2013-12-31

Contradiction

Part One:

 COL LANDA
          Now according to these papers, all
          the Jewish families in this area have
          been accounted for - except, The Dreyfusis.
          Somewhere in the last year it would appear
          they have vanished.
          Which leads me to the conclusion that
          they've ether made good their escape,
          or someone is very successfully hiding
          them.

          (looking up from his papers, across the table at The FARMER)

          What have you heard about The Dreyfusis
          Monsieur LaPadite?

          PERRIER
          Only rumors -

          COL LANDA
          - I love rumors! Facts can be so
          misleading, where rumors, true or false
          are often reveling. So Monsieur LaPadite,
          what rumors have you heard regarding
          The Dreyfusis?

          (The Farmerlooks at Landa.)

          COL LANDA
          Speak freely Monsieur LaPadite, I want
          to hear what the rumors are, not who told
          them to you.
          The Farmer puffs thoughtfully on his pipe.

          PERRIER
          Again, this is just a rumor - but we
          heard the Dreyfusis had made there way
          into Spain.

          COL LANDA
          So the rumors you've heard have been of
          escape?

          PERRIER
          Yes.

          COL LANDA
          Were the LaPadites and the Dreyfusis
          friendly?

          (As the Farmer answers this question, the CAMERA LOWERS behind
          his chair, to the floor, past the floor, to a small area underneath the
          floorboards revealing;)

          FIVE HUMAN BEINGS
          (lying vertically underneath the farmers floorboards. These human
          beings are The DREYFUSIS, who have lived lying down underneath the
          dairy farmers house for the past year. But one couldn't call what The
          Dreyfusis have done for the last year living. This family has done the
          only thing they could, hidden from a occupying army that wishes to
          exterminate them.)

          PERRIER
          We were families in the same community,
          in the same bussiness. I wouldn't say
          we were friends, but members of the same
          community, we had common interest.

          (The S.S. Colonel takes in this answer, seems to except it, then moves
          to the next question.)

- From the opening scene of Inglorious Basterds

Part Two:
If you’re an anarchist, then it would be illogical for you to argue that the US government should sell off federal land in order to divest itself of property. Instead, the logical argument should be that the federal government should vacate the land it has taken possession of and not interfere with its original owners’ resettlement.

For, if you argue that the government should sell the land it holds, then you are implicitly admitting that the government is a) a legitimate entity and that b) it possesses property rights. If the government were an illegitimate entity, then whatever ownership claims it would make would subsequently be illegitimate as well. Thus, it would have to forfeit all claims to the proceeds of the sales, since those claims are derivative from the initial illegitimate ownership claim.
- Simon Grey, A Brief Thought Exercise

Although I cannot locate a citation for it, somewhere in the far reaches of YouTube, there exists footage of an interview with Frank Zappa in which he discusses his problems with the Libertarian Party, circa 1985 or so. Zappa makes the point that he agreed with the LP on a lot of issues, but on other issues, he found their thinking to be problematic.

In the interview, he cites eminent domain as one example. At the time, the LP platform included a point about returning land to Native Americans. However, the platform also included a point about eminent domain's being unconstitutional, or otherwise wrong. Zappa's point was: How will we return land to Native Americans without practicing eminent domain? Grey's concern is identical to Zappa's; true to the adage, great minds think alike.

Part Three:
You hypocrite, I wrote, how can you contradict yourself? But it's inevitable, I wrote.
It takes courage to discover a sense of conviction. It is a lifelong journey to develop a code of ethics that works for you. Along the way, you are bound to contradict yourself. 
This is the nature of morality. This is what it means to be human. We will never live up to all of our own expectations for ourselves. Our expectations will even change over time. The fact that someone once read and enjoyed Atlas Shrugged or The Communist Manifesto or any other controversial set of moral ideas should never, ever be used as a Scarlet Letter against anyone.
Of course, it's easy for me to dismiss contradiction when levied at me, while simultaneously crying foul when I detect it in the position of others. Easy it may be, but fair it is not. Although I am not an anarchist and I don't wish to defend their beliefs, in the context in which it was written, Grey's point can be thought of as an allusion to open-borders immigration. To wit, if citizenship is a relevant concept - indeed, if nation states are a relevant concept - then how can one simultaneously believe in citizenship and open borders?

Part Four:
Can a Christian Frenchman living through the Holocaust lie to Colonel Landa in order to save a family of innocent Jews from certain death? That is, can one whose values stand against "bearing false witness" nonetheless bear false witness if the cause is noble? Does the value of human life outweigh offer sufficient justification for failing to consistently practice what you preach?

More to the point, under what conditions might we "get away with" a philosophical inconsistency in the name of a just cause?

There are no right answers here. In the movie, Perrier ultimately betrays the Jewish family to protect his own. Human life outweighs his belief in honesty; the lives of his immediate family outweigh those of his neighbors. The Libertarian Party, circa mid-1980s, valued Native American property rights more highly than their stance against eminent domain. Simon Grey values communal homogeneity over strict adherence to free market capitalism.

As is the case with so many different aspects of life, the world is complex to the point that total consistency is probably impossible. In that regard, complaints that religions are self-contradictory are specious, too. Everyone is some level of hypocrite, because there are far too many complications in life to be fully accounted for by any ideology.

What matters is not that a contradiction exists, but that no contradiction remains unexplained. Consequentialist ethics easily account for a "noble lie." In the name of pragmatism, we might prefer some level of legal authority if it enables us to shrink the State's property holdings. Logic dictates that immigration restrictions are easier to eliminate than claims to citizenship.

That good decisions are sometimes contradictory is no strike against good decisions. The problem only arises when one deploys arguments of economic freedom against immigration; when one deploys religious arguments against saving lives; when one uses creed to justify creed-violation.

Ideally, a good-faith dialogue helps clarify the trade-offs. I do see the value of borders in the modern world, in light of practical considerations. I realize that open borders compromise border security - and I am comfortable with that trade-off. Freedom of migration and economic growth are both worth more to me than border security.

I also realize that in-group homogeneity loses out when pit against the arrival of a heterogeneous out-group. This is a good trade, in my opinion, because I do not value in-groups at all, and homogeneous ones - with their many Colonel Landas, large and small - have been all the more pernicious, in my experience.