Shorter this post: don’t BACAI

1) no act that is committed without malicious intent can ever be morally wrong, no matter what its consequences are.

2) if you are harmed by something that wasn’t malicious, you have an absolute moral duty to forgive whoever did it.

3) people who fail to forgive people who’ve non-maliciously harmed them are the worst of all people, and the only people I truly loathe and despise.

13 thoughts on “Shorter this post: don’t BACAI”

  1. "you have an absolute moral duty to forgive whoever did it."

    Rather depends what you mean. You can have situations where nobody has acted with malice but have shown such a lack of thought that they may as well have done.

    More to the point though, you may feel that you should forgive someone but that doesn't mean that you actually can. Have they then breached this "absolute moral duty"?

  2. isn't there any room for harming others via negligence, selfishness, thoughtlessness and other potentially unforgivable and/or morally culpable yet non-malicious intent?

    I'm not sure whether forgiveness is the right concept, but for example I have come across some inconsiderate yet non-malicious types; I'm not sure one has a moral duty to overlook their responsibility for the harm they can do.

  3. Lets say I get drunk, drive home and run down your kid. I didn't mean for that to happen, so its OK is it, and you'll forgive me?

    A huge proportion of accidents are caused by negligence/thoughlessness, and are predictable results of ones actions (or often inactions). Fail to get your gas fire checked, someone dies of carbon monoxide poisoning. Drive with bald car tyres, have a crash in wet weather and injure/kill someone. Bodge up the wiring in your house, electrocute someone. All these actions carry a high risk of catastrophe. While you may escape an accident on any one occasion, such an action repeated many times will eventually result in disaster.

    The individual is morally responsible to take due care and attention to the world around them – actions in the physical world have consequences, however good your intentions. Merely pleading that 'I didn't want that to happen' is not enough.

  4. @punkscience I don't believe it is a wind-up. I like John and his writing is generally thought-provoking and agreeable, even when it drifts into hyperbole.

    However, he has what I see as a blind-spot when it comes to human psychology. On this subject, John, you often end up sounding terribly ill-informed.

    The reality is that the grief process by definition involves "grave departures from the normal attitude to life" (Freud, Mourning and Melancholia). In other words, people in the grip of grief do not act rationally and are often — in essence — completely incapable of the kind of calculated moral decision-making that John is suggesting they engage in. This is not a failing of the individual but rather a property of being human.

    To suggest that one "loathes and despises" such people is to suggest that one loathes and despises people.

  5. @Jim Bliss,

    I like John's thought-provoking writing too, particularly when he's responding to obvious flaws in my own hyperbole. This post is too confusing though. Its tone is broadly serious but the opening point is so absurd that I genuinely suspected that I was missing some humorous subtelty. Its like when he tried to argue that Blair's decision to join Bush in invading Iraq produced "very limited harm".

  6. Based on the reasoning in the original post, would you argue, John, that the courts got it wrong when they fined Trafigura for exporting toxic waste to the Ivory Coast?

    I genuinely don't believe that the individuals who decided to export that waste intended for anyone to be harmed by their acts. Are you suggesting, therefore, that they should not be held morally culpable for the damage they have done? And those negatively affected are being cunts about the whole thing?

    Morally accountability does not hinge exclusively upon intent. If there is a less-than-zero chance that your actions will have damaging consequences, then a failure to consider those consequences is a moral failure.

    Often, as in the case of deciding to drive a car for example, the risk of killing someone on any given day is small enough that we — as a society — accept it and bear the damaging consequences in those cases where they occur. The risk rises significantly, however, when a person decides to drive while drunk. We have decided — as a society — that in that case the risk is unacceptable and have banned that behaviour. Moreover, we acknowledge that those who ignore the ban and effectively ignore the heightened risk they are taking (with their own lives and those of others) are morally culpable for any damage they do, even if they did not explicitly intend it.

  7. @punkscience at #6: a particularly apposite link in that the comments contain John remarking that he is a consequentialist.

    I'm assuming the original post is a windup, since "recklessness is never immoral and you have an absolute moral duty to forgive it" is… well… beyond peculiar and well into the realms of the untenable.

    In other news, I don't know what "BACAI" is and neither, it seems, does Google. (I'm guessing "be a cunt about it"?)

