The Good Hoax

Frequent readers here know how much I detest hoaxes, even ones just designed to be funny. News hoaxes are especially vile, as they are often designed to fool people and news outlets. These cause false rumors to spread, and send disinformation through the web and into brains, especially mushy brains. Hoaxes that consist of sufficiently ridiculous components that anyone should know they are not to be believed aren’t really hoaxes at all; they are more akin to satire. They are benign and often illuminating.

What does one make of a hoax that is simultaneously ridiculous and designed to fool people who need to be fooled in the public’s interest? I regard that as an ethical hoax. NYU physicist Alan Sokal designed and pulled off  just such two decades ago, as he described here:

For some years I’ve been troubled by an apparent decline in the standards of intellectual rigor in certain precincts of the American academic humanities. But I’m a mere physicist: if I find myself unable to make head or tail of jouissance and différance, perhaps that just reflects my own inadequacy.

So, to test the prevailing intellectual standards, I decided to try a modest (though admittedly uncontrolled) experiment: Would a leading North American journal of cultural studies… publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions?

The answer, sadly, was yes. Despite being salted with copious Authentic Frontier Gibberish like “catastrophe theory, with its dialectical emphases on smoothness/discontinuity and metamorphosis/unfolding, will indubitably play a major role in the future mathematics; but much theoretical work remains to be done before this approach can become a concrete tool of progressive political praxis,”  his article, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” was peer reviewed and published in the Spring/Summer 1996 issue of Social Text.

Later, Sokal explained his motives:

“While my method was satirical, my motivation is utterly serious. What concerns me is the proliferation, not just of nonsense and sloppy thinking per se, but of a particular kind of nonsense and sloppy thinking: one that denies the existence of objective realities, or (when challenged) admits their existence but downplays their practical relevance….In short, my concern over the spread of subjectivist thinking is both intellectual and political. Intellectually, the problem with such doctrines is that they are false (when not simply meaningless). There is a real world; its properties are not merely social constructions; facts and evidence do matter. What sane person would contend otherwise? And yet, much contemporary academic theorizing consists precisely of attempts to blur these obvious truths — the utter absurdity of it all being concealed through obscure and pretentious language.”

Sokal’s exposé of the sloppiness and lack of rigor in scholarship has spawned followers, as well it should. Using academic studies and papers is the ultimate appeal to authority in social and scientific policy disputes. If the journals that publish them are lazy and biased gate-keepers, they are untrustworthy authorities, which means that they aren’t authorities at all. That makes a Sokal-style hoax, properly and fairly executed, that rarity of rarities, The Good Hoax.

As they explained in the magazine Skeptic, Dr. Peter Bogghosian, a full time faculty member in the Department of Philosophy at Portland State University,  and James Lindsay,  a Phd in mathematics and the author of four books, wrote and submitted the most ridiculous paper they could think of. The title: “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct.” Here’s the abstract:

You read that right: the paper argues that penises affect climate change. Behold: Continue reading

15 Comments

Filed under Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Gender and Sex, Professions, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology

Incompetent POTENTIAL Elected Official Of The Month: Montana Republican Greg Gianforte, or, Ethics Verdict: Anyone Who Votes For This Guy Today Is Irresponsible, And Probably An Idiot”

First a classroom fist fight between teachers, and now this.

Last night Republican Greg Gianforte, in a close and closely watched contest with Democrat Rob Quist to fill the open, and only, Montana Congressional seat in today’s special election, snapped and attacked Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian. You can read the account of a witness (from Fox News) here, and the recording above seems to confirm it. The aspiringg statesman was charged with misdemeanor assault.

Good.

Three newspapers, this one, this one and this one, immediately withdrew their previous endorsements of the Republican in the race.

Good.

Good.

Good.

This passage from The Missoulian’s editorial this morning is a succinct summary: Continue reading

17 Comments

Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, Incompetent Elected Officials, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, U.S. Society

Comment Of The Day (1): “Comment Of The Day: ‘Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Dunce: Old Town Sport And Health in Alexandria,VA. Why? Because White Nationalists Have A Right To Work Out Too’”

 

Suddenly there is a bumper crop of Comments of the Day on Ethics Alarms; two more are slated for re-publication today, both in response to Spartan’s provocative opinion that she would leave a gym that allowed white supremacist Richard Spencer work out there, even if he restrained his urge to heil. 

