history, tech news and opinions

Justice for the Affluent and Segregationist

Last night, I came up with the idea to apply modern mindset to the 1800s and examine the moral consequences. It’s a very long rambling and its clarity, fluidity, and reasoning will probably have been affected by when I wrote it (late, late at night). Nevertheless, I thought it might be interesting enough to share, and perhaps you might glean some ideas from it. So without further ado: last night’s musings….


When railways were constructed through the west to join this nation in the late 1800s, some people of that era viewed the railway tycoons as swindlers, cheating the poor people out of their money while giving their friends and business partners bargain rates for using their trains. The fact is, these railway tycoons owned the railways, and thus it was there property. Farmers whose only methods of mass shipment were beast-driven carts or railways became jealous of the deals that the railway tycoons were giving to business partners. In their jealousy, these farmers demanded fairness and cheaper prices. Fortunately for them, the common perspective in the U.S. has always been warped in its sense of justice. The federal government and the voting populous sympathized with the farmers and awarded them with this fairness that they considered justice.

What the farmers had actually suffered from was not injustice so much as rudeness. There was at the time no law, federal, state, or moral, that prohibited businesses from charging such high prices and giving their friends special bargains. If the farmers did not like it, they could bring their goods to market via beast-driven cart. But in that time, markets were competitive, and farmers felt the need to get their products to market before others. In a sense, their motivation to get to market could thus have been part selfish (they put their needs above those of their neighbor) and yet (probably the most realistic) based on self-preservation. The railway tycoons, knowing this situation, ought to have been obligated to help. Needless to say, they were not. Thus, though setting high prices for use of services is not against the moral law, not assisting others in time of need when one clearly is involved and has the means to will more than likely anger God. But since the U.S. government as of late feels no compulsion to serve Him, talk of enforcing God’s will becomes a moot point.

The example of justice and fairness can be extended to multiple issues. Segregation on the basis of color or ancestry is an example. Segregation is not innately wrong morally, since the act of segregation does not in itself imply any intention. Segregation that occurred in the late 1800s all the way through the 1960s and ’70s was not as benign as simple segregation could be because the underlying intentions were wrong. Once again, it is a case of rudeness: separation of public facilities is an inconvenience but not in the same extent as the aforementioned railroad. In the railroad issue, the livelihoods of the farmers was at stake; the farmers were in great need. In the case of public segregation in the U.S., physically there was merely inconvenience. What did it matter that there had to be two trains to carry people of different colors instead of one train to carry them all? The inconveniences, however, were unjust not because of the segregation but because of the loss of dignity that all men are created equal by God. The question that begs to be asked is if this low status in society can cause one to hold the mentality that elimination of the rudeness must take precedence over justice, as in the case with the railroad. Though most would deny this possibility with respect to this issue, I think it would be interesting to explore the consequences of such a mentality (that elimination of the rudeness takes precedence over justice) and why it is bad but seemingly prevalent.

To reinforce the arguments given, there are a couple of analogous scenarios to demonstrate the main points. Considering the railroad issue, consider this situation: you are an ordinary person in a desert. You are a very strong person, capable of traveling a long distance through the desert. on your own. A person finds you in the desert and demands that you carry them to the nearest town. The first thought that may come to your mind is: they are lazy; why don’t they just walk there themselves? This is a legitimate question, especially since there is no contract between you and them for you to provide them with such services of transportation. However, if they were injured or sore and unable to survive long on their own, the moralist might be obligated to play the good Samaritan and help the struggling person. Not providing assistance would be contrary to the moral law but obviously not contrary to any current law. Therefore, you should not be forced to provide any assistance nor prosecuted if you fail to give any.  You have the God-given right to control your body and choose who you serve. What would be nasty of you (and what people despise) would be for you to take advantage of the other person in their time of need. Perhaps you make them give you their hat or canteen to pay for the journey. However, wouldn’t you be upset if you were forced to carry the person in exchange for the canteen? Now some members in my audience my find fault with my analogy, so I remind you that there are faults with just about any analogy since analogies are never perfectly aligned with the case they are made to demonstrate. The point is, it is unjust for someone to impose a requirement upon you.

