to have been targeting a German industrial center. With the relatively limited amount of damage to many bridges and industrial complexes outside the city, Dresden has all of the appearances of "payback" exhibited on a terrible regime that had spent many months bombing London and surrounding countries' civilians. That claim - that the bombing of this city was motivated by pure retributive justice - is hotly disputed and neither of the major Allied belligerents would admit to it.
The loss of life as a direct result of the bombing and the subsequent fires is a tale no one should have to retell. But, if you so desire, look no further than Kurt Vonnegut's epic tome "Slaughterhouse-Five." Some of the details are exaggerated (the agreed-upon death toll seems to be 25,000 people - not 135,000 as Vonnegut and others originally claimed).
Again, we are not putting the US Air Force or British Royal Air Force on trial. This is meant as a test case for pulling out an important philosophical truth that has contemporary relevance.
Let us consider for a moment the claim that the bombing was "payback" and the reasoning behind the attack was pure, murderous rage for the souls lost in the war at the hands of Nazis. Let us also consider that most of the citizens being killed in Dresden were not Nazi war criminals but were, in fact, unwilling participants in a government that swept its country up and purged all those that dared to defy it (I do not support this as a factual claim. At all). Let us suppose that the bombing of Dresden was as callous, cold, and inhumane as it's most ardent detractors claim it to be. In this light, we have to consider assigning blame.
Chris Kutz' claim is that anyone that participated in the attack (again, under the presumed conditions we have articulated above) is morally culpable for the deaths of innocent German citizens so long as they shared the motivation of the group or, failing that, participated anyway.
This is in response to the consideration of a moral dilemma posed to individual pilots, medics, gunners, bombers, etc. Place yourself in a pilots' shoes on the eve of battle. Bomber Command gives you orders that you know are wrong - area-bomb an entire town along with 2000 fellow pilots and crew. Whether you decide to take part in the raid or not take part in the raid, what good have you done? If there is no discernible difference between your participation or not, have you actually done anything right or wrong? So you decide to go but so drop your bombs off in the countryside, killing nothing, have you done a good or a bad thing? Did you a make a difference? Maybe your bombs would have killed one person and so you spared one person. Maybe they would not have. To a consequentialist, it makes no difference. Thousands died and no individual action done by you could have changed that fact.
In the case of the Dresden bombing, we have a case of "overdetermination." We of course do not blame each individual pilot as much as we blame the commander who came up with and planned the bombing. However, if when told of the nature of the bombing a pilot's reaction was "fuck yeah, let's kill some Germans" then is he really not as guilty as the commander? After all, if put in the commander's place he would have come up with the exact same plan. This seems to favor more guilt rather than less which is, of course, completely unaccounted for in simple consequentialist (utilitarian specifically) theory.
I have taken a break from making overtly political podcasts (though that will be interrupted slightly this holiday break) but struggle to let the issues go by without some acknowledgment. If you follow me on Twitter you have probably already seen a willingness to engage in a discussion but this represents my formal appeal to the issues unfolding before us. There are myriad issues and they are of grave consequence and so I ask you to consider my perspective carefully. This discussion of Dresden is meant to highlight an important distinction in the politics unfolding before us. That is, Kutz' claim that complicity implies blameworthiness is critical and worth discussion.
You will likely hear the phrase "rule of law" repeated often over the next year (moreso than the past year). Most Americans have chosen to ignore this implication and have become so invested in legislating their various moralities that they miss this important point. The "rule of law" is meant to be the ultimate arbiter of conflict. When two parties come into deliberation we gather the facts, throw them at the "rule of law" and out the other side pops a solution. The brilliance of the United States Constitution is that this fundamental idea written a few hundred years ago is still alive, kicking, and settling disputes it could never have been designed to settle.
That fundamental American ideal has been challenged and the country's reaction to this challenge will dictate our future.
The rule of law is so designed that no partisan can rise above the facts and no investigation can be corrupted beyond examination. In fact, quite the contrary, subjective observations can themselves be placed under independent scrutiny and in most cases these judgments can be tossed out and the rule of law can be deliberated with all objective evidence. We ignore or discount this process at our great peril and yet this seems to be precisely the sort of social garden we have tended.
I share the relative disinterest in government that most Americans have. In a perfect world I would have more time to read philosophy, record podcasts, take long vacations, spoil my niece and nephew, and discuss just what makes a video game great. You may have a different set of passions or leisure activities and the beauty of an open democracy is that none of these acts, by virtue of their not impugning the rights of others, can be made illegal. We live during a time where this very simple yet vital ideal is under attack and so must do that which is necessary to prevent our children and their children from having to do the same.
What I fear has come along is a culture of complicity and in such a culture any that even tacitly support the daily misgivings of our legislative, executive, and judicial branches are equally guilty as those committing the crimes - especially if the perpetrators must be voted into office. This acceptance of our governmental refusal to follow norms is complicity of the worst kind and, given what may happen to generations in the future, must be seen as an affront to our culture and our American values.
I will not make a stand against any one policy but will instead take a stand against complicity for policy on the back of any partisan agenda. The ability to share memes, talking points, or slanderous messages proffered by a political party or its adherents must be met with derision and shame. Critical thinking, careful examination of the source of information, and a general skepticism of any emotionally-backed claim must rule the day if we are to see any change in this culture. Merely subjecting these ideas to a "sniff test" is inexcusable.
You, as voting citizens of the country, are responsible for the condition of our democracy when it is presented to further generations. Act like that means something or be prepared to be held accountable for your silence or tacit endorsement of corruption.