Ethics Quiz: My “Disrespectful” Comment


There has been an epic thread, over a week long now, I think, on Ampersand’s blog about the Zimmerman trial. It has been very illuminating and valuable for me, because the vast majority of the discussion consists of articulate knee-jerk liberals desperately searching for some way to hold on to the myth that Trayvon Martin was the victim of racial profiling, and that George Zimmerman, a closet racist cold-blooded killer, got away with murder. It is fascinating, if depressing. So many seemingly smart people who just “know” that Zimmerman was really guilty, and that Martin was gunned down because he was wearing a hoodie and carrying Skittles.

One of the outnumbered rational commenters there, a chap calling himself Conrad, responded to a persistent Zimmerman-hater who kept saying that it was “50-50” who started the fatal fight, and that it should disturb anyone that there is, therefore, a 50-50 chance that Zimmerman got away with murder. Conrad pointed out that the evidence, in fact, strongly suggested that Zimmerman did not provoke the physical encounter, and, sure enough, none of the  factual arguments to the contrary were deemed persuasive. I had intervened several times in the discussion (since it was launched in the blog post by Ampersand saying that my assertion that there were no legitimate grounds on which to challenge the jury’s verdict as anything but compelled by the evidence was biased), and this was the final straw.

I wrote, to Conrad:

“Fascinating, isn’t it? So many compassionate, fair, intelligent people tying their brains into knots because they have staked everything on a badly cast George Zimmerman being the epitome of a murderous, conservative, vigilante racist. Oops! He’s not white! Oops! His prom date was black! Oops! He voted for Obama! Oops! He never used a racial slur! Oops! He was jumped by the victim! Oops! He really was injured! Oops! The evidence and all the witnesses support his account! Never mind…you just KNOW he did it.

“This is the real lesson of this endless mess–how confirmation bias makes good people into bigots and persecutors.

“There is another piece of evidence: when police, while interrogating Zimmerman, told him that the entire altercation was caught on a security camera—a lie, to check his reaction–his instant response, according to witnesses, was “Thank God!” Clever guy, that George. Quick thinking!

“But this has never been about evidence. It was about making Obama’s base fear for their lives just in time for the 2012 elections, and increasing racial divisiveness for cynical political gain. At least I hope that was what it was about, because if there wasn’t some tangible reason for it, it is the stupidest self-inflicted wound on society that I can remember.”

I was shortly thereafter shocked to receive Ampersand’s stern reprimand for this comment.

“Jack, please reread the moderation goals for this blog. In particular, this bit: “Debates are conducted in a manner that shows respect even for folks we disagree with.” If you don’t find it possible to disagree with people while treating them with respect, then I’ll ask you to stop leaving comments here. Where would make me unhappy, so I hope it doesn’t come to that. –Amp”

He generously left my entire post up with a strike-through, making it unreadable as well as  hanging a scarlet letter on the content. Nice. Apparently it was all too disrespectful. (In fact, I would judge many of the approved comments in the thread far more directly insulting to specific commenters than mine, which impugned the whole anti-Zimmerman chorus.)

Your Ethics Quiz as we head into the first August weekend:

Was it too disrespectful?

My answer, in no uncertain terms: absolutely not.

Indeed, the comment clearly evinced respect, if disappointment, for some of the disoriented souls, including Barry, a.k.a Ampersand, who have let their ideology lead them to doing tangible harm to the nation and spreading madness out of well-intentioned ideological fervor. Do I have any respect whatsoever for the position being pushed by Sharpton, Obama, MSNBC, the Congressional Black Caucus, and others? No, frankly, I don’t. I think it is unsustainable on the facts, and is playing into the hands of those who seek to divide the nation. I think that fact that George Zimmerman and his family have to fear for their lives because the tragic death of Trayvon Martin has been compared to the murders of Emmet Till and Medgar Evers is abhorrent, and I think allying oneself with such public deceivers is equally abhorrent.

I also think that if sane, reasonable people, like Barry, are ever going to be brought back from the brink, they need to be splashed with the icy water of reality, harsh as it is. Zimmerman is being presumed to be a racist because he’s not a dark Hispanic, and because the original, inaccurate, accounts of the shooting were seized upon by race-hustlers with such gusto….and they lack the integrity and courage to admit they were wrong. (Too “disrespectful”?) The presumption of the entire debate is that whites secretly, or not so secretly, feel that all blacks are potential criminals. I am personally offended by that presumption, and more than offended that the President of the United States tacitly validated that point of view. Offended, but not surprised.

