How did we end up discussing torture on Christmas Eve?
Sorry about that.
Here is a stimulating comment by Zoebrain in the “Zero Dark Thirty” torture thread. I’m especially fond of it, because as theoretical and probably impossible as her resolution would be in practice, it neatly addresses the central problem conflict in the “torture is an absolute wrong but you might have to use it to save the world” scenarios, like the familiar “ticking bomb” hypothetical. In her analysis. one violates the absolute rule, but accepts a proportional penalty for doing so.
I advocate a similar approach in legal ethics in situations where a lawyer decides as a matter of personal conscience that he or she must violate core legal ethics values, like keeping the confidences of a client, in furtherance of a higher objective not recognized be the Rules of Professional Conduct, such as keeping a serial killer from going free.
Here is Zoebrain’s Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Bob Asks: “Did Torture Lead Us To Bin Laden”? My Answer: “So What If It Did? It Was Still Wrong.” Continue reading
It’s all for the best.
The last time my friend “Ethics Bob” Stone blogged about ethics, it was way back in August, and he was writing about some guy named “Romney.” Now he’s back on the job, thank goodness, with a comeback post titled “Zero Dark Thirty: Did torture lead us to Osama bin Laden?”. And he’s ticking me off.
“Zero Dark Thirty” is Hollywood’s treatment of the search, apprehension and execution of Osama Bin Laden. The film suggest that methods of torture were employed by the CIA to uncover crucial intelligence that led to the terrorist mastermind’s demise. Torture opponents, including some U.S. Senators, are alarmed by this, and disputing the film’s account. (Imagine that: a movie that misrepresents history!) Meanwhile, conservatives, neocons, Bush administration bitter-enders, talk radio hosts and admirers of Dr. Fu Manchu and James Bond villains are citing the film as confirmation that they were right all along: torture is a wonderful thing.
I am puzzled that Bob got in the middle of this debate as an ethicist. “It worked!” and “It came out all right in the end!” are not valid ethical arguments or justifications. The first is an embrace of a pure “the ends justify the means” rationale, a favorite tool of Auric Goldfinger and Dr. No. The other is consequentialism. When ethicists and principled opponents of torture allow the issue to be adjudicated on this basis, they are surrendering their principles at the outset. “Torture doesn’t work” is a pragmatic argument, not an ethical one. If the societal consensus regarding torture is going to be determined by how much we can benefit by returning to the rack and wheel, then ethical considerations have already been jettisoned. Continue reading
[I'm still feeling lousy, so in an effort to conserve some energy while keeping the torch high, I'm presenting a few links that the ethics-minded might enjoy visiting. Normally I would write about some of these, so consider yourselves lucky.]
- Historian Paul Finkleman delivers that harshest verdict yet on the hypocrisy of Thomas Jefferson regarding civil rights and slavery. You should then read David G. Post’s splendid contra essay here. (The last two sentences in Finkleman’s op-ed are pretty much indefensible.)
- A fascinating reflection, inspired by the movie “Lincoln,” on Utilitarianism and “the ends justifies the means.”
- In fact, the program is a benign one, but considering the issue raised in my last post, it is hard to imagine more perfect symbolism for the American public trading self-sufficiency for government protection than the trade described here.
- If you missed the recent George Will column, a frightening one, about the assaults of free speech and thought around the campuses of American universities, you have another chance to read it, here.
- I only recently learned that 3-D copiers are a reality, and Dr. Chris MacDonald, on his always excellent Business Ethics Blog, has some insight on their ethical implications here.
- Once again this year, I have an essay in The 2013 Hardball Times Baseball Annual, and publisher Dave Studenmund references my analysis of the Stephen Strasburg affair here.
- Finally, thanks to Mary Wright on the HR Gazette for posting the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale.
“Brought from their infancy without necessity for thought or forecast, [blacks] are by their habits rendered as incapable as children of taking care of themselves, and are extinguished promptly wherever industry is necessary for raising young. In the mean time they are pests in society by their idleness, and the depredations to which this leads them.”
