Category Archives: Comment of the Day

Comment of the Day: “Mid-EthicsTrainwreck Observations On Ferguson”

China Protest

How much fire power should a democracy’s police forces have at their disposal? Is the trend toward militarization in urban police departments an inherent threat to our liberty? These are interesting topics, and issues with public policy as well as ethical implications, brought to our attention by the armored vehicles we have seen prowling through the streets of Ferguson, Missouri.

I confess to neglecting these matters on Ethics Alarms, in part because the question of whether a police officer justly and legally shot (six times) and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown has been muddled by too many other considerations already. As a result, I haven’t given the issues much quality thought, other than my usual fascination at the ability of some committed libertarians to take a position dictated by their ideology without being troubled by the obvious practical problems associated with that position, a proclivity I would file under the heading of “Irresponsible.” Also, “Strange.” How can someone advocate virtually unregulated access to increasingly powerful weaponry by citizens—including criminals—and oppose sufficient arms in the hands of the police to protect the public from a misuse of that weaponry? Libertarians (and others) maintain that a prime purpose of the Second Amendment  is to prevent the government from disarming  citizens to dominate and control them. Agreed. But the unfettered freedom of law-abiding citizens to acquire the weapons they feel are necessary for whatever lawful purpose they choose will also result in the same weapons being available to those with less savory objectives in mind. I understand that the opposition to a police force armed to the teeth springs from either a distrust of government generally (libertarians and anarchists) or police specifically , especially by a segment of the population, African-Americans, who are otherwise favorably inclined toward a large, intrusive government—a contradiction as striking as that offered by the libertarian position, but understandable for those who live under the threatening authority of the Killer Klown act known as the Ferguson Police Department.

Fortunately, texagg04, a distinguished Ethics Alarms regular, has been inspired to delve into some of these questions, and others, in a superb post, the Comment of the Day, on the essay Mid-EthicsTrain Wreck Observations On Ferguson. Here it is: Continue reading

29 Comments

Filed under Citizenship, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Race, Rights, Science & Technology, U.S. Society, War and the Military

Comment of the Day and Ferguson Thread Highlight: Chris Marschner On The Elusive Equal Treatment Problem

Doesn't seem right, somehow...

Doesn’t seem right, somehow…

At least one good thing has out of the Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck, anyway: several unusually intense, frank and thought-provoking threads about race, “privilege” and poverty led by Ethics Alarms All-Stars Chris Marschner, deery, and urbanregor, with trenchant contributions by others as well. The most vigorous thread emerged here, in response to Marschner’s Comment of the Day on this post, on the unfolding Ferguson situation.

I could have chosen any number of comments to highlight by a separate post, but decided on this one, by Chris. First of all, it is remarkably thoughtful. Second, it transcends Ferguson and addresses the larger, related issues of poverty and perceived inequality of opportunity in the U.S. Third, it constitutes a first: a Comment of the Day, by the author of a Comment of the Day, commenting on his own piece. Guinness has been notified.

Here is Chris Marschner’s Comment of the Day on his previous post, Comment of the Day: “Ethics Train Wrecks Collide, As The Redskins And Trayvon Martin’s Mother Board The Ferguson Express”: Continue reading

4 Comments

Filed under Business & Commercial, Citizenship, Comment of the Day, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Race, U.S. Society

Comment of the Day: “Ethics Train Wrecks Collide, As The Redskins And Trayvon Martin’s Mother Board The Ferguson Express”

lynch mob

I had just read a nauseating post by self-declared liberal pragmatist Justin Barogona, who authored this despicable sentiment:

“The fact is that the protests would quickly simmer down if a handful of actions were taken, none of which involves SWAT teams, tear gas, riot gear, assault rifles or armored vehicles. The moment Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson gets charged with the murder of Mike Brown, the city of Ferguson won’t find itself overtaken with protests, rallies and marches…Wilson needs to be charged with a crime, and that needs to happen sooner rather than later. Anger and frustration will only continue to build upon itself as long as Wilson isn’t staring down a murder charge.”

