African Immigrants and the Peter Singer Problem

Those who advocate open borders, or at least a huge liberalization of EU immigration policy, have an ally in the influential Australian philosopher Peter Singer, who has argued that all people in the West must make painful financial sacrifices of most of their disposable income to help the world's poor:

Peter Singer has argued in Practical Ethics (1993) that you are morally deficient if you eat meat, or if you fail to give a good bit of your income – 5% if you earn more than $100,000, and at least 10% of income over $150,000 – to help the world’s most destitute. It’s actually worse than that. If you take Singer’s arguments seriously, you should be giving nearly everything you have to charity. (Singer himself doesn’t go that far, giving away only 20% of his income. Nobody’s perfect.)

...Singer’s basic argument is simple, relying on two main principles. Somewhat paraphrased, these principles are, first, maximize pleasure and minimize suffering; and second, all pleasure or suffering counts equally. (Because of Singer’s particular interests, the bit about minimizing suffering plays a larger role than the bit about maximizing pleasure.) You can question how to apply these principles in particular situations, but for Singer there are no principles more fundamental.

One immediate consequence of Singer’s principles is that animal suffering should weigh as heavily in your decisions as human suffering: that’s part of what he means by ‘all suffering counts equally.’ Animals may not suffer as much as humans, but whatever their suffering, it’s as significant as an equal amount of human suffering.

Another consequence of treating everyone’s – sorry, every organism’s – suffering the same, is that your suffering doesn’t count more than anyone else’s. Since there are so many people in the world who suffer more than you, it follows that you should give a substantial part of your wealth to alleviate that suffering...

To convince you that you should give more of your wealth to alleviate suffering, Singer uses a persuasive analogy. Suppose you see a child drowning in a pool. You can rescue the child at no danger to yourself, but at the cost of ruining your new suit (PE, p.229). Clearly, you are morally obliged to wade in, suit be damned. But, says Singer, if you are a moderately well-off citizen of a first world nation, donating 10% of your income to CARE or Oxfam will similarly relieve much suffering, with only a modest impingement on your lifestyle (p.222). As with the drowning child, you can’t just walk by. You have to grab your chequebook and wade on in.

Using similar principles, Singer concludes that you must be a vegetarian, 'that you shouldn’t give your own children extraordinary advantages' and that we should encourage very old people to kill themselves -- perhaps even kill them ourselves -- so that we can spend the €200,000 it costs to prolong Grandma's life for 4 months to immunize 1000 poor children. Some of these things Peter Singer believes, others are thought experiments designed to foster discussion (and boy, do they ever). He cheerfully admits people will never do most of these things, but they should.

I don't know whether Peter Singer has endorsed open borders between Europe and Africa, but I can imagine he would. And therein lies the problem: almost no Westerners have ever lived up to Peter Singer's idea of completely moral conduct, and they never will. And most of them are OK with that, don't like being scolded as immoral, and think that they are nevertheless decent people. The counter-arguments to Singer are manifold, starting with Hume, who declares it to be perfectly normal and understandable that we care more about those closest to us than those far distant. (The linked article sets out all the critiques). Catholic social teaching holds the same view. And virtually every human alive does too, especially if we judge them by their actions, not their words. Plus, you can't develop a workable ethical system without context-based compromises:

In real societies, and especially in large-scale modern societies, there are a profusion of competing ethical principles. In speaking of ‘competing principles’, I don’t just mean that different people have different principles (although they do), but that there are many principles, in competition with each other, guiding any single person’s actions. All those principles can’t all be true all the time. We harmonize them, to the extent we can, by adjusting the contexts in which we see them as applicable.

If ethical rules arise out of the rough and tumble of harmonizing our own interests, including our social impulses, with the interests of others, and with the contingencies thrown up by an infinitely-various natural world, then the rules we come up with are likely to be partial rules for the here and now, not universal rules which will work in all situations, especially those far from our experience; and there are likely to be a large number of rules, each applicable in a small if ill-defined context. For even the most basic ethical rule, there will be contexts where it clearly applies, contexts where it clearly doesn’t apply, and a large grey area in which there can be indecision and controversy. ‘Thou shalt not kill’, for example, is an unimpeachable moral principle, but we can still argue about its range of legitimate application. Self-defense? Just wars? Abortion? Euthanasia? Animals? Vegetables? Around the sizeable edges, there is plenty of room for dispute. It’s not a criticism of a rule to admit that it’s not always clear where it applies.

