Category Archives: Religion and Philosophy

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

So A Guy Goes Into A Bakery And Wants A Cake That Says “God Hates Gays.” The Baker Says, “I Won’t Do It: You’re A Bigot,” And The Guy Says, “I Want A Second Opinion: I’m Filing A Discrimination Complaint.” The Baker Says, “Here’s A Second Opinion…You’re An Idiot!”

cake2

And indeed he is.

We don’t know the name of this sad, fearful, obsessed fool that thinks he is making a grand point by harassing the Azucar Bakery in Denver. [ Update 1: His name is Bill Jack.] We do know that he understands neither law, ethics, common sense nor analogies, and that any lawyer who assists him will have some explaining to do, because if ever there was a frivolous discrimination claim, this is it.

Obviously less interested in a cake than in making a point,  the unnamed meathead demanded that the bakery provide a cake decorated with anti-gay sentiments, making the lame analogy between the baker’s refusal to do that and the various bakeries, including one last year in Colorado, held to be unlawfully discriminating when they refused to bake wedding cakes for same-sex  couples.

“We never refused service. We only refused to write and draw what we felt was discriminatory against gays. In the same manner we would not … make a discriminatory cake against Christians, we will not make one that discriminates against gays,” said Marjorie Silva, owner of Azucar Bakery, in a statement submitted to the state’s Department of Regulatory Agencies in response to the complaint. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Religion and Philosophy, Rights

Comment of the Day: “Of The Good Muslim, Paris, ‘1984’, And The Compulsion To Deny The Truth”

Mulsim women

Left-of-center Ethics Alarms follower deery gets a lot of heat on Ethics Alarms, but he has a much-valued knack for spawning edifying exchanges. In this reply to one of his comments arguing that Christianity and Islam near equivilency in their more extreme positions, Ulrike delivers the Comment of the Day, in the battle following the post, “Of The Good Muslim, Paris, ‘1984’, And The Compulsion To Deny The Truth.”

Here it is:

I’d like to make the claim that 1300 years ago, in almost any society women were the losers but now the distinction can be seen by anyone who has eyes. Christians moved on from those times and their nations became successful world powers. On the other hand, oil seems to be the main driving force behind anything in the Arab League.

And yes, in the beginning Islam had a positive influence on the scientific community in so far as it united the Arabic world which up to that date was splintered into tribes. Arabic became the lingua franca and facilitated the trade of knowledge and commodities. The Arabs become the driving force in translating ancient Greek literature – I could go on and on, the list is long, but I’m too lazy. So while we still lived like Neanderthals, the Arabic world had flourishing cities that were the trade centers of the Orient.

Now here’s the rub: The decline of science and the renunciation of modernity can also be attributed to Islam. How can that be, when I just stated that it was a major factor in the rise of science. Well, not Islam as a religion facilitated this rise but its role in uniting the arabic world economically and territorially. But when the Muslim faith came to be the established force behind everything and anything its disciples started to consolidate the belief that science was equal to renouncing Allah.

If you set yourself the task to name any invention in medicine, chemistry, physics or engineering from the last two hundered years that originated in the Arabic world – you have your answer which faith benefited progress more. Christian society developed towards modernity and Muslim society turned away from it… Continue reading

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Filed under Comment of the Day, Gender and Sex, History, Religion and Philosophy

Comment of the Day: “Pop Quiz: The Bottom Of The Slippery Slope”

islamic-symbol

Going far afield from the post it followed, the Comment of the Day from taxaggo4 examines the tricky question of whether militant, radical or extremist Muslims can be fairly regarded as representative of the faith. Taking off from a comment by Penn (in the blocks), tex examines various ways of analyzing the problem, in a long and fascinating exposition. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post “Pop Quiz: The Bottom of the Slippery Slope.”

 

Fundamentalism v Militancy

“Which brings me an item I almost ran yesterday re the specious anti-free-speech posts some people were making and/or agreeing with. I thought Beth had pretty much covered the subject but … no. As (self-confessed) Christian writer and psychiatrist M. Scott Peck – Lt. Col. who served as the U.S. Army’s Assistant Chief Psychiatry and Neurology Consultant to the Surgeon General of the Army – explained, “(T)there are different stages of spiritual maturity. Fundamentalism – whether it be Muslim, Christian, Jewish or Hindu fundamentalism – is an immature stage of development.

‘Indeed, a Christian fundamentalist who kills others in the name of religion is much more similar to a Muslim – or Jewish, Hindu or Buddhist – fundamentalist who kills others in the name of his religion than to a Christian who peacefully fights for justice and truth, helps the poor, or serves to bring hope to the downtrodden.’

If we can’t agree to differentiating fundamentalists (extremists by definition) from (comparatively) rational folks, we will continue to have straw man arguments that lump every one together under a label that is useless for discussion.”

I’ve read some of Peck’s works. Pretty good. But I think he’s inaccurate on the characterization of “Fundamentalism”. He’s fallen for the same trap in mislabelling that the main stream media uses. Certainly spiritual immaturity involves a great deal of emotionalism, which typically manifests in anger, when a person’s beliefs are challenged. Anger, which can lead to violence, is best described as “Militancy”, not “Fundamentalism”.

If religion A says “at the bare bones you must believe”: Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Character, Comment of the Day, Government & Politics, Religion and Philosophy

Pop Quiz: The Bottom Of The Slippery Slope

Merkel out

What’s missing from the photo above that ran in the ultra-orthodox Jewish newspaper HaMevaser, or The Announcer?

No, the answer isn’t “any Americans,” though that would be correct too.

Why, it’s all the women! German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Paris Mayor Ann Hidalgo and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini were all photoshopped out of the Israeli newspaper.

When you have to have to alter the facts to fit your ideology and world view, this is supposed to trigger an ethics alarm that alerts you to the unpleasant truth that the problem is with you and your biases, conclusions and beliefs, not the facts.

Making people disappear from photos is the most grotesque of such self-indicting strategies, but there are many less spectacular but equally unethical examples, and right at home, right now.  Can you name some?

I’ll get you started with my personal “favorite”:

Hands up

And to answer your question: I’ll stop harping on this one when I stop hearing Ferguson and Mike Brown routinely mentioned as examples of excessive police force and racism.

________________________

Spark and Pointer: Rick Jones

 

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Filed under Around the World, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Journalism & Media, Race, Religion and Philosophy

Cowards and Hypocrites

"All is forgiven"

“All is forgiven”

The New York Times and CNN, among others, are ducking their responsibility as news organizations to run the current cover of  “Charlie Hebdo.”  Why is it their responsibility? Because the response of the devastated satirical publication is news, and as the Times laughably says on its front page, that news is fit to print: the Times and CNN are describing the cover, but don’t have the guts or integrity to show it. The disingenuous rationale, in CNN’s terms, is that they are respecting “the sensibilities” of Muslim viewers.

In a word: CRAP. The vast majority of readers and viewers should be kept in the dark to avoid offending Muslim readers and viewers who can easily avert their tender eyeballs? When have CNN and the Times applied that standard regarding any other religious group, or any group at all? [UPDATE: Over at Popehat, Ken White extravagantly exposes the intellectual bankruptcy of  the Times’ rationalizations for not showing the cartoon with a series of well-formulated and pointed questions. This is admittedly more diagnostic than “CRAP,” but the message is the same.]

The translation of this craven self-censorship is “We are concerned about offending an anti-democratic and violent minority who are successfully using threats to constrain the free distribution of knowledge and information, because we are unworthy of the profession we presume to practice.”

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Filed under Citizenship, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Journalism & Media, Professions, Religion and Philosophy, Rights