Comment of the Day: “Ethics Dunce Meets Ethics Hero”

John T., a reader whose final comment on Ethics Alarms is also the Comment of the Day, provided me with another example of the same phenomenon that manifested itself in some of the more extreme comments to the recent Applebee’s post. For many people who are incapable of coherent ethical analysis, the nature of conduct is assessed not according to the ethical or unethical nature of the conduct itself, but according to whether the author of the conduct is liked, admired, identified or sympathized with, especially in comparison to the individual, authority or entity holding that actor accountable for the unethical conduct involved. Thus supporters of the fired Applebee’s waitress who violated the terms of her employment, embarrassed her employer’s customer online, and used proprietary information to do it used all manner of irrelevant or  factually false arguments to make the case that she didn’t warrant punishment, and that it was Applebee’s that was acting wronfully—waitresses are underpaid; Applebee’s doesn’t treat employees well, the pastor was “stealing” by not leaving a tip, the pastor’s obnoxious message “abused” the server (even though the server wasn’t the one who publicized the pastor’s comments), and so on. Because commenters sympathized and identified with the waitress, they crashed through logical and ethical roadblocks to find her innocent of wrongdoing, and mistreated by a big, bad, heartless corporation. In other words, emotion and bias, not objectivity and ethical analysis, took over.

John T. engages in the same fallacious process to defend the 18-year old Xanax abuser who found herself insulting the wrong judge in Miami. His previous jaw-dropping comment described the woman’s horrible demeanor and attitude as “genuinely cooperative and friendly” (she was disrespectful, mocking and seemingly stoned), and opined that unauthorized possession of a controlled substance was a “bullshit charge.” I responded, half in jest,  that with that attitude, it was remarkable that he wasn’t in jail. I’ll be back at the end, but here is John T’s masterful rant, the Comment of the Day on the post, “Ethics Dunce Meets Ethics Hero:

“So, I should be in jail? NICE! Well, according to what you think is a jailable offense…. a tiny eighteen year old girl using a naughty word….. then I should be on death row for sure! Let’s see, I rolled through a stop sign today at 1 mph. That’s ought to put me away for sure in your rule book, right? Sorry Charlie, I’m actually the owner of an Engineering business. My customers are ten of the the largest corporations in the country. Wrap your head around that one. You know, people like you are the exact reason society is so messed up. You think the people that need to be in prison are smiling and saying ‘adios’ instead of being actual dangers to society, yet MY sense of the justice system is warped. HA! Re-read that! Anyone ‘different’ from you that doesn’t conform to your prudish ideals needs to be thrown behind bars. Is that how it goes? Although you get a stiff one over trying to impose your will on the rest of society, most people don’t want to live in a world where people get prison for ‘hurting your feelings.’ “She was driving a bicycle stoned!!!” I mean, I wish I could see you say that in person to see the morbid look of shock and disgust! DRIVING A BICYCLE STONED! It’s not even in the books, Jack! Aww, did the tiny eighteen year old girl say a naughty word to you and the big bad judge you elected? How terrible for you! I am so sorry! Prison for her! And by golly, in the olden days she would be beaten, too! Impose your will upon her and others! Bah, enough of people like you, you’re all on the way out. From the looks of your age I’ll bet you have a nice fat medicine chest full of goodies that the ol doc will throw at you for doing nothing more than dropping down your co-pay, But you have the audacity to say what’s in your pocket is ‘not minor’ if someone else has it in their pocket, too. I don’t get how hypocrites like you have the brass to show your face in society. The best possible outcome, Mr. “I want to put potty mouthed teens in prison for having the same drugs I do.”, is that a local judge listens to you and lets out a dozen killers onto your streets to make room for the insubordinate objects of the hatred for your own boring life. I guarantee you you’ll be crying like a baby about how we need to lock up dangerous criminals if one sticks a gun in your face. ADIOS!”