Why Not Get the Federation of Expellees on Your Side?

One thing that anti-death penalty forces in the US have been doing for years is reaching out to conservatives. Everyone knows all the arguments of lefty death penalty abolitionists and most people disagree with them. Usual suspects, heard it all before, etc. But when those arguments, or similar ones, come from conservatives, people may give the message a second chance. The movement against mass incarceration and capital punishment in the US has gained momentum recently in part because conservatives, not just the usual suspects, have joined in.

Why not reach out to the Federation of Expellees, or the Bund der Vertriebenen? This is the organization that represents the families of the 12 million Germans expelled from Eastern Europe after World War II. It's got a reputation for being right-wing in outlook, since some of the people who got expelled were either active Nazis or collaborators. But at the same time, these are people who claim to be intimately familiar with the wrenching agony of being displaced and dispossessed by war and its aftermath. They might be convinced to issue a statement saying that Europe should massively increase the number of refugees it will accept from Syria and Iraq, especially Christians and other religious minorities who face massacre by Islamic extremists. After all, it is their signature issue. Heck, they may even have already done this, but if so I can't find anything on their website. People would sit up and take notice if the Bund der Vertriebenen called for the German government to accept 200,000 Syrian war refugees from Lebanon and Turkey. Germany has the resources to settle 200,000 immigrants, and if they were all actual, documented refugees from war zones, the political will might exist as well.

This would not address the issue of economic refugees, but nothing is going to convince large numbers of Europeans to accept millions of new immigrants just because those people can't find good jobs at home. Many pro-immigrant groups seem to intentionally obfuscate the line of demarcation between economic refugees and those fleeing war and deadly persecution, lumping everyone together with feel-good slogans like 'No person is illegal'. But this is dumb and shortsighted, since the average citizen of an EU country is likely to have much more sympathy for war refugees than economic ones. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

They Will Be Sent Back

The Guardian has seen a draft of the new EU plan for combating boat refugees:

Only 5,000 resettlement places across Europe are to be offered to refugees under the emergency summit crisis package to be agreed by EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday.

A confidential draft summit statement seen by the Guardian indicates that the vast majority of those who survive the journey and make it to Italy – 150,000 did so last year – will be sent back as irregular migrants under a new rapid-return programme co-ordinated by the EU’s border agency, Frontex. More than 36,000 boat survivors have reached Italy, Malta and Greece so far this year.


Instead, the EU leaders are likely to agree that immediate preparations should begin to “undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers”. The joint EU military operation is to be undertaken within international law.

But the head of Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, said on the eve of the summit that saving migrants’ lives should not be the priority for his maritime patrols despite the clamour for a more humane response after the deaths of 800 refugees and migrants at the weekend.

Way back in February, your humble blog-master said:

Given a choice between opening Europe's borders and ruthlessly ratcheting up border controls, European leaders will mouth the appropriate platitudes about human rights and enhancing opportunity, then send out the warships to mine the Mediterranean. And in the cold hard light of political reality and modern statecraft, there is no reason they shouldn't, since that's what their voters prefer.

As long as European voters and societies are not willing and prepared to accept tens of millions of refugees from Africa and the Middle East -- and they're not -- this is the policy you're going to get. I would say there should be many more places devoted to actual refugees from war zones or facing imminent injury or death from ethnic persecution, since that is the core of what refugee protection is for. But to stop the pull factor, you'll need to destroy the boats before they can launch. If they do launch, rescue the refugees, process them, and then send them back unless they can prove they are not economic refugees.

This may sound harsh, but it will save lives in the long run. And if you think enforcing strict border controls is beyond the pale, have you noticed that Australia and the U.S. -- racially diverse nations composed (largely) of immigrants, which have a comparatively welcoming attitude towards foreigners -- have tight border control policies? President Obama, that notorious racist xenophobe, has presided over an unprecedented levels of deportations at the US-Mexican border, and has seen attempted border crossings drop.

Any announcement will bring the predictable denunciations, but that is pure signaling. People who have no constructive solutions for this thorny issue will nevertheless write self-congratulatory screeds denouncing whatever the EU does, and heaping scorn and vilification on EU policymakers. This makes them feel good, signals their superior morality, and does nothing to help refugees. If you want to liberalize EU immigration policy, you need to start at home, by convincing your fellow citizens that they should support such a move. And here's a pro-tip: calling them racists, xenophobes, and/or Bild-addled troglodytes may make you feel terribly virtuous, but it doesn't work.