The second analogy concerns segregation. According to this article, “segregation” means to divide. (Note: f you have a different, incompatible definition of “segregation” in mind, then resist the temptation to apply this article’s arguments for “segregation”, otherwise, it the arguments won’t make sense.) Segregation is a specific type of dividing: it concerns categories of things, though most often races (ethnic groups). However, since it is not limited to ethnic groups, the analogy will not be either. Consider a situation in which you are about to receive a wad of marbles. You hold out your hands, forming two cups, while a person puts the marbles in your hands, separating them based on the color. There is nothing morally wrong with that separation. At some point, the other person may want you to move your hands together to form one big cup. If you do not, it irritates the other person. Now, depending on your motives for keeping your hands separate, this could be either morally acceptable or morally inacceptable. In fact, the latter only occurs when you’re intentions are evil. For example, you may keep your hands separate to intentionally irritate the other person. However, if this is not your intention but is a simply the result of the other individual’s personality, then you ought to feel no obligation to change other than simply out of courtesy. If you do change (put your hands together) as a result of force or merely to satisfy the other party (not satisfy the requirements of justice though those may be nearly satisfied anyways), then you open a can of worms. What will result is that an entirely new host of issues will arise though the only driving factor is the selfish desire for the other person’s convenience at your expense.

The issues of the railroads and racial segregation did end in favor of the little guy. Even though these seem like triumphs, from a standpoint of justice , success cannot be measured on the basis of what laws were enacted nor on the social structure such laws would form. The proper measure of success with respect to justice can only be made with consideration of the mindsets (or “hearts”) of those immediately affected; those with evil intentions deserved to be punished by being forced to conform to the guidelines of a moral society. From a standpoint of morality, success also cannot be measured on the basis of what laws were established nor the social structure such laws would form. Rather, success from a perspective of morality ought to be determined by the mindset that developed because of the specific resolution to those issues. In other words, what do people think now that they hadn’t though before people found and implemented the currently-accepted solution to the social dilemma?  In the case of segregation, there is great success morally speaking because racism has diminished in this country not solely in external expression but in how people privately view other individuals of different skin color or racial descent. In the case of the railroad issue, I would say that from the perspective of justice and morality, the resolution was a failure. Rather than fostering a culture of loving assistance (promoting good Samaritan activity), the resolution to the railroad issue only contributed to the little guy’s belief that American big business is meant to benefit him. By writing his book, The Gospel of Wealth, Andrew Carnegie reveals the social pressure on the affluent to appease this commoner mentality. If there is to be big business in America, then it must follow the whims of the American populous. This mentality prevails today and has fed the fight over digital product (primarily media) redistribution rights. This mentality is selfish at the core for it demands what it does not need.

The mentality that big business out to serve Americans is related to the mentality of anti-segregation (when segregation is at its purest form) in this way: both are linked by their desire to eliminate the rudeness that causes the “suffering”, if it be called that. The anti-segregation movement was correct in that the discrimination of people on the basis of race or skin color was unjust. But note this lack of justice was recognized as being the condition of the mindset (or heart) of those who promoted segregation. Should it not have been the case that the condoned mindset was driving the pro-segregation movement, then it is reasonable to assume the anti-segregation movement could have only existed to end the irritation and not an injustice. Consider, for instance, if the pro-segregation movement had promoted their cause on the grounds that mingling of such currently segregated people resulted in health issues. For example, suppose people of one race always carried with them a disease to which they were immune and all other races were susceptible. (Today, we would put them in a room labeled “quarantine” and proceed to invent a cure, but back then, they did not have the medical or chemical technology that we have.) Segregation of that race would be a plausible idea, as rude as it may be to the isolated race. Note that in such a case, the popular desire for protection and justice should prevail over the desire of the afflicted people to engage in face-to-face interaction with other people. We can only wonder how that scenario might played out in late 19th century America.

No progress has really been made in this article except to point out a flaw in current American perspective: that rudeness takes precedence over justice. Of course, no one will admit this straight up; the idea leaches out in every day legal and business practice. The issue of slavery was discussed to see how this idea might be applied to the issue of segregation. As you should have seen, it might have given different conditions, but in authentic American history, it does not.