As if I haven’t made it clear already, I believe the effort to make this incident into a racial cause celebre has been a terrible thing for the country, unless one thinks that the quality of perceived race relations declining 25%, according to polls, is a good thing—and yes, I believe there are political allies of the President and Democrats who do think it is a good thing. I do believe this is either Machiavellian or stupid, and I do believe that it will stand as one of the American Left’s darkest and most embarrassing moments.

That is, I believe, what my comment said, and if the tone of it was exasperated, that is an accurate expression of how I feel. As I told Barry in leaving his general excellent blog (which I have added to the Ethics Alarms links), apparently the truth hurts. That could be a motto, on both sides, for this whole, ugly fiasco.

38 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: My “Disrespectful” Comment

  1. No, it was not disrespectful. I’ve been moderating various forms of online for almost twenty years now and this is tame stuff, believe me.

    Among other things, it did not single out one or more individual posters. It merely presented data points that countered the prevailing wisdom of the anti-Zimmerman crowd.

    If the post had a failing, that failing lies in not reminding people of the active role certain news organizations, most notably NBC, had in ginning up the train wreck.

    But I guess pointing that out to Ampersand’s audience would have been disrespectful, too. I suspect I’d get thrown out of there in a New York minute. Wouldn’t break my heart, either.

    • I have to say, I found the experience depressing, as is the whole Trayvon-Zimmerman zoo. It’s mostly depressing because it threatens to confirm what I have regarded as unfair and vile characterizations of the Left by talk show hosts like Mark Levin, Hannity and Michael Savage, as being in thrall to sinister Alinsky strategies, as hating the US culture and seeing it as intractibly racist, as seeking to divide and provoke unrest in order to profit, or, in Savage’s case, claiming that “liberalism is a mental illness.” I don’t want to believe any of that, but the treatment of Zimmerman and the persistence, in high or otherwise respectable places, of the “A young black kid was hunted down and shot for the crime of being black, walking, wearing a hoodie and carrying candy, and the justice system sided with his killer” slander (on Zimmerman, on the justice system, on the USA) really makes me wonder. And I don’t want to wonder.

  2. No, it was an apt statement Jack. But when someone is so emotionally wrapped up in a point of view (especially a point of view that has NO facts or RATIONALE to support it, therefore is emotional to begin with) then any criticism of the point of view or continued exposition of that point of view’s lack of reason will always be perceived as disrespect.

    When you first mentioned Ampersand’s blog, I checked it out. Kudos to Conrad, I couldn’t keep up with the clunky Linear system of response tracking.

    If you want to find a nugget of humor in any of it, the immediate follow on poster “eytan sweig” asserts that you don’t know what “ethical” means.

  3. From Ampersands sidebar:
    Alas, a Blogroll
    Ethics Alarms (note: right-wing)
    just recently: Ethics Quiz: My “Disrespectful” Comment

    Kinda says it all doesn’t it? Jack, You’ve been profiled!

    • Yes, I almost commented on Barry’s description of EA before this happened. I know of no actual right-wingers who think of me as one of their number, and I have been called out by commenters as being both far left and far right, depending on the post. I was the House liberal when I worked for the US Chamber, and the house conservative when I worked for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. My one nomination for professional stage direction was for “The Cradle Will Rock,” which is far left agitprop.

      Not that I put much stock in such things, but it was at least comforting when I took a fairly long online university-run test that was designed to place individuals on the political spectrum according to their views and strength of same on various litmus test issues. I scored a 5.3 (out of 10)–very slightly right of dead center. But then, to the denizens’ of progressive blogs, that’s “right wing.”

    • Of course he’s a right-winger.

      Don’t you recall his countless posts demanding the legislatures ban forever gay marriage?

      Don’t you remember his calls to deport every last illegal immigrant in the country, and to be safe, most of the legal ones too?

    • Actually, I would find the note “right-wing” quite annoying and offensive. Even if you are “right-wing”, Ampersand is essentially telling his readers “if you are close-minded, here I’ve warned you about those evil right-wingers” or “if you are open-minded, here, when you’re offended don’t say I didn’t warn you” or “hey, look, I’m open minded, here’s my one right-wing friend” (almost like when a racially biased person has to start off by saying “hey I’ve got a few black friends).

