Tag Archives: Consequentialism

A Lesson In Moral Luck And Consequentialism

car-key

If I accomplish nothing more through Ethics Alarms than to cure some intelligent readers of the seductive fallacy of consequentialism and the insideous influences of moral luck, then the long, aimless trail of squandered opportunities, under-achievement, diffuse focus, quixotic quests, Pyrrhic victories and lost causes I call my life will not have been entirely in vain.

Last week I was again in the throes of consequentialism hate. The Boston Red Sox, in the midst of a terrible start to their season, brought up minor league prospect Eduardo Rodriguez for a spot start. He was spectacular, allowing no runs and looking like the team ace Boston has been searching for all season. Immediately after the game, articles popped up in the baseball media excoriating the team for not bringing him up from the minor leagues long before. It was obvious back in Spring Training, said unnamed scouts, that he should be with the big club. It was negligence and stupidity, said other pundits, that it had taken this long to promote him. Strangely, there had been no published arguments to this effect before his impressive debut. And would any of these “I could have told you so” pieces have been written if Rodriguez had been bombed out of the game in the early innings, as literally any starting pitcher may be in a given game?

No. That’s the marvel of hindsight bias, the human tendency to presume that what could have been known should have been known after it is known.  Consequentialism is its more destructive cousin. These same analysts will conclude that the decision to bring up the pitcher was a brilliant one, if tardy, because he performed well. If he had done badly, the decision would have been, in all likelihood, decreed ” a mistake.” This was the fallacy that Jeb Bush was recently pilloried for not embracing regarding his brother’s decision to invade Iraq.

And moral luck? That’s the phenomenon that makes hypocrites and fools of us all, pointing us to the suffocating arms of Dame Consequentialism. If two decision-makers take exactly the same course in exactly equivalent circumstances, the one who is the beneficiary of good fortune—moral luck—will be hailed as a genius. The unlucky soul whose identical plans are derailed by unpredictable misfortune will be handed the mantle of an incompetent failure.

Situations where reasonable decisions and actions are declared “mistakes,” or, as is more germane here, “unethical” according to how uncontrollable events and contingencies occur subsequent to the conduct itself are legion. I am always looking for the counter example, where wrongful conduct has a good result, and is there for forgiven, ignored, or even praised. Well, I found one, and it just happened to me.

I had an important though brief client meeting scheduled this morning, and I had managed to forget the exact time. It was either at 10:45 or 11:00, and I had to be on time, because he was on a tight schedule. My wife was annoyed at me for my scheduling, since she had to use the car to get to a long scheduled appointment of her own at noon and my meeting was 30 minutes away. To make things worse, I couldn’t reach my meeting partner to determine the right time ( a postponement was impossible). To complete the fiasco, I misplaced the car keys, delaying my departure until after 10:30. I was informed, as I left the house with my newly discovered keys (never mind where they were; it is too embarrassing), that if I didn’t have the car back by 11:45, I was dead.

I assumed I would be dead. Continue reading

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Filed under Daily Life, Family

See How They Spin: Justifying Hillary Clinton Fans’ Ignorance

Anything to avoid admitting the truth...

Anything to avoid admitting the truth…

Apparently Mark Halperin still has a job with Bloomberg after his atrocious interview with Ted Cruz, since he is back in the news. He held a discussion with some Iowa voters who think Hillary Clinton is just wonderful—you know, morons—and when he asked them to name her accomplishments in the one job she has held requiring leadership and management, Secretary of State, they couldn’t come up with anything. None of them. This has caused comment among pundits and consternation among Democrats.

Well, what did Halperin expect them to say? Clinton was a disaster as Secretary of State, as evidenced by the fact that President Obama’s foreign police has reaped the wild wind. Hillary’s tenure left the U.S. with ISIS, a failed state in Libya, chaos in Iraq,  a more nuclear Iran, Hamas attacks on Israel, a North Korean government that felt it could threaten a U.S. corporation with impunity, Russian incursions into the Ukraine, continuing violence in Syria, and, of course, a Mexico that encourages its citizens to have contempt for the laws of the United States. Meanwhile, she used her office to attract foreign and domestic interests to give large amounts of cash to her foundation, while paying her family large amounts of money through speaking fees that look suspiciously like access fees. Of course, it’s doubtful that these classic low information voters knew anything about her failures and misdeeds, either. The incident was nothing more nor less than supplementary proof that Hillary Clinton’s supporters have turned their brains and/or consciences off, and want her to be President in the absence of evidence or in defiance of it, not because of any rational analysis.

Nonetheless, the Hail Hillary team in the news media rushed to explain what needed no explanation, using a lot of rationalization and spin. In the Washington Post, Hunter Schwartz does himself proud with his skill in rationalizing and changing the subject:

“[N]ot being able to name specific things politicians have done isn’t that unusual for the average voters.  Quick, name something that John Kerry has done as Secretary of State. Right. Think Iowa Republicans could do much better naming significant things Jeb Bush did as governor or Marco Rubio has done in the Senate? So, yes, while the stumped Democrats’ response might be short-term vindication for Republicans, it not necessarily that damaging for Clinton.”

