There are times, not many, but a sufficient number to make my existence significantly grayer than I wish it to be, when I feel as if my professional endeavors have been in vain, and indeed, a waste of time. One such instance was the widespread defense of torture during the Bush administration. Another has been the reaction of some readers here to my post about Israel razing the homes of the families of presumed terrorists. I do not see how anyone who grasps the basic principles of ethics as they are explored and explicated on Ethics Alarms daily can pronounce such a policy as justified, justifiable, or anything other than unethical. If regular readers hear can come to a different conclusion, I am either not doing my job well, or the job itself is not worth doing.
Yesterday, Human Rights Watch called on Israel to stop razing the homes of Palestinians accused of attacking Israelis. The group called it a war crime, and I don’t like the concept of war crimes generally. The New York based organization’s argument, however, is irrefutable:
“Israel should impose an immediate moratorium on its policy of demolishing the family homes of Palestinians suspected of carrying out attacks on Israelis. The policy, which Israeli officials claim is a deterrent, deliberately and unlawfully punishes people not accused of any wrongdoing. When carried out in occupied territory, including east Jerusalem, it amounts to collective punishment, a war crime.”
Putting the war crime label aside, it is wrong enough that the act punishes those who have done nothing wrong other than be associated with a wrongdoer. There is no ethical system under which such an act is ethically defensible. It is an abuse of power. It fails any standard of Kantian ethics, using human beings as a means to an end, and proposing a standard that would, if universally adopted, send civilization into barbarism. It even fails extreme utilitarian ethics, for this means doesn’t even achieve a desirable end. The Israeli army believes that the razings do nothing to stem terrorist attacks, and there is no way that contention can be disproved. It is simply Old Testament justice of the most irrational and brutal kind. Continue reading
I guess it all began with Allen Funt.
If Allen knew what he would be starting, he would have opened a deli.
Back in the Fifties, he came up with the idea of using a hidden camera to record the reactions of innocent bystanders “in the act of being themselves.” He staged situations, sometimes Twilight Zones set-ups like a door that opened for everyone but the target, and filmed the results, first for a guest segment on TV talk shows and finally on his own, long running hit, “Candid Camera.” Funt would never have dreamed of using actors and faking the reactions, because first, he didn’t need to; second, if he was caught, it would ruin him; and third, he was an honest professional. The idea, however, has thoroughly metastasized in all directions, to “practical joke shows,” reality shows, and such monstrosities as ABC’s “What Would You Do?” and James O’Keefe. Perversions were limited as long as the shows were restricted to television, but now YouTube makes everyone a potential producer, and among the thousands trying to create a viral video, there are many, perhaps most, who are not decent, ethical professionals like Allen Funt, but just greedy jerks who will gladly cheat, lie to and humiliate others to gain fame and fortune. Continue reading
No sooner did I announce the Bill Maher Ethical Conundrum than a perfect example of it—not involving Bill Maher—hit the news…and joined the Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck.
In August, the Federal Aviation Administration agreed to a request by the St. Louis County police to restrict about 37 square miles of airspace over Ferguson, Missouri, then engulfed in the most violent of the protests and rioting sparked by the shooting of Michael Brown. The restriction lasted for 12 days, and the reason given for it was safety concerns. Shots had been fired at a helicopter at one point during the violence in the city.
Safety is surely a valid concern, and since there were legitimate reasons to believe that the no-flight restrictions were prudent in the interests of safety, the measure was ethical. Or was it? The Bill Maher Ethical Conundrum, for those who missed the recent post:
Is the ethical nature of an act defined by its intent, or by an objective assessment of the act alone without reference to motive?
The Associated Press obtained tapes of the FAA’s air traffic managers discussing how to redefine the flight ban to allow commercial flights to operate at nearby Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and to permit police helicopters to fly through the area while meeting the goals of the ban. On the ban, they heard an administration manager say, about the St. Louis County Police Department, “They finally admitted it really was to keep the media out. But they were a little concerned of, obviously, anything else that could be going on.” A manager at the administration’s center in Kansas City said the police “did not care if you ran commercial traffic through this T.F.R. all day long. They didn’t want media in there.” Acknowledging that a ban that said “…you know, ‘OK, everybody but the media is OK,’ ” the FAA managers then developed wording that they felt would keep news helicopters out of the controlled zone but not impede other air traffic.
