Saturday, April 23, 2016

Rationalizations: The Slippery Slope To Hell?*

In response to a recent post on the Liberals' refusal to re-examine the $15 billion arms deal originally struck by the Harper regime with the repressive human-rights violator Saudi Arabia, an anonymous commentator wrote:

Who will tell the 5,000 workers and their families that they are going to lose their jobs? Will you contribute money from your fatty pensions to put food on their table so their children don't go hungry? Or don't you care?

I responded:

What you are arguing here, Anon, is that jobs are more important than people's lives. It is an argument that likely holds sway during a time when the neoliberal agenda prevails, but it is, at bottom, a totally amoral position, in my view. If followed to its natural conclusion, perhaps we should be attempting to offer incentives for handgun manufacturers to set up shop here as well. They would certainly provide jobs, but at what social and moral cost? As well, should we stop all efforts at mitigating global warming since they will inevitably lead to unemployment in the oil patch and all the industries that supply it?

Short-term gain for long-term misery is a devil's bargain.

In a similar vein, Scott Vrooman recently asked Canadians this question: "Are jobs worth killing for?"

Clearly, many would like to equivocate and take the issue outside of the arena of morality. Are such rationalizations the slippery road to hell?

* For the literalists out there, I am using hell in a metaphorical, not a literal sense.


  1. Well done, Lorne. Do we find ourselves in these situations at least in part because we no longer have adult conversations on what Canada means to us? We've always had an armaments industry. At one time we were at the leading edge. We built jets and other high tech equipment that equipped the North Atlantic alliance partners. Perhaps we had a better class of customers back then.

    A light armoured vehicle, like the LAV, is low-tech. It's an evolution of the Swiss Mowag Piranha that first came out as a 4X4 in 1974. It evolved into a 6X6 and then today's larger 8X8. Along the way Mowag was bought out by General Dynamics which eventually added a North American assembly line in London, Ontario.

    We don't like to admit it but we build these lethal war wagons for pretty much anyone General Dynamics gets to order them. All GD's factories work the same way. The maker has to get clearance from Washington but it's not interested in taking static from "branch plant governments" which includes Ottawa. If someone comes up with the bag of cash and an okay from the Pentagon you had better get the factory fired up.

    Are we, as a supposedly sovereign nation, indentured to General Dynamics and the Pentagon? That's what in essence Trudeau is telling us. I think what Dion is trying to say in his horribly sheepish way is that we want to push back on future weapons sales but we daren't this time.

    1. There was a time, Mound, when Canada acted with honour and with an eye toward the collective good, as in 1935 when the government stood behind a League of Nations motion to ban the shipment of oil and other goods to Italy, despite Mussolini's threat that an oil embargo meant war:

      Somehow, I think we will be waiting a long, long time for similar principled behaviour on the part of our government.

      Oh brave new world, eh?

  2. People who are saying that signing the Saudi Deal gives jobs to 3k Canadians Lorne are missing the point.. I'm sure the Liberals are quite pleased that the public is focusing on the jobs or no jobs aspect of the deal. First of all the most important question and actually the only question, is, do we sell weapons to a country that is one of the worst violators of human rights in the world? This is the only question that needs answering. The answer that it's okay to have signed this deal because it creates jobs is pure rationalization. The discussing the jobs/no jobs issue also covers up the political nature of the deal A 15B profit and Washington wanting the liberals to green light the deal would have been the dominant reason the liberals proceeded with it. Signing a weapons deal with Saudi Arabia,one of the US's major allies in the Middle East and Africa make Canada appear as a proxy for the US. Your response to Anon was well explained from a man who believes that economics does not trump morality. Neoliberalism has once again reared its ugly head. The liberals, as we see, do think that economics and politics trump morality. Once our government starts rationalizing the reasons for agreeing to a deal that should have been judged only on moral grounds we Canadians are now in a position where we must question the integrity of that very government. If, when signing an international agreement the moral issues involved do not matter to our Prime Minister and his party, then domestically the moral foundation that Canadians rights and freedoms rest on will also not matter. Abandoning morality in the Saudi deal is a prelude to how decision will be made in future deals. Trudeau has crossed a line. He's shown us what matters most to him and it doesn't involve making moral choices.

    1. I agree, Pamela. A government touting itself as new, open and transparent, a government that announces that Canada is back, has to be held to a very high standard. When it fails to meet that standard, it deserves and needs to be widely rebuked. Mr. Trudeau has to understand that to invoke the rhetoric of emancipation but undermining those words with dishonourable and discreditable behaviour is not going to go unnoticed. There is a price to be paid in the court of public opinion that he would be indeed foolish to ignore.

  3. Anon's argument, essentially, is that everything comes down to dollars and cents, Lorne. If war turns a profit, it's justifiable.

    1. Sadly, Owen, I suspect far too many people would agree with Anon's position.