Ugh. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Citizenship, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, U.S. Society

Note To The News Media: Stop Encouraging Consequentialism!

Marco Rubio gallantly stood up to Fox’s Chris Wallace as the news anchor repeatedly asked him whether “knowing what we know now,” it was a mistake to invade Iraq in 2001. The previous version of the question that inexplicably tripped up Jeb Bush was self-answering: knowing how badly it would work out, no sane leader would make that decision, but since nobody can see into the future, it is like asking if we should have recruited Superman to help out U.S. troops if, you know, he was real. Wallace’s question, if possible, is worse. It validates the ethics rotting principle of consequentialism, in which we judge an action by its unpredictable results.

An decision is only a mistake if it was badly reasoned based on the information the decision-maker had at the time the decision was made. It does not become a mistake based on subsequent, unknowable events. Similarly, an action doesn’t become ethical just because it worked out well, or unethical because it didn’t. This misconception is rampant among the public, and leads to bad policy, bad decision-making, bad leadership, bad lots of things. It is bad.

Hectored by Wallace, Sen. Rubio, who does understand that “mistake” doesn’t mean what Wallace was implying it does, kept saying, “No, it was not a mistake, because it was the right decision based on what we knew at the time.” Now, you can argue that the decision was the wrong one based on that information, but that’s not what Wallace was asking…and asking, and asking. He obviously thinks “mistake” is defined as a decision that doesn’t work out the way the decision-maker hoped. Wrong.

Chris Wallace was making his audience dumber and less ethically astute. We judge actions and decisions based on the quality of the choice when it is made, which includes a rational, well-reasoned analysis of its likely results. By Wallace’s logic, driving home from the Christmas party smashed is only a mistake if you crash, kill someone, or get arrested.  The sober party goer who gets killed by a drunk driver as he drives home, in Wallace’s reasoning, made a mistake going to the party at all. The lesson, apparently, is that its a mistake to go to parties.

This is how incompetent and arrogant journalists made us dumber, and our leaders so risk averse that they are incompetent.

By the way, on CNN this morning, the gang is making fun of Rubio, like he’s the idiot. Of course. After all, he’s a Republican.

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Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media

The Jeb Bush “Gotcha!”: Unfair Question, Dumb Answers

Enough about Iraq, Jeb: When did you stop beating your wife?

Enough about Iraq, Jeb: When did you stop beating your wife?

In the vast history of unfair questions, even including such immortals as “When did you stop beating your wife?,”none is more unanswerable in a substantive way than the question Jeb Bush was asked on Fox News—yes, that’s the same Fox News that supposedly lobs softballs for any Republican. The question: “Knowing what we know now” would he have authorized the Iraq war?

What possible use is that question, other than as an exercise in complete hindsight bias? If the answer is no, it appears to validate the dishonest criticism of the war decades ago, by those who attributed new knowledge about the infamous WMD’s to the original decision, which wasn’t about weapons of mass destruction in the first place. If it is yes, it is evidence of insanity.

Now we know that the invasion would be botched, the U.N. would cravenly and irresponsibly withhold support for enforcing its own resolutions, that our hillbilly soldiers would torture Iraqi prisoners and take photos of it, that the new Iraqi government would be incompetent and corrupt, that the news media would assist Democrats in re-writing the history of the decision, and most of all, that even after the situation in Iraq had finally been stabilized, an incompetent President would prematurely pull out our troops, causing the government to implode and ISIS to thrive.

George W. Bush had even said when he was President that if he had known that no WMD’s were there, he would not have invaded Iraq. That was also a dumb answer at the time, and I believe a dishonest one. But today, W. would give the same answer, and knowing what we know now, it would be both correct and honest. That’s if he were silly enough not to say, as his younger brother was too dim to say, this:

“I’m not answering that. It’s pointless. Would Lee have ordered Pickett’s Charge, knowing how it would turn out? Would I have left the dock as captain of the Titanic, knowing that it would hit an iceberg? Would I have approved the Space Shuttle program, knowing that two shuttles would meet with disaster? “Would you still go to see ‘Our American Cousin,’ Mrs Lincoln?” A decision can only be judged based on what the known situation is at the time. It cannot be fairly judged based on the results of the decision, immediately or years later. That’s consequentialism; it’s a logical fallacy.

and

“Nor can I answer the question of what I would have decided in my brother’s place, because I do know how things worked out, and he, of course, could not know. So asking that question is unfair to me, and answering it would be unfair to him. “

But Jeb was too dim to say that. So first he answered… Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Leadership

“Piss Christ” and Garland

Piss-Christ

Ethics Alarms participant Other Bill raised “Piss Christ” on the comment thread to my post about the Garland, Texas attack, progressives’ and news media’s “hate speech isn’t free speech” confusion, and Geller’s supporters’ “gratuitously uncivil speech is laudable” delusion. He posted a column by George Parry, published under the heading “Think Tank” on a Philadelphia site. I’m grateful to Bill for raising the column, which he neither endorsed nor criticized. Titled Double Standard on Offending Christians and Muslims, Parry’s argument was…