First up is Mrs Q, a relatively recent addition to the ethics colloquy here, and one who has distinguished her self quickly for non-nonsense posts of clarity and purpose. Her reference in this post to the “socialist shithole” of Portland was especially timely: yesterday we learned that the city’s social justice warriors had driven a local burrito business to close for the offense of “cultural appropriation.”

Here is Mrs. Q’s Comment of the Day on the post, Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Dunce: Old Town Sport And Health in Alexandria,VA. Why? Because White Nationalists Have A Right To Work Out Too”:

…In my mind I don’t see myself as a quadruple minority. Yes my skin color is brown, I’m a lady married to a lady, work from home due to disability…but I don’t think of myself in terms of “special classes.” I’m probably more like a country conservative old school hippy stuck in a socialist shithole (Portland OR). However how do you think many of the young white liberals here tend to treat me? Well some dismiss me because I don’t agree with their stances. I’m called a traitor or “uncle Tom” by those who speak “anti-racism” because I don’t see myself as a victim & have no problem with people thinking so-called racist thoughts.

Continue reading

47 Comments

Filed under Comment of the Day, Daily Life, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Love, Race, Religion and Philosophy, Rights, U.S. Society

Two Public School Educators Duke It Out In Class: What’s Going On Here?

Oops!

I’m sorry! Wrong video.

What I meant to put up was this…

This was a student cell phone video of the fight that broke out, in class, in front of students, at Stone Mountain Middle School in Atlanta, Georgia, last week. The combatants were a  teacher and a paraprofessional, both of whom have  been fired and arrested.

After the fight was finally broken up, students say school officials came into the classroom, went through their cell phones and made them delete any evidence of it.

“Nobody apologized they just came in and were like who videotaped this and stuff like that,” a student said.  “I think they were trying to push it under the rug so nobody would know about it and the school’s reputation wouldn’t be messed up.”

The school issued the usual statements—you can guess what it said, the usual boilerplate about such conduct being unacceptable and not comporting with the school system’s values. I don’t care what it said. Nobody is sure what the fight was about: I don’t care about that either.

What I want to know is the starting point for most ethics analysis: What’s going on here?…or in this case, what the HELL is going on here?

  • I’ve never heard of anything like this happening before. Has it happened before? How can it happen?

How can a school system employ one, never mind two, alleged educational professionals who would be any more likely to behave this way than they would wear an armadillo for a hat?

  • Can the reaching profession, especially in the public schools, nurture any worse professional standards? This is the fabled public school system that Betsy DeVos is called a menace for wanting to over-haul?

I know that it is only one incident, but just as the United Airlines abuse of a passenger it had no right to bump signals that the airline industry’s service standards are spiraling out of control, this horrific display in the Stone Mountain Middle School suggests a sick culture in and outside of education.

  • On my local news channel, they told us that the two pugilists were suspended but were still employed “pending an investigation,” which made me laugh out loud. How about watching the video? Nevertheless, there needs to be an investigation—of the school, the administration, recruitment and hiring practices, management and oversight, the culture of the school system, and more, like where do women in the teaching profession learn to throw punches like that?

Well, from teachers, parents and role models like them, I guess.

90 Comments

Filed under Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Professions, Workplace

Comment of the Day: “Unethical Quote Of The Day: A Lovely, Smart, Trump-Deranged, Left-Biased Facebook Friend”

Here us another excellent comment regarding social media, this one from Glenn Logan. His focus is on what he calls “emotional sewage,” and its poisonous effect on reason, discourse and society.

He takes off from the end of my post about a Facebook friend’s outburst. Here is Glenn’s Comment of the Day on the post,  “Unethical Quote Of The Day: A Lovely, Smart, Trump-Deranged, Left-Biased Facebook Friend”:

“Nevertheless, this and posts like it, appearing every day on social media, weaken and divide the country and incrementally replace rational thought with raw emotion, bigotry and stupidity.”

This is the thing that gets me about social media — the low barrier for production and amplification of echo-chamber emotional sewage.

That’s what this virtue-signalling nonsense is — emotional sewage that is polluting our culture to the point that it threatens to become the mainstream, and remove reasonable people to the rump.

When interactions were mostly one-to-one or one-to-few, emotional sewage like this tended to get sorted out very quickly because the perpetrators were forced to deal face-to-face with their peers and address rational arguments against their effluvia. In the end, it was contained, often reconsidered and refined into something less putrid and, if not exactly reasoned, at least reasonable in a broad sense.