      Overall, it really shows the delusion under which Leftists operate, that even middle of the road guys and those who pursue ideas DELIBERATELY (and therefore don’t immediately subscribe to the ideas of the left) must automatically be evil right-wingers.

      • That was my problem with it, and why I almost used it as the centerpiece of a post about the ethics of labeling. Essentially its an effort to pre-bias people about you before you have a chance. It’s a way to discount in advance someone’s views, basically saying “oh, you know, he’s one of those.”

        And I was the disrespectful one…

        Barry’s a smart and perceptive guy. I expected more of him.

  4. I’m sorry, but in what way was ANYTHING that you wrote disrespectful? The use of FACTS to back up an argument? The use of sarcasm? What?Frankly, Jack, I think Barry owes you an explanation as to what you said that was so offensive, if only so you don’t have to fear bruising the delicate sensibilities of his readers.

      • The “offense” comes when you question- in part or in full- any section of the liberal creed to which the self-appointed leadership deems as important to promoting a cause to which they have invested much of their political capital… no matter how much the ensuing facts of the case have discredited it. Think Tawanda Bradley, global warming, etc. The Left cannot be allowed to lose face in front of the populace. Therefore, any fiction- no matter how ludicrous- is justifiable and those who comment must doublethink themselves into a like mentality. Otherwise, you’re “offensive”. And worse- you’re a counterrevolutionary. The terms are synonymous.

  5. Obviously, this guy hasn’t seen you get edgy, snarky and cutting as you can from time to time, Jack. And do it without even breaking a sweat. And it’s invariably hilarious and directly on point. You being banned for this is kind of like a kindergartener being suspended for bringing an obviously toy gun to school. Horrors!

  6. Nothing detailed above struck me as being particularly disrespectful. If he wants disrespectful, he can check any random misspelled comment to a HuffPost article.

  7. Hi Jack – I have known Internet Ampersand for quite a while and that is his style. From his perspective, you crossed the line with the use of sarcasm to accentuate your points. The use of sarcasm inside an argument tells someone that they are both wrong and thick. In that specific thread, most of the comments against your position are indeed thick – as you say, with confirmation bias that generally leads to severe blindness. One of his ethical inconsistencies is that he does not apply the same standard for those who are on his side, and it shows in that same thread. He also equates the use of sarcasm that is based on solid arguments (evidenced by the long exchange taking place and being tolerated) with opposing sarcasm that has none of that. That faulty equation gives him a right to protects both his own position and those of his Internet tribe. It’s a very common practice.

    Your ethical breach is that you made their arguments look silly as they are with your sarcasm. The last time I posted there – several years back – I commented on how Americans are scientifically illiterate, or something close to that. This was after several posters were mixing astrology and science within the same topic and where not being challenged. I got a warning on my ethics.

    • “The use of sarcasm inside an argument tells someone that they are both wrong and thick.”

      Since I just posted a comment with some sarcasm in it, I am compelled to share that I agree in part with your quoted statement above.

      Sarcasm certainly can be intended to tell someone directly that they are wrong and thick. But that is only part of what can make using sarcasm a problem for the user as well as for the intended recipient. The user very well may be arguing only against the wrongness and thickness of the recipient’s argument, or even against only a part of the argument. Failure to use sarcasm wisely (and I do believe it can and is used wisely) can result in the recipient being provoked to believe that the user is simply bullying and dismissing the recipient entirely.

      But, when you’re dealing with people who treat their sensibilities with a self-defined and -validated “sensitivity,” such that the slightest critique of them provokes disproportional accusations of “disproportionality” (e.g., “Racist!” “Bigot!” “Right-wing zealot!”), then the sarcasm-user is communicating (or, attempting to communicate) through the recipient’s cloaking device – a “force field” that I have frequently called “pathological pettiness.” In cases such as those, the sarcasm may as well be intended to cut to the heart of the recipient’s core values, because all non-sarcastic attempts to communicate are going to be received and responded to with the same disproportionality, anyway.

      Jack owes NO ONE ANY apology for using sarcasm in the other blog.

