The Arab trader argument is my name for an argument white Americans often use to defend the evil they do in the world. It goes like this: if white Americans do something evil and terrible it is all right – or at least not all that bad – so long as they can find at least one example from world history of someone else doing the same thing. Thus the Atlantic slave trade was not so bad because Arabs traders sold slaves too!
See how it works? Pretty cool trick.
The thing is utterly morally bankrupt. It is the everyone-does-it argument that we tried when we were eight . Our mothers did not buy it then and it does not work now – except maybe for the morally blind.
But that is just what many white Americans seem to be: morally blind. They know the evil that is done in their name, not just in the past but even now, but they do not want to see it. And when they are faced with it, they try to excuse it with stuff like this.
Maybe moral blindness leads to morally broken thinking – or is it the other way round?
It would be like if I robbed a bank and then said, “People rob banks all the time, what is the big deal?” Or if I slept with someone’s wife and I said, “Your wife had an affair two years ago. See! I am not that bad. Why are you angry at me?”
Do you see how shameless this kind of argument is?
It amazes me that anyone even tries it, for two reasons:
- That anyone would waste more than two seconds trying to excuse something so clearly evil, like the slave trade, the Japanese American prison camps, racism, etc.
- That they would try to use such a bad argument with a straight face and not see just how bad it is.
But they do it.
It seems to bring comfort to them, but that comfort is completely one-sided. It brings no comfort to those who have to suffer their evil. Like when the Jews were being sent to the death camps, did it bring any comfort to them to know that the Turks killed over a million Armenians?
Forms of this argument:
- This is the way we have always done it
- Blacks do it too
- Blacks are racist too
- There will always be racists
Right and wrong are not determined or proved by what everyone does, much less by what some people do, like Arab traders. That would just excuse everyone to sink to the lowest, meanest, most evil levels of behaviour.
A simple and far better way to determine right and wrong, without getting deep into religion or philosophy, is the Golden Rule, which is not “Do unto others as some others have done”, as the Arab trader argument would have it, but “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Acts of racism fail this test by their very nature.
- How to tell if a commenter is white
- white innocence
- Apple-pie America – more on American moral blindness
- The slave trade was immoral – also brings up the Arab trader argument
- Pam Peters: The Cambridge Guide to English Usage – come to think of it, this everyone-does-it approach is applied even to English usage. Maybe it is not just a disingenous argument but a way of thinking!