I awoke this morning to a polite, well-written, credible comment—to an older post—that immediately sparked an ethical dilemma. Maybe you can help me out.
The comment reveals unpleasant personal details about the commenter’s past encounters with a blogger who has prompted some controversy on Ethics Alarms, episodes that mark the blogger as a jerk of the highest order. Indeed, I had already diagnosed Blogger X as a jerk, and written about it. This is difficult to explain without revealing the identity of the blogger—let’s just say that his writings that attracted my attention complained about a phenomenon that was far better explained, at least in his case, by his character than the causes his many posts attributed to it.
Normally, this would be an easy call. I have frequently removed similar ad hominem attacks on some of you (you didn’t know that, I bet!). Settling old scores is not what this site is for, and the comment in question would usually fail for being off-topic. There are two reasons I am considering approving the comment.
First, this blogger, even before I posted about him, has made personally abusive and derogatory posts about me, because I have pointed out the logical, factual and ethical flaws in his blog’s arguments. If anyone has forfeited the privilege of my protecting his cyber-profile, it’s this guy. As recently as last week, one of the obscenity-laden attacks on my integrity on the blogger’s site was thrown in my face by a vile commenter I banned, as “proof” of my low professional standing. It is the kind of post that those who try to censor the web hire coercive “reputation firms” to bring down.
Second, the character issue is relevant to my old post about the blogger, which is where the questionable comment would be posted. Based on the evidence of his blog itself, I argued that the blogger in question was the primary cause of the problem his blog blamed on everybody else, at least as it related to him. I have no idea if the wronged commenter’s story is true, but it sounds credible based on what I already know about the guy.
Oh, never mind. I just answered my own question; no ethics quiz is necessary. Much as I would love to post a third person attack on this creep, who has savaged me so unfairly, an ad hominem attack, which this comment is, can’t be justified, and every other reason I can think of to publish the comment is a rationalization. There are at least nine from the list that I could use to good advantage:
2. The “They’re Just as Bad” Excuse, or “They had it coming”
7. The “Tit for Tat” Excuse (He started it…)
11. (a) “I deserve this!” or “Just this once!”
12. The Dissonance Drag (He’s such a jerk that it is inherently ethical to expose him)
13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”
14. Self-validating Virtue (Hey, I’m an ethicist—if I do it, it’s ethical!”)
15. The Futility Illusion: “If I don’t do it, somebody else will.”
21. Ethics Accounting : “I’ve earned this”/ “I made up for that”)
22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”
Every one of them would be a useful lie to convince myself that I wasn’t doing something unethical when in fact I would be. Down deep, I know the real reason I want to post the comment is because I detest this guy, and it would give me great pleasure to have his essential scumminess exposed to the world, undermining his position in the process.
The comment will be trashed, Blogger X.
I won’t be expecting a thank-you note.