This is essentially extortion, bordering on terrorism, I thought. Is this really mainstream liberal thought today in the United States—mob coerced indictments, regardless of truth, due process or fairness? Sacrifice a possibly innocent public servant so Ferguson, Mo. won’t burn? Bragona’s smug insistence that the obvious course of action is to charge a man with murder for political expediency marks him as beneath contempt, an enemy of the rule of law as well as basic fairness and decency. But how close is the position of Eric Holder and the Justice Department, as well as President Obama?

This story, telling us the the Obama Administration is promising civil rights leaders “justice,”  is ominous. “Justice,” to the protesters and those who decided to make the death of Mike Brown another symbolic indictment of white racism, and the facts be damned,means only one thing: tar Darren Wilson as a racist killer. Is Obama playing a dangerous game of deceit with his core supporters, or is he merely promising justice as it is supposed to be, letting the law follow the facts after an objective investigation? The latter is the obvious ethical and responsible course, indeed the only legitimate course. I don’t believe that is what is intended or meant, however. I think the Obama Administration is determined to prosecute Wilson regardless of what the investigation reveals, because it does not have the integrity or courage to oppose the mob, and “liberals” like Bragona.

Then I read about  Isis beheading photo-journalist James Foley, and their threat to kill another American if Obama doesn’t capitulate to their demands. As the two situations began to coalesce as a blog post in my fevered brain, Chris Marchener posted what follows, making my post superfluous.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Train Wrecks Collide, As The Redskins And Trayvon Martin’s Mother Board The Ferguson Express: Continue reading

66 Comments

Filed under Around the World, Character, Citizenship, Comment of the Day, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Race

Comment of the Day: “Why Fox News’ Robin Williams Gaffe Matters”

Chris Marchener had several excellent posts today, but I am re-posting this one as the Comment of the Day for several reasons. It was in response to another commenter’s opinion that Fox News anchor Shepard Smith was not inaccurate to call Robin Williams a coward for succumbing to his suicidal urges. To the contrary, Smith was wrong, and his statement was cruel and irresponsible. Suicide arising out of mental illness runs—indeed, gallops—in my family: a great-uncle and three cousins killed themselves, and I knew the cousins and their battles with mental illness well. Sadly, much of the public is unschooled in what mental illness does and how and why it so often leads to suicide. Chris’s explanation of why Smith was exposing his ignorance may help enlighten some of the many who need enlightening. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “Why Fox News’ Robin Williams Gaffe Matters.”

It is quite easy to play armchair quarterback when you are not cursed with an affliction that renders you powerless to find comfort. You said “It’s borne of being unwilling to face the hard truths, make the hard changes, take the big risks needed to alter one’s own circumstances.” That perspective is fine when you are talking about behavioral sociopathy but when the chemistry in the brain is altered the individual has very little or any control over the outcome. I’ll bet that Robin Williams did more to face his demons than most anyone else would who do not also suffer from a chemical disorder of the brain. Unless you have some personal insight into his medical history a blanket claim of being a coward is unjust.

At this time, there is no prosthesis for remedying the destructive processes of mental illness other than using drugs to alter the brain chemistry. Unlike a prosthetic limb there is no guarantee that the medication will work as desired. Furthermore, as my wife and I have found out the hard way, long term use of anti-seizure and anti-depressives can have a high rate of mortality from the medications themselves.

Calling someone a coward after the fact is not merely unnecessary and hurtful it turns some people away from acknowledging the need for help. All reports show that he did seek help and did his best to confront his problems head on. Despite that he succumbed.

