Category Archives: Literature

Comment of the Day: “Ethics Alarms Encore: ‘Aesop’s Unethical and Misleading Fable: The North Wind and the Sun”

AESOPSFABLNever let it be said that we aren’t eclectic on Ethics Alarms! Today’s Comment of the Day is a thoughtful response to my objections to Aesop’s “The North Wind and the Sun,” a 2011 post that I republished this week in fascination over how it continues to draw traffic. The thread here and on the original has touched on many diverse topics, including theology; commenter Rich (in CT), however, just submitted the most interesting analysis yet.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Alarms Encore: “Aesop’s Unethical and Misleading Fable: The North Wind and the Sun:

”The comparison of God and Satan in Job to the Sun and Wind is an apt comparison, because the fable relies on “divine privilege”. An exercise of divine privilege should not be taken as an example of behavior that non-divine entities should emulate. Rather, they are external parameters that set up a hypothetical environment to illustrate the lesson of the story.

I specifically say “lesson”, because the objective of the story need not be a superficial “moral”. The “moral” that was selected here was a lazy plot device by an author who attempted to pigeon-hole the fable into his limited definition of a fable. While the particular moral in the version you share is useless, the fable perhaps might better illustrate both the use of strategic thinking and well as illustrate the role of moral luck in one’s success. A more apt “moral”, if any, might be to be clever, but acknowledge the limit of cleverness.

Ethical behavior never takes place in a vacuum, but must balance certain principles with the current circumstances. In the fable, an arbitrary task is selected, and the two actors use the tools at their disposal to attempt to achieve the task. The wind has two tools: blow hard or soft; the sun has analogous tools: beat hard or soft. Given the task, arbitrarily set up as a competition, only one had tools that could creatively solve the task.

The tale here thus illustrates a few important principles that are of value to a child; creative use of ones tools can lead to success, and that not everyone has a every tool available. A non-lazy author might use the fable to teach the value of cooperation, pooling a group’s tools to complete a task.

The particular task is irrelevant, and is set up as an exercise of divine privilege. Mere mortals have no right to manipulate the weather, but the fable’s embodiment of the solar rays and moving air manipulate these elements in an ethically neutral manner. The selection of a mere mortal as a target of task, might be to lead the reader indirectly, through empathy, to the conclusion that some circumstances are arbitrary and beyond one’s control. The objective might be to teach humility, that one is never entirely responsible for one’s success, no matter how clever one might be.

I thus agree that the particular version of the fable shared is unethical. This is, however, the result of a lazy author. The premise, if used wisely, is ethically neutral; Aesop, or some other interpreter, could use the premise of the story to teach a valuable lesson if so desired.

 

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Filed under Childhood and children, Education, History, Literature, Religion and Philosophy

Ethics Alarms Encore: “Aesop’s Unethical and Misleading Fable: The North Wind and the Sun”

north-wind-and-the-sun-story-oil-painting

[ I vowed that the next time I got a comment on this post, I would publish it again. It hails from four years ago, when  Ethics Alarms got a quarter of the traffic it gets now. I confess that I wrote it on a whim, having been talking with my wife about how Aesop’s Fables were joining Mother Goose stories,  Edward Lear limericks and American folks song in the Discarded Bin of our culture and then stumbling upon a fable I had either never read before or forgotten about.  To my surprise the post attracted intense criticism from fans of the story—I even had to ban a commenter who got hysterical about it—and the post joined a very eclectic group of early essays here that get considerable and consistent readership every week. Apparently there are a lot of Sun-worshipers out there. Anyway, since you probably missed it the first time, here it is.]

Today, by happenstance, I heard an Aesop’s Fable that I had never encountered before recited on the radio. Like all Aesop’s Fables, at least in its modern re-telling, this one had a moral attached , and is also a statement of ethical values. Unlike most of the fables, however, it doesn’t make its case. It is, in fact, an intellectually dishonest, indeed an unethical, fable.

It is called “The North Wind and the Sun,” and in most sources reads like this:

“The North Wind and the Sun disputed as to which was the most powerful, and agreed that he should be declared the victor who could first strip a wayfaring man of his clothes. The North Wind first tried his power and blew with all his might, but the keener his blasts, the closer the Traveler wrapped his cloak around him, until at last, resigning all hope of victory, the Wind called upon the Sun to see what he could do. The Sun suddenly shone out with all his warmth. The Traveler no sooner felt his genial rays than he took off one garment after another, and at last, fairly overcome with heat, undressed and bathed in a stream that lay in his path.”