  • “Christians objected to “Piss Christ” and the feces-covered Holy Virgin. And they rightfully wondered why their tax dollars had been used to promote these blasphemies. But their objections and questions were condescendingly dismissed by the secular left in the media and intelligentsia. …
  • “As if in one voice, the mainstream media and self-anointed intelligentsia argued that antiquated religious sensitivities must not be allowed to interfere with either an artist’s free expression or his right to government funding regardless of how offensive his work may be to Christians….”
  • “In Garland, Texas, on Sunday, two radical Muslims died trying to replicate the Charlie Hebdo massacre by mounting an armed attack on a “draw Mohammed” cartoon contest. We are not talking about drawings of Mohammed dunked in urine or smeared with animal dung. No, the gunmen apparently deemed the mere drawing of Mohammed to be an offense punishable by death…The overall media consensus has been to blame the intended murder victims for recklessly provoking the terrorists. Such provocation, we are told, is unacceptable and irresponsible behavior given the risk of retaliation by offended radical Muslims…”
  • “Better to question the wisdom of cartoonists exercising their rights than to acknowledge and vigorously confront and expose the elephant in the room, i.e., that there is a disturbingly large number of radical Muslims in this country who oppose our Constitution and who believe that murder is an appropriate sanction for those who offend Islam….”
  • “All of which leads to this question: Given their pusillanimous double standard, why should any reasonable or serious person believe, respect, or credit the self-serving mainstream media?”

That’s not the question. First of all, there is already no reason to believe, respect, or credit the mainstream media. Second, while Parry is correct that the analysis of the issues in the Garland attack have been largely incompetent and tainted by media dislike of Geller and journalism’s own cowardice (most news outlets were afraid to show the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, even though they were essential to reporting on the Paris massacre), his analogy with “Piss Christ” is no better.

The questions areContinue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Etiquette and manners, Journalism & Media, Religion and Philosophy, Rights

Ten Ethics Musings On The “Unethical Photograph Of The Year” And The Daughters of Villi and Mary Kay

Here's my Jack Russell Rugby doing his imitation of the dog in "The Artist." It's a good antidote, at least for me, when I look at the Villi and Mary Kay family photo. Keeps the gorge down.

Here’s my Jack Russell Rugby doing his imitation of the dog in “The Artist.” It’s a good antidote, at least for me, when I look at the Villi and Mary Kay family photo. Keeps the gorge down.

I should have included these with original post, but the photo so nauseated me that I was barely capable of critical thought. I’m still nauseated, but better. So now I offer these ten question and thoughts:

1. Will this photo and its implication be used by cultural to excuse student-teacher sexual liaisons? They are grotesquely unethical when minors are involved, but professionally reprehensible even when the loving couple are college professor and student.

2. I presume it will. As I noted in the original post, this photo is a breeding ground for rationalizations, “No harm, no foul” among them, and of course, “It all worked out for the best.” This is like showing the modern China that arose out of Mao’s slaughter of millions with the face of the Great Leader superimposed over it all. It worked out so well! How can anyone argue with that?

3. Every time a grossly wrongful act creates some unanticipated good, consequentialism runs amuck. If Mary Kay  and Rape Victim Vili had produced children who had arms growing out of their mouths or who were drug-addicts and cat-burners, the same people who look at the photo now and say  “Awww!” would be pointing and crowing, “See?”

4. The proper comparison is a family created through incest. That taboo is so powerful still that a similar photo of Mom, Dad/Grandad and lovely Daughter–No, Sister! No, Daughter! No, Sister! (Sorry, I was having a “Chinatown” flashback) would not garner the kind of positive reaction too many are having to the Happy Fualaau. Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Education, Gender and Sex, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Love, Rights, Romance and Relationships

The Unethical French Animator, the Mammalian Duck, Dysfunctional Ethics Alarms

“Oggy and the Cockroaches” is a French animated comedy series produced by Xilam and Gaumont Film Company. Its future on the Nickelodeon children’s TV cartoon channel NickToons is in doubt, however, after the channel was thrust into an unwanted controversy by an unknown French cartoonist’s practical joke.

A recent episode that aired on NickToons featured a brief view of a framed wall hanging showing a cartoon female duck sporting a pair of bikini briefs, sunglasses and bouffant hair-do, and most significantly, naked torpedoesque breasts of a variety more familiar to afficionados of “Fritz the Cat” than the target audience of eight-year-olds. Naturally, the station was deluged with complaints from parents.

The NickToons  website now appears to have removed the show from both its schedule and its homepage. Good start. It should also end any relationship it may have with Xilam and Gaumont.

I know cartoonists are not known for an excess of maturity, but a network needs to be able to reside a modicum of trust in its contractors, suppliers and partners. If an animator would think it’s funny to slip a topless, sexy duck into a kid’s show, then who is to say the next “joke” won’t be a giant talking penis or Adolf Hitler having sex with a cow?

Far more disturbing than the prank itself are the rationalizations and justifications being offered for it in online comments to the story and in social media: Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Gender and Sex, Popular Culture, Professions, U.S. Society