One thing that ought to be mentioned with respect to the issues of the railroad prices and segregation is this: the services in question were all considered public. In the mentality of the general populous, “public” refers to anyone. Thus, it is counterintuitive (at least from a modern point of view) to see the public as being a group of people that can be divided into categories (e.g. mob and friends, dark-skin and light-skin, Swede or African) and provide special favors to one group more than another. Ironically, a similar segregation still happens today: frequent fliers get extra miles to fly and people who buy in bulk get cheaper deals. The difference between now and then is that anyone in the public can rue these benefits – not just a select few people.

I would like to discuss the consequences of this mentality on our society. Earlier I hinted at the problem of digital data redistribution. Though the issue is alot more complex given how we perceive digital data, licenses, and business-customer interaction, the mentality I have been discussing (that the elimination of rudeness takes precedence over justice for the benefit the people) has had a great impact on the debates over this issue. Just as the railroad tycoons had the right to choose who to sell cheap to, so businesses today have the “right” to choose who they distribute there products to. The question is how much control they have over the item after they have sold it. In the mind of many in the public, the thought may arise that companies should not be allowed to lord over those who purchase their products (which is rude) even though currently the companies have the “right” to do so. Arguments in favor of the business’ stance would argue that allowing them to continue such business is in accordance with business practice. Since there is no loss of dignity in human beings nor physical harm being done to anyone nor anyone in danger of suffering, then we should not condone business for this sort of practice. If we do not like this kind of business practice, then we (who are in a notably better time in American history, not worried about food or shelter or a poor market) can simply buy from other companies, start up our own businesses, or simply create projects independent of the businesses whose practices we dislike. Such has been the case with a multitude of computer science people, and thus we now have what is called free and open source software.

There are more consequences of the mentality in question than those confined to the business sector. Ponder if you will the logic behind political correctness. The primary focus of that language is to not offend people, to please everyone, to not sound rude (except to the crowd that rejects it). Why else would we not talk about religious matters? How are they taboo when many people consider their religion to be the most important thing in their life? This carries over to other issues, like abortion. After all, isn’t it rude to tell a woman that she has to bear the child that resulted from rape when she could easily just pay a doctor to suck its guts down a vacuum tube. What about semi to non religious issues? What about science? Is teaching creationism in science classes so offensive that we cannot uphold freedom of speech? I suppose if I sat here and thought about it, I can come up with a host of issues where the mentality for eliminating rudeness over upholding justice has sunk in to the minds of the American people, but that could take all day and all night. Besides, it’d be better to sit here and daydream about how wonderful it is to live in a non-segregated anti-business-trust rising digital world.


Commentary notes:

In the first paragraph, I had claimed that the farmer’s “jealousy” had caused them to demand the price change, and I blamed the change on the warped justice system. While I somewhat support this view in the article, it is kind of obvious that I change stance and blame it on the mindset of ending rudeness than on the mindset of jealousy. Hypocritical thing for me to do, but if I go back and edit things, I may lose the fluidity or train of thought carried through the rest of the article.

Also, while some might argue that the government of the U.S. has a warped view of justice, this argument isn’t very good evidence for it. The course of justice is dependent on the mindset of the person or party suspected of breaking the law, be it moral or civil. However, one’s mindset can only be judged on the basis of informed action – that is, action backed by knowledge. If the railroad barons/tycoons had no idea farmers were suffering nor had any way of looking into that issue, they cannot be blamed for violating the moral law. We cannot judge a person’s mindset (or heart) without witnessing some physical response of the individual. In the case of segregation, the negative mindset of the pro-segregation movement was made apparent by their lynching and needless destructive action. If they had other reasons for acting like that, they should have expressed them. Thus, though we cannot technically judge their hearts or perspective, we can judge the reasoning with which they backed up their claims (their expressed reasoning being that dark-skinned people were socially inferior in some way despite being American citizens and creatures made by God). This brings up the question about how to judge the mindsets of modern businessmen. We can only judge their external actions and reasoning for doing so. But at the same time, we ought to judge our own actions and reasoning for why we make the demands on modern business that we do. Is it that we truly do have this mindset of ending or banning rudeness in spite of the fact that doing so would be unjust?

That’s my initial take on it. Now I must go on to live an unselfish life… or be a hypocrite, which I don’t prefer.


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