5 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Comment of the Day, Health and Medicine, Journalism & Media

Comment of the Day: “Ethics Dunce: ESPN”

domestic_violence

I know I have written a lot about the Ray Rice domestic abuse case and its aftermath, most recently this morning, regarding CNN’s Carol Costello’s warped argument for suspending ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith. (The Rice-related posts are here, here, here and here, with an earlier Comment of the Day here.) I keep coming back to it because it involves many ethics issues: sports and violence, the “Star Syndrome,” and the special treatment of cultural celebrities, race, domestic abuse, women’s enabling of domestic abusers, political correctness, scapegoating, corporate cowardice, incompetent journalism, and more.  Chris Marschner’s recent comment on one of those posts is better than anything I’ve written on the topic, I think. As is often demonstrated here, the readers make Ethics Alarms work.

One connection I didn’t make until I read Chris’s comment is the relevance of the Gaza crisis and the public’s reaction to it to some of the ethical principles involved. There is no question that Hamas provoked a violent attack by Israel, knowing that women and children would be harmed, and that Israel would be condemned by many as a consequence. Israel is much more powerful than Palestinian forces, and provoking it to defend itself when the inevitable results will be harm to the powerless is irresponsible. Yet we hear the same absolutist reactions to the Gaza casualties that are at the root of the anger focused on Smith’s comments. The victims of violence are never responsible in any way, and suggesting otherwise is immoral.

It’s a very flawed analogy in other respects. The civilians are not the ones provoking Israel, for example, though Hamas represents them–their harm is harm to Gaza, and therefor Hamas. Most of all, Israel is not an abuser, though I could quote many commentators who regard it as one, and who might see the comparison with Ray Rice as apt.

Here is Chris Marschner’s Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Dunce: ESPN: Continue reading

11 Comments

Filed under Around the World, Character, Childhood and children, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Gender and Sex, Journalism & Media, Sports

Comment of the Day: “The Obama Outhouse Float: Not Racist, Just Wrong”

Obama float

Rick Jones, a drama professor, deep thinker and superb writer, weighed in on the controversy over the tasteless Independence Day float in Norfolk, Nebraska. (As an aside: did my trip to Nebraska last week unleash something in the Ethics Cosmos? First this story, then the Nebraska judge telling the Supremes to “stfu”?) Rick courageously wades into the messy and contentious area, often discussed here, of racial motivations behind criticism of Barack Obama. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, The Obama Outhouse Float: Not Racist, Just Wrong:

I’ve written about this incident, as well, and we generally but don’t totally agree.

I’m intrigued by the discussion of racism. Certainly I agree that nothing in the events described qualifies as inherently racist… but I think the word “inherently” matters here. The fact that there is not an obvious racial motivation for what is clearly an intentionally offensive float, one which displays its creator’s “disgust,” does not mean that it is intrinsically devoid of such volition. Even the little boy who cried “wolf” was right once. Similarly, whereas there are those who reflexively scream “racism” at every criticism of the current President, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t expressions of anti-Obama sentiment which really are grounded in the fact that he has a little more melanin than you or I do.

In this case, Ms. Kathurima and her daughter have experienced racism—or believe they have—and you say that you “don’t blame her” for perceiving it in this instance. Nor do I. That Mr. Remmich intended to insult the POTUS, I think goes without saying. Why, specifically, he set out to do so is an open question. Maybe it’s racial. Maybe it’s political. Maybe he knows his neighbors and pandered to their predilections. I certainly don’t know, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t, really, either.

I grapple with a variation on this theme constantly in my professional work, especially in the area of communication theory as it applies to aesthetics. Oversimplified a little, the modernist/positivist view is that the sender of a message creates and encodes meaning, and the receiver’s job is to “find” the meaning through a process of decoding. The post-positivist view, however, is to argue that the sender catalyzes rather than creates meaning, that meaning is in fact created by the receiver of the message. To me, the two positions are equally valid.

One of my standard approaches to this dilemma is to suggest to students that “somewhere in this room is someone who has had a major fight with a loved one because what one of you thought you said was not what the other thought he/she heard.” Moreover, whether the “blame” for a misinterpretation should be placed with the sender or the receiver is likely to be influenced in your mind not so much by philosophical or theoretical concerns as by which of those positions you happened to occupy on the occasion in question.