The Leipzig String Quartet in Happier Times and Now

Here is a review from ClassicsToday (website highly recommended) of the Leipzig String Quartet's performance of Schönberg's String Quartets Nos. 2 & 4:

Soprano Christiane Oelze’s pure intonation and ethereal tone ideally combines with the deep, bittersweet sonorities of the Leipzig Quartet. The German musicians play this cosmic work with acute intelligence and clarity, while their sense of rubato helps them to unveil the music’s most secret and sorrowful expression. The homogeneity of their ensemble playing seems hard to match. Altogether, this performance is one of the most gripping and inspired committed to disc.

Wow! Gotta get me that CD. Now to a much less inviting incident. Stefan N. (see what I did there?), a violinist in the quartet, recently made a very different kind of news:

A renowned German violinist went on a naked rampage at a Manhattan hotel, forcing his way into a female tourist’s room and choking her, law enforcement sources told The Post.

Staffers at the boutique Hudson Hotel at Columbus Circle were first alerted to the bizarre antics of Stefan N. after guests reported seeing a man roaming around naked early Friday, the sources said.

A 64-year-old female hotel guest from North Carolina “heard a knock and opened her door slightly’’ around 8 a.m., a law enforcement source said.

She was confronted by a wild-eyed N. — who recently performed at the Library of Congress — “completely naked,’’ the source said.

The violinist allegedly choked the woman so hard that the blood vessels in her eyes were ruptured, according to a court complaint.

Hotel staff heard the victim crying for help and pulled the crazed man off her, cops said.

N. managed to flee back to his room, but police arrested him shortly after, the sources said.

The victim and N. did not know each other, the sources said.

A source close to the musician claimed that the episode happened after someone slipped a drug into N.’s drink at the hotel bar. He has no memory of what happened, the source said.

But police said that when they took N. into custody, he showed no outward signs of mental distress.

It's early days yet, and I don't want to prejudge the case. Anything from a fugue state to an allergic reaction to a stroke could have caused this behavior. N. is innocent until proven guilty, and I hope he is in touch with the German consulate and getting good legal help. 

However, the source is putting about the story that someone must have secretly drugged his drink. Now, the rumors are true: I used to be a criminal defense lawyer. 'They must have slipped it in my drink!' is one of those claims that upstanding citizens often make when their first experiment with drugs goes spectacularly wrong. (Especially when that experiment occurred in the BDSM-themed darkroom of the Manhole, something you might not want your wife Jill or your managing partner Bob to find out about.) It's not quite as fishy as the evil-twin / parallel universe defense, but it's in the same general category.

Now I am certainly not saying source's story can't be true. Nobody knows yet! But as to the general question of people slipping drugs into drinks, think it through. You're Johnny Scumbag, the drug-slipper. You have just spent lots of your own good money to buy powerful drugs, you're either (1) going to use them yourself (99% of the time); (2) use them to knock someone else out so you can rob/take advantage of them; or (3) trade them for something else you want. But #2, the presumed scenario here, requires drugs that would actually *knock someone out*, not make them allegedly run around a nice hotel naked, allegedly strangling strangers.

The only reason you would secretly slip psychotomimetic stimulants into someone's drink is if you hated them and wanted to put them in danger and ruin their reputation. Giving them crazy drugs to rob them is itself crazy, since they are just as likely to kill you instead (see strangling described above). I know the classical-music world can be a nest of intrigue, but I have a hard time believing someone hated N. that much. In any case, I hope N. is in contact with his consulate and has a good lawyer. He's going to need one.

The Narcissism of Andreas Lubitz

Erica Goode looks at mass-killers-for-fame, the modern-day Herostratuses:

He was described, in the immediate aftermath of the Germanwings crash, as a cheerful and careful pilot, a young man who had dreamed of flying since boyhood.

But in the days since, it has seemed increasingly clear that Andreas Lubitz, 27, the plane’s co-pilot, was something far more sinister: the perpetrator of one of the worst mass murder-suicides in history.

If what researchers have learned about such crimes is any indication, this notoriety may have been just what Mr. Lubitz wanted.

