Is it always morally wrong to threaten to do, what it is morally wrong to do?
And in particular, is it always evil to threaten to do evil?
This is a deeply important ethical question at any time, but also a desperately urgent one this week, in view of this —
The New York Times 8 August 2017
BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — President Trump threatened on Tuesday to unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea if it endangered the United States, as tensions with the isolated and impoverished nuclear-armed state escalated into perhaps the most serious foreign policy challenge yet of his administration.
In chilling language that evoked the horror of a nuclear exchange, Mr. Trump sought to deter North Korea from any actions that would put Americans at risk. But it was not clear what specifically would cross his line. Administration officials have said that a pre-emptive military strike, while a last resort, is among the options they have made available to the president.
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Mr. Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., where he is spending much of the month on a working vacation. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
Referring to North Korea’s volatile leader, Kim Jong-un, Mr. Trump said, “He has been very threatening beyond a normal state, and as I said, they will be met with fire and fury, and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
Undaunted, North Korea warned several hours later that it was considering a strike that would create “an enveloping fire” around Guam, the western Pacific island where the United States operates a critical Air Force base. In recent months, American strategic bombers from Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base have flown over the Korean Peninsula in a show of force.
What I’m going to argue is this —
(i) while it is not always morally wrong to threaten to do what it is morally wrong to do, and
(ii) while it is not always evil to threaten to do evil, nevertheless
(iii) it is always morally evil to use nuclear weapons in any populated area on Earth, and
(iv) it is always morally evil to threaten to use nuclear weapons if the use of them is also actually intended in order to carry out that threat, and
(v) since, as far as I can determine, Trump actually intends to use nuclear weapons against North Korea in order to carry out his threat,
(vi) therefore, what Trump is doing by threatening North Korea is morally evil.
My argument has six steps.
First, we need to distinguish between moral wrong and moral evil.
Moral wrong is what violates basic principles of morality, which, in turn, are all grounded on respect for human dignity and autonomy.
But there are two different ways of violating these basic principles of morality.
On the one hand, you can fail to do, or fall short of doing, what is required for respecting human dignity and autonomy; or you can do what undermines respect for human dignity, having mistakenly convinced yourself that it’s OK to do these things.
For example, through greed, culpable ignorance, lust, pride, or selfishness you can act in such a way that, even though this is not your primary intention, you do in fact treat innocent people very badly, cause them to suffer, or even kill them.
Let’s call this being morally bad.
And on the other hand, you can intentionally act in such a way as to flout basic principles of morality.
For example, you can intentionally act specifically in order to treat innocent people very badly, cause them to suffer, or even kill them.
Let’s call this being morally evil.
It is possible to be morally bad without being morally evil; and it is always categorically worse to be morally evil than it is to be merely morally bad.
Second, generally speaking, it is morally evil to threaten to do something morally evil, assuming you also intend to do that evil thing; but let us suppose that it is morally evil to do something X, and let us also suppose that you can prevent a much greater evil from happening by threatening to do X: then at least sometimes, it is morally permissible to threaten to do X, provided that you do not actually intend to do X.
For example, it is morally evil to torture someone; but if, to use an ethical thought-experiment, the only way of stopping Mr Nasty from doing a much greater evil to someone else — say, murdering the innocent Ms Nice — is to threaten Mr Nasty with torture, then it would be permissible in that context to threaten Mr Nasty, but only if you do not actually intend to use torture in order to carry out your threat.
Third, if it is morally evil to do something X, and you threaten to do X and you also actually intend to do X in order to carry out your threat, even if you also intend to prevent a much greater evil, nevertheless your intention is still morally evil and therefore it is morally impermissible for you to threaten to do X.
For example, let us suppose thought-experimentally again that the only way of stopping Mr Nasty from murdering the innocent Ms Nice, is to threaten Mr Nasty with torture, and also you do actually intend to torture Mr Nasty in order to carry out that threat, then it is morally impermissible to threaten Mr Nasty with torture.