We are left, then, with two significant questions, neither or which I am prepared to answer with confidence. 1). Is the meaning of a communication determined by the sender, the receiver, or by some presumably objective external agent? 2). At what point does a particular reaction pass from confirmation bias into, well, experience?

_______________________

Continue reading

4 Comments

Filed under Comment of the Day, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Race, U.S. Society

Comment of The Day (Public Service Message Division): “Wanetta Gibson Is Even Worse Than We Thought”

Wait a second...I'm getting my rifle...

Wait a second…I’m getting my rifle…

We haven’t had one of these in a while, and I’m feeling like having a good fish-shoot in the ol’ barrel, so here we go….

Apparently there has been another development in the Wanetta Gibson saga—I know this because the last post about this horrible woman is suddenly getting traffic again—and this has moved one Terrance Skerrette—I sure hope there’s just one— to enter one of those periodic comments I receive here that serves as a public service announcement for the ethically-challenged. You know the kind—Saturday Night Live parodies of such spots used to be a staple:

“Hello. I’m Jack Marshall, and this is Terrance. Terrance was raised in an environment that left him with an inability to understand ethics. That’s right–he will go through life justifying horrendous conduct by using rationalizations, hideous logic, and warped values. Will you help Terrance? No, he can’t be helped by treatment, but perhaps, if you give generously, we can provide him with a comfortable shack in the forest and plenty of food, so he can live comfortably without infecting anyone else with his hopeless ethical ignorance and dangerous excuses for terrible conduct. Please send your generous contributions to “Help Terrance,” care of Ethics Alarms. Thank you. Terrance would thank you too, but he probably thinks you are evil.”

Continue reading

11 Comments

Filed under Character, Childhood and children, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Family, Gender and Sex, Law & Law Enforcement, Romance and Relationships, U.S. Society

Comment Of The Day: “US Priorities: Make War On Cheese, Not On Drugs”

smoking_weedThe articulate squid commenter, Extradimensional Cephalopod, weighed into the contentious discussion over the wisdom of pot use and government approval there-of with this thought-provoking piece.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post: US Priorities: Make War On Cheese, Not On Drugs.

I’ll have a few comments at the end.

Full disclosure: I have not used marijuana, but I have had its effects described to me in detail by people who have. My understanding of it is that it has at least two separate and notable effects, which can vary based on the particular strain. One of them is a relaxing effect, although some strains actually increase anxiety at some point after use. However, the relaxing effect makes it suitable for medical purposes such as treating seizures. The other effect I am aware of is an increase in the brain’s divergent thinking patterns; that is, it increases random association, enhancing creativity and making experiences more vivid. A user can increase this effect deliberately by increasing the quantity inhaled or ingested to the point where coherent thought is difficult, but this requires very high levels of intake. I am told that it is not chemically addictive, or toxic except inasmuch as inhaling smoke in general is toxic, but more on the level of incense rather than cigarettes.

In my opinion, people have a right to use the substance provided they do not take actions that put others at risk by doing so, such as driving. I see no reason to ban the substance, but one can certainly ban taking actions that become dangerous under its effects. As a transhumanist, I see nothing inherently wrong with using a form of technology to alter one’s mental state artificially. Marijuana does not seem like a harmful or dangerous way to do so, as long as one is responsible. I agree that people who use marijuana, or alcohol, for that matter, can become very boring and less able to have interesting conversations, although sometimes the opposite happens; it depends on who the person was to begin with and how they react.

On the other hand, the ethics system that I subscribe to and through which I come to the above conclusions is based on promoting consciousness. One of the root problems with this world is that humans get very easily addicted to mindsets, experiences, or control. Addictions are blind spots, limitations that a consciousness has picked up that allow it to be manipulated by the world instead of being its own master. An addiction occurs when a mindset, experience, or form of control automatically becomes a person’s first priority in certain situations even where the person would intellectually judge it to be subordinate to a more important goal. It is possible to get mentally addicted to pretty much anything: alcohol, marijuana, candy, sex, adrenaline, attention, solitude, et cetera. To a certain extent we all have addictions in that when our lives are changed we feel uncomfortable and stressed, but toning addictions down is part of empowering ourselves.

