Tag Archives: Consequentialism

Yet Another Consequentialism Lesson From Baseball

It's for your own good, kid.

It’s for your own good, kid.

Consequentialism is the ethical fallacy of  judging an action right or wrong according to its ultimate effects, which are unknowable at the time the decision is made. This is, essentially, the equivalent of a “the ends justify the means” philosophy applied as a backward-looking tautology: if the end result turns out to be desirable, then it  justifies the means and the act was ethical. If the ends are undesirable, then the conduct was wrong unethical. People do tend to think to think this way, which is why decisions that don’t work out are frequently called mistakes. Conduct is not a mistake, however, if it was the best possible decision at the time, arrived at logically and according to sound principles.

Sports, and particularly baseball, reinforce the adoption of consequentialism, which is one way sports can make people stupid….especially sportswriters, who love to second-guess managers, players and coaches by using hindsight bias: it’s easy to pronounce a decision a mistake once you already know its results. Easy, and unfair.

On Saturday afternoon, Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams punished his 21-year-old star outfielder Bryce Harper for not running hard to first base on a ground ball tapper back to the pitcher in the top of the sixth inning. The punishment Williams levied was Old School: Williams benched the young player—just like Joe Cronin did to Ted Williams in 1939 and 1940–sending the message that either you hustle and play hard, or you don’t play, no matter how good you are. This is his duty as a manager, a leader, a mentor and a teacher, and it makes a vital statement to the entire team. Continue reading

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Jerry and Jared Remy, Parental Accountability, Hindsight Bias, and The Bad Seed

This is a tragic local story with vast ethics significance.

Father and son.

Father and son.

Long-time Boston Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy, a native Bostonian and former player who has been a vivid part of the Boston sports scene since 1977, was stunned by tragedy last summer when his oldest son, Jared, 35, allegedly murdered his girlfriend by stabbing her to death as their  ive-year-old daughter looked on. Prior to the incident, most New Englanders were unaware of Jared Remy’s problems, but his ugly past soon found its way into the newspapers.

A recent Boston Globe investigative report appeared to be the saga of a “bad seed” right out of a horror movie, for Jared Remy, son the popular, affable Jerry, had been arrested, and released, 19 times, for an assortment of alleged crimes, many of them violent. They included battering and threatening a high school girlfriend; pushing a pregnant girlfriend out of a moving car; texting death threats to her, and attempting to beat her up; threatening to kill yet another girlfriend;  terrorizing a fourth sufficiently that police were called to their apartment eight times; and involvement in steroid peddling and abuse. The Globe also obtained the testimony of a woman who alleges that Jared joined her in brutally beating a high school boy, causing him permanent brain injuries.

The Globe story (and others) raised the question of how and why the Massachusetts justice system kept releasing Jared. It is a valid question, not peculiar to his case, unfortunately. Many have speculated that Jared’s  status as the son of popular Boston sports figure played a part in getting him extraordinary leniency, but as Remy’s lawyer pointed out, several of the incidents also involved complainants and alleged victims who refused to testify or withdrew their complaints. In the realm of domestic abuse, evidently Jared Remy’s specialty, this is too common. The Globe writer, Eric Moskowitz, also insinuated that the Remys went too far in supporting their disturbed, violent and troubled son, who had learning disabilities and other clinical behavioral problems. They apparently paid for psychiatric treatment, counseling and legal fees, and helped with his rent and other expenses, though the extent of this has not been confirmed by the Remys, the only ones who could be authoritative on the topic. The rest is hearsay.

Jerry Remy, who has battled depression his whole adult life, withdrew from his role as color commentator after his son’s arrest, missing the Red Sox championship run. Outside of a brief statement condemning his son’s actions and expressing condolences to the parents of the victim, Jennifer Martel, Remy was silent until announcing this Spring that he would try returning to the broadcast booth for the upcoming season. Then, as Spring Training for the Red Sox ran down and Remy seemed, outwardly at least, capable as ever of being an affable presence with whom to watch the home team’s exploits,  the Globe story appeared. The revelations about Jared unleashed an unexpected (by me, at least) backlash against his father, and Bostonians in droves bombarded the sports radio talk shows, blogs and news media websites with the opinion that Remy should step down as Red Sox color man for cable broadcasts. How they reached this ethically indefensible position is instructive regarding how inept and unskilled most people are in day-to-day ethical analysis, how emotion becomes a substitute for objectivity and logic,  how hindsight bias makes experts and judges out of individuals with the credentials of neither, and also how ignorant most of the public is about the ethical obligations and duties of the legal profession.

Here are the reasons being cited for why Jerry Remy should give up his career:

Continue reading

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Filed under Family, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Love, Rights, Sports, U.S. Society

Mark Clemishire And The One That Got Away

Big Fish

Letting a fish you’ve caught swim off to be hooked another day doesn’t exactly place you in the altruism big leagues with Oscar Schindler,  but one takes one’s ethical opportunities as they arrive. For Mark Clemishire, a fly fisherman from Skiatook, Oklahoma, this qualifies as exemplary ethics, and attention should be paid.

