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A Philosopher's Blog by Michael Labossiere - 3d ago
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Trump created yet another round of the racist/not racist game when he tweeted that four congresswomen should go back where they came from. Trump’s defenders, when they admit to knowing the content of the tweets, either simply deny that the tweets are racist or engage in semantic engineering to argue for that claim.

To concede the obvious, Trump did not use explicitly racist words in his tweets. For example, he did not refer to the women with standard racist slurs. As such, his defenders could argue that the tweets are not racist in that sense. This would, of course, require claiming ignorance of coding and how language works (such as inuendo and euphemisms). This fools no one but does allow for implausible denial that can be quite appealing. Because of this the use of coded language and avoiding explicitly racist words has become a standard tactic.

The first step in this tango is the use of such coded language or language that is racist, yet not explicitly racist in the way that using racial slurs. For example, saying “go back where you came from” contains no explicit racial slurs, yet is known to almost all users of American English to be racist. It is, in fact, recognized as the type of language that could count as harassment in the workplace. But since it contains no explicit racial slurs, it offers its users and defenders that implausible denial option, which leads to the next stage of the dance.

As would be expected, people who do not like racism (or are looking to score political or virtue points) will attack such statements. In the case of Trump’s infamous tweets, there was extensive criticism from the Democrats. This is presumably what Trump expected and hoped for, since this allows him and his defenders to make the next move in the dance.

The next step is to accuse the accusers of being racist. While this might seem odd, the tactic is to contend that since the critics were the first to bring up race explicitly, they are the ones who are racist. To use an analogy, this would be like a worker using sexual euphemisms in the workplace and, after being called out for sexual harassment, claiming that their critic is the sexual harasser since they were the first to explicitly use the word “sex.” This is obviously absurd, as it is absurd to say that a critic of racist remarks is thus a racist because they bring the issue of race into the open. This tactic does have considerable psychological force and is worth considering as a type of fallacy.

While a full analysis is needed, a common explanation of the effectiveness of this tactic rests with the fact that most Americans think that racism is bad and that they are not racists. Trump and others are, however, making racist remarks seem to be non-racist by using the coding tactics developed over the years. For example, immigration is presented in terms of crime and a threat to jobs, so it does not “feel” racist when one is worried about brown people committing crimes and taking one’s job. After all, the worry is not because they are brown, but because they are criminals and job stealers. If someone accepts that the coded racism of Trump and his ilk is racist, they must either accept that they are racists if they go along with the charade or reject the charade and accept it for what it is. It is easier to simply deny that it is racist, thus allowing a person to hold to their views that racism is bad, and they are not racists, while still giving in to the feelings of fear and anger that Trump and others have fed so well. Thus, good people can become ardent defenders of an evil they would reject if they saw its true face.

This racist tango can lock critics into the dance of racist or not racist, which distracts from the true concern—namely the racism. This tactic is thus very effective. First, it allows Trump and others to appeal to those who are racist. Second, it allows him to appeal to people who are not racist, but whose fear and anger influence them to accept the coded racism that scares and incites them as not being racist. Third, it gets the critics and media arguing about whether the racists or racism exploiters are really racist or not—thus wasting energy on a red herring. While this tactic serves Trump and his ilk well, it is doing considerable damage to the social fabric and moral fiber of the United States.

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This is the third in an ongoing series aimed to provide the overworked DM with ready-to run encounters.  This encounter features the Haunted Stones, a weak point between the material plane and the Ashenfey.

The encounter provides details of the Verdanfey and the Ashenfey as well as several new monsters of the Ashenfey ranging from the Asheneant to the Shuffling Husk. The companion ZIP file includes JPEG maps (gridded and gridless), a Hero Lab file of all the monsters, a PDF of all the new monster stats in character sheet format, and the text in Word format for easy use in customizing your Ashenfey encounters.