That being said, my ethics system leads me to disapprove of the use of marijuana (or other drugs, for that matter) as a means to induce apathy to escape the stress that would otherwise lead a person to self-improvement. My worldview draws a distinction between joy and well-being. Joy is a positive feeling towards one’s current circumstances. Well-being, however, I define as regularly developing new abilities or improving one’s point of view, or any sort of change that results in a person having a more harmonious relationship with the world and being able to promote harmony for other individuals. Here is where the “it’s the journey, not the destination” cliche comes in. Joy may be the destination that people try to reach because it is associated with a state of increased harmony, but consciousness, the process by which people try to reach asymptotically-increasing states of harmony, is what makes us people in the first place, with all the associated awareness and abilities, and it is consciousness that I prioritize.

Long story short: it’s okay to use drugs to augment one’s ability to improve oneself (especially if one has a disability that requires the use of drugs to bring mental functions within human normal), as a tool (yes, sometimes a crutch) to access mindsets you want to use but can’t invoke at will, or as a neutral form of recreation. Using drugs as a substitute for self-improvement so that one can stagnate without feeling bad about it is pathetic and not empowering at all.

I hope this post has been coherent, but I have an internal vocabulary that has developed in partial isolation, so if there is any confusion that you want resolved, please let me know.

It’s me again. Just a few notes:

  • One thing I always appreciate about EC is that he never makes a typo. I am awash in envy.
  • I have been shocked at how many commenters on the main post never have used pot. Either I am not as strange as I always thought I was, or this blog does not attract anything close to a representative cross-section of America.
  • I should have mentioned in the original post that the Federal government still regards pot as illegal. However, with its first confirmed former pot-head as President ( Clinton didn’t inhale, remember), and the “base” of the Democratic party as well as most reporters clearly in favor of Stoned America, I think the eventual legalization is a certainty.
  • Alcohol is not chemically addictive either, except for the minority of the population that doesn’t metabolize booze properly, those we call alcoholics. However, there are many alcohol addicts who are not alcoholics, and they are psychologically addicted, and seriously so. Psychological addiction to a drug can be and often is both indistinguishable from the physical kind, and just as destructive to them and those who depend on them.
  • I am dubious about the substantive beneficial effects of pot, John Lennon and Timothy Leary notwithstanding. The use of marijuana for genuine palliative purposes is obviously valid; it is also obviously being abused.
  • I endorse the Squid’s penultimate sentence, but I think that this kind of drug use should never be discussed without the adjective “irresponsible” prominently displayed. For this is why discouraging such use is a legitimate, indeed crucial, government function, and a function the government cannot perform while approving the conduct, and, as we all know is coming, profiting by it. The government has to promote responsible conduct from its citizens, because irresponsible conduct does material harm to society.

47 Comments

Filed under Comment of the Day, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Law & Law Enforcement, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society

The Unethical—But Useful!— White House “Oopsie!” Doctrine

rotting fish head

In a—oh, hell, I’m out of adjectives to describe “This is so ridiculous it makes me want to throw myself into a woodchipper”—move that will transform U.S. culture, the White House has pioneered a new and refreshingly simple way for wrongdoers and law-breakers to take responsibility for their misconduct.

Just say, “I forgot to obey the law. Sorry!” Let’s call it the “Oopsie!” Doctrine.

Yes, this is how the White House bravely owned up to intentionally violating the statute, the National Defense Authorization Act, that requires the Executive Branch to alert Congress of the pending release of prisoners from Guantanamo at least 30 days in advance. Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken called Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to officially say that the White House was sorry it failed to alert her, and therefore Congress, in advance of a decision to release five Taliban prisoners from the prison in Guantanamo in exchange for American deserter, and quite possible traitor, Bowe Bergdahl. The Obama Administration is calling this “an oversight.”

