The Golden Rule Distortions

golden-rule distortedA recent unpleasant visitor here sought to defend unethical conduct—or perhaps it is more accurate to say that she argued that no one was qualified to assess the conduct as unethical—by citing the hoary theory that only someone who has “walked in the shoes” of the wrongdoer in question may judge the ethical nature of his actions. This is a dodge, of course, and one which I need to add to the list of rationalizations. It is an appeal to purely subjective ethics, and ultimately no ethical standards at all, since if every individual is the only one who can judge his own or her own conduct (since each individual’s experiences are unique), then everyone is free to construct their own ethics rules that seem right from their self-centered perspective. The argument is also a convenient way to shut off dissenting voices: only the poor have standing to criticize the poor, only blacks can find fault with the acts of African-Americans, and since men can’t get pregnant, how dare they have any opinion at all on abortion?

But before I added this irritating trick to the Rationalizations List—I think it will be called “The Foreign Shoes Defense”—I realized that it is also another one of The Golden Rule distortions: flawed ethical arguments that seem logical to some because they are based on a warped version of the principle of reciprocity.

The Golden Rule, usually stated as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is frequently attributed to Jesus, but in fact it is much, much older, and is a basic ethical tenet, reciprocity, of most religions and many philosophies. Here are some examples; there are many, many more: Continue reading

Ethics Verdicts On The Elan Gale vs. Crazy Woman In Seat 7A Air Battle

Update (12/3): This incident has been revealed as a hoax.

The ethical analysis stands.

Yes, this is stupid, but it is the day after Thanksgiving, I’m still hung over from l-tryptophan, and there are ethics lessons to be learned everywhere, even in disputes between crude TV producers and hysterics.

You can read the details of this story here and the live tweets it generated here—Gale, a reality TV producer, gave a blow-by-blow description over Twitter.

In brief:

  • A plane on its way to Phoenix was delayed on the ground and one of the passengers angrily and loudly protested to the flight attendants that she was going to miss Thanksgiving dinner and what were they going to do about it?
  • Gale, as well as the rest of the passengers (presumably) found her self-centered hysteria offensive and made his point by sending her a complimentary glass of wine, some little bottles of vodka, and this note:

Gale note

The woman was not amused, and sent him this in return… Continue reading

Lessons From The Defenders Of The Wise-Ass “A”

Back at the beginning of the month, some obscure corners of the web were buzzing over the picture of a purported student exam that ranked an “A..Nice job!” despite the student’s smug punt at the end. Here it is…the section in the square is the section of the student’s answer that provoked widespread indignation at the grade. I first saw it in a post titled: “Some teachers don’t even care any more”:


To be fair, there are many and diverse possible interpretations of this evidence, and not enough context to choose among them. It could be a hoax, for example. The teacher may indeed have skimmed the answer, and not read the paragraph in question. The student’s answer may have already covered the topic sufficiently to justify an “A” (in the teacher’s judgment), and the teacher may have decided to ignore the non sequitur, stream of consciousness ending.

Or perhaps the teacher was like my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Cosloy. (If you are out there reading this, Mr. C—thanks for the memories!) Mr. Cosloy was a terrific teacher who had a healthy dose of cynicism about the way school operated, as well as a well-developed sense of humor. He poked fun at the process all the time, and allowed his students to do the same as long as they also did the work he assigned and showed some progress toward mastering the subject. I felt comfortable writing asides and irreverent commentary on his tests, and on at least one occasion he wrote on one of them that my answers were only worth a B, but he had given me a B+ because I made him laugh twice. We don’t know what the relationship was between the student who allegedly wrote the test answer above and the teacher grading it. Heck, that teacher might have been Mr. Cosloy…

Thus, I was not going to write yet another “here’s more proof that our schools are going to hell” post, though our schools are indeed going to hell. What intrigued me about the episode were some of the comments about it, especially this one, from a Bridgemont Community and Technical College professor named Machelle Kindle: Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: NBA Coach Jason Kidd

"Clean up on Court One!"

“Clean up on Court One!”

Needing a time out with his team trailing in a close NBA game with the L.A. Lakers, Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd used a trick he had apparently learned as a player at the knee of another cheating coach. Kidd “accidentally on purpose” spilled his cup of Coke on the basketball court. Naturally, play had to be halted so the mess could be mopped up, giving Kidd that time-out he needed to set up the next play. (His Nets lost anyway. Good.)