As an encounter, it is not intended to be a full adventure. Hence, just the basic details are provided along with some suggestions and possible story hooks.

https://www.dmsguild.com/product/283210/Mikes-Free-Encounter-3-Haunted-Stones

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A Philosopher's Blog by Michael Labossiere - 6d ago

When it comes to persuasion, logic is one of the weaker tools. This is because the end of logic is truth, not making people believe something—that is the end of persuasion. While the land of logic is a foreign realm to Trump, he seems to have an instinct for using fallacies and rhetoric to persuade people. This has served him well—rhetoric makes the masses clap, logic makes them nap.

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While Trump enjoys the classic fallacies, such as the scare tactic and the general ad hominen attack, he recently made use of a subclass of the ad hominem known to some as the “ergo decedo” (“therefore leave”) and called by Copi the “traitorous critic fallacy.” Since there is no international bureau of fallacy naming, I will call it the “leave it” fallacy.

The Leave It fallacy is a type of ad hominem because it involves rejecting a person’s claim because the “evidence” against a person’s claim is an irrelevant attack on the person. There are two things that distinguish the Leave It fallacy. First, the person is attacked because they are being critical of something. This attack typically takes the form of asserting that the critic is motivated by a secret association or agreement with a disliked group. Second, rather than refuting the criticism, the attacker only tells the target to “leave.” As such, the fallacy has the following general form:

Premise 1. Person A makes critical claim X about Y.

Premise 2. Person B attacks A (usually for an alleged association/agreement with a disliked group G) and says that if A does not like X about Y, then they should leave Y (usually for G).

Conclusion:  Therefore, X is false.

This argument is a fallacy because simply attacking a person and telling them to leave does not prove that their criticism is false. The fallacy draws much of its psychological power from the cognitive bias of groupthink (the tendency to try to minimize conflict and form a consensus by suppressing dissent and avoiding outside influences) and the ingroup bias (the tendency to see one’s own group as superior and outsiders as inferior). Someone who is critical of a group can easily be cast as a threat and hence people in that group can be motivated to reject that criticism out of anger and dislike. These biases do not, of course, have any logical weight.

The defense against this fallacy is to try to reason through any negative feelings one might have and ask if any relevant refutation of the criticism has been offered. If it has not, then the “argument” gives no reason to reject that criticism. This does not mean that the criticism is therefore true—it just means the fallacy does not provide any reason to reject it.

Care should be taken to not confuse the Leave It fallacy with the False Dilemma “love it or leave it.” The idea in this false dilemma is that one has just two options: to love something (typically a country) utterly and never criticize it or leave it. There are obviously many other options. The difference between the two is that the Leave It fallacy involves using an attack on the person to “argue” that their criticism is false while the False Dilemma “love it or leave it” is intended to silence criticism by wrongly asserting that one has only the two choices. It can often be hard to distinguish the two because people often combine them and those attempting these fallacies often do not know what they are doing themselves. Now back to Trump.

Trump recently attacked Democratic Congresswomen with this fallacy, “arguing” that their criticisms of America are wrong “because” they are “from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world” and they should go back to these countries.  Trump’s “logic” seems to be this:

Premise 1: The Democratic Congresswomen criticized the United States.

Premise 2: The women are from “from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world” and they should go back where they came from.

Conclusion: The Democratic Congresswomen criticisms are not true.

Presented in this manner, the fallacy is even more evident: there is no connection between the premises and the conclusion; Trump is merely attacking the Congresswomen and telling them to leave. While having nothing to do with the fallacy, it is worth noting that all four of the Congresswomen Trump attacks are American citizens and three of them were born in the United States. Some might thus say that Trump is not wrong when he says that they come from a country with a government that is “a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world”—that is, the Trump administration.

In closing, it must be noted that the fact that Trump’s attack on the Congresswomen was fallacious does not prove that their critical claims about the United States are true—that does not follow. Their claims must stand or fall on their own merits.

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A Philosopher's Blog by Michael Labossiere - 1w ago

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This royalty free map collection contains 39 free color maps including towers, ruins, dungeons, outdoor encounters and more. Each map has a version with a grid and one without. The PDF files allows you to easily view the maps, the ZIP file contains the JPEG versions. 