  8. @Dr Rick, I'm impressed by your guesswork. I will use your guess to challenge John with the following: A man spends much of the night of his birthday getting pleasantly drunk in good company and awakes the following day tired and hungover. He goes to work as usual at the haulage company and drives his lorry from site to site, carrying rubble and gravel and other heavy loads. The day turns into one of those long ones and he unwisely opts to use the extension on his tachograph to continue working for another hour. On his last run to the quarry or wherever he nods off at the wheel and 15 tonnes of lorry careers into another car and inflicting serious injuries on the driver, putting an end to his promising semi-professional trampolining career and putting him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Should this guy "be a cunt" and seek compensation from the lorry driver or should he not "be a cunt" and just let it slide? By your argument the lorry driver acted without malice and therefore is innocent. Do you think our trampolinist has "an absolute moral duty" to forgive the irresponsible behaviour that ruined his life? If the lorry driver had, instead, careered into an independent market analyst who is also a prolific blogger and inflicted similar injuries would you be able to flip aside your victimhood and declare the driver to be a jolly nice chap whose simple mistake anyone could have made and so its all okay then, anyone for tea?

    Sorry to lapse into outright sarcasm but I can't present it any other way.

  9. "Recklessness is never immoral" – not quite what I'm saying. Rather, someone is reckless and lucky is no more morally blameworthy than someone who is reckless and unlucky.

    So the haulage chap who cripples the trampolinist is exactly as morally bad as someone in an identical situation who falls asleep and hits a fence, and it's wrong to single one out for more opprobrium than the other.

    That doesn't apply to civil damages, which clearly need to be based on redressing harm done. But you don't need to hate somebody to claim harm-based civil damages. It's why the attitude towards the BP spill perplexes me – they spilled some oil; they're going to pay to clean it up and compensate the people who were affected. Other than the rig workers' families, there's no reason for anyone to be angry about it, rather than merely saying "that was unfortunate; we'll be sending you the bill".

    So if someone were to cripple me through non-malicious, dangerous driving as in PS's example, then I'd pursue them (or most likely, their employer) in the civil courts for appropriate damages to make up for the harm caused to me, but I wouldn't hate them. It'd be insane of me to do so – nearly everyone I like and respect has driven when impaired-by-tiredness, so how the hell could I condemn a stranger for doing the same thing?

    If he'd been truly reckless in a way that *doesn't* encompass "everyone does this" – say if he'd had eight pints and was racing a drunk friend – then it'd be different, since I'd hate and condemn anyone who did that whether or not they hit anyone…

  10. "someone is reckless and lucky is no more morally blameworthy than someone who is reckless and unlucky."

    Well, yes, but I'd say it the other way around. Someone who is reckless and lucky is just as morally blameworthy as someone who is reckless and unlucky. Because its not the luck, or lack of, we are blaming the person for, its the recklessness.

    Of course there are lots of reckless and lucky people, who 'get away' with their recklessness. We are all probably guilty of doing something a bit iffy and hoping 'everything will be alright'. I know I am.

    At the end of the day we can only condemn (and punish) those that cause problems through their recklessness, and hope that others who see the consequences will change their behaviour.

  11. This is isn't simply black and white though, John. Yes, pretty much everyone has driven at one time or another when impaired by tiredness. However, how tired they were and how long they drove for determines the risk of them falling asleep at the wheel. Humankind has evolved to evaluate risks fairly accurately and so most people know when they drive tired or after a couple of pints then they should concentrate on being more alert than they would otherwise. Similarly, they should analyse their own behaviour in order to spot subtle lapses in concentration that indicate they are actually more tired than they thought they were or that the booze has gone straight into an empty stomach and, consequently the blood stream, presenting a greater risk than is acceptable. In such cases it is morally correct to pull over immediately and not drive again until you are satisfied you can do so safely. Anyone who fails to conduct this process of analysis is culpable of irresponsible behaviour whether they crash into a busload of school children or not. Neither ignorance of risks nor stupidity in failing to assess them responsibly excuses adults from responsibility for their actions.

  12. @John B – you may not be saying "recklessness isn't immoral" but it is in fact what you said, recklessness and maliciousness being orthogonal.

    I agree entirely with your clarification (though, like Jim, I'd say it the other way round) – but your own "I’d hate and condemn anyone who did that whether or not they hit anyone…" is in direct contravention of what you actually wrote in the OP. The drunken racer in your example there is an loathsome idiot, certainly, but equally certainly did not have malicious intent.

    If you'd written eg "didn't have malicious intent and was acting in a way that was clearly reckless and unreasonable", I doubt anyone would have taken issue with you.

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