Brief ethics notes on a wild week…
- How dare the killer whale be a killer?…Tilikum, the killer whale who either playfully or maliciously killed his trainer at Orlando’s Sea World this week, will apparently stay in the facility. Some pundits (the ones I have heard were of the foaming-at-the-mouth conservative fanatic variety) regard it as absurd not to put down a murderous whale when a dog, bear or tiger that similarly ended a human life ( Tilikum may have ended three) would routinely be destroyed. One doesn’t have to be a PETA dues-payer to see this as advocacy for blatantly unfair retribution. Let’s see: Sea World takes a top-of-the-food-chain predator out of the oceans out of its natural environment, earns admission fees by making it perform tricks for the amusement of humans in a theme park, pays relatively tiny and fragile trainers to interact with the three ton beast, and when the predators does what it is naturally designed to do—kill—we blame the whale? The party at fault for the whale attack at Sea World is none other than Sea World itself. There are good ethical arguments for putting it down, perhaps, but not its captive performers. (Most executions of human-killing bears, dogs and tigers are also unjust, but that discussion is for another time.)
- What climate change scientists need to hear: For a superb, well-reasoned and thought-provoking essay on why the climate change scientists have a serious crisis of trust and trustworthiness, read “Judith, I love ya, but you’re way wrong” by Willis Eschenbach. If you have ever questioned whether skepticism about global warming certitude has a solid intellectual foundation, this should convince you.
- Palin derangement epidemic: The Valentine’s Day episode of the Fox animated sitcom “The Family Guy” revealed the tip of the cultural iceberg that is the irrational, disproportionate, gratuitously cruel and indefensible abuse of Sarah Palin and her family. In the episode, a character with Down Syndrome (voiced by a Down Syndrome actress) said that she was the a daughter of “the former governor of Alaska.” Palin and her family pronounced the pointless reference to her Down Syndrome son, Trig, mean-spirted without being sufficiently funny, and anyone who is not a card-carrying Palin-hater would have to agree. Series creator Seth McFarland responded with the shrugged response that the series is an “equal opportunity offender,” which ducks the point: how can essentially jeering, “you have a disabled baby!” be defended as professional, prime-time caliber humor? Series regular Patrick Warburton, to his credit, has been the one Hollywood figure to declare the line unfunny and inappropriate.
But this is pea-shooter stuff compared with the wild-eyed Palin-hatred in the blogosphere. I had no idea how deranged the Palin-haters were until I ventured into Palin conspiracy country, where the Left-wing “birthers” make their loopy Right-wing counterparts seem rational. Did you know that Palin faked last her pregnancy and has used two…or maybe three!… different babies to pass off the fiction that she gave birth to Trig? Yes! Because…well, because she’s just evil, I guess. I’m no Sarah Palin fan, but the lack of fairness, proportion and decency on the part of her tormenters is indefensible, and even gives some credence to Rush Limbaugh’s oft-made assertion that liberals are more vicious to their perceived enemies than conservatives.
- MagicJack and SLAPP: One of the most unethical uses of the legal process is threatening lawsuits to silence legitimate critics. MagicJack, the makers of that gadget that lets you make phone calls cheaply by using the internet, tried to intimidate the site BoingBoing when it reported legitimate unethical tricks and maneuvers being used by the company in the fine print of its user agreement and on its website (for example, the website claimed to be able to detect MagicJacks, saying that “Your MagicJack is functioning properly” even when none were present.) BoingBoing didn’t back down (Bravo!) because everything it reported was true, and MagicJack not only lost but had to pay $50,000 in court costs to BoingBoing because the suit was determined to be a SLAPP: a strategic lawsuit against public participation.
- When the going gets tough, the tough get unethical: Finally, you can download a fascinating survey by the Ethics Resource Center here, documenting how recession-inspired belt-tightening measures by companies tend to greatly increase the frequency of unethical conduct on the job, as employees, especially younger ones, decide that they have a right to “get even.” (They don’t.)