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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Outsourcing judgment, and taking good conscience where you can get it

In a recent post at Ordinary-Times, Will Truman makes the argument that Donald Trump and many of his supporters are racists. It's of course not new for someone to make that argument, and Will of course has ready evidence at his disposal. But that post is post is different because Will rarely makes "X is a racist" declarations.

In his post, Will refers to some of the ways that Trump supporters dodge the racism issue. One of them is 

usually something about crying wolf and how liberals call everyone racist. That’s sometimes true but beside the point. The fact of the matter is that I do disregard what a lot of leftwards have to say on the subject. They have proven to be unreliable and I have responded accordingly. It would, however, be the height of intellectual laziness to simultaneously outsource all of my judgment on racial issues to them and then reject their opinions. If you don’t have your own opinions on what constitutes racism, that’s on you. [bold added by me]
I am similarly guilty of outsourcing in two ways.

The first is pretty much what Will is referring to. I too often take the opinions of my liberal-leaning friends and coworkers and use those opinions as a gauge to measure my own (usually contrarian) response to whatever issue they're opining about. The upshot is that I too often resort to the "but actually" and the "well, you have to understand" approach to the bigotry of Trump and his supporters. But Will's post reminds me that ultimately I have to decide to call something for what it is and to reject the pleasures of contrarianism.

The second way I am guilty of outsourcing my judgment is evidenced by my willingness to embrace what Will is saying in that post. There are some left-leaning people at Ordinary Times with whom I have a frosty relationship. If one of them had written a similar post calling Trump a racist, I would have had to stifle the temptation to contrarianism. But I have a lot more respect for Will than I do for them. When he speaks out on any issue and especially on this issue, I'm much more willing to agree, and not reluctantly, but with (shall I say?) enthusiasm.

In a sense, I'm using him as a moral compass, as a standard by which I measure my own notions of right and wrong. I'm "outsourcing" at least some of my own morality to the example of someone else. In choosing Will as one of those someone else's, I believe I'm choosing wisely. I could certainly choose worse. But the racism that Will is calling out would remain racism even if Will had not called it out, and even if Will denied the racism instead of naming it.

At the end of the day, Will is only a human and has the failings of a human. I shouldn't tether my morality to his views or to anyone's views. But even if I am making a mistake, the mistake fosters (I hope) my own good conscience so that in the future, if I ever have to choose in the absence of a good example, I might choose rightly.

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