Welcome To My In-Box!

-goonies-photoWhile I’m having colloquies with the mostly rational and open-minded visitors to Ethics Alarms, I am also fending off nut-case invective by, fortunately, the Angry Left, who are generally less frightening than the Angry Right, on my private e-mail account. Their discourse is instructive.

These sad zealots have been cyber-stalking me for several months now, I know not why. Clearly, it was some post that was critical of their One True God, President Obama, and this, in their eyes, labelled me a Tea Party member (since only Tea Party members are capable of identifying a hopelessly inept administration, apparently) and deserving of receipt of links to every news story that reflects poorly on a member of the Republican Party. Most of the time, I have already criticized the conduct involved, but never mind—these Furies seem to think that every example of a Republican’s misconduct is a dagger through my heart.

The most recent of these, copied in to a vast collection of fellow Leftists, plus my wife, just to clutter up her in-box as well, came from someone calling himself “Kenneth Martin”—I say this because I suspect that he uses other accounts and names to harass me. Ken–can I call you Ken?—sent me a link to the story about Rep. Grimm, which I had already posted on, with this typically fair and well-considered commentary, in bold:

“Funny!!!  The idiot’s already under investigation and they caught him on camera with an open microphone threatening a reporter who’d just interviewed him and asked him something he didn’t like.  So the ass walks away… and THEN comes back… didn’t realize the cameras were still running and threatens to throw the reporter off a balcony  and to beat him up. Don’t you lu-uv the Republicans!???!    LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL!!!” 

I know, don’t feed the trolls. Still, I couldn’t resist pointing out his logical fallacies to his large, copied-in audience, so I wrote back to all:

Hey, Ken, Thanks! I didn’t know Obama had appointed a Republican as Secretary of the Interior! https://ethicsalarms.com/2012/11/14/a-no-tolerance-rule-for-cabinet-members-dont-threaten-reporters/ Or that my own Congressman, serial thug Jim Moran, was a Republican

Of course, attributing Grimm’s thuggish conduct to all Republicans is not just something like, but exactly like, attributing Anthony Weiner’s conduct to all Democrats. Or Elliot Spitzer’s. Or Rod Blagojevich.

Please keep your hyper-partisan ignorance and bias out of my inbox. I have spam to read, you moron.

Ken, wounded, then proved my point by sending—just to me, this time—the following devastatingly witty retort:

“GO FUCK YOURSELF WITH YOUR INSULKTS!”

Which, you must admit, is as good an example of res ipsa loquitur as you are likely to find. Then, this morning, I hear from one “Kol Altai,” who may or may not be Kenneth Martin, and who also regularly sends unsolicited political rants and links, some of them completely incomprehensible, to my in-box and that of my long-suffering wife. Kol (is that name an anagram?) writes,

  “Wow, Jack!  One really has to admire YOUR “professional ethics”!!! Name calling!!  Insulting people because they don’t like a Republican who threatens to toss somebody off a balcony or break them in half like a boy. Yeah, Jack, you’ve got real “ethics”!!!  You’re really “professional”!!! “

“Hard not admire someone as lowlife as you!!!”

    “GO TO HELL!!!”

 

I mention this because of the ongoing civility debate currently raging on Ethics Alarms. Is there anything unethical about labeling the hostile sender of a moronic, unsolicited e-mailed message a “moron”? I don’t think so. I did not say that his opinion was moronic because he was a moron—that would be an ad hominem attack. There is no question that to conclude from the actions of one Republican congressman that all, most or even any other Republicans behave this way is a something only someone cognitively impaired could do. I pointed out the obvious and foolish flaw in Ken’s reasoning (Jim Moran (D-VA) is my Congressman–talk about thugs), and diagnosed the likely malady of its originator. Any other response would be to give the comment and the commenter more respect and credibility than he deserves.

Moreover, bestowing a title like “moron” communicates that fact that this e-mail and its author are not welcome in my in-box, and thus I will not treat them with the usual gentility that I would bestow on a guest. I might also call some screaming Eric Holder fan who bursts uninvited into my living room an “asshole” before I call the police, or have my son shoot him. Kenneth/Kol would probably argue that would be unethical of me as well.

But then, they are morons.

I just thought some of you might appreciate a glimpse of what befalls anyone who tries to render objective ethical judgments in hyper-polarized, 21st Century America.