That’s right. The White House breaking the law is an oversight. Never mind that the President was well aware of this particular law, having stated that he regarded it as unconstitutional when he signed it. It was an oversight! None of the foreign policy experts and advisors, neither the Secretary of State or Defense or all their little deputies, nor the hoards of lawyers that Defense, State and the White House employ, remembered that there was a little matter of a relatively recent law that had to be followed in cases like this one. They all missed it, had a brain fart, whiffed, were day-dreaming, took their eye off the ball, goofed, tripped up, pulled a boner. It can happen to anyone! Continue reading

13 Comments

Filed under Character, Comment of the Day, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, History, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, U.S. Society

Comment of the Day: “The Humiliation of Jessica Urbina”

catholic church

I confess to priming Patrice, an old friend and the resident Catholic theologian here, for this. I have known here for many years, and she is what I would call a passionate and rebellious Catholic scholar, and hoping she would weigh in on my criticism of the Catholic Church in the wake of the treatment of high school senior Jessica Urbina, which I view as symptomatic of the Church as it is of the schools. As I expected, however, Patrice makes a strong case.

Here is her Comment of the Day on the post, The Humiliation of Jessica Urbina:

Well, you knew I was going to respond, right?

“The cruel treatment of Jessica is one more indication of the sorry state of the Catholic Church, which appears to be a fatal cesspool of hypocrisy, desperate public relations, and an integrity vacuum. There are two kinds of Catholics, it seems: those who profess the be devout followers of the Church but who discard and violate its doctrine and core principles whenever they seem too burdensome, unpopular or embarrassing, and those who blindly follow the dictates of the Church, no matter how clearly they have been proven wrong and wrongful by the accumulated experience and wisdom of civilization, because morality never changes.”

So, what am I? The feckless “Cafeteria Catholic” or the “Fundamentalist Catholic”? I really take exception to your gross generalizations about Catholics as being one or the other of your versions. Knowing me, Jack, how could you make such generalizations?

As a sometime student of Theology, I prefer to see myself as a Catholic who dissents in good conscience from certain teachings of the Church — not because they are “too burdensome, unpopular, or embarrassing,” but because I believe that there is more to be learned from the core teachings of Jesus than what we have thus far proclaimed. And for the record, I am saddened by what happened to Jessica. What the school did (notice I say school, not church) was not compassionate, kind, or tolerant.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states the following:
“A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself.”

The problematic part comes after that: “Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.” It’s kind of a Catch 22. Does the Church see a well-formed conscience as one that has been properly educated (indoctrinated?) in the “truths” that the Church has put forth, and therefore agrees with the Church on all matters? Maybe. I suspect that this conscience thing was intended to give courage to Catholics who would have to disobey their “Catholic conscience” to do something they were being encouraged or forced to do in the secular world that is against Church teachings. Thus, martyrs. Regardless, I stand by my educated conscience.

I hold up the subjects of my senior thesis, which was about dissent in the Church: Hans Küng and Charles Curran. Both censured for their dissent, but still voices in the wilderness. Look at Pierre Telhard de Chardin. Got into a lot of trouble for his writings, but somewhat “rehabilitated” in today’s world of theological thought.

With regard to Jessica, I see this as an educational system problem, because it might have happened at any school. The fact that it happened at a Catholic school makes it look like a Catholic problem, but I sense that you would find the same problem in schools in various places around the country, as well as other denominations which teach (yes, there are others) that homosexuality is wrong/forbidden/whatever. I’m sure I’m breaking one of your principles here, but really I do see this as an authoritarian school problem first and foremost. It’s also a self-expression issue.

I personally wish Jessica great success as she, no doubt, continues to break the barriers that keep her and others from being and expressing who they are.

7 Comments

Filed under Comment of the Day, Education, Religion and Philosophy