What Motivates Unethical Behavior and How Does that Affect our Altruistic Response?

post by Mahendra Prasad · 2021-09-24T03:01:11.501Z · EA · GW · 6 comments

This piece is intended as a pedagogical exercise for an Intro to Effective Altruism course at UC Berkeley.

Orval Faubus was the son of prominent Arkansas integrationist, Sam Faubus. Orval, a World War II veteran, returned from the war as part of Sid McMath’s progressive GI Revolt, a post-war anti-corruption movement of returning GIs in Arkansas. McMath won the Arkansas governorship in 1948, but lost his re-election bid in 1952, in part for his support for ending the poll tax on Black voters. In 1954, Faubus ran for and won the Arkansas governorship. Despite his affiliations with his father and McMath, Faubus would become most famous as the segregationist governor who refused to integrate Little Rock Central High School. That crisis was resolved when President Dwight Eisenhower sent the National Guard to Arkansas to integrate Central High School. Faubus remained governor of Arkansas until 1967.

Darryl Davis is a Black man, who by befriending KKK members, has convinced 200 White supremacists to leave the KKK. Watch this 11-minute video about his work.

 

Question

In the Faubus situation, the problem was resolved by military force. In the Davis situation, the problem is resolved with friendship and discussion. Why or why not are these tools appropriate in their respective situations?

6 comments

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comment by rgarry2021 · 2021-09-26T20:31:01.784Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

In the video, Darryl Davis tells the story of meeting with a very dangerous KKK member and what began as a tense encounter between them. He speaks of the fear that was founded on his side (in my opinion) and unfounded on the side of the KKK leader. The words that struck me the most was when he talks about the noise made by the ice  bucket and how each individual reacted first nervous and then laughter "realizing how ignorant we all were." While I don't think Davis was "ignorant" for his fear of the KKK member, it is a testament to his character to include himself in that ignorance. He states "we fear the things that we don't understand...and ignorance breeds fear." In cases such as this I do believe that discussion can lead to the breaking down of ignorance and fear. I think they are the most effective tools before military force is involved. Obviously matters needed to escalate at Little Rock Central High School but it need not be forgotten that it wasn't Eisenhower who had to put himself at risk to go to school. It was the bravery of the students who were being excluded, who were being banned from attending class because of the color of their skin. It was the students like Elizabeth Eckford who calmly walked into the building as people screamed in her face. It was her bravery, her calm, her poise and the poise of students like her who acted as the living embodiment of grace that proved those who were against their presence wrong. It takes more than friendship and discussion to make effect change. It is those brave enough to stand in the face of fear and stand against ignorance that are the true effective leaders in change. 

comment by Tma · 2021-10-25T03:35:10.391Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Two very fascinating stories. I think military force was certainly effective in the Arkansas example, but would a visit by Eisenhower to Arkansas where Eisenhower attempted to convince Faubus that he was wrong have been effective? In short, I don't know. But I think that approach should have been attempted if it wasn't. 

The situation with Darryl Davis and the KKK is completely different. Davis was not facing discrimination that was supported through state action. He was able to make a personal connection with KKK members, and this personal connection helped dismantle the entrenched racism that these KKK members had against black people. Perhaps a personal connection with a black person with the Faubus case would have worked to dismantle Faubus' racial animus, but it appears that his actions could also be motivated by what his constituents thought. Nonetheless, perhaps Eisenhower should have attempted a conversation before sending in the National Guard. Either way, his actions were effective and using the National Guard sent a strong message that the Federal Government was in support of dismantling a discriminatory system. Perhaps it was important to send that public message even if a personal conversation or a "gentler approach" had more potential to change "hearts and minds." 

comment by Catelyn Millar · 2021-09-29T23:39:20.746Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

In the first example, Orval Faubus was given the resources, knowledge, and inspiration to be an advocate for positive change. However, he became a hateful segregationist who required oversight from the U.S. president. I think it's unfortunate that the positive change (the integration of Little Rock Central High School) needed to be mandated by military force, but ultimately it was necessary. In the second example, Daryl Davis made a huge positive impact in the fight for racial equality just by having interpersonal relationships with KKK members. I think he used the tools he had available to him which was the virtue of his character. He used patience, love, and communication to slowly but surely convince hateful people to stop being ignorant. In both situations, there was ultimately positive change but Daryl Davis certainly developed his skills better.

comment by SDV · 2021-09-29T23:31:05.612Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The audience and actor are both important, as is the timescale. In the Faubus situation, it was a black student who went to school (actor) vs the general population (audience). The population was undoubtedly racist, and were generally unwilling to change their views. They had a general disdain for black people, and solving that issue had to be done quickly. The actor likely had no interest in changing the mind of the audience by himself, and the actor had a time-sensitive goal; going to school.

In the Davis situation, the actor, audience, and timescale are different. Far-right-wing radicalism preys on people who are shunned by society and tells them that they’re intrinsically better than members of society because of an immutable trait. To dismantle the radicalism from the outside in, one needs to directly challenge that ideology and be willing to put up with the abuse for a long time. Davis chose to face abuse over a long time period to push people away from a racist ideology; he was willing to suffer so that his goal of dismantling a racist structure over time was fulfilled.

comment by Riti Pathak · 2021-09-26T23:18:42.657Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The differences in these two scenarios is what led to two different tools being used in their resolution. In the case of Davis, Davis’s focus was to change Roger Kelly’s mindset along with the other people in the KKK from the inside out, rather than forcefully dismantling the KKK. If he would’ve used force against the KKK, it would not have erased their hatred against black people. Instead, it would’ve pushed their hatred underground where they would still be as, if not more, dangerous. To harm groups like the KKK, it is important to change their views and fight their hatred through compassion, because that is how they can be effectively dismantled. On the other hand, Faubus’s views does not matter as much in the long run for the equality in Arkansas. Thus, it was effective to use force to catalyze change through the integration of Central High School: to force the ignorant students to be confronted with others they hate for the equality of future generations. Integration in this case was important to change the views of the citizens as a whole, not just a specific group of people or one specific person. 

comment by Jpmos · 2021-09-24T05:36:04.935Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

That crisis was resolved when President Dwight Eisenhower sent the National Guard to Arkansas to integrate Central High School.

Small note: A division of the US military  was called in response to Faubus ordering the Arkansas National Guard to block integration. I think the details show how the situation was one of the most precarious Federal-State conflicts since the civil war, and I think that'd influence how I would respond to the question.