One easy way of seeing this is that if Mr Nasty were to ignore your threat, yet by some complete accident he is prevented from murdering Ms Nice — say, he’s blown over by a big gust of wind, or knocked down by a passing car — then you’d still torture him, which is obviously morally evil.
Doing evil in order to prevent evil, even when the second evil you intend to prevent is much greater than the first evil, is still evil and therefore morally impermissible, and so is threatening to do the first evil, if you also actually intend to do it.
Fourth, the primary function of nuclear weapons is coercion, and coercion is inherently morally wrong because it involves using people and treating them as mere means to your own ends, hence violating respect for human dignity; no nuclear weapon can ever be used in any populated area on Earth without killing a great many innocent people and also endangering everyone and every other living being on the planet with nuclear fallout and environmental devastation; and everyone who is minimally sane and minimally well-informed knows this; so using nuclear weapons flouts basic principles of morality; and therefore it is always morally evil to use nuclear weapons in any populated area on Earth.
Indeed, nuclear weapons and their use constitute an existential danger for all of humanity.
Fifth, if it is always morally evil to use nuclear weapons in any populated area on Earth, then it must also be always morally evil to threaten to use nuclear weapons in any populated area on Earth, if you actually intend to use them in order to carry out your threat.
This can be easily seen via another ethical thought-experiment in which you are President Strangelove #1 and you threaten to use nuclear weapons, say, by preemptive strike, in order to prevent someone else, President Strangelove #2, using nuclear weapons, and President Strangelove #2 ignores your threat, yet by some complete accident — say, a power outage , or other mechanical breakdown— is prevented from using his nuclear weapons, then you’d still blow President Strangelove #2 and millions of others to kingdom come with your nuclear weapons, which is obviously morally evil.
Sixth, since, as far as I can determine, Trump (who, by a complete coincidence, is also actually known in some circles as “President Strangelove #1”) actually intends to use nuclear weapons in order to carry out his threat against North Korea, therefore it is morally evil for him to threaten to use them.
And to anyone who seriously disputes the soundness of this argument,
Je vous dis, merde!
“Je vous dis, merde!” (literally, “I say to you: shit!” or more loosely, “You’re so full of shit!”) is a morally and politically defiant slogan invented and first published by an early 20th-century Catalan anarchist who used the nom de guerre “Miguel Almereyda.” Almereyda, who was murdered in a French prison in 1917, was also the father of the famous French film director Jean Vigo, who immortalized the same slogan in his breakthrough 1933 film, Zéro de conduite, aka Zero for Conduct.
1. Universal Respect for Human Dignity (URHD):
· Human dignity is the absolute non-denumerable moral value of every member of humanity, and everyone ought to try wholeheartedly to treat everyone else in a way that is sufficient to meet the demands of respect for human dignity, especially including (i) alleviating or ending human oppression, and (ii) actively engaging in mutual aid and mutual kindness.
2. Universal Basic Income (UBI):
· Anyone 21 years of age or over and living permanently in the USA, who has a personal yearly income of $50,000.00 USD or less, and who is capable of requesting their UBI, would receive $25,000.00 USD per year, with no strings attached.
3. A 15-Hour Workweek for Understaffed Non-Bullshit Jobs (FHW-for-UNBJs):
· Anyone 18 years of age or older who is living permanently in the USA, who has completed a high school education, and is mentally and physically capable of doing a job, would be offered an eco-job, paying a yearly wage of $25,000.00 USD, for fifteen hours of work (three 5-hour days) per week.
Thus anyone 21 years of age or older with a high-school degree and who is also mentally and physically capable of working, would have a guaranteed yearly income of at least $50,000.00 USD if they chose to do an eco-job.
The rationale behind the three-year gap between (i) being offered an eco-job at 18 and (ii) beginning to receive their UBI at 21, is that every young adult who has finished high school will have the option of pursuing three years of part-time or full-time free higher education without credentialing, i.e., for its own sake, after high school, before making longer-term decisions about what I call job-work and life-work.