The moral of the fable is variously stated as “Persuasion is better than Force” , or “Gentleness and kind persuasion win where force and bluster fail.”

The fable proves neither. In reality, it is a vivid example of dishonest argument, using euphemisms and false characterizations to “prove” a proposition that an advocate is biased toward from the outset. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Childhood and children, Education, Literature, Religion and Philosophy, War and the Military

Ethics Alarms Mail Call: Mt. Holyoke Ditches “The Vagina Monologues” As “Non-Inclusive,” and the Misuse of Kindness

VaginaI’m an ethicist who often writes on college controversies, and I make no secret about my double life in professional theater, so it figures that my inbox would include more than one query about Mt. Holyoke College’s decision to end its annual student performance of Eve Enlser’s “The Vagina Monologues” on the grounds that it is now admitting women without vaginas—I know, it’s confusing–who would feel excluded from what was supposed to be an inclusive experience and statement for the all-women’s school.

From Campus Reform:

The annual production of the play is part of a country-wide tradition to perform Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues on Valentine’s Day to raise awareness about gender-based violence and usually coincides with the V-Day campaign. The proceeds are donated to sexual assault prevention organizations or women’s rights organizations. This year, however, Mount Holyoke’s Project Theatre Board is defying tradition by permanently retiring the play. In a school-wide email from the Theatre Board, a representative from the group, Erin Murphy, explained the problems with the play and the reasoning behind its discontinuation.

“At its core, the show offers an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman…Gender is a wide and varied experience, one that cannot simply be reduced to biological or anatomical distinctions, and many of us who have participated in the show have grown increasingly uncomfortable presenting material that is inherently reductionist and exclusive,” the email, obtained by Campus Reform, said.

Replacing the play will be Mount Holyoke’s own version that will be trans-inclusive and fix the “problems” supposedly perpetuated by Ensler. Murphy also claims that there are problems with race, class, and “other identities” within the play. The new production, comprised of students’ monologues, will be performed in a fashion reminiscent of the feminist classic. The program will be performed alongside the College’s Peer Health Educators, an on-campus student-led group that provides education and workshops for students, including a workshop on how to use sex toys properly.

Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Education, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Journalism & Media, Literature, Rights, The Internet, U.S. Society

Of The Good Muslim, Paris, “1984”, And The Compulsion To Deny The Truth

"Now listen carefully: those aren't Muslims. Muslims are good. If someone is bad, he isn't a Muslim. Trust me. There is nothing to fear from Muslims. But FOR GOD SAKE DON"T PUBLISH THAT CARTOON OR THEY"LL %$#&! KILL YOU!!!"

“Now listen carefully: those aren’t Muslims. Muslims are good. If someone is bad, he isn’t a Muslim. Trust me. There is nothing to fear from Muslims. But FOR GOD SAKE DON”T PUBLISH THAT CARTOON OR THEY”LL %$#&! KILL YOU!!!”

Oddly, nobody is refusing to call Lassana Bathily a Muslim, perhaps because he is one, but also because he’s a good Muslim, as most are.

He is the young clerk at a Paris Kosher grocery store who saved several people by hiding them in a walk-in freezer when a gunman began shooting up the store on Yesterday. Actually, I don’t see why his religion is relevant in the least, but that is leading most news reports front and center.

The terrorists who mounted a bloody attack on the satiric publication Charlie Hebdo, however, and who did so while spouting Islamic slogans as planned revenge on cartoonists for engaging in blasphemy against Mohammed, should not be called Muslims. Why? Because they’re not good, you see. Since they’re not good, ignorant and hateful bigots in the United States will attribute their characteristics to all Muslims, and use this as an excuse to harass discriminate and persecute them.

Howard Dean, who is the left’s answer to Sarah Palin: you interview him knowing he will say something that drives conservatives nuts, immediately clarified the rules:

“You know, this is a chronic problem. I stopped calling these people Muslim terrorists. They’re about as Muslim as I am. I mean, they have no respect for anybody else’s life, that’s not what the Koran says. …But I do not think we should accord them any particular religious respect, because I don’t think, whatever they’re claiming their motivation is, is clearly a twisted, cultish mind.”

Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Character, Government & Politics, Leadership, Literature, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society

Ethics Quote Of The Day (Christmas Confusion File): Jonathan Turley

“Best wishes to everyone celebrating Christmas.”