      • By the way, I don’t think the comment was even especially sarcastic. Except for the one comment “Clever guy, that George. Quick thinking!”, which indeed was sarcastic, the rest was factual. All of the “Oops!” statements accurately, if mockingly, reflect the process by which clear evidence that Zimmerman wasn’t who the Left wanted him to be was ignored, rationalized away or denied.

        Sarcasm is indirect by nature. I think what was hard for the moderator of a hoard of Zimmerman-haters manufacturing bad arguments was that my post was very direct.

  8. Jack, as far as being left or right in your posts, I am relatively new to the blog (yours) and I can only find one adjective to describe you…”ethical”. I may change my mind after a year or two, but who knows?

  9. The problem wasn’t disrespect.
    The problem is that you posted so many facts that he can’t refute he now has to label you and undermine you.
    That is why your naughty comment was published with the hand slap lines through it and why your blog was labeled right wing.
    (Because we all know only right wing nuts cannot grasp the “real” story of Trayvon.)

    These anti–Zimmerman people have an agenda, and it does not include informed Americans posting the facts.

    I wish they’d spend some of their righteous zeal on Christopher Stevens.
    Then *maybe* I could work up some respect for them.

  10. Quiz answer: In what you said in your comment on the other blog, I don’t see anything disrespectful toward a specific person or even toward any specific group of persons. I do see, by way of sarcastic expression, disrespect for delusions about justice and injustice.

    I can’t fault you, Jack, for using sarcasm. You’re better at using it than I, from what I have read on your blog. I enjoy sarcasm very much. But I know I use it too much, and have done so over the course of my life since about age 13. I use sarcasm so much, I must continually work hard to avoid using it. I know you have yours under control; mine is still under control of ME.

    The warning you received about disrespect comes off as disrespectful in itself. It smacks of articulating a “principle:” Agreement is respectful; disagreement is disrespectful. (And there is no gray area.)

    To turn that “principle” into a slogan analogous to those we have seen on signs protesting the verdict in the Zimmerman case – that is, such as, “No Justice, No Peace” – the blog-moderator who scolded you, Jack, seems to endorse “No Agreement, No Respect.” That is, in effect, a demand straight out of the Playbook for Tyrants: Agree with what I say, or else, you will be disrespected, and I will be righteous while acting out my disrespect.

    [begin sarcasm font]
    Full disclosure: Oops! I agree with the Zimmerman verdict.

    Now, to dress the part of my obvious racist, genocidal hatefulness, with a couple of minor fashion specifications and caveats: I especially don’t like white robes, with or without crosses on them, and I absolutely cannot stand those ridiculous, pointy white hoods with cutouts for face parts. I will not tolerate being tattooed, and my head will not be shaved. I am a white Melungeo-Anglo-Saxo-Austro-Teuto-Prussian, so I deserve a little respect; there are a LOT of oppressed peoples in that devil’s brew of my DNA.

    I’ll settle for either a navy or gray hoodie. OK, now: Whom would THAT disrespect???

    • It’s still mysterious. Barry has debated here many times, and I have always given him free reign. Plus he’s smart. I can’t believe he doesn’t see how desperate and intellectually dishonest the anti-Zimmerman bitter-enders are, and doesn’t have the integrity, on his own blog, to school them. What’s more, my comment was on a thread that began with Barry using me as a target, linking to my post about the decision and suggesting that it was my “right wing” bias that led me to write that there was no valid reason in law or ethics to protest the verdict.

      I’d say attributing an analytical conclusion essentially agreed to by every respectable legal commentator deserves a bit more fairness and respect than that. (Barry also took down the reference to me, and the link, without noting so, which is also dirty pool.)

      He’s disgraced himself and his blog in this episode. In fact, on second thought, I’m taking it off my links—not because it mistreated me, but because it has no integrity.

      • I appreciate your comment there. I was pondering whether I would do exactly the same, that is, remove the links. I was not going to recommend it, for no other reason than that I have not read in his blog very many times. I am not a blogger, but I still think it’s profitable for one blogger to include links to other bloggers, even when (or if) different blogs reveal favoritism toward different ideologies, or reflect one or more confirmation biases, etc. But I do know from having followed your blog long enough to trust that you are amazingly fair, and diligent about avoiding a “slant” or skewing of views toward particular or fixed ideological convictions. A “quick reference guide” to your blog in someone else’s blog that refers to your blog as “right-wing” is not just unfair, but incorrect and misleading.