Legal Information

You may reduce, enlarge, re-label, crop or color the maps. The creator’s name (“Michael LaBossiere”) must be included in the final published maps if it appears in the original maps. You may not resell these maps. If you use this image in a publication (digital, print or otherwise) you must include this statement:

“Some maps copyright Michael C. LaBossiere, used with permission.”

The fallen tree and fungus symbols used in some maps were created by Neyjour and are used with permission.

https://www.dmsguild.com/product/282716/Mikes-Free-Maps-Collection-6

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In the previous essay I drew an analogy between the ethics of abortion and the ethics of migration. In this essay, I will develop the analogy more and do so with a focus on the logic of the analogy. Because everyone loves logic.

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Strictly presented, an analogical argument will have three premises and a conclusion. The first two premises (attempt to) establish the analogy by showing that the things in question are similar in certain respects.  The third premise establishes the additional fact known about one thing and the conclusion asserts that because the two things are alike in other respects, they are alike in this additional respect. Here is the form of the argument:

  • Premise 1: X has properties P, Q, and R.
  • Premise 2: Y has properties P, Q, and R.
  • Premise 3: X has property Z as well.
  • Conclusion: Y has property Z

X and Y are variables that stand for whatever is being compared, such as rats and humans or Hitler and that politician you hate. P, Q, R, and Z are also variables, but they stand for properties or qualities, such as having a heart. The use of P, Q, and R is just for the sake of the illustration-the things being compared might have many more properties in common.

It is easy to make a moral argument using an argument from analogy. To argue that Y is morally wrong, find an X that is already accepted as being wrong and show how Y is like X. To argue that Y is morally good, find an X that is already accepted as morally good and show how Y is like X. To be a bit more formal, here is how the argument would look:

  • Premise 1: X has properties P, Q, and R.
  • Premise 2: Y has properties P, Q, and R.
  •  Premise 3: X is morally good (or morally wrong).
  • Conclusion: Y is morally good (or morally wrong).

The strength of an analogical argument depends on three factors. To the degree that an analogical argument meets these standards it is a strong argument. If an it fails to meet these standards, then it is weak. If it is weak enough, then it would be fallacious. There is no exact point at which an analogical argument becomes fallacious, however the standards do provide an objective basis for making this assessment.

First, the more properties X and Y have in common, the better the argument. This standard is based on the commonsense notion that the more two things are alike in other ways, the more likely it is that they will be alike in some other way. It should be noted that even if the two things are very much alike in many respects, there is still the possibility that they are not alike regarding Z.

Second, the more relevant the shared properties are to property Z, the stronger the argument. A specific property, for example P, is relevant to property Z if the presence or absence of P affects the likelihood that Z will be present.

Third, it must be determined whether X and Y have relevant dissimilarities as well as similarities. The more dissimilarities and the more relevant they are, the weaker the argument.

In the case of drawing a moral analogy between the ethics of abortion and migration, the challenges are to determine the properties that make them alike and to establish the relevant moral status of abortion.

Since my goal is to show that those who already think abortion is morally wrong should also think expelling migrant children is wrong, I can assume (for the sake of the argument) that abortion is wrong. The next step is showing that abortion and expelling migrant children are alike enough to create a strong analogy.

Opponents of abortion tend to argue that human life has intrinsic worth and often speak in terms of a life being precious and a sacred gift from God. Since they tend to believe that a child exists at or soon after conception, it follows that the wrongness of abortion stems from the harm done to that precious life and sacred gift. While some opponents of abortion do allow exceptions for incest and rape, some do not—so they reject abortion even if the pregnancy occurs against the mother’s will. Obviously enough, all opponents of abortion agree that in most cases the mother should be compelled to bear the child, even if they do not want to and even when doing so would cause them some harm. One way to see this is that the child has a right to remain where it is, even when it arrived there without the consent of the owner of the womb (the mother) and when she does not want it to remain.  What, then, are the similarities between abortion and expelling child migrants?

While this makes for a very problematic analogy, one could note that a child who is brought into the United States illegally would be similar to a child implanted in a woman (or girl) by rape—that is, their presence is the result of an illegal act and is against the will of the host. While expelling a fetus would certainly (given current technology) result in death, expelling a migrant child generally results in harm and can result, indirectly, in death. As such, if abortion is wrong for the above reasons, then expelling migrant children would be wrong—even if they were brought into the United States illegally.

