Identity-Based Principles are Dangerous

Principles and morality must be applied equally to all people, regardless of their identity

There is a growing trend of people using tactics that would normally be considered immoral being considered acceptable because of the identity of the people they are being used against.

Two recent examples of this are the smearing campaign against Jesse Signal and the onslaught of attacks against independent writers by established media organizations and the writers who work for them.

If you are interested in the details, this Quilette article by Jonathon Kay goes into detail on the issue of Jesse Singal, and this article by Glenn Greenwald talks about the issue facing independent journalists.

Other writers like these have done an excellent job covering the facts of these issues, I want to dive more into the philosophy, worldview, and motivation that drives tactics like this, as well as how we can avoid doing the same.

The root cause of this phenomenon comes down to, I believe, deriving our moral and ethical principles from identity. More specifically, by dividing people into oppressed and oppressor classes.

There are a few problems with this:

First, the pendulum always swings when we do this. Eventually, we will give one class too many privileges and inevitably start to oppress the former oppressors or end up oppressing classes outside of the dichotomy.

Second, different people have different ideas of what an oppressed and oppressor class is depending on how they view the data and culture around them.

When we start treating people as if they can be completely destroyed based on which group they fall into, and which group they attack, we trap ourselves.

Eventually, you will say or do something that the vanguards of the oppressed will view as heresy, and you will be destroyed as well.

The real danger lies in the fact that this philosophy places perception and opinion above fact. As strongly as you believe certain things about certain groups of people, the fact is there are intelligent people on the other side of the debate that disagree with you and have good reasons for doing so.

Data can be interpreted differently, people have different biases that can result in understanding data and the world differently.

Discussing these disagreements and where they originate from calmly and rationally is how we gradually find our way towards the truth, or at least as close as we can get to it as flawed humans.

But when we tie our morality to our perceptions so strongly that we cannot even tolerate somebody discussing the other side, we create two equally dangerous situations:

First, we make it so that the ideas we are trying to spread and argue for are weakened by censoring the other side. The only time censorship makes sense is when the censors are threatened by the people being censored.

Second, it creates an atmosphere where we cannot freely discuss ideas because we have connected ideas too closely to both ourselves and the people we are trying to protect.

Ultimately this issue, on an individual level, comes down to a combination of pride and laziness. If we are too afraid to honestly confront the other side, and instead resort to dishonest smear campaigns and censorship, all we are really doing is admitting that we don’t have a strong argument for the position that we so strongly hold.

Or, we hide behind unnecessary complex language and reduction of cause and effect down to singular issues. We trick ourselves into thinking we have developed knowledge when all we have really done is oversimplified the issue and claimed the knowledge for ourselves.

Anybody that seeks to disagree with this knowledge is automatically cast into the oppressor class and is not to be taken seriously.

This prideful laziness is a useful tool for people that want to feel smart, that want to feel morally superior, without having to actually put in the hard, complex work of actually being these things.

Why is removing a book like When Harry Became Sally from Amazon necessary or helpful if the argument against it is stronger than the argument the book makes?

And if the argument the book makes is stronger, then shouldn’t we want more people to be exposed to it, since it is moving us closer toward the truth?

The question then becomes, do we care more about truth or our own personal opinions being perceived to be correct by the people around us?

Do we care more about truth or pride?

The only response to this I can see here brings us back to basing our principles and morality on identity.

We must protect the class that the writer is attacking at all costs, not because the writer is being untruthful, but for the simple fact that he is attacking the assigned protected class.

But this argument does not hold up to serious scrutiny if your goal is to truly protect and liberate the oppressed.

If this is your goal, you should want to work within a framework of understanding reality as close to the way it actually is as you can.

This means you should be willing to examine all the evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, and see how it applies to the group of people you have chosen to help.

When you do this you will better understand the reality so you can more effectively defend those who need defending based on truth and the way the world actually is.

But this requires both humility and effort to constantly evaluate your views against the evidence around you, adjust them as necessary, and then apply your new knowledge to the problem at hand.