46 thoughts on “Welcome To My In-Box!

  1. I would also add that calling someone a moron publically, versus calling him a moron privately, in response to an unsolicited e-mail diatribe, is significantly different.

    (I’d add that even in this post he is essentially pseudonymous (and thus not a public defamation), and that cc’ing all the other contacts, isn’t really public either – it could be compared to a private dinner party).

    Frankly if someone spams your inbox with unsolicited mail, I think that ethically you can call him whatever the hell you want (in private).

      • And it would not be a public defamation in any event. It’s an opinion, based on my view of his conduct. If I falsely and recklessly asserted that his measured IQ was below freezing, THAT might be defamation.

        • Yes, as soon as I posted I realised I shouldn’t have used the word defamation.
          I do think that even ethically there is a difference between private and public statement of unflattering opinions.
          Perhaps it’s more a matter of politenes than of ethics?
          In my imagination I am thinking of the difference between calling someone a moron when they’re standing in front of you, yelling at you (which is what I see private e-mails as), versus getting up on a podium and saying “Kenneth Martin is an idiot”.

          And then there is repetitive, long-term and thus potentially bullying use of the phrase (even in private), which reminds me (very vaguely) of your niggardly principle number 2 (which was certainly not the subject of this post, but perhaps is important with respect to some of the comments yesterday).

          • When emailing anyone who owns a blog, it is assumed that any email is assumed fair game to be published unless there is an agreement beforehand or if the blog has a stated policy of not doing so.

            This is known.

            What is more, you have no expectation of privacy for anything you ever send anyone that is unsolicited.

            • Which was my last quarrel with Barry, and what precipitated his exit here. He e-mailed me off-site and asked for a private e-mail discussion of our differences regarding his blog’s treatment of me, and then, after my assent, without permission made his private message to me as a continuance of that private discussion public (on my blog) as soon as he felt it was advantageous to do so.

              • My blog had (has?) a very specific policy for emails…

                As for privacy, you have none. At all. If you send me a horrible e-mail, I retain complete discretion as to what I do with that. Maybe I’ll post it while hiding your e-mail address and name. Maybe I’ll post the entire thing, complete with e-mail address, name, and IP address. Maybe I’ll do that, and take a few moments to dig on Google and post what I can find about you from publicly available sources.

                Who knows what I might do. What I can reliably predict is that my actions will vary in direct relation to how big of a twatwaffle you are in your missive to me.

                However, if you write me something civil, and ask that I not reveal your identity, I can reliably be counted upon to not share your info.

              • my assent, without permission made his private message to me as a continuance of that private discussion public (on my blog) as soon as he felt it was advantageous to do so.
                *********
                Not at all surprised to hear that.
                Shades of Stephen Glass.

          • 1. Politeness is ethics. (Kindness, respect, fairness, reciprocity)
            2. Calling someone a moron in public is by definition assaultive and uncivil. It might be justified, nonetheless.
            3. From a podium when the individual is present does seem like bullying to me. Not present? I don’t think so. On a blog? Not as public, or as direct.
            4. I would normally not even republish private e-mails that were idiotic or insulting, except that this is long term harassment, which puts it in a different category. I don’t owe these people any courtesies at all.

            • Hello, Jack,

              Interesting as always. Several unconnected points follow.

              Public shaming is both an ethics enforcement mechanism and potentially unethical in itself. You’ve objected to some other examples of it. The difference I see here is that it’s not a matter of making one slip into a matter of permanent damage, as with the Twitter-shaming episodes you’ve criticized. Your correspondent was engaged in deliberate long-term activity.

              What happens if you plug the end of point 4 (“I don’t owe these people any courtesies”) into the beginning of point 1 (“Politeness [i]is[/i] ethics”)? Both seem pretty solid statements but I shrink from the possible implication that they’re not owed ethics.

              Is it ethical to make a freak show out of someone who was already, voluntarily, openly acting like a freak? I’ve seen someone who made a regular feature of posting his hate mail. I confess I enjoyed it. It served a public information purpose. Yet it felt wrong somehow (set off an alarm).

              Where did we get the idea that email was private, anyway? At a guess it’s because publishing things is now so easy that there’s an implicit assumption that anyone who sends email instead is doing so for the sake of privacy. We didn’t have that assumption about physical letters, did we?

