Category Archives: History

July Fourth Ethics: On Liberty And Freedom

US-original-Declaration-1776

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

—-The Declaration of Independence

“It is my living sentiment, and by the blessing of God it shall be my dying sentiment, independence now and independence forever. “

—-Daniel Webster, U.S. politician and orator

“Liberty is the soul’s right to breathe, and when it cannot take a long breath, laws are girdled too tight.”

—-Henry Ward Beecher, abolitionist.

“Without an unfettered press, without liberty of speech, all of the outward forms and structures of free institutions are a sham, a pretense – the sheerest mockery. If the press is not free; if speech is not independent and untrammeled; if the mind is shackled or made impotent through fear, it makes no difference under what form of government you live, you are a subject and not a citizen.”

—- Senator William Borah (R-ID), 1917

 “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

—-George Orwell
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A Jumbo For Sulu

SuluGeorge Takei, the Japanese-America actor permanently enshrined in pop culture history for his role of Sulu in the original “Star Trek” TV series. He has essentially lived off that one felicitous part for forty years, recently acquiring less moldy,  non-sci-fi following by being a gay rights advocate.

Takei recently skimmed, or just didn’t comprehend, Clarence Thomas’s  audacious dissent to the Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling and Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion declaring same-sex marriage to be a fundamental right protected by the Constitution. Apparently he also does not comprehend that Supreme Court dissents are both stimulating and useful to legal scholars as well as those, unlike Mr. Sulu, possessing an open and curious mind.

Thomas made the unusual but provocative argument that human dignity is innate:

Human dignity has long been understood in this country to be innate. When the Framers proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” they referred to a vision of mankind in which all humans are created in the image of God and therefore of inherent worth. That vision is the foundation upon which
this Nation was built.

The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.

Thomas was expressing  his disagreement with the majority that the government withholding the right to marry from gays robbed them of human dignity. I think it is a rather pedantic argument that has more validity in the abstract than in reality, but the position that rights come from creation rather than the government is a core concept in the Declaration of Independence, and one that statists, as in “modern Democrats,” like to ignore. If individuals are born with rights, they cannot be truly taken away. If citizens must look to the government to have their rights granted to them, then government is granted too much power in exchange. Thomas’s philosophical argument is classic conservatism. Naturally, that means, in Takei’s intolerant and partyist world view, that he deserves abuse. Continue reading

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Ethics Hero Emeritus: Sir Nicholas Winton (1909 – 2015)

winton and child

Another hero of the Holocaust has died. Nicholas Winton organized and substantially financed the last-minute escape of 669 Jewish children from Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II, but never sought the fame and public accolades that Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg received. He got the accolades anyway, especially in his native Great Britain and Czechoslovakia, once his heroics were publicized long after they occurred.

I had never heard of him or his exploits until the news reports of his death. Continue reading

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Integrity Gut Check: Who Will Have The Courage To Oppose The Left’s Cultural Purge?

STOP

Not journalists, surely, based on what we’ve seen so far. Will you? That’s not a rhetorical question. The rush to airbrush history, distort the historical record and strangle art and culture in pursuit of ideological indoctrination and constriction of dissent, imagination and thought itself is well underway in the United States, not yet as furious and violent as related movements that occurred during China’s cultural upheaval and the French Revolution, but still driven by the same kind of irrational fervor.

It certainly is frustrating sitting here on a tiny island of rationality, lamely pointing out where cultural perils lie, knowing that the net effect of my analysis is somewhere between nil and the societal influence of the local nut case carrying a placard in the park. I cautioned against a rush to avoid the ludicrous and cynical effort by civil rights leaders, Democratic politicians trying to somehow panic African-Americans into trusting Hillary, and social justice censors by pulling down Confederate flags now, as if the emblems had a smidgen, a wisp, an atom’s worth of culpability for Dylann Roof’s crime. I even launched a new Niggardly Principle to show the way, remember? Here it is again:

The Third Niggardly Principle

When suppressing speech and conduct based on an individual’s or a group’s sincere claim that such speech or conduct is offensive, however understandable and reasonable this claim may be, creates or threatens to create a powerful precedent that will undermine freedom of speech, expression or political opinion elsewhere, calls to suppress the speech or conduct must be opposed and rejected.

Never mind. Politicians have little integrity or courage, and certainly no ability to foresee the inevitable. If Nikki Haley and her fellow Southern governors legislators past and present had any of these qualities, they would have known that continuing to associate their states with the symbol of the Confederacy and all–-ALL—it stands for was a ticking cultural time bomb that should have been defused long, long ago. The flags should have been taken down when a fanatic, censorious mob of ideological zealots wasn’t in the ascendance, and wouldn’t take a belated decision to do what should have been done years—decades— before to mean that they are in control, and could finally dictate cultural conformity, because that’s what authoritarian leftists do.

Business is soulless and often without principle. It is the last entity that we should ever expect to do what is necessary to protect the flanks of free speech, will and thought. Anyone who wants to have a Confederate flag in a collection, on a jacket, or on a wall of their room should be able to purchase one. The disgraceful statement by Walmart’s CEO immediately tossed kerosene on the left’s flaming censorious passions. Good people—you know, like the people who run Walmart– don’t want to offend anyone, he suggested. Perfect. Let’s see, what can we send down the memory hole now?

Whatever they can find and think of that is connected in any way to slavery, racism and the Confederacy, apparently. And more.

The flag mania has already beyond reason: the National Park Service is pulling all items that include the Confederate flag from its gift shops , even at the battlefields. So if a 10-year old who is fascinated with the Battle of Gettysburg and wants to set up a diorama of the pivotal battle complete with little flags, the store at the battlefield itself can’t nourish his interests, because “Black Lives Matter.” What sense does it make to ban the flag and not toy soldiers of the men who fought under the flag? Well, it doesn’t, right? “Black Lives Matter.” And surely selling photographs of the generals who led those men, and books that contain photos of them, and films, like Ted Turner’s epic “Gettysburg,” that portray those generals as human beings and not racist killers who have been secretly whispering to Dylann Roof in his fevered dreams, can’t be permitted either.

I am not exaggerating this slippery slope, or how far the carnage may reach if rational people try to hide until it blows over.

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Unethical Quote Of The Month: Walmart CEO Doug McMillon

White-Flag“We don’t want any of the merchandise that we sell to be offensive”

—-Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, explaining to FOX Business Network host Maria Bartiromo why the retail chain was pulling all Confederate flag-themed merchandise. In another interview, with CNN Money, McMillon said that “We just don’t want to sell products that make anyone uncomfortable.” The Walmart announcement tarted a stampede of many large retailers to dump the flags and items with the flag design.

And thus did the CEO of a major U.S. corporation wholeheartedly endorse the speech- and thought-suppressing ideology of political correctness bullies, “hate speech” censors, and progressive fascists.

This widespread capitulation to a wildly irrational reaction to a single tragedy authored by a single individual is, for Democrats and race-baiters, a masterpiece of cognitive dissonance manipulation, one that should be a terrific case study in future psychology classes.

Because Dylann Roof was photographed with a Confederate flag, and because his racist church massacre occurred in a state that has obnoxiously and irresponsibly insisted on flying that flag despite its legitimately offensive connotations to many of its citizens, the flag was linked to the murders so viscerally that to defend its display was regarded by the news media, pundits, bloggers and, consequently, public opinion, as tantamount to supporting the killer. Naturally, politicians and businesses ran for cover, and whatever their previous stances on the issue, instantly flip-flopped to declare the Confederate flags the equivalent of Nazi swastikas.

Well-played, speech police. I am in awe. Continue reading

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Introducing A Third Niggardly Principle, And A Dilemma: Does It Apply To The Confederate Flag?

Scarolina flag

Before unveiling the new Third Niggardly Principle, indulge me some observation  on the emergence of a renewed controversy over the Confederate flag as a response to the Charleston, South Carolina shooting of nine black churchgoers last week:

1. The Confederate battle flag did not cause Dylann Roof to start shooting. If  all the Confederate flag had been retired to museums 100 years ago, it would not have turned him into a civil rights advocate.

2. The effort of anti-flag advocates, who are frequently advocates of censorship and restrictions on free speech as well, to exploit this tragedy to advance their pet grievance is transparent and obnoxious, and is even more attenuated than the furious efforts of anti-gun zealots to do the same thing.

3. The flag, like many symbols, represents different things to different people. Racial hate and bigotry is only one of them. The flag legitimately represents pride in a family legacy (“My great grandfather died bravely in Pickett’s Charge”), the historical record, opposition to federal government overreach,  aesthetic appeal, or defiance of authority generally (“I’m a rebel”). Old Glory also represents different things to different people, and we do not ban it because what it symbolizes to some people is unpleasant for them. (Yes, I know some schools have done exactly that. One hopes they are outliers)

4. Mitt Romney’s much praised tweet—“Take down the #ConfederateFlag at the SC Capitol. To many, it is a symbol of racial hatred. Remove it now to honor #Charleston victims.” —is simple-minded and irresponsible. (See the previous post.) Is Mitt arguing that any speech, symbol or expression that “many” find offensive should be suppressed? It sounds like it to me. Since Roof’s act had nothing to do with the flag, nor was it related to slavery or the Confederacy, how does taking the flag down “honor” his victims? Sure: Roof liked the flag, because of what it symbolized to him. He also liked Gold’s Gym:

dylann-roof1

Would closing down all the Gold Gyms in South Carolina honor his victims? The fact that the attack was racially motivated and that racists often display Confederate flags does not make a state flying the flag complicit in the shootings. Stop using Twitter to discuss complex issues, Mitt! Continue reading

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Filed under Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, History, Race, Rights, Social Media, U.S. Society

Sweet Briar College’s Fate And Fait Accompli Ethics

high-noon-clock

 UPDATE (6/15): I am officially nominating this post as the Most Typo-Riddled Ethics Alarms Article of 2015. At least I hope it is—alerted by a reader, I just found and fixed about 10, and I have no idea what happened. I suspect that I somehow pasted the next-to-last draft instead of the final. My proofreading is bad, but not THAT bad. I am embarrassed, and apologize to all: that kind of sloppiness is never excusable, but I especially regret it on a topic this important.

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Sweet Briar College was officially scheduled for termination, date of execution later this summer, by a board that chose not to offer alumnae and other interested parties a fair opportunity to raise objections, propose solutions, or mount a rescue effort. Indeed it was almost an ambush.

Although the distinguished graduates of Virginia’s unique and venerable all-female college have mounted a spirited effort to reverse this dubious move, time is not on their side. Amherst County Attorney Ellen Bowyer, working with the passionate opposition to Sweet Briar’s closing, argued in court that this would violate the terms of the will upon which the college was founded, and that the college’s board has engaged in malfeasance or misfeasance, violating its fiduciary duties and misusing charitable funds. A circuit court refused Bowyer’s request for a temporary injunction that would at least delay the closing —Tick-Tick-Tick!—and the case was appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court. Those  justices concluded that the lower court, in denying the injunctive relief, erred by concluding that that the law of trusts do not apply to a corporation like the college.  It does. So now the case returns to the circuit court to reconsider the merits.

Tick-Tick-Tick!

I find this infuriating and heart-breaking. As I’m certain the college’s treacherous board knew in March, legal challenges and court decisions take time, and the realities of the academic year halt for no man, or woman. It’s June now, and Sweet Briar has no 2015 entering class. Its sophomores and juniors are seeking, or have found, other schools as well. One of Sweet Briar’s problems—not an insuperable one to a board appropriately dedicated to is traditions and mission—was increasingly lagging enrollment. Whatever the solutions to that may be, skipping a year of entering freshman is not one of them. Faculty have to eat: presumably most, if not all of them, and the staff, are seeking employment elsewhere. The battle to save Sweet Briar, as noble and as important as it is, may have been lost from the start, simply because the clock, and the calendar, keeps moving.

This was, I fear, a fait accompli of the worst variety, an unjust, unfair, even illegal action that is successful because once set in motion, there is no way to stop it. Using the fait accompli strategy is intrinsically unethical, and the mark of an “ends justifies the means” orientation. It is based on the principle that an omelet, once made, cannot be unmade, because eggs can’t be put together again. In a situation where the ethical, fair, procedurally just approach is to debate and challenge a proposed policy action before it takes place, the fait accompli approach operates on the practical maxim that if you have no options, you have no problem. In essence, it says, “Yes, you may be right, but what are you going to do about it?” Continue reading

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