There are a few obvious ways to counter this reasoning. One is to focus on the distinction between expelling a fetus and expelling a migrant child. As noted above, the fetus will certainly die during an abortion, but expelling a migrant child back to a high-violence area does not result in certain death. This requires taking the moral position that only certain death matters. Interestingly, if artificial wombs became available, then abortion opponents who take the only death matters view would have to accept that a woman would have every right to expel a fetus into a womb, if death was not certain. That is, if the odds of the fetus would be comparable to the odds of a child being expelled back into a dangerous region.

A second difference is that migrant children are already born, so they are not unborn children. Those who are anti-abortion often seem unconcerned about what happens to children and mothers (anti-abortion states tend to have the highest infant mortality rates), so it would be “consistent” for them to not be concerned about the fate of migrant children. This requires accepting the moral view that what matters is preventing abortion and that once birth occurs, moral concern ends. While not an impossible view, it does seem rather difficult to defend in a consistent manner. As such, those who oppose abortion in all cases would need to accept that expelling migrant children into danger would be morally wrong—and they should oppose this with the same vehemence with which they oppose abortion. But what about anti-abortion folks who allow abortion in the case of rape and incest?

Those who oppose abortion but make exceptions for cases of rape and incest would seem to be able to consistently advocate expelling migrant children, even when doing so would put them in danger. This is because they hold to what seems to be a consistent principle: if a child is present against the will of the property owner and as the result of a crime, then the child can be expelled even if this results in death whether this is an abortion or expelling a child who is an illegal migrant. But if the child is present due to consensual activity, then it would be wrong to expel the child.

While sexual consent can be a thorny issue, migration consent is even more problematic. After all, there is a rather important question about what counts as consensual migration. On the face of it, one could simply go with the legal view: those who cross the border illegally are here without consent and can be expelled. But there is the fact that American business and others actively invite migrants to cross the border and want them here, thus seeming to grant some form of consent. Also, people can legally cross the border to seek asylum, thus there is legal consent for such people—which includes migrant children. So, the matter is less clear cut. But Even if we stick with strict legality, then asylum seekers are still here with consent and hence expelling such children would seem to be morally similar to abortion: children are being harmed by being expelled. As such, those who hold to an anti-abortion position would seem to be obligated to also oppose expelling migrant children if they arrived seeking asylum.

It is worth noting that if the analogy holds, it would also seem to hold in reverse. That is, a person who is opposed to expelling migrant children because of the harm it would do to them would seem to also need to oppose abortion. Pro-choice pro-migrant folks do have a way to get out of this. They can argue that while migrant children are clearly people and hence have that moral status, a developing fetus does not have that moral status and hence the choice of the woman trumps the rights (if any) of the fetus. This is a consistent position since the pro-choice pro-migrant person holds that people have rights, but that the fetus is not a person. In contrast, the anti-abortion anti-migrant person is in something of a bind; they need to argue that unborn fetuses have a greater moral status than already born migrant children.

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A Philosopher's Blog by Michael Labossiere - 2w ago

This collection of essays focuses on metaphysics and, to a lesser extent, epistemology. While metaphysics is often seen as something that involves healing crystals and auras, the philosophical discipline is focused on determining the nature and structure of reality. Epistemology, once regarded as the most boring part of philosophy, has become a favorite of the media. Despite its new celebrity status, it is still the study of knowledge.

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A Philosopher's Blog by Michael Labossiere - 2w ago

As J.S. Mill pointed out in his writing on liberty, people generally do not operate based on consistent principles. Instead, they act based on their likes and dislikes—which are often the result of misinformation. Comparing the view of many Republicans of abortion to their view of immigration illustrates this nicely.

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To use a concrete example, Alabama recently passed the most restrictive anti-abortion law to date, forbidding abortion even in cases of rape and incest. Proponents of the law, such as Alabama governor Kay Ivey, claim that the motivation behind the law is to protect life. As the governor said, “to the bill’s many supporters, this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God.”

