Thursday, May 22, 2003

What is a “moral idiot”?

You are owed an explanation for a term that has appeared here a few times: “moral idiot” (or “imbecile” or “retard.” It is obviously not a nice thing to say to someone, and so it gets used sparingly, but the fact that it does get used makes some comment necessary, as a few of you have indicated in comments or email. I know for sure I have used it to comment on anti-war celebrities who don’t like being criticized, and on so-called “volunteer human shields.” In general, below, I will call these people “perps” or “malefactors” during the explanation.

Several factors make someone a “moral idiot,” and they must all be present before the Kairos Guy will use the term.

First, the malefactor must identify a clearly understood moral principle. Second he must demonstrate his opponent’s non-compliance with that principle. Third, he must insist on his own compliance with it. Fourth, the perp’s actual behavior must in fact contradict the principle he claims to be upholding.

So, a person decides that the US is going to wage aggressive and illegal war on Iraq. Appealing to just war principles, the person makes at least a prima facie case for that thesis. So far, so good, as reasonable people can and do disagree on this subject. The perp believes that he has a responsibility to stop the Bush administration and thinks that civilian deaths, especially Western civilians, will do the trick. So he volunteers to go to Iraq to become a human shield.

It is as clear a violation of the rules of warfare to place civilians deliberately in harm’s way as it is to wage illegal aggressive war. Yet the antiwar westerner in this example thinks that the best way to prevent one war crime lies in the commission of another. That is, plainly and simply, moral idiocy. The malefactor believes that his recognition of a violation of a particular moral principle justifies his own violation of that same principle.

HOWEVER, there is one more critical factor that I have not discussed, and that governs my specific willingness to use the term at any particular moment. I reserve the public use of the term for people who intentionally make their moral idiocy a public spectacle. Celebrities who use every public appearance as an opportunity to show their moral superiority, but cannot stand criticism, need public rebuke. In fact, I would go so far as to say that in many instances, public rebuke is absolutely demanded of us. False prophets are to be scorned.


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