With social media, which provides a one-to-many construct, there is no such refinement. Raw emotional sewage is dumped out there and amplified, taking it from revolting straight to toxic. The sewer rats all band together in their virtuous righteousness, oblivious to the funk they produce and the normal people they sicken, and attack those who dare to disagree like hungry piranha.

Social media has enabled this sad state of affairs, but blaming the medium is very much like blaming the knife or gun for murder. What social media has proven is that if you can get a pack together on any given point that is large and aggressive enough, you can crush dissent on a massive scale, and drive differing viewpoints from the marketplace of ideas no matter how messed up your own views are.

Benjamin Franklin once answered a lady regarding the form of government the Founders produced in the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and he answered, “A republic, if you can keep it.” 230 years later, Dr. Franklin’s words haunt us — can we keep our republic, or will it drown in emotional sewage?

10 Comments

Filed under Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Social Media, U.S. Society

Monica Fails Another Accountability Test

This is the graphic the Times used above the Lewinsky op-ed. You didn’t know that the whole Clinton-Lewinsky scandal was staged by Roger Ailes, did you? Yes, it was all his fault. Really. And since he’s dead, this is the perfect time for the Times to say so.

In an New York Times op-ed prompted by the death of Fox News founder Roger Ailes, Monica Lewinsky demonstrates that she sees herself as a pathetic victim, and blames others for what happened to her after a President of the United States decided to indulge himself and use a star-struck White House intern as his sex toy. Yet Monica’s others barely include Bill Clinton (he is mentioned just once in her screed), who did victimize her. Instead, she is accusing  Ailes and Matt Drudge, who committed the sin, Lewinsky implies, of preventing the mainstream news media from burying the story, as it was in the process of trying to do.

Monica’s attack on Ailes is just the latest in the hate-fest from the Left in reaction to his death. His primary crime, in their eyes, was  interfering with the left-wing media’s ability to spin the news to recruit the public in uncritical and ignorant support of all things liberal. Many of the vicious tweets from reporters (When Al Sharpton stands out for being fair, you know something is amiss) focused on Ailes’s sexual harassment, but it is fair to assume that Clinton, another serial harasser, will not be memorialized by these critics in the same way. Ailes was a sexist, power-abusing pig, but these people work with and cover  and vote for sexist power-abusing pigs all the time. They revile Ailes because he broke up their monopoly.

The Times can only have decided to publish Lewinsky’s jaw-droppingly obtuse and self-serving column as part of its own post-mortem smear of  Ailes, even though it makes Monica look deluded and juvenile. Yes, she is being used again.

She writes in part: Continue reading

31 Comments

Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Leadership

Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Dunce: Old Town Sport And Health in Alexandria, VA. Why? Because White Nationalists Have A Right To Work Out Too”

My initial response to this comment by Spartan on the post about Richard Spencer being harassed while trying to use his gym membership and the gym’s response of kicking him out rather than his harasser was in part:

“A very clear and well-stated exposition of an unethical point of view that many misguided people agree with…thus imperiling our pluralistic society.”

It troubles me greatly that so many intelligent Americans are thinking this way in 2017.

Here is Spartan’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Ethics Dunce: Old Town Sport And Health in Alexandria, VA. Why? Because White Nationalists Have A Right To Work Out Too”:

This guy is a public figure and he will be recognized. He chose to be in the limelight. Gym members are allowed to quit their memberships because they don’t want to work out with an asshole. Now imagine (in liberal Old Town) that 75% of the members decide to quit their memberships at this gym because they don’t want to be around him. The business will now suffer.

I used to go to this gym, and I can tell you that I would not want to be around this man. So, although I would not circulate a petition or demand that the gym expel him, I would quit my membership. And, I probably would tell all of my friends why, so I imagine many of them would quit as well. Also, keep in mind that this gym is super tiny — you are pretty much forced to interact with other members.

In this scenario, the gym might end up closing because of lack of membership. So, this is trickier than you make it out in your hypothetical. I am not obligated, as a private citizen, to be polite or even silent around odious human beings. While I do not support a gym’s decision to terminate membership based on political (although I’m being generous here) beliefs, the fact is that people can vote with their feet.

Continue reading

174 Comments

Filed under Business & Commercial, Citizenship, Comment of the Day, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Rights, U.S. Society