It was about a month ago that  Clemishire was plying his craft in Lake Taneycomo, Missouri, and after an epic battle, caught a monster rainbow trout he immediately dubbed Troutzilla. Measured at 31 inches long with a girth of 22 inches, Troutzilla almost certainly weighed more than 20 pounds, which easily surpassed the existing record for a rainbow trout. To get credit for his achievement, a big deal for a serious fly fisherman, Clemishire’s trout had to comply with Missouri Department of Conservation rules that required the catch to be weighed on department certified scales. But instead of etching his own name in the record books, embracing immortailty and a place in the Fly Fishermen’s Hall of Fame, if there is such a thing, Mark had some photos taken of him posing with his Catch of the Day, and let Troutzilla go free. Continue reading

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Ethical Burglar Of The Year (Assuming Santa Doesn’t Qualify)

Now this is an ethics category you don’t see very often!

"Let's hope that I do not, while gathering my swag, encounter evidence of a crime that, unlike burglary and theft, my personal value system regards as repugnant, for then, as a responsible citizen burglar, I would be ethically obligated to report it to law enforcement officials, thus placing myself at greater risk of arrest..."

“Let’s hope that I do not, while taking valuables and property from the private residence I am about to break into, encounter evidence of a crime that, unlike burglary and theft, my personal value system regards as repugnant, for then, as a responsible citizen burglar, I would be ethically obligated to report it to law enforcement officials, thus placing myself at greater risk of arrest…”

In Spain, a burglar  broke into the home of a trainer for a kids soccer team, and discovered a collection of child pornography, including self-made recordings of the homeowner sexually abusing children as young as ten. The burglar placed an anonymous call to local police and said he left the evidence in a car, along with a note on which he wrote the apparent pedophile’s address. “I have had the misfortune to come into possession of these tapes and feel obliged to hand them over and let you do your job, so that you can lock this … up for life,”  the burglar told police in his message.

The trainer has been arrested and charged;  one of his victims, who is now 16, told authorities she had been abused since the time she was 10.

A few ethics observations on an intriguing case: Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Character, Citizenship, Gender and Sex, Law & Law Enforcement

Nelson Mandela, John Brown, And The Perils Of Hagiography

Mandela

He wasn’t a saint. Is it unethical to say so?

The truth made a surprising appearance where one should least expect it, MSNBC, yesterday. As the rest of the news media was awash in the sanctification of the late South African leader Nelson Mandela, former TIME reporter Richard Stengel, who worked closely with Mandela his autobiography, told shocked MSNBC hosts yesterday that the image of  Mandela being broadcast was, in fact, a false one.

“He was a pragmatic politician,” Stengal told “Morning Joe” that Mandela “wasn’t a visionary necessarily, he wasn’t a philosopher, he wasn’t a saint. But he never deviated from [his goal of overturning apartheid]. But anything that would get him there, he embraced, including violence. He created the violent wing of the ANC. And people don’t realize that and don’t remember that. We’ve kind of made him into a Santa Claus. He wasn’t. He was a revolutionary.”

The same day that Mandela’s death was reserved for testimonials and glowing remembrances, the website Buzzfeed had the impertinence to re-publish some of Mandela’s less Santa-like quotes, including praise for communism, communists, and dictators, and condemnations of the U.S. and Israel: Continue reading

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Cuomo Interviewing Cuomo? Of Course It’s A Conflict!

The interesting question isn’t whether CNN’s Chris Cuomo blithely interviewing the Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo—who happens to be his brother–is a conflict of interest and an example of unethical journalism. Of course it is. The interesting question is what it tells us about the state of U.S. journalism that such an interview could even occur.

Here are two prominent provisions of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, requiring that ethical journalists…

  • “Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.”
  • “Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.”

Is there any question that a CNN anchor man interviewing his brother regarding anything whatsoever violates both of these? Real or perceived? Compromise integrity or damage credibility? Seriously?

Cuomo the Anchorman was interviewing Cuomo the Governor regarding the recent train accident. Conflict? Sure: the journalist is supposed to have only one duty, and that is to his audience. But Cuomo the Anchorman obviously has another, potentially confounding duty of loyalty to his interview subject, and this he must not have. It calls into question his willingness to probe and, if the facts warrant it, to ask uncomfortable questions of his subject. If Chris Cuomo’s duty to his audience unexpectedly requires him to breach his loyalty to his own brother, which will he choose? We don’t know. Perhaps Cuomo himself doesn’t know. He was obligated not to place himself in a situation where the question even needed to be asked.

The various defenses being offered are, I have to say, misguided and disturbing. The usually sensible Joe Concha of Mediaite writes that the controversy is “much ado about nothing.” His reasons are … Continue reading

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Ethics Quote Of The Week: Sportswriter Joe Posnanski

Picked off first, Kolton Wong curses the fates...