The actions now attributed to Mr. Lubitz — taking 149 unsuspecting people with him to a horrifying death — seem in some ways unfathomable, and his full motives may never be fully understood. But studies over the last decades have begun to piece together characteristics that many who carry out such violence seem to share, among them a towering narcissism, a strong sense of grievance and a desire for infamy.

Respect our Privacy, say Germans About Germans

The Washington Post writes an article about Germans' odd protectiveness of Andreas Lubitz: 

Had the crash happened in the United States, pundits might be screaming for the heads of the psychiatrists who did not ground Lubitz, or furiously condemning the rules and company procedures that allowed the troubled 27-year-old to step into the cockpit of Flight 9525. But at least by American standards, many Germans are expressing neither a strong sense of moral outrage nor a clamor to point the finger of blame.

The reason may lie in the sense that the crash is suddenly challenging some of the fundamental tenets of German life: that its titans of industry do not make mistakes. That well-thought-out rules — including those severely limiting the sharing of medical data — are things to be trusted in and strictly enforced. That in a country where Edward Snowden is nothing less than a folk hero, personal privacy must trump all else.

In fact, the strongest debate to emerge here since the crash so far is whether the foreign press and more aggressive domestic outlets are rushing to judge Lubitz before all the facts are known. A variety of voices here say that Lubitz, even in death, deserves a measure of privacy, as does his family. And if he is guilty, some say, it may be due to mental illness, and thus he should not be judged as harshly as, say, a suicide bomber.


Many German publications quickly printed the names of the Muslim assailants in January’s terror attacks in and around Paris. Yet even though prosecutors have publicly named Lubitz and evidence suggests he deliberately crashed the plane, a number of respected German media outlets have still refused to print his full name or photo. They argue that the extent of his guilt is still not clear and that their readers are demanding greater sensitivity because Lubitz is German and his story is unfolding on home turf.

The domestic outlets that are aggressively reporting the story, like the tabloid Bild, have suffered withering criticism.

“Germans often shy away from certain realities — realities of war, realities of violence,” said Kai Diekmann, Bild’s editor in chief, responding to the criticism aimed at his paper. “I think much of this debate has to do with a refusal to face realities.”

I understand that reflexive Bild-bashing is the hallowed shibboleth of the educated bourgeoisie in German society, but Diekmann has a point here. Generally, I find the tendency of Germany to respect privacy and avoid snap judgments admirable. Perhaps the most important thing a politician can say to the public is that there is no such thing as 100% security, and that the government will never be able to prevent all accidents.

But there is more than a whiff of hypocrisy and ethnic tribalism about the German response to Lubitz. The German press immediately reported the full names, pictures, and all the details of the lives of the Charlie Hebdo attackers. If you think that had nothing to do with the fact that they were not German -- and especially, the fact that they were not of Northern European ancestry -- I have a bridge I'd like to sell you.

So let's examine the potential distinctions between Lubitz's case. True, he was not a terrorist in the conventional sense, since he doesn't seem to have had any broad political demands and didn't want to intimidate society in general. However, if his ex-girlfriend is to be believed, he boasted that he was going to do something spectacular that would 'change the way things worked' and that everyone would know his name. 

Germans seem to want to treat this crime as a private family tragedy, such as when a man kills his ex-wife and children. In that sort of event, with no public-policy implications, I agree that discretion should be the preserved. But this is the equivalent of walking into the Cologne Cathedral and murdering 149 people with a bomb or weapon. In that case, would anybody seriously argue that his right to privacy must be respected?

And in fact what Lubitz did is even more worthy of full investigation and open public debate, since it involves a major public-policy issue that affects everyone. The system for screening airline pilots is of urgent concern to anyone who may fly in an airplane in the coming year, which is just about all of us. Making sure that system works well enough to prevent another such tragedy is much more important than protecting the privacy of a corpse, or even of Lubitz's relatives and friends. It's not fair that they should receive such scrutiny, but Lubitz was the one who put them there, and we, the flying public, have a right to know every fact relevant to preventing a recurrence of such an act.

Germanwings and The Public's Right to Know

William Langewiesche interviewed in Vanity Fair:

Is it unusual for an investigator or prosecutor to make such a bold announcement so soon after a crash?

