For so long as the world continues to spin on its axis, human suffering is inevitable at the hands of its own people, one moral crisis after another, the lessons of history have taught nothing if not the extent of human cruelty capable against our fellow man; but also, the lengths to which we will go to protect and aid one another in our time of need. While most have leanings towards to the latter, the few that heed the call of the former have cast out their better angels from grace. A significant moral crisis with far-reaching implications has come about, and a series of discussions and talks between the world’s greatest minds, politicians and even ordinary private citizens whom also have a stake in this debate. A civil war had ensued in Syria between the ISIS, the Free Syrian, and the corruptively oppressive al-Assad government regime wreaking further havoc on the country. There is also the Israeli occupation of Palestine with the displacement and forcible removal of thousands of civilians caught in the crossfire of the Israeli government and Palestinian rebel forces. Not to mention the wars waged in the Sudan, or the famine in Somalia. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, these migrants hold out hope for an end to their suffering, which may never come. In the midst of this global refugee crisis, many thinkers assert that well-off countries have a moral obligation and necessity to aid these migrants as much as they can. They pose virtue ethics as a countermeasure for which world leaders ought to give it notice, a value system that puts people’s moral character under consideration before they’re dissuaded by anti-immigration identity politics to keep out the refugees.
According to Merriam-Webster, virtue is “a particular moral excellence” (Merriam-Webster) Articulated from the mouths of the prominent ancient Greek philosophers Plato, and his more reputable student Aristotle, virtue ethics is grounded, not in moral duties, but in the fixed value of one’s moral character, which should be the foremost deciding aspect of an individual on whether or not they gain admission into these neighboring countries. Canada makes use of a similar merit-based system for their immigration policies, and the rest of the world should take this a step further in implementing a moral value system instead of population limits and immigration caps with respect to immigration policies. The philosophy of virtue ethics makes the case that “a right act is the action a virtuous person would do in the same circumstances.” (BBC) If this definition were to be put into practice, those in a position of power should open the flood gates, so to speak, and allow the pouring of refugees into their lands and provide food, shelter, and comfort to them in their struggle for survival. Despite a lack of clear guidance in specific moral dilemmas, its openness to interpretation is useful in brandishing some blanket generalizations that could be seen as broad in its scope, and therefore have greater applications. Plato, Aristotle and their ideological descendants, such as Alasdair MacIntyre, a Scottish moral and political philosopher, attest to virtue as the key to living a good, moral life, and as supplementary to moral rules already in practice. Following this, people ought to practice virtue because in not doing so, they would be unvirtuous, and this circular line of reasoning replaces the ‘oughts’ of moral duty with the ‘should do x because shouldn’t do x’. A practical example is the migrant crisis itself, where countries should accept more immigrants because it’s right and not doing so is wrong. Immigrants should be judged not on their situation, but on their moral worth as people uprooted from their homes and willing to go to work in these countries as residents like any other, and that classifying them as refugees puts them in a distinct category of suffering that should be staved off by those at an advantage, i.e. world leaders.
“An unprecedented 65.6 million people around the world have been forced from home. There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.” (UNHCR) These numbers are horrendous alone, but given the context of this global refugee crisis, it is unsurprising that very little has been done to ameliorate the pain of these refugees trying to start their new lives over from the ground up. Most of the few that are in charge and capable of putting an end to the suffering are more concerned about sustaining their own quality of life and their opulent lifestyles meanwhile these impoverished folks resort to begging while they live in makeshift refugee camps, entire families crammed into them. Virtue ethicists would turn this situation on its head and pose the question to these affluent leaders of industry and government on how they would feel if nothing little was being done for their benefit; if they were the ones occupying the down-trodden slums of a relatively high-income country. Maybe then would they sympathize with the refugees. Succinctly, goodness for goodness’ sake is the maxim virtue ethics holds in high regard, and a virtuous persons(s) must be willing to act in a manner that in not doing so would be to commit wrongdoing and be unvirtuous. The West needs to open itself up to the virtues of compassion and moral certitude not simply because of any moral obligation that was put on them because of proximity, but because they recognize their position to do something about this moral crisis before it tears a hole in the fabric of international relations and gives rise to new threats to the Western world and it’s that can be averted. The sheer gravity of the situation isn’t lost on these countries, such as Germany: “Merkel—as well as the leaders of the Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens—has repeatedly refused to place a cap on the number of refugees Germany takes in.” (Delcker) Here, the Chancellor of Germany finds herself on the right side of history, where treating refugees as the enemy is not the answer and where the virtue still plays a role.
Arguing on behalf of a virtue ethicist, or as a matter of fact anyone of any or no philosophical background, it is unvirtuous and morally wrong to turn your back on those in danger during a time of crisis, which is what the refugees are. If we were to play devil’s advocate and take the stance that these refugees hold malicious intent, the claims are nonsensical; that terrorists are bunched up with these refugees as a guise to gain entry into foreign countries is unsubstantiated and a discriminatory generalization made against brown people, or that perhaps these refugees are sycophants that plan on siphoning all the resources of rich Europe and bleed them dry. These same refugees spend their days huddled in cold, disease-ridden encampments while they await their fates at the hand of these countries respective offices of immigration. But to assume that a supermajority of these down-trodden migrants is such that they will contribute to the break-down of the Western world as we know it is pure speculation, conjecture and simply political negativism from the lens of a racially homogenous population that views any outgroup as a conflicting interest. The EU and the U.S. were at a standstill, playing hot-potato with these refugees with the last one to catch the crisis would be responsible for its handling of it: “The EU looks at the refugees and sees nine million people they would have to feed, house, and heal and they know that their countries can’t handle that without having a serious talk about the failures of their governments.” (Why the U.S. Should Refuse Syrian Refugees) Virtue ethics would be ardently opposed to this mistreatment of these refugees as just another problem one or the other would have to deal with, instead of seeing this as an opportunity to showcase their resolve and compassion for others.
Everyone who has, is, or will live does everything they possibly can to avoid suffering. If that is the case, then why are refugees, who are doing what anyone else would in the same circumstances, demonized and persecuted for their bad luck. To minimize the refugee crisis from all parts of the East and boil it down to simple math and economics, we are living in a cruel world indeed, but through virtue ethics we would slowly recover from this diffidence and come to the realization that to help others for no other reason than to not do so is wrong is enough of a plea to inspire world leaders and political activists to drive the movement for all refugees to be welcome anywhere they might find a shred of solace and hope for the future is all it takes to create change in the world and lead down the road to virtue and into a brighter tomorrow.
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