Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Chiara Lepora and Robert E. Goodin's "On Complicity & Compromise"

Chiara Lepora, who trained as a medical practitioner at the Universities of Pavia and Lisbon and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has worked with Medecins sans Frontieres / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in various capacities across Africa and the Middle East. She currently works with (MSF) as Programme Manager responsible for operations across the Middle East.

Bob Goodin is a political philosopher with appointments in both the Department of Government at the University of Essex and the School of Philosophy at Australian National University. He is founding editor of The Journal of Political Philosophy, coeditor of the British Journal of Political Science and General Editor of the eleven-volume Oxford Handbooks of Political Science. A Fellow of the British Academy, he has given the Dewey Lecture at the University of Chicago Law School, the Edmund Burke Lecture at Trinity College, Dublin, and the Lee Lecture at All Souls College, Oxford. His coauthored book Discretionary Time won the Stein Rokkan Prize for Comparative Social Science Research.

Goodin applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, On Complicity and Compromise, and reported the following:
By page 99 [below left, click to enlarge] you're already in it up to your eyeballs. Complicity is like that. One little compromise, then another. Before you know it you're sucked in, contributing way more than you really want to the nefarious projects of someone else – rationalizing it saying that was the only way that you could successfully pursue some genuinely worthy project of your own.

Dr Chiara Lepora knows more about this than most. She had participated in many humanitarian missions with Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders across Africa, the Middle East and beyond. She had grown increasingly wary of the compromises and complicity with the wrongdoing of others that was required to deliver medical services to populations in desperate need, and took some time off to search for some framework that would help her determine 'how much was too much'. At the Bioethics Department of the National Institutes of Health she began working up with me, political philosopher Bob Goodin, on these topics.

But it was not a question for which any 'off the shelf' answer was readily available. Most academic work on complicity (like that that page 99 begins to criticize) comes from lawyers concerned with criminal complicity, bad guys cooperating with bad guys and sharing their intentions to do something bad. A broader framework (such as that page 99 begins to sketch) is required to cover cases of good guys doing things that they know will further the evil purposes they do not share, because that is the only way to pursue good purposes of their own. It would be wrong to deny that they have thereby contributed to some bad, but it would be equally wrong to deny that their doing so was justified by the greater good that they thereby achieved.

That's the general idea, onto which page 99 provides a perfect window. Of course there are all different kinds of compromise and complicity, some much worse than others. And there are all sorts of counterintuitive conclusions in store (like: 'Why shouldn't a physician treat a patient who's being tortured, if the patient really wants her to, even knowing that the sooner his wounds are healed the sooner they will torture him again? Who does the physician work for, if not her patient?').

But for all that, of course, you'll have to read the book.
Learn more about On Complicity and Compromise at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue