Tag Archives: ethics

In Virginia And D.C., Botching The Complex Relationship Between Law And Ethics

aforadultry

Laws don’t exist merely to do things; they must also stand for the ethical principles that sustain a stable and productive society. Laws create moral codes of conduct as well as a pragmatic ones. It is profoundly puzzling to me that so many regard this as a controversial statement, especially in a country founded by two documents that are steeped in values.

There are laws against stealing to discourage theft, but also because the official voice of society must make it clear what the values of that society are. The laws against stealing state that theft is wrong. The law expresses societal consensus about acceptable and unacceptable conduct; it also reinforces and strengthens that consensus.

The fact that this is a proper function of law doesn’t mean that those who write and pass laws or the public understand any of this. The relationship isn’t taught in schools, and while one might encounter this concept in law school or a good college government or philosophy course, one can be well-educated and never think about this at all. In other words, the officials who make laws often don’t have a clue what they are doing, and neither does anyone else.

Two glaring examples have arisen in my neck of the woods, the District of Columbia, where I work, and Virginia, where I live.

Behold:

In Virginia, Virginia Senate declined to pass a bill that would have decriminalized adultery in the state. Currently, adultery is a Class 4 misdemeanor. Sen. Scott Surovell (D–Fairfax) introduced a measure that would have reduced adultery from a criminal offense to a civil one, keeping the criminal law’s fine of no more than $250. Thirteen states have repealed similar adultery statutes in recent years, and only about a dozen states still treat the act as a crime. The immediate criticism of the Virginia decision was predictable and focused on “legislating morality,” as if that isn’t a legitimate function of law. What critics, usually from the left, mean when they use this catch phrase is “How dare the government interfere with private conduct that is nobody else’s business?” Well, is spousal abuse and child abuse private, then? Bigamy? The reason adultery is illegal is that it hurts people, wrecks families, traumatizes children, and destabilizes society. It is completely appropriate for society to say  “This is bad for everyone, so don’t do it.” The law is how we express such messages. Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, U.S. Society

Call For Nominations Of The Best And Worst In 2015 Ethics

...and don't come back!!

…and don’t come back!!

As always on January. 1, I am laboriously reviewing  the more than a thousand posts published here over the past year to assemble the annual Ethics Alarms Best and Worst in Ethics of 2015. It’s a horrible job, both because of its labor intensive nature and because many posts remind me of horrors that my mind had managed to suppress in the interests of my sanity…and as I don’t have to tell you, 2015 was an awful year.

I don’t know why I’ve never  invited nominations before, but I would love to get some submissions from the assembled. Be sure to explain why you think a particular topic is Best or Worstworthy. Be sure to niminate a Commenter of the Year—volume counts, but so does quality. You can nominate yourself, too.

Don’t worry abut being too late: I may not get through with this ordeal until early next week.

Oh, by the way…

Happy New Year!

And be afraid.

Be very afraid.

 

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Filed under U.S. Society

Reflections On The Ethical Holiday

Christmas

 

“Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.”

—G.K. Chesterton.

“It’s Christmas Eve. It’s the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we smile a little easier, we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year we are the people that we always hoped we would be.”

— Frank Cross (Bill Murray) in “Scrooged”

CHARLIE BROWN: I guess you were right, Linus. I shouldn’t have picked this little tree. Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I really don’t know what Christmas is all about. Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?

LINUS: Sure, Charlie Brown. I can tell you what Christmas is all about.  Lights, please?

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them. And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, goodwill toward men.’”

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

—Charles M. Schulz

“Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.”

― Laura Ingalls Wilder

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

― Dr. Seuss, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”

“Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

― Steve Maraboli, in “Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience”

“My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?”

― Bob Hope

“I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,’ returned the nephew. ‘Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

― Fred, Scrooge’s Nephew, in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Childhood and children, Ethics Quotes, Literature, Love, Popular Culture, Quotes, Religion and Philosophy

Have A Happy Thanksgiving Everyone, And Don’t Forget To Review The Ethics Alarms Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide Before The Annual TV Screening!

It’s right here!

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Family, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Love, Popular Culture, Romance and Relationships

The Unlikely Ethics Dunce, And Why Nobody Pays Attention To Ethicists And I Don’t Blame Them

Wait, how can the nation's most famous ethicist be an Ethics Dunce? It's not easy...

Wait, how can the nation’s most famous ethicist be an Ethics Dunce? It’s not easy…

Ethicists have managed to make ethics nearly invisible in our cultural debates, and nearly useless as a decision-making tool, when it ought to be the most useful tool of all. They accomplished this over centuries of work, making the discipline of ethics abstruse, elitist, abstract, and worse of all, boring. Nobody should be bored with ethics, hence my statement, “Ethics isn’t boring, ethicists are.” Once ethics was pigeon-holed in the realm of philosophy, however (it belongs with “crucial life skills” and “critical thinking”) and philosophy became associated with scholarship, advanced degrees and academia, the jig was up.