On the face of it, the principle in operation here is that because each life is precious and a sacred gift, if a man impregnates a woman (or girl) against her will, then she is obligated to host the zygote until birth. The expenses and risks of doing so fall on the woman (or girl)—the United States generally does shockingly little to assist pregnant women. Looked at in the abstract, the principle is that if a child manages to get inside a certain area, then there is an obligation on the part of the owner of that area to care for that child until the child can safely exit the area. If removing the child would kill or harm the child, then the child cannot be removed—regardless of how the child got there.

This principle would seem to also apply to certain migrant children who enter the United States—even if they are brought here illegally and against the will of the United States. Once they get within the United States, if expelling them would lead to harm, then the United States is obligated to care for them until they can safely exit the United States. After all, if the principle permits compelling women to bear a child from rape or incest, then it surely permits compelling the United States to care for even migrant children who are here illegally. At least until the children can safely leave the country.

It could be objected that abortion always kills a child while expelling a migrant child from the United States will probably not kill them. Hence the analogy breaks. One possible reply is to argue that if every life is precious and a sacred gift, then even harming a precious, sacred gift would be wrong. That is, the principle isn’t “killing them would be wrong, but anything else is probably okay” but that each precious life must be treated as a sacred gift and one does not throw a sacred gift out.

 But making the strongest analogy requires considering only cases in which expulsion would result in death. There are, of course, cases like that: there are migrant children (and adults) who are likely to be killed if they are sent back to their home country. It could be countered that, unlike abortion, they do have a chance of surviving. If so, the principle would have to be “each life is precious and a sacred gift, but this only entails that children should not be exposed to certain death. Likely death or great harm is morally okay.” While this is certainly a principle that one could hold, it is hardly commendable. As such, there would seem to be two options for anti-abortion folks who also want to be anti-migrant. The first is to consistently apply their avowed principle and accept immigrants when their expulsion would be likely to result in their harm. Or, of they want to be extremely strict, their deaths. The second option would be to abandon or modify their principle so that it applies only to abortion but not to migrants. The challenge is doing so in a manner that is not ad hoc or begs the question. For example, just saying that the principle only applies to the bodies of women but not to the United States would be ad hoc, as would saying that only zygotes deserve to be protected. It is worth noting that those who are pro-choice and pro-migrant would also need to consider the possible conflict between their principles as well.

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A Philosopher's Blog by Michael Labossiere - 2w ago

While Trump passed on the opportunity to see tanks rolling through cities during the Vietnam War, he decided to bring the tanks to Washington DC for his 4th of July event. As with all things Trump, this event is a matter of great controversy. As with most controversial things in these partisan times, opinions tend to split along political lines. As such, it is tempting to dismiss this as a tank tempest in a teacup that has been magnified through political lenses. However, there do seem to be some meaningful issues here.

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One obvious point of concern is that this event is going to be very expensive—although the exact cost is not yet known. Transporting tanks and other hardware is not cheap, nor is operating combat aircraft. There is also the cost of the damage that is likely to arise from rolling tanks through the streets. While Republicans used to pretend to be fiscal hawks, they have long abandoned their avowed principles here—hence it falls to others to make the fiscal argument: spending millions on a single event when there are so many better ways to use the money (such as paying for better care for veterans) is a huge waste and fiscally irresponsible.

A second area of concern is the role of the military in the event. While armed forces were obviously critical in the American revolution, July 4th is not a military holiday. Rather, it is a holiday that celebrates the declaration of Independence. To be fair, the 4th has been celebrated in Washington with military elements in the parades but having an explicitly military event on the 4th is odd and goes against well-established tradition. Part of this is because the symbolism of military events on holidays that are not explicitly honoring the military or veterans is linked strongly with dictators, most especially Communist dictators. This is not to suggest that there is anything wrong with the military; rather the problem lies with putting on such a display to appease the ego of a man who wishes he was dictator.

It could be countered that the military is present to honor the military. As noted above, the revolution was an armed conflict. One easy and obvious reply is that the 4th is not a military holiday—we have Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day. Another easy and obvious reply is that a better way to honor the military is to use the money to pay for useful things, like care for veterans and addressing problems. Allowing these soldiers to spend the day with their families would also be good.

A final, and perhaps the most serious, concern is that the United States has striven to maintain a professional, non-political military. That is, our military does not serve a specific person or party, their oath is to the Constitution. While I am not worried that the soldiers will spontaneously rally for Trump, I am worried that Trump will use the event as a campaign rally and thus use the military for political purposes and propaganda. Defenders of Trump might contend that Democrats would do the same thing; but even if this were true, it would obviously not make it right.

Trump might stay within the law and not use the public’s money for partisan propaganda. After all, he did manage to stick to reading the script during the D-Day events this year. However, there are many problems beyond this one—enough to indicate that tanks on the 4th is the wrong thing to do. Yes, I will say the same thing if President Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez decides to roll tanks through DC to celebrate Socialism Day.

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While Joe Biden is unlikely to bring this up, the Obama deported more people than any other president. While this was criticized by some, the anger and outrage against it cannot match that directed against the Trump administration. As such, Trump supporters might think themselves justified when they point out this fact about the Obama administration as a defense of Trump. While Obama should not get a pass on his deportation record, it is worth noting important differences between the two administrations. One important difference is that Obama had a well-defined set of policies designed to account for the reality of limited resources. Trump certainly does not take this approach. Second, Obama focused on deporting those who had committed crimes (other than crossing the border illegally) and new arrivals. In contrast, Trump seems to be after everyone. Finally, and most importantly, the Obama administration did not adopt a strategy of creating fear. The Trump administration has made it clear that they regard using fear as a deterrent as a legitimate immigration tool.

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At this point, you might be thinking the obvious: deterring people by using laws and policies that create fear is a standard practice. That is how we, as a society, try to keep people from committing crime ranging from jaywalking to mass murder. So, you might wonder, what could be wrong with this?

While there are moral thinkers who oppose the use of coercion by fear across the board, the general strategy of keeping people behaving properly by the use of fear does have the approval of Aristotle and I will not argue against the general principle that it can be acceptable to use fear to deter immoral or illegal behavior. This is obviously analogous to the use of force: not all uses of force are to be condemned, just the immoral ones. So, the key question to be addressed here is whether Trump’s approach to deterring migrants is morally acceptable.

As a general policy, the Trump administration seems to have adopted the strategy of trying to deter migrants by engaging in behavior that seems evil. First, the administration aggressively followed a policy of separating children and parents and officials made it clear that this was a policy intended to deter migration by creating fear that America would do evil to migrants. It is, after all, no accident that a standard shorthand in fiction for showing that a group is evil is to depict it as taking children from their parents. Second, the Trump administration has become even more infamous for its treatment of detained children. Caging children and denying them necessities is also a stock behavior of evil characters in fiction, for good reason—such behavior is evil. Once again, this is to deter migrants from coming here by creating fear: if you come here, we will put your children into dirty cages without soap or toothbrushes.

Proponents of this policy argue that people choose to come here illegally knowing what will happen—hence what is done to them is justified. On the one hand, this does have some appeal. If you tell someone that the pot on stove is hot and they put their hand on it anyway to grab some food, they only have themselves to blame.  On the other hand, if people are being pushed into the situation, then the use of such tactics simply means that people will be harmed rather than deterred. Going back to the stove, if you keep the pot of food hot to deter starving people from taking the food, you will just end up burning hungry people. Saying that they knew they would be burned is not an adequate defense. In the case of migration, many people are fleeing the nightmare we helped to create in Central America—they are being pushed by things worse than what the Trump administration is trying to scare them away with.

There is also the fact that, as Locke argued, there are moral limits to how even a criminal can be treated. One of these is proportionality—separating families and imprisoning children without the necessities is a punishment that goes beyond the alleged crime. This is especially important in the case of children—they cannot justly be considered guilty of a crime and hence punishing them is utterly unwarranted. As such, using these methods is wrong.