Later, Kidd insisted that his spill was accidental.  “Cup slipped out of my hand I was getting Ty,” Kidd told reporters. “Sweaty palms. I was never good with the ball. In the heat of the battle, you’re trying to get guys in and out of the game, and the cup fell out of my hand.” Then video showed Kidd telling a player, “Hit me!” to force the spill. That sparked a $50,000 fine from the NBA, but no acknowledgment of wrongdoing by the coach. Later he admitted that he “probably” shouldn’t have done it, “it” being “cheating,” but that he was just trying to win the game. “It’s about trying to win and those guys in that locker room, and I tried to put those guys in a position to get a basket, a good look and we did,” he said. Continue reading

Wait…The Judge And The Defense Attorney Were Having An Affair, And The Defendants Were Convicted Anyway? So What’s The Problem?

"Yes, counsel, I am throwing the book at your clients because I love you."*

“Yes, counsel, I am throwing the book at your clients because I love you.”*

The Georgia Court of Appeals has ordered new trials for five men convicted of serious crimes in Fayette County because their trial judge was having an undisclosed affair with defendants’ public defender.

Doesn’t  that seem strange to you? After all, the clients of the judge’s secret love were convicted and sentenced. Why should they get the benefit of  new trials when the judge’s evident conflict and judicial misconduct didn’t benefit them or harm them in any way (unless a judge making sure his lover’s clients get prison time is a quirky way to say “I love you” in the Peach Tree State). This isn’t like the horrendous Charles Dean Hood case in Texas, where a man was sentenced to death after a trial in which the state prosecutor was sleeping with the judge.

The Georgia judge-lawyer affair (and I thought Steven Bochco was making it all up!) came to light in 2010. Paschal English, who subsequently resigned as chief Superior Court judge, had been involved in a romantic relationship with assistant public defender Kimberly Cornwell, who has also moved on to new pursuits, ideally those that don’t require trust or ethics. A three judge panel recently agreed that this relationship, undisclosed and a clear cut ethical violation for both judge and attorney, required that there be new trials for Christopher Wakefield and Travion Willis on charges of armed robbery, kidnapping, aggravated assault and other crimes; William Nutt for aggravated child molestation and aggravated sexual battery; Rashad Arnold for burglary; and Calvin Boynton for armed robbery, aggravated assault, possession of a sawed-off shotgun and drug possession.

Hmmmm… Continue reading

Black Friday Ethics: Holiday Capitalism Hate In The Media

Thanksgiving shopper. How DARE they?

Thanksgiving shopper. How DARE they?

Left-leaning media and pundits are so biased against corporate America and the profit motive that they will concoct ridiculous theories of wrong-doing just to bombard the ears of listeners with accusations about how cruel, crass and greedy the nation’s employers and retailers are. There is no ethical basis on which to criticize Walmart, Target, Macy’s or any of the retailers who chose to lure shoppers this year by “Black Friday” sales that reached into Thanksgiving. None.  Continue reading

Tip Shaming Fraud On The Web: NOW Do You See Why Applebee’s Was Right To Fire Its Vigilante Waitress?


At the beginning of the year, we had a real donnybrook on Ethics Alarms over my contention that Applebee’s correctly fired a waitress for web- shaming a customer who refused to tip another server on the grounds, as the customer wrote on her credit card receipt, that the automatic tip of 18% was excessive since she (a pastor as well as a jerk) gave God only 10%. The indignant waitress posted the receipt on Reddit, which led to locals recognizing the pastor’s handwriting and appropriate antipathy being directed her way. Since the waitress’s conduct was a clear violation of Applebee’s employment terms and because publicly shaming customers who exercise their right not to leave tips is a poor customer relations strategy, she was sacked. Subsequently the unapologetic waitress received a lot of sympathy, while equally misguided observers vowed to punish Applebee’s for not wanting to be known for having  waitresses on the payroll who are prone to misappropriate customer receipts and post them online to bring opprobrium down on the niggardly diners’ heads.

I think Applebee’s is looking prescient and wise right now. Ask Red Lobster, which did not fire Christina Jenkins, a 19-year-old African-American server at the Red Lobster restaurant in Franklin, Tennessee. Jenkins served a $44.53 order to Devin Barnes and his wife. Barnes wrote the word “none” by “tip, ” and, Jenkins claimed, wrote “Nigger” on the receipt as well.  Jenkins then posted a photo of the racist receipt on her Facebook page, writing, “This is what I got as a tip last night…so happy to live in the proud southern states. God Bless America, land of the free and home of the low class racists of Tennessee.” Going the Applebee’s vigilante one better, Jenkins allowed Barnes’ signature to be visible on the receipt.

