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The Folly of Protecting Feelings

by Izzy Kalman (May 2004)

These days we’re teaching kids that the “sticks and stones slogan is a lie.” They are being taught instead that “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words hurt my feelings, and that is even worse.” Unfortunately, this nonsense has pervaded government policy as well, with horrific results.

It is easy to find fault with the way the current administration has handled Iraq, but one thing we can be extremely grateful for: we live in a democracy. The public hearings on 9-11 showed democracy in action. The presidential administration is not above reproach and can be called to task in front of the entire nation. You will never see that happening in a dictatorship.

The 9-11 hearings revealed many failures within the government that ultimately made 9-11 possible. One of these was that the intelligence agencies avoided profiling Muslims in order not to be accused of insensitivity to minority groups. In other words, to prevent hurting people’s feelings, it was preferable to allow thousands of people to die. And in the end it brought even more shame to Muslims because of their association with the terrorists.

The intentions of not hurting people’s feelings are understandable, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. For an action to be moral, it needs to conform to the Golden Rule – treating others as you would want to be treated. Protecting people’s feelings at all costs, while sounding like a noble goal, is contrary to the Golden Rule and therefore immoral.

Of course you don’t want your feelings to be hurt. But would you prefer to risk lives (and possibly your own among them) in order to spare injury to your feelings

I am a Jew and lately I fly a lot. If Jewish terrorists were planning attacks, would I want my government to forbid profiling Jews at airports in order to protect my feelings? Of course not! I would hope that armies of agents would be sent to all Jewish houses, businesses, and places of worship. I would want them to continue investigating Jews until every last terrorist was caught. If a terrorist attack were to succeed because the government avoided profiling Jews I would be furious. And in the end my feelings would be even more hurt because of the disgrace the terrorist attack would have brought to my group

Profiling in emergency situations does not have to be done degradingly. Investigators could politely say, “We respect Jews and regret having to do this, but we need to check you because a group of Jewish terrorists is planning attacks against the United States.” Only if the government truly lacked respect for Jews’ intelligence would they expect us not to understand.

(Please don’t accuse me of condoning ethnic profiling for routine offenses. This article applies only to extremely serious situations like terrorist plots in which conspirators of a specific nationality are known to be planning attacks.)

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