        Maybe your population of followers and commenters who disagree with the Zimmerman verdict are frustrated not only with your analysis and conclusions, but also with the extent of agreeableness with you among those of us who have spoken up in your blog. That would be unfair, too – calling your blog “right-wing” just because “left-wing” commenters have not joined in the discussion.

        I know I have been hard on Democrats in my recent comments; so maybe I have done you wrong by discouraging Democrats from saying things here, and so hindered progress toward a more ethical Democratic Party. I absolutely have not meant to monopolize the comment-space, or bully-away anyone who might disagree with you (or with me).

        It would be a dilemma for me, if I was a blogger, and had linked to another blog that clearly and consistently reflected thoughtfulness and civility, but started to refer to my blog unfairly – to keep the link; keep the link and “reciprocate” (attempting fairness); or “excommunicate?”

        • My issue isn’t with the reference to this blog as right wing—I know Barry thinks that, because he’s so left himself that even moderates look right wing to him. My problem with the blog is that if it going to be run in a biased and unfair manner, then I can’t recommend it.

          And frankly, at this point I view a stubborn holding to the position that there was injustice in the Zimmerman trial or verdict as simply adopting and facilitating a lie. It’s not a valid opinion or a respectable opinion or an intelligent or supportable opinion. It’s a divisive, dishonest, ignorant, bigoted and dangerous opinion, because underneath, what it means is that unpopular defendants, those who everyone “just knows” are guilty, should somehow be found guilty and punished without sufficient evidence to meet the required level of certainty. They are willing to throw an entire, tested system of jurisprudence, designed to make sure despots don’t start throwing people into jail on trumped up charges, because George Zimmerman had the gall not be the obvious racist killer they needed him to be. That’s despicable in every way.

          The opinion isn’t an honest opinion or an opinion at all, it’s a political position, factless and transparent, like arguing that dinosaurs are myths, that rape doesn’t result in pregnancy and that the Holocaust never happened. I think everyone has an obligation to just shut down and blow out of the water anyone, black or white, who keeps pushing these lies. Martin was not shot because he was “walking while black.” He was not shot because he was carrying Skittles—a particularly stupid lie—Barry used it on me on the blog—because Zimmerman had no idea what Martin was carrying. He could have had a piranha in his pocket, a yo-yo, or a human nose…so what??? This is the idiotic level that not only shameless bloggers but writers of letters to the editors, MSNBC hosts and Congressional Black Caucus members have, to their undying disgrace, have carried on this discussion, and the President ti HIS disgrace, didn’t have the guts or integrity to say, “Look, everyone. We base verdicts on facts, and there simply weren’t enough facts to be sure what, if anything, George Zimmerman was guilty of, if anything at all. Stop saying there was. There wasn’t. And you should be damn proud of our system, because it worked exactly like it was supposed to.”

  11. I see some minor disrespect in the first couple sentences, but it seems to be disrespect based on your conclusions. I don’t see a problem with that.

    I’d also like to note that while I don’t consider your blog “right-wing”, it’s definitely on the small c, non-crazy, conservative side.

      • At least, not intentionally. You do take conservative positions on issues which leads to siding with conservatives, including conservative politicians.

        • Strikes me as a cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy (rare to see tgt making one of those). Correlation does not imply causation.

          Or, as Ronald Reagan is alleged to have said, upon taking some heat for receiving support from the John Birch Society during his California gubernatorial campaign, “They endorsed me. I didn’t endorse them.”

          • I don’t think I said correlation implies causation. I said that while Jack is not intentionally siding with conservatives to side with conservatives, he does side with conservatives in the positions he takes. I don’t see where I’m making an error.

            • I assumed that tgt means that I frequently end up on the same side as conservatives, rather than that I automatically take the conservative side. Believe it or not, I reach a conclusion without considering its likely partisan appeal. I am often chagrined and surprised, frankly, to find a post of mine echoed some days later by Krauthammer, or Will, or Laura Ingraham or a noted conservative blogger…first, because I often was first and not infrequently it better and fairer, but also I know that the convergence will be used to bolster those who want to see this a partisan blog.

              And it can’t be.

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