Home » Moral Truth vs Facts: A New Disguise for the Ends Justifying the Means

Moral Truth vs Facts: A New Disguise for the Ends Justifying the Means

ocasio_20cortez_20suitI posted this on Facebook the other day:

If moral truths outweigh actual facts, as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggests, then we owe a hell of an apology to Muslim terrorists who are, after all, only advancing their moral truths.

A few days after I posted it, another friend of mine posted that moral truths are, in fact, higher than material facts and that AO-C is exactly right in her statement, and then argues that people upset over her statement are victims of AO-C Derangement Syndrome.


To break this all down so it makes sense, we need some details, and we need to make explicit what usually goes without saying.

So to start with, here is a link to one of the reports that started all of this.

The context is important. On 60 minutes, Anderson Cooper asked her about the criticism she faces for getting her facts wrong. The specific instance he gives is a Washington Post story that rated her with 4 Pinocchios when she tweeted that the money ‘lost’ by the Pentagon was about $21 trillion, and that would fund 66% of her Medicaid for all program. Her tweet said:

“$21 TRILLION of Pentagon financial transactions ‘could not be traced, documented, or explained.’ $21T in Pentagon accounting errors. Medicare for All costs ~$32T. That means 66% of Medicare for All could have been funded already by the Pentagon.”

Let’s break this her statement for analysis.

  1. $21 trillion could not be ‘documented, traced, or explained.’
  2. The Pentagon has $21 trillion in accounting errors.
  3. That $21 trillion is either available for use or was wasted, and was not used supporting the mission of the Pentagon.
  4. Therefore, the waste generated by the Pentagon is enough to fund 66% of the cost for Medicaid for all.

Broken down this way, the logical failure is evident. Just because $21 trillion is not documented does not mean it wasn’t spent on the mission of the DOD. It doesn’t mean it was wasted. And it most certainly doesn’t mean that it is available for spending on Medicaid for all.

It get’s worse for AO-C.

When you source her facts, you find out a few more inconvenient facts.

  1. The $21 trillion figure comes from an article in The Nation, and is the sum total of all accounting adjustments, both credits and expenditures, that couldn’t be tracked to a specific transaction. It is possible that the expenditures and credits cancel out, leaving all funds accounted for, but it is impossible to say since they aren’t linked to specific transactions. In other words, the sum total of the money unaccounted for is significant less than $21 trillion.
  2. The $21 trillion figure is the total from 1998 through 2015, or 18 years. The $31 trillion cost estimate for her Medicaid for All program is over a 10 year period. She’s not comparing apples to apples; hell, she’s not even comparing apples to oranges. It’s apples to Alfa Romeos.

Her last sentence of the tweet establishes her point. “That means 66% of Medicare for All could have been funded already by the Pentagon.” She’s clearly saying that the Pentagon wasted enough money over 18 years to fund the majority of her Medicaid for all program. It’s not true. Not even close, which is why the Washington Post gave her 4 Pinocchios.

So Anderson Cooper called her out on it. From the transcript:

Anderson Cooper: One of the criticisms of you is that— that your math is fuzzy. The Washington Post recently awarded you four Pinocchios—

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Oh my goodness—

Anderson Cooper: —for misstating some statistics about Pentagon spending?

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: If people want to really blow up one figure here or one word there, I would argue that they’re missing the forest for the trees. I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.[Italics mine]

She said this in response to being questioned about her comments about defense spending, which weren’t just ‘semantically’ wrong, as shown above; they were completely and utterly wrong. So wrong , in fact, that it gives rise to the question of whether the error was deliberate. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, and assuming no deception was intended, her point was totally incorrect because her understanding accounting was wrong. It wasn’t a case of being imprecise; it was a case of not knowing what in the hell she was talking about.

Cooper continues:

Anderson Cooper: But being factually correct is important—

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: It’s absolutely important. And whenever I make a mistake. I say, “Okay, this was clumsy.” and then I restate what my point was.

Yet here, when given a chance to correct her statement, she does not. Instead, she attacks those who question her, saying that their emphasis on facts over morals discredits their criticisms.

And that, my friends, is an extremely dangerous position for our representatives in DC to take. Let’s explore why.

First of all, is it a true statement that moral principles have a higher value than concrete facts? The argument is that moral principles must come from a higher power, God if you will, and cannot rise from human thought or endeavor, since we are imperfect. I’ve argued in the past that this is a defining difference between morals and ethics. Morals come from outside and are imposed as a part of reality; ethics arise from within, derived by experience and thought. (By the way, this is a distinction that I make personally; most folks treat ethics and morals as synonyms. By making a concrete distinction between the two, it allows me to discuss both more precisely.)

Starting from this position, you can claim that moral truths are of higher value than material facts. However, given that, in this view, everything, including material facts, comes from God, therefore they all have a similar weight. It isn’t obvious that moral rectitude outweighs factual correctness.

Let’s try a test case to illustrate the conflict.

Is it okay to lie in order to achieve a moral position? Or more generally, is it okay to sin for the greater good? Am I morally justified in going back in time and murdering Adolph Hitler in order to save 10 million lives? Do the ends justify the means?

My belief is that they do not. I am not allowed to break a moral precept in order to serve another moral precept. It doesn’t work that way.

So how does this apply to AO-C and her argument?

Let’s place her quote in context. She was defending her false statements as being in service of a higher moral truth. Whether she lied or was simply ignorant, when called on her error, she justified it by claiming she was serving a ‘moral’ truth. In effect, she used a moral principle in order to camouflage a deception in order to advance her agenda. Does this strike you as moral behavior?

More importantly, is this how a representative of the people acts? Deceiving them in order to achieve her aims?

Not from where I stand.

In a republic, the people are represented in the government by people they choose. These representatives are there to carry out the will of the people who sent them, not to impose their vision. I can remember in grade school a Represewntative came to talk to us and was asked how he would handle a vote when he supported a bill but his constituents did not. He answered that the people elected him to represent them in DC and it was his job to do what he thought was in their best interests while there, even if they disagreed with it. He explained that if his votes were significantly out of line with the electorate, he would be replaced in the next election.

Even as a 14 year old, his answer struck me as wrong. It sounded reasonable enough on the surface, but it bothered me that he felt empowered to impose his will over the will of the people he was supposed to represent. Now, knowing what I do about the power of incumbency, it bothers me even more, and forms the root of my voting process, which defaults to anti-incumbent and changes only with significant input and reflection.

It’s bad enough that almost by default, our representatives do what they think is best for us in Washington instead of our expressed preferences. But when they feel justified to deceive or mislead us in order to do so, they’ve crossed a line; they are no longer representing us, they are directing us.

That’s not a republic. It’s the first step towards tyranny.

If we allow ANY of our representatives to lie, mislead, or deceive us, and are mollified by “I only did it to serve the greater good,” then we deserve what comes next.

And yes, I know they all lie. Hence my default anti-incumbent stance.


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