Let’s begin the new year with some additions to The Rationalizations List, shall we? Remember, any time you detect thoughts that echo these (or any of their 37 companions on the current Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List) you are either lying to yourself to justify unethical conduct, or adapting unethical reasoning habits that will lead you astray sooner or later.
38. The Pioneer’s Lament, or “Why should I be the first?”
This rationalization was proposed and perfected in the drafting by treasured Ethics Alarms reader Eeyore, who described The Pioneer’s Lament as being the rationalization of choice for
“…a person who avoids accountability, and who rejects the full consequences of accountability for an unethical act, by taking a position of, “Why should *I* be the one who makes an example of himself? Why should *I* be the first to suffer consequences, when so many more do the same thing and get away without suffering?” That is the persecution I might feel, and how I might think, if I was pulled over for speeding while driving amidst a cluster of other speeders: “Why am I being singled out? Why should I have to pay a fine for this, when so many others are speeding right along with me (and so many more are speeding by even faster than I did while I stand still here, kept from going my way, for this futile, revenue-grabbing police action)? How likely is any punishment I receive for this going to cause me not do the same thing again? How likely is any punishment I receive for this going to cause anyone *else* not do the same thing again? What’s the point of my doing only what I should, only to miss out on doing what I can like everyone else does, when nobody else is doing what they should do anyway?”
The presumption that lack of enforcement or punishment for unethical conduct means that the conduct is no longer wrong is illogical, self-serving, unjustified and unwarranted. Wrong is wrong, whether there is a formal rule against it or not, or whether or not anyone is paying attention to the misconduct at any particular time. Whether you are the first or the only one to face the just consequences of intentional conduct you knew was wrong, the systemic problem of inconsistency is the system’s issue to address. Your conduct, however, still reaped what it sowed.
39. The Desperation Dodge or “I’ll do anything!”
Desperation and crisis do not suspend ethical imperatives. Indeed, that’s when values and integrity becomes most important. Feeling like the walls are closing in and that all may be lost is when sound ethics stand as a bulwark against the temptation to prevail no matter what the cost to others. Hearing the voice in one’s head say, “I’ll do anything!” should set off the most jarring ethics alarms of them all, because the boundary between principle and expediency, good and evil, and courage and cowardice, lies dead ahead. If one is truly ethical, there are things you will never do and must never do, no matter what the crisis. Desperation doesn’t suspend ethics. It validates ethics.
40. The Evasive Tautology, or “It is what it is.”
Comparative Virtue, or “It’s not the worst thing” is my least favorite of all the rationalizations, but The Evasive Tautology is the most annoying. It is the increasingly popular rationalization of the eternal shrug, the genesis of “Well, what are you going to do?”…”Who can blame him?”…”That’s life!”…”It’s the way of the world” and dozens of other facile clichés in many languages that essentially boil down to the excuse of ethical surrender. This is the rationalization of low expectations, not merely a rationalization but a life philosophy of passive acceptance of wrongdoing, apathy, and non-judgmental complicity in life’s injustices and the lowest common denominator of human behavior. The statement “It is what it is,” whether by others or oneself, must never end an ethical debate but begin it, with the essential follow-up being the question: “What is it?” Often, the answer is unwelcome but simple, and the very fact the Evasive Tautology is designed to evade. What is it? Wrong.