Ethics Quiz: What Rationalization Is This?

A gang of Washington, D.C. rocks, plotting an attack on city buses.

A gang of Washington, D.C. rocks, plotting an attack on city buses.

If living near the District of Columbia doesn’t transform you into a right-wing nut, it’s probably because you quickly learned not to read the columns in the Washington Post Metro Section. There refugees from the darkest, looniest corners of the Sixties have held sway for about fifty years, making illogical, emotional, angry and reliably leftist arguments, often in semi-literate form. The Post obviously believes, with good reason, that these would embarrass the paper if they were allowed to invade the Op-Ed Page, so they are buried in the middle of the paper.

The Post has a passel  of these writers, who only occasionally venture into the land of the fair and reasonable. About 30% of the time, their creative output is devoted to race-baiting. I decided decades ago that my sanity and political equilibrium depended on my ignoring these daily sanity-bombs, way back in the days when a community-revered wacko named Dorothy Gilliam regularly defied logic in her 700 word rants. I now only learn about the most absurd of these columns only when a Post letter-writer flags one of them as particularly mind-blowing.

Coutland Milloy has been the main offender on the Post’s Metro page since Gilliam retired to the Big Angry Leftist Padded Room in the Sky, and he was in top form last week, when he addressed the recent problem of city buses being pelted with stones in some of the poorer areas in D.C. Read his piece if you dare: his basic premise was that it is significant that at a public hearing about the problem, nobody “spoke up for the kids” or discussed “why” the rocks were being thrown. You don’t really have to read the essay to guess its larger thesis: the areas are poor, city resources are misaligned, gentrification is breaking up neighborhoods, kids are frustrated, so it’s not the kids fault that they are attacking Metro buses. In the printed version of the Post, his column was titled “Don’t Pin the Rock Problem On The Kids.”

The “rock problem”? Can we stipulate that whatever the problem is with Metro buses being pelted with rocks, the rocks aren’t to blame? Milloy—I would say “incredibly,” but this is the Post Metro Section after all, and the spirit of Dorothy Gilliam is strong—never impugns the individuals who are actually throwing the rocks in any way. It’s the city’s fault; the school’s fault; and it goes without saying, if you read Milloy with any regularity, that it’s white people’s fault. I comprehend the logic of root cause arguments, if not always their applications, but they still never excuse or justify violent or criminal action in response to underlying stimuli. “Why” are the kids throwing rocks? Well, whatever the reason may be, their “solution” to the problem they discern is by definition idiotic, counter-productive, mis-directed, dumb, and, oh by the way, dangerous and against the law. These things, to a rational commentator, should dictate no quarter whatsoever, regardless of the conditions that may have sparked a violent tantrum that would justify punishing a 5-year-old. Not Milloy, however. Here is how he ends his column:

“We cannot take any more violence,” Jeter, the transit union president, said once the hearing began. The kids surely could have said the same thing. But while bus drivers could threaten to curtail service if their grievances weren’t addressed, the kids had no such recourse.

“Only stones.”

Except that throwing stones is not a valid recourse. It is not a strategy, not a solution, not a plan. It’s a violent act and a crime, and Milloy was obligated, as a public commentator, to say so, unequivocally, at the outset, whatever additional points he wanted to append. Otherwise, he is tacitly endorsing terrorism, or the rationale behind it, and excusing violence as a reasonable response to life’s problems.

Your Ethics Quiz, therefore, is this:

What rationalization allows Milloy to do this without stroking out or finding it impossible to look at himself in the mirror?

You should consult the Ethics Alarms rationalization list here, staying alert to hybrids. If you think this is one that the list has omitted, define it, please, and I’ll enter it as “Milloy’s Delusion.”

The prime candidates, as I see it, are the ‘They’re Just As Bad’ Excuse, “Tit for Tat,” “I have No Choice,” “There Are Worse Things,” and The Favorite Child Excuse. None seem to fit exactly. I have long considered adding a variation of the ‘They’re Just As Bad’ Excuse called “Look Over There!,” when bad conduct is glossed over by changing the subject, and maybe one this should be named in honor of Milloy.

It is also possible that his argument, such as it is, is too irrational to even qualify as a rationalization.

Let me know what you think.

25 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: What Rationalization Is This?

  1. I was gonna go with “I Deserve This” . . . where “this” means being given a pass for the rock throwing, but on a re-read of the list, I think we have a textbook case of “11. The Dissonance Drag“.

    Milloy SO empathizes with the plight of the rock-throwers that he can’t reconcile that with the idea that what they are doing is wrong. So instead he justifies the behavior by claiming that it’s not wrong rather than reduce his admiration of the rock-throwers.


  2. What kind of person are you, Jack! Obviously you a person who doesn’t care about kids. And I can go on and on about what kind of people don’t care about kids…
    Now you are the enemy and any opinions you may have on the real issue are voided because you don’t really care about what is best for people due to your obvious disdain for the most innocent of all…the children.

    It doesn’t really matter that ideas can be completely ignorant or false. An argument framed around a “concern” that kids are being hurt in some way, will always have a hearty supply of emotional (but not so logical) people who have the knee jerk reaction of screaming…BUT WHAT ABOUT THE KIDS!

  3. Sharon: “Innocent children” don’t throw rocks at property and people. Jack didn’t make them that way and neither did I. But there they are. Not children anymore, but dysfunctional animals who care nothing about the lives and property of others. The jails are full of these kinds and, soon enough, these young people will be lining up for their own mug shots. This is Washington DC, remember. This is where “black culture” has reached its penultimate. It’s also the city where high school kids take a course in how to be arrested properly. This story illustrates why they need it.

