Almost An Ethics Quiz: The Comment In The Queue


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.

You’re welcome.

I won’t be expecting a thank-you note.

45 thoughts on “Almost An Ethics Quiz: The Comment In The Queue

  1. Hey, you’re censoring ad hominems on us? How am I supposed to know who’s not worth arguing with if I don’t know who would reduce themselves to logical fallacies? This must be because you’re a baseball fan, and we all know they can’t be trusted.

      • Jack, I would like for you to (secretly) recruit Beth to begin commenting in your blog as the “anti-Scott.” (Nothing against Scott – to the contrary, in honor of him and his commenting technique(s)). I want someone from the left to stimulate us with performance art in the same way Scott has done and now established himself here.

        Beth is the perfect candidate. She has admitted what a “mean girl” she (ahem!) was. Surely, she still “has it” – I know, one never “loses it,” especially once one has his or her own kids to raise, and if anything, in order to be a parent worth his or her salt, “it” comes back with even more fire and effect than “it” had behind it, pre-parenthood – and she would enjoy having the outlet, especially since it would be employed in providing a counterbalance to Scott. (I wish I could brainstorm a good commenter name for her.) She could even team-up, if she prefers (and unbeknownst to anyone but you, Jack), with some eager fellow leftist-of-distinction-in-commenting-with-brutal-bluntness in other blogs or other forums. We all know they’re out there. (Yes, I admit, I deliberately used “out there” as a kind of double entendre.) Beth’s focus, combined with “Madame X’s” fire…I can almost imagine it. But I could never fake it. It would be such FUN!

        Perhaps new commenter “Shibbol-beth” (all I can brainfart for the moment) would re-invigorate more of the too-long-tgt-less debate across the elephant-(and-donkey)-in-the-room ideological divide. Hey…Jack, even YOU could secretly join-up with Beth on this. You know you could. We all know you could. You would be like a public defender. Come on: Surely it wouldn’t be the first time that a blogger gave his own blog a shot in the arm by commenting as an “alter.” (Am I tempting you at all? I AM The Devil.)

        It’s just a thought. The blog is great as ever. Even if I think it could use more comments to reflect greater friction and ideological opposition between commenters than we have seen recently.

          • “You are in fine form today.”

            You swear you weren’t in the military? That’s as good an example of damning with faint praise as I ever saw in the guidance on “examples of performance reports you DO NOT want to write – or receive.” I guess being a lawyer would develop such expertise, too.

            Come on, Beth! I am cheering you on. Make this summer longer and hotter, PLEEZE?

            • I don’t have time or the energy to be an adequate foil for AM. Two full-time jobs (Mommy and Attorney) keep me from participating to a larger degree. But feel free to take on the challenge Eeyoure!

              • I’m just going to trust that someone “new and true” from the left will come along. It should happen, especially since it’s an election year, and a semester is nearing its end.

                Beth, you paid Scott a rich compliment there. He is GOOD at what he does. I could not fake it. I am not at ease with the profanity in any case. I already fight that hard enough, striving to avoid it in my own mutterings to myself (and usually fail). You get the Supermom Pass.

  2. I appreciate your honesty and conscientiousness, to share a part of your own “inside game.” That goes a long way to (further) building and securing my trust in you.

    But I would SO enjoy getting a copy of the ad hominems against me that you don’t post! Unattributed, even redacted, so I might be unable to know or figure out even in what context they were sent. Why? Well, for enhancing my own PRACTICE, of course! I mean, doesn’t EVERY one of us secretly aspire to be like an AblativeMeatshield?

  3. Mr. Marshall, you’ve made the right choice.
    I’ve seen other good blogs descend into nothing but chaos over personal vendettas.
    I’d hate to see that happen here.

  4. I really appreciate sites and blogs that insist on a level of civility. Going ballistic when disagreeing accomplishes nothing. Telling us about the decision is a good example for others who may have a topical blog in the future. Thanks for the effort.

  5. In solidarity with Jack’s correct decision, I’m not going to link or name anyone.

    But I will say that from the context, my money is on some “Unemployed Law School Graduate” somewhere.


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