Analyst Ethics and Intrinsic Evil
August 6, 2012 § 45 Comments
A commenter below wrote:
You may wish to reflect over 2309′s use of the words “rigorous consideration”. That’s what a policy analyst does. It’s practically a two word definition of the job.
This is suggested in the context of the atomic bombing of Japan, with the following admonition (emphasis mine):
What irritates is the refusal to look ahead and to own the consequences of the choices that would have followed. If the lowest cost solution in terms of casualties in a war is intrinsically evil, it is appropriate to pick the lowest cost solution that is not intrinsically evil and the delta, the difference in casualties is established as the minimum price you’re willing to pay and inflict not to lose your soul while avoiding slavery or genocide. There is a wealth of significance there to think through but very few will go down that path unless the conversation is allowed to play out.
I’m going to set aside the qualifier “avoiding slavery” because it is not morally licit to do evil in order to avoid slavery. Given the elimination of that qualifier, let’s assume (probably wrongly) that our model of the war game reflects reality. That is, let’s assume that what the Pope assumes that everyone recognizes to be impossible is actually possible: that we can accurately project the remote consequences of our actions in war.
The suggestion, as I understand it, is that the obligation to give “rigorous consideration” to the Just War criteria themselves includes an obligation to tally up what we might accomplish if we were willing to do evil and count that as a material cost of doing the right thing.
Even assuming the accuracy of our climate models, I mean war game models, it doesn’t make sense to contemplate doing intrinsically evil acts in order to count the “cost”. The reason is that the opportunities to do evil in a way which advances our material interests has no intrinsic limit. If the obligation to engage in rigorous consideration requires us to consider annihilating civilian cities in an air bombardment, it surely also requires us to consider the effects of mass rape of civilians in a ground invasion. After all, our model might suggest that doing so will demoralize the enemy and result in an earlier surrender with fewer casualties. Or perhaps mass sterilization of enemy civilians, or even something as crude as summary executions of civilians as we march through, would have a similar effect.
Examples can be multiplied, and that is part of the problem: the job of an ethical war analyst, if I may be so bold as to prescribe for a field I am not in, is to rigorously consider the moral options. In depth analysis of immoral options are at best a waste of resources. Somewhere in the middle it creates a scandalous temptation to do evil, and at worst, it involves formal cooperation with evil.