—-Thomas Jefferson, quoted in a new book, “Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves,” by historian Henry Weincek. Jefferson wrote this in 1819, 43 years after the Declaration of Independence, in response to a request for support from a family friend who was taking his own slaves to freedom. Jefferson refused, and this was part of his response.
Great writer. Great philosopher. Bad man.
I have been working on a post on the topic of Presidential character, a lifetime study for me, as a rebuttal of a post on the Daily Caller titled, “Why Good Men Don’t Become President?” Good men do become President; in fact, almost all of the men who have become President were or are good men, Barack Obama included. Leaders, however, are a peculiar breed of good men, since leadership itself requires a different priority of virtues than other roles. Those who do not understand or appreciate leadership, and I believe that the author of that article does not, often conclude that leaders are necessarily bad.
Thomas Jefferson, I submit, was one of the few bad men who did become President. Continue reading
As he usually did, the extraterrestrial, mutant, collective or whatever he was William Shakespeare (no human could be that wise) had it exactly right, and a long time ago: “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.” In a dispirited column on the CNN website, obviously inspired by the Paterno debacle, ESPN writer L.Z. Granderson writes that he has become afraid to watch the news, fearing that another of his heroes will be shown to be a fraud:
“And when we find out our gods are not perfect, we’re confused. We don’t know what to do with a storyline where the perceived protagonist is complex. Heroes aren’t supposed to do bad things. That’s what villains are for. So either the good supersedes the bad, or the bad makes it impossible to remember the good. We don’t like it when such duality exists in one person. We don’t want to know our heroes are human.” Continue reading
Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, Character, Education, Ethics Heroes, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Leadership, Popular Culture, Public Service, Philanthropy, Charity, U.S. Society
Clear out, everybody! Ann Miller wants to honor Thomas Jefferson!
“Aggrandizing what amounts to a stunt based on misinformed views of the First Amendment cheapens the real and courageous achievements of those who advance the causes of civil rights by refusing to comply with immoral laws”
—–The Washington Post, in an editorial entitled “Dancing at a National Memorial Isn’t Civil Disobedience”
The Post is talking about the escalating and pointless battle by self-indulgent, publicity-seeking, First Amendment grand-standers —a description that I shortened to the crude but sufficiently explanatory “assholes” in my post on the same topic-–to demonstrate for the endangered ‘right” to dance inside government memorial structures(Next up: frog races, strip shows, and Mummer parades). The editorial makes the true content of this noble exercise plain: it is 100% nonsense: Continue reading
Coming to a place of honor and reflection near you.
On Saturday, the U.S. Park Police forcefully arrested five “Code Pink” protesters under the dome of the Jefferson Memorial for defying a recent Federal Appeals Court ruling that dancing at federal monuments was not constitutionally protected expression.
Perhaps you missed that ruling earlier this month, which was, I presume, made necessary by the realization that a flash mob could break out at any moment at the Lincoln Memorial or the Alamo. That was not the threat in 2008, however, when Mary Oberwetter was arrested, also at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, for hoofing to celebrate Thomas Jefferson’s birthday.
She sued the National Park Service for violating her First Amendment rights, and on May 17 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that the Jefferson Memorial should have a “solemn atmosphere” and that dancing, silent or otherwise, was an inappropriate form of expression there. The appellate judges concurred with the lower court that the memorial is “not a public forum,” and thus demonstrators must first obtain a permit. Demonstrations that require permits in the Park Service’s National Capital region are defined as
“…picketing, speechmaking, marching, holding vigils or religious services and all other like forms of conduct which involve the communication or expression of views or grievances, engaged in by one or more persons, the conduct of which has the effect, intent or propensity to draw a crowd or onlookers. [The] term does not include casual park use by visitors or tourists which does not have an intent or propensity to attract a crowd or onlookers.”
The Appellate Court wrote: Continue reading