The photo, and story, went viral on the web and the news media gobbled it up. Mr. and Mrs. Barnes denied that they would write such a thing (they didn’t tip because the order was a carry out), but nobody believed them. After all, everyone knows that white customers in southern states are likely to write “nigger” on receipts, just as everyone knows that sort-of white neighborhood watch members racially profile black kids in hoodies for carrying bags of Skittles. Jenkins, in contrast, was besieged with sympathy and cash contributions: the latest tally was $10,749. A handwriting expert hired by Barnes, however, proved that “nigger” was not written by the customers, but by the waitress herself. Now Jenkins and Red Lobster are being sued by the Barneses, who have been subjected to harassment and threats.

And that’s not all… Continue reading

Ethics Hero, Thanksgiving Division: Scott Stuckey, Manager of Atlanta’s Omni Hotel

Scott Stuckey gets hugged by a grateful non-criminal Joel Hartman was homeless and surviving in Atlanta by dumpster diving, but when he found a lost wallet with the owner’s identification and credit card inside, he was determined to do the right thing. The wallet obviously belonged to a tourist, so the 36-year-old man checked the hotels in downtown Atlanta until he found out that the tourist (from France, for a conference) was staying at the Omni Hotel.

After Alanta’s Omni manager Scott Stuckey saw the surveillance video of Hartman—who looked as destitute as he was— turning in the wallet to the hotel’s  security guards, he decided that a reward was in order.  Hartman had given them a fake name, so it took some effort to track the shy good Samaritan down. Stuckey and his staff searched for a week, leaving messages with other homeless people that the Omni wanted to thank the man who recovered its guest’s stolen wallet. Eventually Hartman heard about their quest, and showed up at the hotel. He was shocked at what Stuckey had planned for him. Hartman was told that he would be the Omni’s guest in a luxury room through the Thanksgiving holiday with complimentary room service. The hotel also  gave him $500.

I think the gesture by Stuckey and the Omni was kind, appropriate, and in keeping with the spirit of the holiday….but: Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Ethics Quiz: The Kidneys of Orlac”

But first, a last act of altruism...

But first, a last act of altruism?

The presumptive winner of the annual Ethics Alarms award for “Commenter of the Year” in 2013, texagg04has delivered a Comment of the Day expanding the topic of the post regarding a condemned prisoner in Ohio who wrangled a postponement of his execution so he could donate his organs to relatives. Here is  texagg04’s  take on “Ethics Quiz: The Kidneys of Orlac.” I’ll have some comments at the end.

“First, a murderer or other capital criminal being held responsible for his or her conduct seems to be in conflict with the same individual being allowed to display charity when you say they  forfeited their freedom, all of it, with their commission of a  capital crime. I’m not so sure it should be viewed from that angle.

Punishment serves a variety of purposes. Some petty crimes receive punishment designed to compensate, as best as can be, the victim – the victim being dead, capital punishment does not serve this purpose. Some crimes are of an anti-social nature, and the apt punishment seeks to rehabilitate or reconcile the perpetrator to the community. Capital crimes are so heinous that we have determined that the perpetrator must be completely cut off from society, through their death. In this case, the punishment does nothing for the victim OR for the criminal; the punishment is designed solely for the benefit of society.

If the criminal wishes to donate his/her organs to (what we must assume is to salve their own conscience – even though we can, probably, cynically assume is just a delaying tactic), we should not care one bit. They are gaining no material benefit from the community, nor are they engaging in any direct interaction with the community – so the act of cutting them off from the community as part of the punishment is still complete. Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: NFL Football Fans

FOOTBALL FANSIn response to a question in a newly released CNN poll, a majority of football fans responded that the fact that the NFL intentionally withheld from its players evidence that repeated  concussions were inevitable despite the supposed protection provided by equipment, and that this would lead in many cases to devastating premature cognitive damage to players which would leave them disabled, depressed, violent, demented and/or suicidal until their early deaths didn’t trouble them at all, as long as they got their weekly Sunday football fix.

All right, that’s unfair. The results actually just showed that only 36% of respondents think that the NFL’s handling of the concussion issue has caused them to view the pro football league less favorably. No, on second thought, it’s not unfair at all.

I’m sure the NFL honchos who are determined to keep their billion dollar profit machine purring away, powered by the game’s consumption of the minds and bodies of young men lured by a short-term bonanza of fame and bucks, are whooping it up in their park Avenue suites. Yup, they did it! They have successfully converted much of America into crass, blood-thirsty sadists who are only different in degree from the Romans who cheered on Nero’s various bloodsports. Continue reading