Still thinking things through, so unwilling to make a definitive statement at the moment, but some questions to help me get a grip on your position:
Do you believe there is such a thing as systemic injustice or rot, wherein an organization becomes structured in such a way as to promote or encourage abusive practices?
Yes, of course.
However, I also recognize that just because something may have rotted, that doesn't necessarily
mean it can or should be thrown out - usually it should, but not always
. In the case of an organization, even if the core of the organization becomes entirely corrupt and the mission of the organization itself is being co-opted for evil, that doesn't always mean that the whole organization should be junked, and it doesn't mean that it's practical or possible to just walk away from it.
Take the Boy Scouts as an example of the first case. It's gone sour at the top, sure, but it still provides lots of opportunities and training for young people. The question is: when you consider all the bad stuff and all the good stuff, is the bad stuff so bad
, compared to the good stuff, that the entire organization should be scrapped? (For the Boy Scouts, I'd say: no, it can be salvaged. For the Roman Catholic Church, i'd say: yes, it should just be dumped.)
Take the Roman Catholic Church as an example of the second case. It's also gone sour at the top (and all the way through, really), but most people can't just walk away from it. That would tear families apart, and ruin lives. In that case, the question is: the organization is bad, but standing up to it has very real costs, so is the bad so bad
compared to the costs of standing up that I can accept those costs? (That question has to be asked by each person on a case-by-case basis. But, for example, I don't think it's right to anyone to tell someone else that they should turn their backs on their family and community to take a stand against the Catholic Church's various evils. If they decide they are prepared to do that, that's their choice, but it should be a decision they make themselves.)
So even if you realize the Boy Scouts leadership is misguided and wrong, and their policies are unjust and discriminatory, it doesn't follow that the one and only obvious answer for what to do is "stand up or walk away". A Scout leader, for example, could decide that they'd do far more good for the kids to stay and teach, rather than to quit or take a stand and be fired.
And even if you realize the Catholic Church is corrupt and immoral, it doesn't follow that the one and only obvious choice for you to make is "stand up or walk away". A person whose entire family, community and place of employment is all devoutly Catholic (which is a very common situation in many parts of the world) would basically be throwing their entire lives into ruin if they took a stand of any kind. You can't morally ask someone to do that, and morality aside it would be irrational to do so. As with the Scout leader case, if all the good people took principled stands all the time - with no regard to the bigger picture - then only the bad people would be left with all the jobs and teaching the kids, which would just make the situation worse off than ever.
So yes, organizations can go bad, but that doesn't always mean they should be destroyed, or that you should stand up or walk away.
Do you attach absolutely no moral weight to choosing to support such an organization?
Oh, of course I accept that there are moral issues involved when choosing to support organizations that do some bad.
But the real world is not black or white. Very few organizations do ONLY
bad or even mostly
(the Boy Scouts, for example, do a lot of good, too). And for those that do, it's not always a morally black or white choice when deciding whether to stand up to them (take the Catholic Church for example - is it moral for a mother to break up her marriage with her devout Catholic husband and ruin her children's relationship with their devout Catholic extended family and devout Catholic community with all their friends and such... just to take a principled stand).
In theory you can reduce this decision to a single moral question. But in the real world, a person has to weigh many factors - some of them moral, and some of them practical - when deciding whether or not to take a stand. It's not just
a moral decision, and even if it were, it's highly unlikely it would be a simple black-or-white moral decision.
So I do agree that there are moral considerations. I just say that there are more moral considerations than that single one, and that there are other, practical considerations that you cannot morally ignore.
Are you familiar with the concept of the banality of evil, and do you think it's a real danger?
Yes and sort of (I think the idea is overrated), but that doesn't apply here.
I'm not talking about people who just don't care about the evil the organization is doing, or who don't care enough to do something. I'm sure those people exist, though I doubt they exist in the kinds of numbers most people think they do. The way I see it, there are 7 types of people in a corrupt organization:
- Those who see the corruption, approve of it, and do something for it.
- Those who see the corruption, approve of it, could do something for it, but don't.
- Those who see the corruption, approve of it, want to do something for it, but can't.
- Those who see the corruption, disapprove of it, and do something against it.
- Those who see the corruption, disapprove of it, could do something against it, but don't.
- Those who see the corruption, disapprove of it, want to do something against it, but can't.
- Those who don't see the corruption.
The only people the "banality of evil" concept applies to are #5.
Now, when people count the members of the organization who support the organization's bad policies, they're going to count #1, #2, #3, #5, #6 and #7 - basically everyone except those who actually take protest action (#4), right? As you said yourself, "silence is implicit assent". #5, #6 and #7 aren't saying
anything (that goes with "doing nothing"), so they're silent, so they assent, right?
Only, they obviously don't.
Now I get what you're trying to say. #5 is the "banality of evil" crowd. You're saying that people like #5, who a) see the problem, b) are able to take a stand, yet c) don't
take a stand, are - in effect - just as morally responsible for the problem as #1. I don't argue that - I think you're right. I just point out that there people for whom (c) is true, but (a) or (b) (or both) aren't
. And it is wrong to say that those
people - the ones who don't know they should take a stand (#7) or who know they should but can't (#6) - are morally equal to #5 and #1. That's just not right. Those people who are trapped in the system - who disapprove of the organization but for whatever reason, are unable to stand up against it - they deserve our support, not our contempt.
I don't think what you're saying is wrong
, I just think you're casting too wide a net. In order to be morally responsible for an organization's evil, you either have to approve of it (obviously) or:
- You have to be aware of it; AND
- You have to be able to do something about it; AND
- You have to not be doing anything about it.
of those conditions must be true for you to be morally responsible for the organization's nastiness, not just the last one. Silence alone is not enough to make you morally responsible for the organization's actions.
It's a shame, because as you point out, a lot of people do get caught up in these things and yes, while it would be nice for them to stand up, it shouldn't be expected of them, especially considering the positions it can put them. The Clergy Project, I think it was called, is an example of this, a secular orgazation created to help ease out those of the faith who've lost their faith, but fear leaving their position due to not being able to support themselves or their family (coming from a religious area, or not being able to find a job and fearing ostricization, for example), as it's been discovered that a surprising portion of those working within a religious institution have long given up on their 'faith' and are now stuck in the motions just trying to earn their paycheck because they're not sure what else they can do.
Yes, The Clergy Project - that's the name I was trying to remember!
I think that approach is not only the more positive and constructive way to deal with people involved in an icky organization - rather than simply accusing them of being complicit if they don't speak out - it's actually the more rational approach, because it takes into account the reality that there are usually many people who want
to stand up to an organization's wrongness, but can't.
Of course, those people who can
stand up, but don't... well, as Ephiral says, that's really just assent.