And adios to you, John.  Of course, judges must insist on enforcing proper decorum in court, and properly have the power to do so using contempt penalties. The size and age of the woman (we are supposed to give her special leniency, apparently, for size, age and gender) should be completely irrelevant, and were. The jail sentence had nothing to do with the judge’s “hurt feelings;” I can’t tell if John really is that unfamiliar with the requirements of respect, civility and decorum before the bench, or is just misrepresenting the situation to make an easier case for himself. The rest of his argument is based on bias ( because of my age I must be a hypocrite), defiance of the drug laws (hey, prescription, no prescription, what the difference?) and contempt for standards and authority. Then, as final fillip, he appeals to the awful “it’s not the worst thing” rationalization. Ms. Soto isn’t a dangerous criminal, so she shouldn’t be held responsible for conduct like driving a vehicle stoned, illegally possessing drugs, and showing disrespect for the law.

Good rant, though.

We’ll miss you, John T.

12 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “Ethics Dunce Meets Ethics Hero”

  1. I particularly enjoyed the part where he cites the fact (I presume it is a fact, but after the rest of his comment, well….) that he owns an “Engineering business” (because engineers are, you know, experts on legal decorum—note also the capitalized “E”)) and that his customers are “ten of the largest corporations in the country.” Is he implying that those corporations are behind him on this matter? Or that they wouldn’t do business with him if they didn’t approve of his opinions, as expressed on another person’s blog? Or that such business success means that he’s so doggone smart and knowledgeable that all his opinions carry special weight? Arrogance or hubris, take your pick. No wonder he’s so capable of spouting ethics nonsense. Your commentary was right on, Jack (sorry, I was talking to some students yesterday about the 60’s, and some of the old lingo is now rattling around in my head), and so I won’t belabor it. But I did think the preceding worth mentioning.

    • I’m pretty sure there is a formal term for it, but I don’t recall and the best I can think of is it is some sort of Reverse Ad Hominem or some variation on an Appeal to Auhority.

      • Of course, if Jack wanted to be equally snaky and inappropriate back when they guy made his ‘engineering for 10 big companies’ claim, he coulda been snide and said “what? air conditioner maintenance?”.

        But, having known how all the air conditioner guys who have helped me are highly intelligent, hard working and very professional, such an attack wouldn’t have been analogous to this “John T” who doesn’t believe in the sanctity of the court room and, by extension, Western Civilization.

        • Aww, c’mon, texagg—not after I just sat down with a cup of coffee! Laugh with a mouth full of liquid and you get a spray all over the monitor screen. OK, I exaggerate, it wasn’t ALL over the monitor screen—but I’ve half a mind to bill you for two paper towels. Anyway, good one. Also, I’d missed the Appeal to Authority connection. You were right on target with that.

  2. Good on you Jack, for posting the rant and your subsequent measured, restrained and articulate response. Sadly, these kinds of rants have become the norm in radio-land and TV-land. This diet of opinion from the gut has become a staple for too many and it has supplanted a more healthy diet of reason. While I have my own version of ranting, (not so much in these here parts) especially for my favored issues, I would like to think that I am dedicated to finding “the truth of the thing” despite the inherent discomfort, and forums like this help keep me honest.

    • Well, it would be unfair. Something like this would get the prize, but there are really worse among the 3-5 commenters I end up banning every time a topic goes haywire(almost always a relatively trivial topic), drawing people here who don’t understand, like or respect the whole concept of ethical analysis. So they argue with a comment that is full of emotion and rationalizations, I explain why that won’t wash, they come back and repeat the whole thing as if I hadn’t written my response, I re-iterate, they call me a “self-proclaimed ethicist” who is making “edicts” and “how can you judge a waitress when you’re probably never waited on tables in your life?”, I argument that their argument is garbage and they should listen and try to learn something, they cry “Personal attack! and tell me to fuck off. They get banned. Then for about three days I get increasingly obscene rants from them in my spam folder, and when I don’t respond, they send me angry obscene e-mails. Then I block those. The life of an ethics blogger.

  3. If John T. had any guts he would name his “Engineering company” and the corporate clients he touts. Then I could start an embargo on both his company and his clients. His ignorance, selfish interpretation of what the court system should be, and his overall world view would make me distrust anything his “company” did, and anything his clients did as well, assuming they know him and his attitudes.

    C’mon John T. Tell us who you are. I dare you.

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