As a final point, even if using such wicked means to deter people could be justified on utilitarian grounds, this would require showing that they are effective. However, they do not work and thus we are burning the hungry because the pain of the burn is less than the pain of the hunger, to go back to the analogy. The Trump administration seems fine with this—while they had hoped these evils would deter people, they seem to have no qualms about doing wrong even when it does not achieve their stated goal. At this point it would seem to be evil for evil’s sake, which would not be out of place as a slogan for the Trump administration.

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The Trump administration set off yet another firestorm when it was revealed that migrant children were being detained without access to such basic items as toothpaste and soap. Apparently this is not just a matter of a lack of funds but of a policy decision—after all, donations are not being accepted from the public. One could argue that such donations cannot be accepted out of concern for the safety of the children or perhaps it is a standing policy to not accept any donations—these are points worth considering before immediately condemning the US Border Patrol. However, not having such necessities seems rather more dangerous than any risk presented by donations and polices can be changed if the will is there. As such, one would suspect that creating such conditions is a matter of policy.

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On the face of it, denying anyone these necessities is morally wrong. Even the Taliban and Somali pirates give their captives toothpaste and soap; for the United States to be unwilling to rise up to the ethical level of pirates and the Taliban is certainly problematic. The fact that the United States is treating children in this manner makes it even worse—there can be no argument that the children are so terrible that they can be justly denied these necessities. First, they are obviously innocent children. Second, even terrible people are entitled to necessities when being held prisoner. Despite the obvious wickedness of denying children these necessities, the Trump administration not only did so, but defended their actions.

Sarah B. Faban, a Justice Department lawyer, was sent by the administration to defend their misdeeds. The gist of her argument was that the government is only required to provide “safe and sanitary conditions” and since this does not specify such things as soap and toothpaste, the government is not obligated to provide such things. In a now infamous video, the judges made it clear that they did not accept this argument. They contended that providing safe and sanitary conditions does require providing the necessities, such as toothpaste and soap. The judges’ reasoning seems correct. While Faban is right that the specific wording is “safe and sanitary” and that it does not specify that soap, toothpaste and such need to be provided, this is a rather easy entailment to draw. To use an analogy, if it was required that people be housed someplace warm and it turned out that the place was freezing cold, it would be unreasonable to say that this is okay because there is no specific mention of heaters or such. As such, the judges seem to be right about this matter: the children need the necessities, such as soap and toothpaste, to be in safe and sanitary conditions. As such, the Trump administration is wrong.

As would be expected in this age of rage, Faban has been subject to death threats and is the target of hate. While the death threats cross an obvious moral line, it can be contended that in defending an obviously evil policy she made herself worthy of hate and contempt. However, it must be noted that she was doing her job—as a lawyer for Trump’s Justice Department she must defend the administration. It is almost certain that all of us have done things we do not agree with because it is part of our job; we should consider this fact when judging Faban. This does lead to the old problem of disobedience and the now well-established moral principle that “just following orders” is not an adequate moral excuse. That said, it can be too much to expect people to be moral heroes and a case can be made for choosing one’s professional duties over one’s conscience. As such, while I think that Faban had a terrible argument and was defending an evil policy, I will not get on the hate bandwagon.

As far as why the Trump administration has been denying children these necessities, the official line is that it is Congress’ fault. The Trump administration has been thwarted in its effort to shift funds to build the wall and they are asserting that they therefore lack the funds to provide the necessities. This is certainly a clever way to shift blame; but the responsibility for the decisions on how to use the available funds still falls on the Trump administration—they are choosing to deny children these necessities. As such, the strategy seems to be to use the children as a bargaining chip with Congress; essentially saying that if he does not get his wall, then children will go without toothpaste and soap. Using children as hostages in this manner is morally wrong; this is evident to anyone with basic humanity.

It is also suspected that this approach is part of a broader strategy of trying to deter migrants from entering the country. Separating families was supposed to frighten people into not crossing the border and now terrible conditions are being used to try to scare people away. This leads to another moral question which needs to be addressed: is it morally acceptable to deter migration by doing wicked things to create fear? This will be the subject of an upcoming essay.

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