      • Yep…that awkward moment that your sarcasm becomes so advanced that some people actually think that you are stupid. I do appreciate that Steven gently guides me in the right direction, however. I have seen Steven and “Tiggy” go at it and I am appreciative of Steven’s tolerance of my 83IQ….big smiley face 🙂

        • I think Steven just had a bad momemt there—your sarcasm was pretty expert, I thought. The problem on this blog is that there are periodic jaw-droppers, but you have a track record, which should make an emoticon unnecessary. Steven was just itching for a defender of the rock-throwers. I thought I could flush out at least one or two myself.

          • “How to get minimise personal risk when arrested” would be a very useful course indeed.

            For those with lots of practice – actual wrongdoers – probably not necessary, they’ll get lessons from those they associate with – including which palms to grease.

            For those who are “A” students, and keep their noses clean, they won’t have those street-smarts. When arrested for “walking while black” – as they almost certainly will be at one time or another – they need to know what to do. Remember, one in 8 black males in the US are either in jail or on probation, and one in 3 have had such a sentence in the past. In large cities with ghettos or hoods, the percentage of those who haven’t been convicted of something is miniscule. Being factually innocent certainly decreases the number of convictions, but is unlikely to prevent them entirely.

            Advice on the ethics of perjuring oneself and admitting to a crime one didn’t commit in a “plea bargain”, as opposed to telling the truth and getting a swingeing sentence for being uncooperative, would also be a required course. It has to be emphasised that regardless of the facts, chance of conviction is as close to 100% as makes no difference. Once past the barriers of police decision to arrest, and prosecutorial discretion to charge, conviction is certain.,

            Maybe I’m a cynic, but that is an honest assessment of the situation in many of the more dysfunctional parts of the US. Most of it is not like that – but in most of it kids don’t throw stones at buses either. The two are correlated, but which one is causal is another matter. They seem to cause each other in a nasty feedback.

            Treat people like animals, they’ll behave like animals.
            Behave like animals, you’ll be treated like animals.

            • Zoe: When you raise children in a culture and climate that upholds them acting like animals as a condition of their heritage, then animals are what you’re going to get. And who set those conditions? Those who want their votes in a steady supply. They don’t call it the liberal plantation for nothing. This was 180 degrees away from what Dr. King wanted, but it’s what his survivors ordained for their own benefit.

              • No argument from me. Too many obvious demagogues playing on it.

                The problem is that we have an underclass who, rightly or wrongly, see “justice” as a bad joke. We have 2nd and 3rd generations who have no respect for authority – sometimes because authority isn’t respectable.

                But regardless of original cause, what matters now is how to handle it. How to manage the uncivilised so they do minimal harm, and how to make sure succeeding generations don’t follow the same path.

                A monster created by abuse is still a monster, and while they deserve healing, the first thing we have to do is stop them from doing further harm.

    • SMP-

      I know that Jack has no disdain for kids. My first paragraph was dripping with sarcasm. Or so I thought. Maybe I should use a smiley face in the future. My last paragraph suggests how people use “innocent children” (who may or may not be so innocent) as a connection to an argument. That way…if you disagree with the argument, then you do not care about children. And what kind of person doesn’t care about THE CHILDREN!

      I have no delusions that these rock throwing kids are innocent. The article is nuts! I work in the juvenile justice system which in too many cases teaches kids that there aren’t consequences for their actions. I don’t see many kids throwing rocks but I do see a lot of weapons and drugs…and way too many chances given to these kids when it’s quite obvious that so many of them have no desire to change their lives.

      • Sharon- please forgive my denseness. When I wrote that, I was pulling a 12 hour shift on a boring fixed post after about 3 hours of sleep! I just woke up from a three hour nap, which has helped a little. Still have a crummy disposition, though. I would have snapped the head off Shirley Temple if she’d asked me for a spare dime to help buy a lollipop with!!

  4. He’s trying to give the kids an excuse that is slightly modified “Ethical Vigilantism”

    Whereas in Ethical Vigilantism, an individual who perceives himself as having been maligned by a higher authority, takes it out by secretly benefiting himself at the cost of the authority.

    In this scenario, Malloy is ascribing the children’s actions to some sort of inner frustration (which he makes his own connections here, I say the kids are acting out purely to be punks). But, let’s stipulate he is accurate in that assessment, he is claiming they feel maligned by a higher authority and therefore are taking it out by attacking the authority vs benefiting themselves at the cost of the authority. Hence a sort of modified Ethical Vigilantism.

  5. I think it’s more of a “It worked out for the best” consequentialism rationalization. Milloy probably sees rock throwing as a small problem compared to the benefit of drawing attention to the plight of these kids. He thinks that others will focus on what he considers the petty issue of the kid’s naughty behavior and so he uses his article to try and change the subject.

  6. I have no problem with someone pointing out there is a reason / frustration behind why these kids are throwing stones but that is secondary to the fact they are throwing stones and that it has to stop. Arresst a couple of the kids throwing stones and it will stop. Then deal with the under lying anger in the kids who were not throwing stones.

  7. The problem is that rocks aren’t regulated. We need to first do a study to determine who has rocks. Then, we need to legislate eligibility requirements to own rocks. After that, we need to determine what type of background checks need to be done on someone applying to possess a rock. We need at least a 48 hour waiting period so that people don’t gain access to a rock for rash or emotional reasons. We DEFINITELY need to keep track of who is in possession of rocks, what type of rocks they have, and where they live. There is no right to own rocks.

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