I am a great fan of the old Seinfeld show in general and the George Costanza character in particular (all ethicists love George, who exemplifies how messed up a life without ethical instincts can be), but I didn’t laugh at the episode when he smelled smoke at kids’ birthday party and trampled the children as he escaped in panic from the apartment. And that was just a TV sitcom; the actions of Jamie Rohrs, the Colorado man who ran out of the Aurora movie theater when James Holmes started shooting and drove away in his truck, leaving behind his girlfriend and her two young children—one of whom was fathered by him— go beyond unfunny to revolting. Luckily, and no thanks to Rohrs, Patricia Legaretta and her kids did not die, because a stranger, Jarell Brooks, helped them escape the theater and the massacre.
Then comes the rest of the story, revealed to Piers Morgan on CNN: after his act of aggravated cowardice, Rohrs had the gall to propose to the mother of his child, and Legaretta, incredibly, accepted.
Your Ethics Quiz:
Who is more unethical—Legaretta, or Costanza, er, Rohrs?
Please note that the title of the blog isn’t “Idiocy Alarms.” Clearly Legaretta is the bigger fool, but I wouldn’t bet on either of these lovebirds being able to top single digits in an IQ test. No, the issue is ethics—which of the two has demonstrated the deeper deficit in basic ethical values?
My answer may surprise you, for I think is the “winner” is Legaretta, by a lap.
Courage isn’t an ethical value but an enabling virtue, like sacrifice and fortitude, a character trait that can make ethical conduct possible. To a great extent, none among us can know how courageous we would be in circumstances like the Aurora shooting. Many in that tragedy, according to reports, were extremely valorous; others, like Rohrs, may have yielded to the flight instinct and abandoned their duties to friends and offspring. This is certainly legitimate cause for shame, but we should admit that judging someone’s character based entirely on one terrible reaction under extreme conditions is neither fair nor consistent with the Golden Rule. If Rohrs is the kind of person who conducts himself responsibly and is properly considerate of others in all situations where bullets aren’t flying, and for all we know, he could be, then he may be an ethical individual after all.
That doesn’t mean it is prudent to trust someone who has shown a proclivity to morph into George Costanza in a crisis, however. Giving him the benefit of the doubt doesn’t mean that it is responsible to marry him, and place the fate of one’s children in his trembling hands. At this point, there are a millions of single men in the US, and only one of them has proven that he is likely to head the hills yelling, “It’s every man for himself!” when the home invaders strike, the gang attacks, the Martians invade or the zombies rise. Legaretta has a duty to her children to do better, at least until Rohrs proves that the Aurora shooting was an aberration.
Yes, she presumably knows him better than any of us do, and maybe he has a wealth of other good qualities that make him a better choice than it appears. Still. in their last major event together, her fiance placed their four-month old child on the floor of the theater and headed for the exits when a mad man opened fire on him and his loved ones. He has made himself a national pariah: fairly or not, his career prospects have been severely diminished. There are many ethically responsible responses to a proposal of marriage from such a man, including “no,” “let’s wait and see,” “maybe,” and “you’ve got to be kidding!”
“Yes” is not an option, not yet. Legaretta placed her kids at risk, and nobody was holding a gun to her head.
Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at firstname.lastname@example.org.