The Ethics Of Transgender Military Service

It’s made the news — of course.  It was designed to, the which itself is no news; Trump has long made a habit of doing something obnoxiously distracting on a divisive issue whenever it suits him.  We, apparently knowing no better, follow right along with him.

Because this was so evidently staged, I’d planned to give the entire issue a miss.  I mislike being manipulated.  The topic is nothing I’m particularly expert at; moreover, it’s not a subject with which our society as a whole is even comfortable enough to have developed any common morality.  Which is when it struck me:  This is not a topic where morality has any value.  This is a place for ethics.

A quick aside —  Some dictionaries disagree with me, but they’re wrong:  There’s a difference between morality, ethics, and law.  Defining what’s legal is simple; if there’s an applicable law against it, it’s illegal.  Granted, on the finer points, you might need a legal team to decide which laws apply… which brings us to ethics.  Ethical codes are frequently adopted by professions, including lawyers.  It’s perfectly ethical (for example) for a lawyer to bill a percentage of any contested estate, even if the work is slight; any former client who’s ever fallen foul of this can easily tell the difference between ethics and morality, and many overly moral lawyers tend to lose their shirts.  I could go on about the ethics of doctors and funeral directors, but you get the point.

When professional ethics don’t apply, many of us have personal codes of ethics; some of us rely entirely on those, while others use personal morality for every occasion.  Without getting into the foolishness of overvaluing one at the expense of the other, I’ll simply remark that neither matters in this instance.  The reason is, no personal code has anything whatsoever to do with this matter.

The question of transgender military service must be weighed in one specific ethical balance:  The good of society as a whole as determined by the protection of individual rights versus the expense and difficulty of maintaining an efficient military force.

I’m well studied on the philosophy underlying the rights of the individual as complements and/or opposes the rights of society both as a body and as a collective of individuals.  I’m likewise well-read on the maintenance and efficiency of armies both ancient and modern.  And I’ll tell you plainly:  I don’t know the right answer.  I can tell you with certainty neither the state of our societal progress nor the likely impact (for instance) on combat efficiency of the presence of transgender personnel in a war zone.  There are experts in each field; many of each disagree, and I’m quite certain the opinions of few were sought in arriving at our present national position.

All I know for certain is this:  There exists a duty for some people to serve in the armed forces, and there exists a need.  There is, however, little question of there being a right for people to serve.  (For a clear illustration of this principle, I’d advise you to watch “Captain America: The First Avenger”.)

However, there does exist a duty incumbent on us as a society to promote the equality of each individual under the law wherever we can; this would seem to be such a place, if practicable.

Secondarily, but hardly of lesser importance:  We have at present some thousands of people who identify as transgender as members of one or another branch of the military service.  These individuals have made life choices in good faith, and it is incumbent upon us to honor that faith — no matter what our personal thoughts or feelings might be, or what our present government decides.

This is a potentially divisive issue, people.  But when we as a nation examine it in the proper light, with the question reduced to its appropriate ethical measures, I believe the proper direction for our society going forward will become evident.  That time cannot be while emotion is running high, and the process is certainly made no easier by a divisive demagogue opting to publicly champion a position.

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