Ethics Quote Of The Week: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media? Didn’t we just call to task the NSA for intruding into American citizen’s privacy in such an un-American way? Although the impact is similar to Mitt Romney’s comments that were secretly taped, the difference is that Romney was giving a public speech. The making and release of this tape is so sleazy that just listening to it makes me feel like an accomplice to the crime. We didn’t steal the cake but we’re all gorging ourselves on it. So, if we’re all going to be outraged…Let’s be outraged that private conversations between people in an intimate relationship are recorded and publicly played. Let’s be outraged that whoever did the betraying will probably get a book deal, a sitcom, trade recipes with Hoda and Kathie Lee, and soon appear on “Celebrity Apprentice” and “Dancing with the Stars.”‘

—Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in an essay pointing out some of  hypocrisies and excesses in the reactions to the Donald Sterling saga.

"Gotcha! He's screwed now...but he's a racist scumbag, so it's perfectly OK."

“Gotcha! He’s screwed now…but he’s a racist scumbag, so it’s perfectly OK.”

Good for Kareem. I was just about to make this point myself, and preparing to be pilloried for making excuses for a racist. Kareem is a lot bigger than I am, and I’m happy to stand behind him.

I watched two African-American lawyers on CNN today erupt in over-the-top outrage that has become the norm in the “finger-wagging Olympics” that Abdul-Jabbar decries in the rest of his article. One of the lawyers called Sterling’s remarks defamatory—“defamatory?” Sterling didn’t say a word that was negative about blacks; he just said he didn’t want his girl friend taking photos with them. His comments constitute smoking gun proof of racial bias, sure, but they aren’t “defamatory.” The other lawyer called them “the most vile, disgusting...” on and on and on, comments that he had ever heard.  Really? I doubt that. You know, once you award the prize to Sterling’s racist comments, you have no more superlatives left  for really horrible racist remarks. The two sportswriters, Christine Brennan and Bill Rhoden, who preceded my commentary on NPR today, did the same thing. It was a contest over who could express the most outrage.

It is a small surprise, then, in this hyper-charged atmosphere, that the conduct of V. Stiviano is getting an ethics pass, as if betrayal doesn’t matter as long as the betrayed party is despicable, and what she did was justified because she exposed a racist to the world. It’s not justified. The ends don’t justify the means, when the means are betrayal and mean-spirited vengeance, and when the methods used threaten to become a social norm, turning American homes and bedrooms into Stalinesque trap where no secret is safe. We’ve seen this practice before and I’ve condemned it before: the Harvard Law student turned into a campus pariah by a jealous rival circulating a private e-mail to the people most likely to be offended by it; Alec Baldwin’s daughter releasing private communications with her intemperate father to harm his reputation; Mel Gibson’s girlfriend doing the same; e-mail jokes being intercepted and sent to political enemies as a tool of personal destruction; clumsy suitors having their fumbles turned into national ridicule by the objects of their affection.

I admit it: in the course of my life I have said some terrible, cruel, ugly things in the privacy of my home, to loved ones, close friends, and those who I knew understood the context, my tone, my meaning and intent. So have you. And if one of those comments had been secretly recorded and maliciously publicized and circulated, my career, reputation and life could have been destroyed. Do we really want to live in a society where a hidden microphone or camera and an avenging censor lurks in every corner, where there is no such thing as a comment that is intended for one individual and one individual only, where trust is for suckers, where no place is safe,and every one of us must live in fear of stumbling onto a fatal landmine of society-dictated political correctness? I don’t. Encouraging the slimy likes of Stiviano, however, will get us there fast; I think we are perilously close to that speech and thought-suffocating state already.

In a more ominous statement in his essay, Jabbar writes, “Racists deserve to be paraded around the modern town square of the television screen so that the rest of us who believe in the American ideals of equality can be reminded that racism is still a disease that we haven’t yet licked… Instead of being content to punish Sterling and go back to sleep, we need to be inspired to vigilantly seek out, expose, and eliminate racism at its first signs.” 

First signs?Like, say, opposing Eric Holder? Criticizing Obamacare? And who can guarantee that the vigilante exercise will stop at racism? If someone makes a gay marriage-mocking joke in the bed room, and a jilted ex- puts it on Facebook, is that to be applauded too?

Once rung, the bell can’t be unrung: Sterling should not be able to get a do-over because he was tricked and betrayed. (As Abdul-Jabbar notes, he’s had do-overs already). As I wrote in an earlier post, racism triggers strict liability: if you can hide it and overcome it in your conduct, fine, but if it gets out and harms others, no matter how it happens, you are strictly liable. I don’t feel sorry for Sterling in any way. But I feel sorry for the rest of us, and the nation, and our future as a free society, if we fail to condemn the way he was finally, decisively exposed.


Source: Time

Graphic: Silicon Angle

20 thoughts on “Ethics Quote Of The Week: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

  1. Bingo.

    But Jack, you are wrong, for Orwell’s Utopia to come true, we cannot trust each other, trusting each other means we might let slide a state-disallowed comment. When we don’t trust each other, our non-conformist thoughts are stuck inside forever or at least easily captured and destroyed.

  2. We need a return of the importance of privacy. It gets broken by the government in over zealous pursuit of terror, guns, and zero tolerance. It gets exploited by the businesses who analyze our data and sell our imformation. It becomes a full three-ring circus when the media-mill needs more ratings and sensationalism. We may object if we, or someone we admire gets ground up, but the justifications roll on despite the harm.

    • It doesn’t help that the ubiquity of the camera, present in nearly all aspects of our lives these days, coupled with the equally universal social media and internet and immediate communication has given our narcissistic culture the ability to publish ourselves with reckless abandon. These forces, present in one way or another since the advent of inexpensive cameras, and then the internet, and then camera-phones, has slowly but surely made us all unhealthily comfortable with NO PRIVACY. We have willingly surrendered a jealous protection of our personal lives to broadcast all our fun and “adventures” while not realizing that also surrenders the our jealous indignation we have for any violation of privacy. Certainly we’ll moan on end when our own privacy is violated, but for others, we couldn’t care less. In fact, it’s just one more item of entertainment for us to enjoy and condemn to make us feel better about the various dark parts of our own souls.

  3. The other lawyer called them “the most vile, disgusting…” on and on and on, comments that he had ever heard.

    Find his IP and pre-emptively ban him…

    Because the shit I say would fucking kill the god damned pansy…

  4. I haven’t seen anyone give the girlfriend a pass, if anything, the opposite, she is held up for ridicule on most sites that I’ve seen.

    I wonder if your analysis changes any if Sterling knew he was being recorded, as several reports indicate that he did?

    There have been previous indications that Sterling was a racist, but nowadays, Americans seem to need a smoking gun before racist conduct is truly believed. The mistress provided a service in at least that aspect.

    • I don’t think so. The reports “indicating” he knew claimed that the woman in question recorded him for possible biographical work later. This in no way implies he knew the conversation in question was recorded. Nor does it alleviate the problem, that even if he knew the conversation in question WAS recorded, that the intent was for those recordings to be stay private and only be source material for future work. I don’t see this changing her egregious violation of privacy and betrayal.

      Your last paragraph would make sense if racism were a crime. It isn’t. Racism, just like any bias, is a thought process and attitude, and those ARE NOT ILLEGAL; and thank God. As disgusting as they are, as long as racist ideas do not translate into conduct, such as refusing to hire people of particular races, then IT IS A MATTER OF PRIVATE CONSCIENCE. Quite frankly, it is NO American’s business who is racist until that racism translates into unlawful conduct, in which case, it is the conduct that is despicable. So yes, people do need, as you call it, “Smoking Gun” proof.

      The mistress provided sevice to NO ONE but herself. Sterling’s private ideas hurt no one. Her actions only eroded even further our sacred concept of the near absolutism of Privacy.

  5. Consequentialism aside, I am actively ignoring any and all coverage of the woman. I consider myself part of the enabling of the ethics train wreck if I pay any attention to her in connection with the Sterling matter. I do not consider as relevant, any detail about anyone else’s character or actions besides Sterling’s, as he has revealed himself, in regard to Sterling’s fate.

    Kareem seems to have a schizophrenic concept of justice. Maybe he wasn’t as serious in his comment about parading-around racists. I don’t know. (Maybe I suffer the same schizophrenia, when I go so far as to write in Jack’s blog to suggest that a terrorist group would be effective against sexual improprieties between students and teachers.) But words have consequences. Sterling has illustrated that. And I am sadder and ever more resigned to living amidst an accursed culture that ever more zealously embraces any means necessary to achieve all ends that are desired.

  6. I consider myself very lucky. I have lived my life in a manner which almost guarantees anonymity, simply because I didn’t want to have to watch what I said or did. Also, I am too lazy to put the work into it to become rich and/or famous. Nor, were the truth to be known, am I imaginative enough. However, as I slide into the end of my life, I find that this approach has a clear and obvious advantage…no one is going to care what I say nor why I say it. In the privacy of my bedroom, I can say anything I want to to my wife, knowing it is safe (among other things, she has never expressed any interest in learning how to take pictures, videos or voice recordings with her cell). And if, for some reason, I say something vile and despicable, and someone manages to record it, NO BODY IS GOING TO CARE. Yes, very luck, indeed.

  7. What’s that old saying, “you lie down with dogs you’re going to get fleas?”
    This guy should have been smarter.
    Why would anyone trust some slam pig with their reputation?

  8. Jack: There was one factor you didn’t mention that throws out all the ethical prohibitions about invasion of privacy, editing of comments, slander, etc. Mr. Sterling is a (gasp) Registered Republican. They don’t get many of those, so they have to grab for any opportunity.

  9. I have been watching this ethics train wreck in ernest — all the while shaking my head. I haven’t been active on this site for a while, but I knew where I could go to find some rational thought on the matter. Reading the post above was like having a drink of cool water after wandering in the desert for three days.

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