Here are a few more details about UBI and eco-jobs.
(i) The UBI is to be paid by a monthly stipend check.
(ii) Eco-job income is not taxed.
(iii) For all individual yearly incomes of $50,000.00 USD or under, no tax will be levied; hence for someone receiving their UBI and also doing an eco-job, no income tax will be levied.
(iv) For all individual non-eco-job incomes, for every $1.00 USD earned above the standard UBI of $25,000.00 USD, the monthly UBI stipend is reduced by 50 cents, until the recipient’s UBI is reduced to zero; hence for those individuals with yearly non-eco-job incomes equal to or under $50,000.00 USD, the maximum UBI + non-eco-job income sum is always $50,000.00 USD.
(v) For all individual yearly incomes over $50,000.00 USD, for every $10,000.00 USD earned, that surplus income is taxed at the rate of 1%, with the highest surplus income tax rate being 50%; hence the maximum surplus 50% tax rate starts at individual yearly incomes of $550,000.00 USD, and applies to all higher surplus incomes.
4. Universal Free Higher Education Without Credentialing (HEWC):
· Everyone would be offered, beyond their high-school education, a free, three-year minimum, optional (but also open-ended beyond those three years, as a further option), part-time or full-time universal public education program in the so-called “liberal arts,” and also in some of the so-called “STEM” fields, including the humanities, the fine arts, the social sciences, mathematics, and the natural sciences.
· For many or even most people, their HEWC would fall between (i) the end of their high school education at age 18 and the corresponding availability of eco-jobs, and (ii) the beginning of their UBI at age 21.
· But HEWC would be open to anyone with a high school degree, no matter how old they are, provided they are mentally and physically capable of doing the program.
5. Universal Free Healthcare (UFH):
· Every human person living permanently in the USA will receive free lifelong healthcare.
6. 2-Phase Universal Open Borders (2P-UOB):
· Phase 1: Starting in 2021, there will be universal open borders with Canada and Mexico, and everyone who moves across those borders and then claims residence in the USA, will receive temporary or permanent residence in the USA and also full membership in the system of UBI, FHW-for-UNBJs/eco-jobs, and UFH in the USA, with the precise number of new temporary or permanent residents to depend on the current availability of (i) adequate funding for UBI, eco-jobs, and UFH , and (ii) adequate living accommodation, in the USA, provided that all new residents also fully respect the human dignity of everyone else in the USA and elsewhere in the world.
· Phase 2: Also starting in 2021, the USA, Canada, and Mexico will collectively form a Global Refugee Consortium (GRC), with three-way open borders to any political refugee, economic refugee, or asylum seeker from anywhere in the world (aka “global refugees”), who will receive temporary or permanent residence in the USA, Canada, or Mexico, and also full membership in the system of UBI, FHW-for-UNBJs/eco-jobs, and UFH in the three GRC countries, with the precise number of new temporary or permanent residents, and the precise distribution of new residents among the three members of the GRC, to depend on the current availability of (i) funding for UBI, eco-jobs, and UFH , and (ii) adequate living accommodation, in the three GRC countries, provided that all new residents also fully respect the human dignity of everyone else in the GRC and elsewhere in the world.
7. Universal No-Guns (UNG):
· No one in the USA, including police, internal security forces of all kinds, armies, and intelligence forces of all kinds, has the moral right to possess or use guns of any kind, for any purpose whatsoever, because the primary function of guns is coercion, and coercion is immoral.
· UNG would be implemented by repealing the Second Amendment to the US Constitution in 2021 and then universally banning the possession or use of guns thereafter.
I’m also assuming that Universal Public Education (UPE) — universal free access for all human persons of any age to good public education up to the end of high school — already exists in most countries, and needs no further justification.
Where UPE does not already exist, it would automatically become a necessary part of the seven-part WTFU Party package, thereby making it a eight-part package.
Mr Nemo, Nowhere, NA, 11 August 2017