              Is it a continuous progression from “that statement was moronic” through “your last 18 statements were moronic” to “you’re a moron”? Or is there a qualitative change the moment it gets personal?

              • Wonderful, provocative issues all. This is why I wish I could make some money blogging, and I could take the time to explore all of them in the detail they deserve, along with the dozen or more that I come across every day.

                1.Public shaming is both an ethics enforcement mechanism and potentially unethical in itself. You’ve objected to some other examples of it. The difference I see here is that it’s not a matter of making one slip into a matter of permanent damage, as with the Twitter-shaming episodes you’ve criticized. Your correspondent was engaged in deliberate long-term activity.

                And there is an element of self-defense, with a cyber stand -your-ground element. Yes, I can ignore it, filter it. I eventually will. I still have a right not to.

                2. What happens if you plug the end of point 4 (“I don’t owe these people any courtesies”) into the beginning of point 1 (“Politeness [i]is[/i] ethics”)? Both seem pretty solid statements but I shrink from the possible implication that they’re not owed ethics.

                They are owed ethics, but they have forfeited the portion of ethics that includes friendliness. Politeness is ethics, but Ethics isn’t only politeness.

                3. Is it ethical to make a freak show out of someone who was already, voluntarily, openly acting like a freak? I’ve seen someone who made a regular feature of posting his hate mail. I confess I enjoyed it. It served a public information purpose. Yet it felt wrong somehow (set off an alarm).

                I think the answer is yes unless the freak is ill, demented, or incapable of realizing that he or she is ridiculous. See: http://ethicsscoreboard.com/list/wmhung.html

                4. Where did we get the idea that email was private, anyway? At a guess it’s because publishing things is now so easy that there’s an implicit assumption that anyone who sends email instead is doing so for the sake of privacy. We didn’t have that assumption about physical letters, did we?

                Sure—hard copy letters were deemed to be private, because the recipients knew it was bad etiquette and a breach of trust to treat them otherwise. Same with e-mail.

                5. Is it a continuous progression from “that statement was moronic” through “your last 18 statements were moronic” to “you’re a moron”? Or is there a qualitative change the moment it gets personal?

                I think there’s a big difference between “you’re acting like an idiot” and “you are an idiot,” though we all blur those lines in speech and practice, sometimes for effect or humor. At some point that varies by instance, “you’ve acted like an idiot so many times it is fair to conclude that you are one” becomes the case, and “you’re an idiot” is acceptable short-hand.

        • Yeah, probably not. But, if it came to it, you could always say, “I didn’t mean Celsius, or Fahrenheit. I meant Kelvin. It was meant to be a compliment, but he was too big of a moron to figure that out!.”
          -Jut

      • The question is not whether I can—of course I can—but whether I should, and whether it is hypocritical for an ethicist to do so. Again, I think it’s within bounds.
        ***********
        What I would do is delete without reading as soon as the crap hits your mail box.
        Eventually they will move on to someone else that gives them their much-needed attention fix.

          • That’s what makes disengaging from someone determined to create a flaming Armageddon is so hard. I try to stay to the kind or civil end but some sites have had to be abandoned when there are no moderators to pull it back. Thanks for riding herd on the heat here!

        • That’s pretty much the advice I got about bullies when I was in elementary school.

          The problem is that they can escalate as easily as they can get bored and walk away.

  2. Not sure why right-wing hate would be more frightening than left-wing hate…

    It isn’t right-wingers shooting up public places or setting bombs…

    Plus, the left seems possessed of far more fanaticism (born of desperation). The fed-up or passionate can at least somewhat be dealt with rationally, a fanatic not so much…

      • I’d agree with this. The loonies on the left generally have some sort of comprehensible rationailty and logic which only falls down because of some poor (dumb?) basic assumptions.

        The ones on the right … are just crazy.

        Mind you the conspiracy theorists on either side are the worst. How anybody thinks that more than 2 people can keep a conspiracy secret (let alone the vast numbers some of them attribute to a particular conspiracy), is beyond me.

        • The loonies on the left generally have some sort of comprehensible rationailty and logic which only falls down because of some poor (dumb?) basic assumptions.

          The ones on the right … are just crazy

          And yet it is the leftists that shoot up crowds and fly planes into government buildings.

          The right-wings nuts tend to just want to be left alone.