Picked off first, Kolten Wong curses the fates…

Just as baseball’s post season was starting, I wrote a post about how U.S. society’s flawed use of consequentialism to judge merit, wisdom and ethics is encouraged by our sporting events. The example I used was an old one, from the 1968 World Series, which I consider to be a classic and extreme example. This morning, the great sports essayist Joe Posnanski addressed the same issue, focusing on an event in last night’s weird World Series game, which ended like none other in post season history. With two outs and the potential tying run at the plate, Boston relief pitcher Koji Uehara picked off St.Louis pinch-runner Kolten Wong to end the game and stop the Cardinals’ most dangerous sluggers from batting with a chance to tie or win the game. Posnanski marvels at how what he considers a foolish decision to station the first baseman near the base for a pick-off throw had good results, and how hard it is for us to focus on process rather than results. He is, of course, talking about the appeal of consequentialism, and the way baseball encourages it. I beat him to it by almost a month, but Posnanski amplifies the point nicely. Here’s Joe: Continue reading

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CBS’s “Blue Bloods”: Endorsing the Saint’s Excuse and Polk County Justice

 

Time for the department ethics training, Chief. You should sit in on it too...

Time for the department ethics training, Chief. You should sit in on it too…

“Blue Bloods,” Tom Selleck’s New York police family drama on CBS, began as a paean to the core values of public service, nobility, justice, courage and honesty as it chronicled the work and lives of three generations of the Reagan family. The Reagan men are all cops, the one female is a DA, and Selleck is the paternal Chief of Police. Based on last night’s episode, “The Truth About Lying,” series creators Mitchell Burgess and Robin Green have permitted the show’s writing staff to be infiltrated by the Dark Side in its fourth season, and now its calling cards will include the enthusiastic promotion of the abuse of power and the celebration of lying as long as it’s all for a good cause. That’s the Saint’s Excuse, one of the most deadly of the rationalizations, in which “good” people decide that they are empowered to do unethical things in the pursuit of what they believe are worthy goals. The Saint’s Excuse is something of a theme in the United States these days. Now “Blue Bloods” is making sure popular culture spreads the word.

The episode, which you can watch here, was ostensibly about Selleck’s Chief’s efforts to foil the city’s newly appointed “inspector general,” installed in the wake of a “ripped from the headlines” court rejection of an effective “stop and frisk” program by New York’s finest. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Popular Culture, The Internet, U.S. Society

What’s Wrong With The Florida Cyber-Bullying Arrests? Everything.

“Bullying, as they are supposed to teach you in school, is when someone uses their superior power to subordinate and humiliate someone weaker than themselves. This is wrong, and it is always wrong.”

The Sheriff of Polk County...wait, no, that's Tom Cruise, searching for pre-criminals in "Minority Report." Well, close enough.

The Sheriff of Polk County…wait, no, that’s Tom Cruise, searching for pre-criminals in “Minority Report.” Well, close enough.

This is a quote from an Ethics Alarms post earlier this year, about a school that forced students to do embarrassing things in a warped effort to discourage bullying. There is a disturbing societal consensus brewing that opposition to bullying justifies all sorts of extra-legal, unethical, excessive, abusive and unconstitutional measures, and there are a dearth of persuasive voices point out that this consensus is dangerous and wrong. Those potential voices are being stilled by a kind of cultural bullying. How can you defend bullies! Look at the victims! Think of the children! What a horrible, unfeeling person you are!

This is the only explanation I can generate for the fact that none of the commentary and media coverage regarding the Florida arrests of a 14-year-old girl and a 12-year-old girl on trumped-up charges of “stalking” following the suicide of Rebecca Ann Sedwick pointed out that the arrests were a travesty of the justice system, an abuse of power, child abuse, legally and constitutionally offensive, and, yes, bullying of a different kind. Continue reading

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Filed under Education, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Rights, The Internet, U.S. Society

The Strange, Conflicted, Unethical Holiday We Call Columbus Day

"Yes, it seems like a catastrophe now, but some day creatures called human beings will celebrate this day..."

“Yes, it seems like a catastrophe now, but some day creatures called human beings will celebrate this moment…”

What are we celebrating on Columbus Day, and is it ethical to celebrate it?

When I was a child, I was taught that we were celebrating the life of Cristoforo Columbo, popularly known as Columbus, who was convinced, against the prevailing skeptics of the time, that the Earth was round rather than flat, and in the process of proving his thesis, made the United States of America possible by discovering the New World in 1492. Virtually none of what we were taught about Columbus was true,  so what we thought we were celebrating wasn’t really what we were celebrating. Columbus wasn’t alone in believing the world was round: by 1492, most educated people knew the flat Earth theory was dumb. He blundered into discovering the New World, and by introducing Spain into this rich, virgin and vulnerable territory, he subjected millions of people and generations of them to Spain’s destructive and venal approach to exploration, which was, in simple terms, loot without mercy. The Spanish were like locusts to the Americas; South and Central America are still paying the priced today. Surely we aren’t celebrating Columbus’s complicity in that. Continue reading

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