Yes, it’s unusual, and, in a way, it’s a little inexplicable. The French system is different from the American system. It’s quite good, but it divides into two parts. There’s the Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses (B.E.A.), which is the technical investigators—the equivalent of our N.T.S.B. They’re very cautious, when it comes to releasing information—too much so. But there’s also always, in France, a parallel criminal investigation, because deaths are involved, and a Napoleonic mindset requires this.

That’s who this prosecutor in Marseille is. These are not people who are experienced with airplane accidents. The quality of these criminal investigations varies, depending on the quality of the consultants they bring in. Sometimes they’re quite good, even better than the B.E.A. In this case, I don’t know.

Were this an N.T.S.B. investigation, we would see a very different kind of information release. I would expect that we would see a neutral release of what we found in the recorder, and not pointing the finger at the co-pilot. You can include that we heard breathing, and the pilot hammering on the door, and that the cruising altitude was reselected, but leave it at that at for a few days. Let others point fingers, I say.

Langewiesche has a point, but I think it only goes so far. There's complaint especially in the German-speaking media about too much information being revealed about this plane crash, the use of the co-pilot's full name, commentators jumping to conclusions, etc. 

I think the authorities have done well. They have made important, reliable information available as soon as they had it. Especially by European standards, the level of transparency has been excellent. When 149 people have just been murdered, the public deserves answers as soon as the authorities have a basis for giving them. That's just what the French and German authorities have been doing.

As for releasing the co-pilot's name, what is this, 1995? Most countries do not see any reason to conceal the image or name of adults involved in major accidents or crimes (except for sexual assaults), so it seems a bit silly for German newspapers to continue coyly referring to him as 'Andreas L' when his name is available everywhere on the Internet. 

Perhaps in the fulness of time we'll learn something different about how this crash occurred, but that's true of any breaking story. People who are complaining about speculation aren't thinking things through. By releasing lots of information soon after they've learned it, the authorities have actually greatly reduced the amount of speculation about the cause of the crash.

Still Just Hand-Waving

Hexagon in a comment, points me an article (g) in Die Welt (thanks hex!) which argues that German documentary archives show that the oft-discussed 'forced loan' some Greeks want Germany to repay shouldn't be considered a loan, but rather a demand that Greece finance the costs of its own occupation by Nazi Germany, which the author says was authorized by the international law at the time. Near the end of the article the author asserts:

Zwar könnten im Rahmen von Reparationsverhandlungen die Besatzungskosten formal doch eingefordert werden. Doch alle Reparationsansprüche sind seit dem Zwei-plus-vier-Vertrag von 1990, den auch Griechenland völkerrechtlich bindend zur Kenntnis genommen hat, erledigt.

My translation:

"To be sure, the repayment of the occupation costs could be formally demanded as part of reparation negotiations. But all reparation claims are now foreclosed by the two-plus-four treaty of 1990, which Greece has recognized as binding under international law."

This is what I mean by hand-waving. It's just an assertion, without any proof or argument. The questions I'd like to see answered are:

  1. Why should a treaty involving the four occupying powers and Germany affect legal relations with Greece?
  2. What specific part of the treaty deals with war reparations payments? Does it specifically state that all reparation questions are now closed?
  3. What is the evidence that Greece officially accepted or recognized these provisions in a binding manner?

I don't care about the morality of the issue, I'm just interested in actual arguments with specific proof. Also my mind is not made up -- I'm not being snarky or coy, I just have yet to see anyone actually prove this assertion. Here is Albrecht Ritschl on the subject:

To explain that, let's delve a little bit into the legal position at the time of Germany's reunification in 1990. Germany received this kind of baptism certificate for a unified Germany which is incredibly subtly worded and whose only purpose was, apparently, to prevent reparation or restitution claims against unified Germany being raised on the grounds of the fact that there is a unified German state now and that something like article 5 of the London debt agreement could all of a sudden be reactivated. The German point of view is essentially that the so-called 2+4 treaty of 1990 is not making any mention of any reparations or wartime debts of Nazi Germany, and given the fact that this issue is not covered by the treaty, the issue is essentially dead. This has consistently been the position of the German government. The German position has so far been quite successful . . . several attempts to challenge it in the European court have been unsuccessful, and it seems to me that from a legal standpoint, there is relatively little chance that this will be successfully challenged.

So according to Ritschl, Germany has argued that because the 2 + 4 reunification treaty could have mentioned reparations but did not, this means the question is closed. If this is an accurate characterization of Germany's argument, it strikes me as pretty weak.