          • “And yet it is the leftists that shoot up crowds and fly planes into government buildings.

            The right-wings nuts tend to just want to be left alone.”

            I’m pretty sure things aren;t that simple. I’m not sure that anyone who does this sort of stuff can really be termed right or left (just crazy).
            Ted Kaczynski for example was definitely anti-leftist (I’m not sure he was right wing).
            Eric Rudolph (Atlanta bombing) was anti-abortion, anti-gay, Christian Identity – which these days is regarded as being part of the American Right.
            Timothy McVeigh also self-identified as on the right.
            Of course there are also examples on the left.

            • Why are not Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda cited as examples of right-wing terrorists? Surely they would be easty examples for the Left…

              • Probably because economic independence and free markets are not high on the list of values in Sharia societies.

                Don’t fall for the fallacy that claims theocracy = right wing. It doesn’t.

  3. Oh, don’t we all love our own particular brand of crazy? It’s strange to assign left wing or right wing to crazy. Crazy just is. Whatever side the nut job is on is not the thing that made the nut job crazy.
    What is concerning is that certain nut jobs get a pass because they chose their cause to conform to the correct narrative.
    I think cultural acceptance of left wing nonsense is what emboldens the left to be particularly virulent.

    • Quite!
      Although acceptance of the craziness also happens on the right – depending on which state you’re in (or which TV/radio channel you watch or listen to).

    • “…Cultural acceptance of left wing nonsense is what emboldens the left to be particularly virulent.”

      If that’s right — and I think it is — it’s our own fault that liberal cant is accepted without question, to the detriment of our society, our economy, the separation of powers in government, etc.

      And of course the left exploits this. We are a lazy, spoiled population in terms of picking our leadership, have no general understanding of the luck, history, or responsibility that are involved in the Constitutional right TO CHOOSE our own leadership, and allow the ideologues to spout total crap and we accept it. We deserve what we get, in my opinion. There are a few voices crying in the wilderness, and these, of course, become the real “game” of the liberal thought predators.

  4. Let’s start with the fact that I am TOTALLY shanghaiing the name “Kol Altai” for my latest D&D character. The name is an anagram of several things, perhaps the most notable among them:

    Koala Lit (books about Eucalyptus?)
    It All Oak (pidgin English brag about furniture quality?)
    Kill A Oat (Run, Wilford Brimley, Run!)

        • In the army we called it

          “Securing unsecured property”
          “Assuming responsibility of unsecured property”
          “Gaining accountability of unsecured property”

          Or any official sounding variation thereof.

          • I’ve been known to use “commandeered” or “liberated” myself, particularly when I was working at a summer camp. “Where did you get the new folding table for your paperwork?” “Oh, the arts and crafts area was remodelling and I liberated this from what I assumed was a trash pile…”

            • Resource investigated, scrounged, acquired, ‘fell off the back of a truck, honest guv’, surplus to requirements, received but not indented, POD unidentified, re-use, recyle and refurbish stock, written down to flood damage, accounting error, inventory error, incomplete assembly, spares….. swag, Dad was a quartermaster….

    • I think I like Altai as a first name better. Then there’s the “ALT Kal IO” the super quick computer techie business

  5. Jack,
    Interesting topic. You’re quite in the right on this, IMHO. But the issue of ad hominem attacks does come up frequently in your (delightfully engaged) readership.

    The distinction you make is a good one – if someone behaves like a total jerk, there’s no ethical foul in calling them a moron (or some other sobriquet if that’s too politically incorrect for some). But that suggests the foul comes from the one who first calls the other a moron (or whatever) as a short-cut to saying they disagree.

    There’s a lot of lousy public discourse in our world, only a small part of it shows up in your commenters. But you are uniquely positioned to make such distinctions, as to what’s a justified ad hominem attack and what isn’t.

    In fact, I’d love to see you do a blogpost on that issue – waddya think?

  6. I can’t see how they have a right to privacy when they’ve invaded yours. That’s a bit like a burglar claiming a right to anonymity when caught in the act. if they had dropped the mail at your house, physically. I suspect they might be dead rather than exposed, they were lucky. Not that I appprove of violence, of course. Perish the thought. Though a fire hose….

    But then I’m a left wing nut – of a kind,

    Impressed as always by the work rate. Thanks.

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