Bingo! A flight ban in the interest of safety, serving the interests of safety, but motivated primarily by the illegal, unconstitutional, unstated motive of interfering with the public’s right to know through exercise of the Freedom of the Press.
Ethical or unethical?
The Bill Maher Ethical Conundrum strikes again!
Facts: New York Times
“One of these things is not like the other…”
The Bill Maher Ethics Conundrum is not what you probably think it is.
Maher, the alleged comic and anti-conservative scold who hosts an HBO program, was chosen by a student committee to be the commencement speaker for the University of California-Berkeley’s December graduation. This was a lazy, embarrassingly juvenile and politically-loaded selection, but Maher had also just recently used his show to join fellow atheist and neuroscientist Sam Harris in a condemnation of Islam, calling it “the only religion that acts like the mafia that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture or write the wrong book.” Later on Maher nodded approvingly as Harris also called Islam”the mother lode of bad ideas.”
This caused Muslim students at Berkeley to prove Maher correct about their religion’s entrenched intolerance of opposition, and they have been joined by other political correctness censors in the student body—there are a lot of them—to demand that the university rescind Maher’s invitation because of his “hate speech.”A Change.org petition—-now THAT site is the real mother lode of bad ideas—now urges students to boycott the decision and asks the campus to stop him from speaking. It has gathered more than 1,400 signatures. The committee that chose Maher, naturally, backed down, but the University, so far at least, is sticking to its decision to invite him.
Yes, yes, universities ought to be marketplaces of ideas where all views are welcome, and yes, it is hypocritical and offends the traditions of liberal education to stop Maher from stating his views on Islam, or re-telling “The Aristocrats,” or making a fool of himself, or whatever he’s going to do because some students or all students disagree with him, just as it was for Rutgers students to force Condolezza Rice into withdrawing after she was invited to speak at Rutgers. The dilemma illustrated by this flap is a classic ethics problem, which I will henceforth call the Bill Maher Conundrum, which has been long debated and never decisively settled:
Is the ethical nature of an act defined by its intent, or by an objective assessment of the act alone without reference to motive? Continue reading
I keep getting emails asking when I’m going to discuss Gamergate on Ethics Alarms. Several readers have sent me extensive links to bring me up to date. I’ve read them, or at least tried. Not since I was assigned the tome Peace and War by Raymond Aron has any text bored me more.
Gamergate appears to have all the markers of an ethics train wreck, but to me, at least, the train might as well be in Mongolia. I can’t contribute anything of value on this topic, because gaming is not part of my life, skill-set or interests in any way. This is a culture I don’t understand, and frankly, don’t have the time or interest to understand. I make a yeoman effort to keep up with popular culture, because I think once it gets too far ahead of you, your ability to understand the world around you is severely limited. But triage is essential. Just a few years ago, I knew who all the celebrity contestants on “Dancing With The Stars” were; this year, I never heard of half of them. More than half the stories on TMZ lately are about “celebrities” that are completely off my radar screen. I am confident, however, that in about six months, most of these stealth celebrities will be where Snookie and “The Situation” are now, which is obscurity, has-been Hell, or maybe jail.
There are ethics lessons to glean from this endless gamer scandal, but Ethics Alarms will just have to glean them elsewhere. For those who feel neglected, I highly recommend the recent post by Ken at Popehat, along with his links. It hits most of the salient ethics issues, and Ken, I gather, follows this stuff, as do his Popehat colleagues. My hat’s off to him, and them. But #Gamergate is one ethics controversy that I am not qualified to explore, and don’t want to be.
Every now and then a comment out of the blue reminds me of a post that I had forgotten. That was the case here. Reading it again for the first time in five years, I was struck by how the crux of the post is still relevant today (that crux has nothing to do with baseball), and indeed how the intervening five years have made what I thought was a bad trend a genuine political and cultural malady.
And the World Series is going on, and I feel badly about the Red Sox having such a miserable season. This post, which few read when it was first published as the blog was attracting (let’s see…) less than 200 views a day as opposed to nearly 4000 a day now, is a good one, and I enjoyed it. That “self-professed ethicist” has his moments…. Continue reading