—- Law Professor and blogger Jonathan Turley, wishing at least some of his readers a merry Christmas.

Get ready to duck, Fred!

Get ready to duck, Fred!

Prof. Turley is a lawyer, of course, and trained to express himself with precision. Thus I have to ask: what the heck is he trying to say here?

Is he wishing good tidings only those who, like his family, are celebrating Christmas, and rotten times to the rest? Is he editing the humanist message of Christmas to “Peace on Earth, and good will to those who are putting up Christmas trees and giving gifts, other wise you’re on your own”?

Or, as I fear greatly, given the fact that he is part of the U.S. education establishment and thus prone to have a spine of cream cheese, just observing the trendy political correctness that infects our times, and bowing to those who contrive to take offense when anyone smiles at them and offers a greeting that only says, at minimum, “We’re all in this together, so let’s try to be as good to each other as we can, OK?” Continue reading

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Filed under Education, Ethics Quotes, Etiquette and manners, Literature, Love, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society

Unethical Quote of the Week: Dick Cheney

Hello, I'll be your torturer today. Now, if you are innocent, please understand, on balance this works.

Hello, my name is Skug, and I’ll be your torturer today. Now, if you are innocent, please understand, on balance this works.

“I’m more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent.”

—Former V.P. Dick Cheney, giving his reactions on “Meet the Press” regarding the Senate’s critique of the Bush Administration and the CIA’s interrogation methods.

I try to be fair to Dick Cheney, whose character has been distorted beyond all recognition by his partisan foes. Sunday, however, he was apparently attempting to validate all the most terrible things anyone has said about him, as well as providing future students of ethics real life examples of ethical fallacies.

The one quoted above is the pip: so much for the jurisprudential principle that It is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.”   Chuck Todd reminded Cheney that 25% of those detained were apparently innocent. The Cheney variation: “It is OK if some innocent persons are unjustly punished as long as the bad guys get what they deserve.”

It is hard to pick the most unethical assertion, however; there are so many horrible statements to choose from. Such as: Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Quotes, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Literature, U.S. Society, War and the Military

The Wall Street Journal’s Uncultured Culture Critic

Joanne Kaufman was here...

Joanne Kaufman was here…

In a jaw-dropping essay for her employer, The Wall Street Journal, alleged culture critic Joanne Kaufman proudly and candidly disabuses readers of any misconceptions they might have had regarding her qualifications for her job. She is not merely unqualified, but willfully, shamelessly, spectacularly unqualified. In a smug screed in which she admits to habitually walking out on Broadway shows at intermission, Kaufman reveals herself as lazy, arrogant, disrespectful of artists, and most crippling of all, to be afflicted by the attention span of the average Twitter addict.

“Don’t ask me what happened during the second acts of “Matilda,” “Kinky Boots,” “Pippin” and, reaching back a few seasons, “Boeing-Boeing” and “Billy Elliott, ”  Kaufman boasts.  “Really, I have no idea. But I am nothing if not cosmopolitan in my tastes, or distastes—French farces, English musicals set in gritty industrial cities, and American entertainments involving Charlemagne ’s Frankish kin.”

You can read her entire piece here; if the Journal doesn’t fire her, it is run by fools. “I’m of the “brevity is the soul of wit” school and of the belief that only a few bites are required to determine that you just don’t like a particular dish,” she happily admits. “My ideal night in the theater runs 90 minutes without an intermission (it is best not to put temptation in my path), which means that Shakespeare and I don’t tend to see a lot of each other.” This is the culture writer, remember. Yet she is admitting to membership in the lazy, sound-bite, bumper-sticker, multi-processing, distracted, ADD-addled public that has caused writers, playwrights, producers, book publishers, film-makers and song-writers to dumb down, redact, trivialize and simplify entertainment in an accelerating death cycle: plots don’t make sense, explosions start early, subtlety is forbidden, and no issue, thought or topic that can’t be fully explored in the time it takes to do a load of laundry is going can find its way on stage or screen. The Journal’s culture writer doesn’t have the time or interest to sit through King Lear, Hamlet, The Ice Man Cometh, or Death of a Salesman,  or to view all of “Seven Samurai,” “A Man for All Seasons” or “Gettysburg”—hey, a movie about one of those short Civil War battles for Joanne, please: she’s got a 15 minute segment of “Robot Chicken” to catch. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Etiquette and manners, Journalism & Media, Literature, Professions, Workplace