Which Values Are Most Important?

Written by: N.S. Palmer | Posted on: | Category:

I don't live in a bubble. I'm lucky to have friends, family members, and loved ones who disagree strongly with some of my beliefs. That gives me perspective.

Challenges to our beliefs help us in three ways:

  • They make us ask why other people believe the things that they do.
  • They make us ask why we believe the things that we do.
  • They make us work more carefully to find out what the the truth really is.

The latest challenge is over a cancelled visit to Israel by two far-left Democratic politicians.1 Israel's government banned them from entering the country because they support the BDS movement that seeks to destroy the Jewish state. Israeli law explicitly allows such bans.

The politicians -- Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) -- have made numerous anti-Semitic statements. Omar notoriously opined that American support for Israel is "all about the Benjamins (money)" and that Israel "hypnotized the world." Tlaib opposes Israel's existence and has accused American Jews of "dual loyalty" that puts Israel over the United States. That accusation is ironic since President Trump criticized Jewish Democrats for disloyalty to Israel by their support of Tlaib's anti-Semitism. In any event, the Democratic Duo clearly meant their visit to generate propaganda against Israel. Hardly anyone disputes the facts involved.

In spite of that, thoughtful people disagree about the ban. Some see it as mere common sense: no country has a duty to allow entry by those who only want to cause trouble. As Ari Hoffman wrote in The Forward:

"It was the right call. Omar and Tlaib were visiting Israel to do it harm. Their visit was not one of critical engagement, and like the disastrous episode of the spies in the Hebrew Bible, they came not to strategize towards a better future but to wound."

I agree with Hoffman. Other people see the ban as wrong on principle. They think it needlessly limits freedom of expression. For example, last night one of my brothers told me he wanted a t-shirt to proclaim himself a "disloyal Jew," alluding to President Trump's comment.

Both sides made rational arguments, but there's also an irrelevant argument lurking in the background. Let's get it out of the way.

Most opponents of the ban hate U.S. President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Supporters of the ban probably feel the opposite way. To argue that a policy is bad because you hate people who support it, or good because you like people who support it, is obviously invalid.

Emotion often biases our judgment, but it has nothing to do with the merits of our beliefs. Let's try to focus the merits.

Even focusing on the merits doesn't get us very far, but it does help explain the disagreement. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt argues that people make moral judgments based on five factors:

  • Care
  • Fairness
  • Loyalty
  • Authority
  • Sanctity

As shown in the graph at the beginning of this blog post, liberals base moral judgments mainly on concerns of caring and fairness. They reject the importance of loyalty, authority, and sanctity. Conversely, conservatives weight all five factors at about the same level.

Thus, left-leaning people tend to oppose the ban because they think it's unfair. They might grant that loyalty is an issue, but they don't think it's important. Conversely, right-leaning people tend to support the ban because they prioritize loyalty and respect for authority. They might grant that fairness is an issue, but they think that the other factors outweigh it.

Who's right?

There's no way for either side to prove its case. As a result, there is no single "right answer."

The best answer is to let each country decide for itself.

Footnote

  1. Omar and Tlaib are not ideological leftists, but they oppose the existence of Western civilization. In many cases, it amounts to the same thing.

Check out my book Why Sane People Believe Crazy Things: How Belief Can Help or Hurt Social Peace. Kirkus Reviews called it an "impressively nuanced analysis."