What rights do humans have to refuge? How far wrong is the value-claim that fails to extend help to the victims of war and genocide? What has been our role in resettling refugees in previous administrations? What are the international legal precedents?
In 1945, as the Allied Forces discovered the concentration and death camps of Eastern Europe, humanity looked on in horror to the human price of turning away refugees. Over 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis. Many of those deaths could have been prevented.
The United States’ policies and public opinion toward Jewish refugees during the WWII parallel those of today toward Muslim refugees. Unfortunately, the horrors – immeasurable as they are – are beginning to parallel those sad times in our modern history. There are more refugees today than at any other time in modern history.
Ebensee Concentration Camp Prisoners 1945. Photograph from Wikipedia
The Muslim ban fails our commitment to human rights
Laws stem from morality and morality can be developed from reason and science. What is ethical (at least in a consequentialist view) is based not in WWJD but in the question “what does society need?” As with all human questions, there are only optimums, not maximums, to be reached in these questions, and often the ‘right’ thing is determined not by right but by less wrong.
Consequentialism rates actions’ morality based on the consequences to well-being in society. The global optimum in well-being is the morally right act, the local optimum is more morally right than wrong and is a likely place for a law if the global optimum is unobtainable by the average man. Note, the optimum can be flipped to a reduction of unsatisfactoriness and we have Buddhist morality. In a very interesting article in Tricycle, the author draws parallels between modern day readings of Buddhist karma and the tally across society of the consequences of moral decisions. In essence, morally optimum behaviors are equivalent to those that build good karma into the system and select the ethical for satisfactory futures (including enlightenment), morally incorrect behaviors will come back to haunt societies and individuals with bad karma and unsatisfactory futures (including recycling through rebirth as a dung beetle).
Consequentialism places liberty, self-determination, and equity in high regards for satisfactoriness. It is extremely difficult to weigh the factors objectively. Does government care for a “healthy” life outweigh our liberty to the “property” an individual taxpayer would give to ensure such a societal benefit? How to weigh societal gains versus individual rights?
The thought-experiments of consequentialism often result in a different principle winning for different arguments, and only because the slope is less slippery. To highlight this, the right to own weapons is a right that rightly balances on the side of maintaining liberty at the consequence of greater societal violence, while universal healthcare, like is compelled in all other First World countries, is a right balance toward societal health equity at the consequence of less self-determination in property. That guns and health care could both be on the right sides of a consequentialist ethical argument shows its robustness and the difficulty of tallying principles and modeling outcomes in a consequentialist morality-experiment.
Consequentialism places liberty, self-determination, and equity in high regards for satisfactoriness.
Real-life morality “experiment”
Such a consequentialist thought-experiment, known as the drowning boy thought-experiment, is unfortunately playing out in real life in the Mediterranean today.
Aylan Kurdi Drown Syrian Toddler – 9/3/2015. Photograph from MSNBC
The drowning boy thought-experiment goes like this. Is it morally acceptable to forego saving a boy drowning in a shallow puddle (a puddle it is certain offers no danger to you)? How about if, as a consequence of your saving the drowning boy, you ruin a brand new pair of $200 shoes?
In either case, the failure to act, given little to no cost to your person or property, is seen as morally reprehensible. Inaction given proximity and cost-benefit would lead, assuming we make it a Kantian imperative, to societal minimums, a vicious cycle.
Now let’s pull on proximity. Is the moral indignation as clear if we fail to send the $200 to a foreign nonprofit with a perfect correlation of cash to rescue? In both cases, if a life can be saved for resources that do not threaten the benevolent life, overall societal unsatisfactoriness is limited by saving the life, and society should promote this direction. But should society compel this direction?
In the case of near-proximity, Good Samaritan codes and negligence laws are the rules governing the moral principle; while for far-proximity, the Effective Altruism campaigns have found little purchase in trying to compel good-will at a distance. Instead, what has been effective has been impact data, a compelling claim to the magnitude of impact you can have not simply in directly supporting altruism but by earning-to-give from the First World to the Third World where your money can save far more lives. The pragmatic argument than promotes the benefit (the number of lives saved), while reducing the cost (