The problem is that academic ethicists teach and write about abstract ethics, and life is not abstract. Their quest is for one formula to determine right from wrong, and life and human beings are more complicated than any one formula can encompass. When I started this blog, I got a lot of grad students writing me who demanded to know whether I was a Utilitarian,  Kantian Deontologist, a follower of Natural Law Ethics,  a Virtue Ethicist or a devotee of Stakeholder theory. My answer was “all of the above and none of them.” All of these and more are useful tools of analysis, but none work all the time, and the amount of words loaded into jargon to explain and debate the nuances of any of them render them all useless except for  writing scholarly papers.

The ethics that the public learns, as a result, are what pop culture and society teach them, and most of that isn’t ethics at all. For example, in the cable series “The Affair,” a well-educated older man was advising a young woman, the mistress in the affair, about how to think about the illicit relationship that broke up he lover’s marriage. Wise and thoughtful, he described his own adulterous affair, and then said, “What you did wasn’t wrong. You didn’t kill anybody. You didn’t break any laws.  Don’t be so hard on yourself.”  There is no ethics in that statement. Itis just employs two popular and facile rationalizations (#4. Marion Barry’s Misdirection, or “If it isn’t illegal, it’s ethical,” and #22, the worst of all, #22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”) with another lurking but unspoken one, the Cheater’s Special, #23. Woody’s Excuse: “The heart wants what the heart wants,’ underlying the whole scene.

That’s ethics, I would guess, to about 90% of the population. Scary. This is, however, where ethicists have taken us. They could be so important to the culture, if they would get their heads out of their asinine models and explain ethical principles that are relevant to real lives in a manner that doesn’t make normal people become hostile to the subject.

This brings us to Peter Singer, Princeton’s acclaimed professor of bioethics who has been called the most influential ethicist alive. It is admittedly faint praise, but probably correct. Continue reading

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Filed under Bioethics, Character, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Health and Medicine, Professions

My Reply To Eric Turkewitz’s Criticism Regarding “The Worst Aunt Ever”

This guy would have given The Bad Aunt the right advice...

This guy would have given The Bad Aunt the right advice…

Eric Turkewitz is a New York trial attorney, by all accounts a terrific lawyer, by the evidence of his writing an ethical and astute one, in our brief encounters a very nice guy, and the proprietor of “The New York Personal Injury Law Blog.” In a recent post, he defends the decision of Jennifer Connell to sue her young nephew for a four-year old injury she received when he hugged her too enthusiastically at her birthday party. He notes, correctly, that the decision to sue was based on the client accepting a “bad call” by her lawyer. He also includes a lot of information not mentioned in the early posts on the matter, including mine. Still, he defends Connell. He also specifically criticizes my post. Eric writes,

And this is from Jack Marshall, who says he actually teaches ethics and has a blog called Ethics Alarms (coded “no follow“):

“What’s going on is that Aunt Jennifer is pure hellspawn, a mysteriously animated pile of human excrement that embodies the worst of humanity.”

This is what happens when people elect to post stuff on the web based on an initial news report that was, shall we say, very selective on what it chose to report. This site is getting quite a bit of traffic, most likely from many who never knew it existed. So let me answer a question some of you may have: Yes, I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of lawsuits, and they weren’t nearly as benign as this run-of-the-mill kind: On Suing and Being Sued.

Yes, I “actually teach ethics,” and I could, in fact, teach Eric some things that he would find useful and enlightening. I’m not going to get in a pissing match with him, in part because, as I learned from another tiff four years ago (in which I was wrong, and duly apologized), he has some very, very nasty pals, and I don’t want to throw blood in the water. This is, however, an excellent example of how lawyers often end up seeing the world, and in fact I may use his post, unattributed, in seminars to show where legal ethics and ethics diverge. It is wise for lawyers to be atuned to both.

Here was the response I made to Eric on his blog: Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Childhood and children, Family, Law & Law Enforcement, Love, Professions

For Your Labor Day Ethics Edification: “The Science of Persuasion”

The-Six-Universal-Truth-of-Influence-Robert-B-Cialdini

Making better decisions is essential to making ethical decisions, and a lot of what we discuss here relates to overcoming impediments to unethical thinking and decision-making. This 2012 video is germane to Ethics Alarms; it also includes some of the ideas in Dr. Z’s Rules, which I presented here.

This animated video describes Dr. Robert Cialdini ‘s “six universal principles of persuasion” that people and organizations tend to use to influence the thinking, values and opinions of those of us who are not willing or able to reason in an orderly and unbiased fashion. (Dr. Zimbardo las a somewhat different six). It reflects the research in Dr. Cialdini’s book, “Influence” The Science of Persuasion.”

As those who come here often know, I like to use a variety of approaches and tools. Cialdini’s framework is just one of them, but one worth understanding.

The video is a bit over 11 minutes.

 

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Filed under Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology