Ethics Dunce: Bernie Madoff, Now and Forever

Would I rather have Charlie or Bernie on the loose? Tough call...

Bernie Madoff, reports the New York Times, is feeling mistreated.

Two years into his 150 year sentence for defrauding hundreds of investors, destroying dozens of charities, and crushing the financial security of people who trusted him with their future, Madoff thinks it was unfair for Judge Denny Chin, who sentenced him, to make certain that he would die in prison. Accusing Chin of having “zero understanding of the industry”—meaning what, I wonder; that it was normal for the investment industry to set out to ruin people?—-and saying that he was being made a scapegoat while Wall Street firms and government officials “walk away free,” Madoff told reporter Ben Weiser, “Remember, they caused the recession, not me.”

Yes, and the Crusades started the chain of events that led to 9-11, and Teddy Roosevelt’s Asian policies lit the fuse for Pearl Harbor. Madoff, despite saying repeatedly in the article how remorseful he is, obviously doesn’t get it….even the fact that his son committed suicide in despair over his family’s culpability hasn’t penetrated his warped sense of self-justification. There have been serial killers who did less harm than Bernie Madoff; the number of lives and families his scam devastated reaches into the thousands. He received a prison sentence of 150 years only because the U.S. doesn’t treat white collar crime, even on an epic scale, as a capital offense. Madoff is a strong argument for why it should.

In a related article, Judge Chin explains how he determined Madoff’s sentence. The tipping point was the case of a widow, whose husband had invested with Madoff and had died suddenly. She was worried about his funds, and Bernie hugged her and promised that his money was safe with him. Then he persuaded her to put her pension funds and other assets in his Ponzi scheme as well.  Today she has nothing. Chin concluded that Madoff’s conduct was evil, and that a heavy sentence was essential to show society’s disapproval of such vicious, heartless greed.

Who could disagree with him? Only Madoff, which is why his lament over his fate serves to validate it. “Everybody does it” was the ethically bankrupt motto of the financial sector brigands who paved the way to America’s fiscal collapse, and sociopaths like Madoff took the opportunity to exploit the fast and loose culture to enrich himself and his family several steps further. “Everybody” may have been willing to risk the nation’s economy to get richer; “everybody” may have been greedy and irresponsible. But only a few despicable bastards were willing to hug a frightened old lady, knowing that what she would take as a gesture of kindness and concern was really a cynical device to trap and rob her.Madoff proved then that he was a predator, and he hasn’t changed.

We all should feel a little safer, thanks to Judge Chin. As for Bernie Madoff, calling him an Ethics Dunce is an insult to ethics dunces.

48 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Bernie Madoff, Now and Forever

  1. I don’t think there’s any need to show how much worse Madoff was than everybody else. There’s a simpler problem with his statement. Just because others behaved somewhat similarly, doesn’t mean that his behavior is okay. If Madoff has evidence of other people acting like him, I’m sure there’s a DA in every office in America who would love to know about it.

    • That my morals do not line up with the Bible does not mean I am morally crashing and burning.The Bible is not an authoritative moral source.

      Also, if you remember, I do believe in moral absolutism, just absolutes that we don’t yet (and my never) know.

      • TGT—your last sentence is almost verbatim an answer I gave in a debate several years ago over ethical relativism. There are ethical absolutes—we’re just not smart enough to say what they are with sufficient precision.

        • But that doesn’t stop us from making ethical calls. To the best of my ability, I can say that racism and child pornography are unethical. If it comes out later that I am incorrect, I’ll take my lumps.

        • Wow, that’s almost verbatim with my answer too when one of my friends asked me whether I believed in moral relativism. Ethics is a (tiny little) bit like science, I suppose, in that while our understanding of the universe may still be imprecise, our efforts to illuminate it through human effort alone do bear good fruit.

    • All my statements there are internally consistent. Please show either formally or informally where I “cross” myself.

      • Well, your statement that Judaism and Christianity overlap is true enough. However, where you find this “overlap” with polytheistic Hinduism and, from there, to non-theistic humanism is unfathomable. Certainly, the Hindus would reject these alleged connections! Humanists though, having no set principles at all, would probably be either flattered or flustered.

                  • Either you’re dishonest or stupid. This isn’t a difficult thread to follow.
                    -I said there was overlap in general ethical beliefs.
                    – You denied such. Your denial implies that the other groups do not believe in the same things that you have averred Christianity supports.
                    – I showed some counterexamples by sarcastically saying Hindus support specific unethical behavior.
                    – You took it seriously. Instead of counterexamples, you begged the question.
                    – I called you on your mistake
                    – You doubled down.

                    This is why I don’t always treat you as arguing in good faith. I can’t believe anyone of your obvious intelligence would make such stupid errors over and over again.

                    • No, TGT. When YOU’VE made a remark that isn’t dishonest or stupid- and is actually worth responding to in detail- I’ll favor you with a more in-depth commentary. My brief reply to your preceding comments are indicative of the fact that I did not consider them so.

                    • Yea, I guess you think it’s dishonest or stupid when I accurately point out your misinformation. If you took it seriously, you’d either be a liar or criminally misinformed. Granted, that’s what religion is all about.

  2. Except the blog is not about morals, but ethics, which are different. A moral system such as your Christianity holds certain actions, dependent on interpretation, as sins that are always wrong, no matter what. Why? Because the Bible/God/Priest/FSM says so. Why? Because it’s wrong. I stopped listening to “because I say so” when I was 10. A moral system will drive you around in logical circles, begging the question the whole way.

    An ethical system is based on reason and logic. One is forced to explain and defend one’s views when the ethical system is passed on, and each successive challenge by a colleague or student tempers it and makes it stronger.

    • I treat ethics and morality as synonyms. If morality is going to reply to religion only, then pretend pretty much every time I’ve written some derivation of moral, i really meant the parallel derivation of ethical.

    • I’m not sure I agree, Chase.

      I feel like you’re right about ethics, but I think there are situations where the ethical course of action might be at a micro level, and when you consider the macro level of the issue, you apply morals, which are more or less what I would consider “historical wisdom”.

      While Christianity is full of “historical wisdom” in the stories and events related, I think you can find morals from non-religious sources just as easily….in the wisdom of others who have had a similar experience.

      To me (just my opinion) but when I think of Morals, it reminds me of taking the High Road and allowing myself to lose ethical/logical battles because the perceived value doesn’t justify the cost.

      An example? Hmm…my thoughts are:

      Being right at any cost?
      Alienating others because you need them to know you were right?

  3. Forgive me for being unclear. My view is when most people, such as Mr. Pilling, say “morals”, they mean a dogmatic view of a particular absolute system.

    • Which is one definition of “morals.” I have been informed that ethics are “weighed morality” and thus, in the view of moralists, inherently corrupt.

      The definition of morals and ethics that are in use on Ethics Alarms are not the only, or even the most common definitions—the classic definitions of both terms are almost the reverse of what I use. It doesn’t matter–the important thing is for the terms to be used consistently here. Check the Terms section, and blame ethicist Frank Navran, whose definition I adapted with his permission.

    • Let me clear this up for you, Chase. “Dogma” is a term (often used sarcastically these days) that orginally referred to a church’s particular take or creed on certain issues of worship or decorum. They do not necessarily derive from topics of Gospel or Scripture. That’s where morals come from. Dogma is a matter of church operations. Scripture is the basis of the common mission… which is salvation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  4. I didn’t say there was no “clean” separation in practice, TGT. In principle, however, that’s the definition. The bulk of the differences, though, arise from church organization and accepted rites of worship. For example, some churches are “hiearchical” in their organization (like the Catholics and Anglicans), whereas others are congregational assemblies… such as the Baptists. Some use different bible translations. There are other differences. Speaking as a Baptist, though, I can tell you that we attempt to draw a strict line between what is church business and what is Scripture.

    • I think you gave an unclear interpretation fo the word Dogma. You attempted to divorce it from true religion (scripture), and that is inherently false.

  5. Dear TGT: In my church, anyway, there’s a strict separation of church business (dogma- if you will) and what’s scriptural. It’s been my observation that those churches that are lax in this area tend to be those who’ve tried to incorporate liberal agendas into their proceedings that defy Scripture. The Religious Left, in other words. Or cults which claim Christianity as a cover for their non-Gospel proctices. Personally, I don’t see a lot of difference between the two.

    • Clearly, The Catholic Church is a leftist organization. Whatever your sect believes the scripture says and requires becomes dogma. That’s what dogma is.

  6. I’m sure Pope Benedict would be a bit surprised to learn he’s running a leftwing political organization! Dogma, of course, is a term mainly used by non-Christians to brand Christianity as being rigid and unforgiving. As I said, in my church we go by separation of church procedures from what’s scriptural.

    • I was showing how stupid your statement on Dogma was.

      Again, anything your church believes based on scripture, so long as it is mostly fixed, IS dogma. You can’t redefine it away to make yourself look better.

      • Of COURSE it’s “fixed”, TGT. How could it not be? The Bible is not a political document to be “amended”. It’s a book of history, morality and faith. In a similar manner, so is the Declaration of Independence. If you reject all such writings as “dogma”, you reject all histories, sermons, manifestos and dissertations- either religious or secular- in the same manner. Dogma implies that one is forced by an authority to accept all that is presented to you without question. In a free, Christian nation, this is not the case. The Christian creed allows one to accept or reject. It not only allows its adherents to seek and question, but encourages it. The enforcement of blind acceptance- with penalties for apostacy- is what happens in Moslem regions. The “redefinitions” here are your own.

        • I 100% disagree with your idea of accept or reject. Sure, you can accept or reject, but if you reject part of the dogma, you are a sinner. Christianity does not encourage or even tolerate questioning. Expanding and finding more ways to justify existing ideas? Yes. Questioning anything that has already been said? No.

          • Once again, TGT, this is not a political document we’re talking about. Nor is it a party platform to be continuously revised. We’re talking about the tenets inherent in the worship of God Himself and our acceptance of what we, His creatures, are expected to do. The faith teaches us that we are all sinners and thus must continually try to improve ourselves. Thus, not only is questioning acceptable, it is essential. It’s that very, lifelong quest for understanding and personal commitment (not enforced commitment) that sets Christianity apart from other of the world’s faiths. We just draw the line at the tolerance of evil.

            • Don’t say X if you really mean Y. What you are questioning in the above is your behavior and your relationship with god, not the teachings of your church. The Hindu and Buddhists do a whole lot more questioning then is encouraged of Christians. I think they (and Muslims) would have a thing to say about your claim that Christianity is the only faith with a lifequest and personal commitment. What you described in questioning is pretty much the same as a Muslim would describe of their faith. Right down to the line about evil.

              • That’s because Hinduism and Buddhism are, indeed, “flexible” in their tenets. Buddhism is more a philosophy than it is a religion and Hindus are basically a hodge-podge of myths and cults based around a polytheistic outlook. I don’t think their adherents are evil. They hold to some virtues which I find admirable for any faith. But, with respect, I reject them.

                Judaism, Islam and Christianity are faiths that claim actual revelations from the Almighty. Judaism and Christianity are closely related, sharing a great many texts and values in common. Islam is a strange off-shoot of them both, taking bits and pieces from them and mixing them with Arabic homilies; all centered around the dubious person of Mohammed. All three offer basic precepts of morality and require of their adherents certain levels of commitment.

                It’s up to the individual to judge the worth of those tenets. However, Islam leaves little choice to those who dwell where it holds sway. You submit or suffer.

                • You changed the topic from questioning within the religion to general freedom of religion. Christianity, just like Judaism and Islam, claim to be a search for truth, but actually questioning tenets of the specific denomination is highly discouraged.

    • “dumbed down” may have been the wrong term. The only reason PTI works at all is the abrasive tones of the hosts. The non threatening smiley actors just didn’t work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.