The discussions on two recent posts revealed more holes in the Ethics Alarms Unethical Rationalizations List, and these two new additions fill them. I know there are more. #24 will take the place of the current #24, “The Free Speech Confusion,” which is now 24 A. It is properly a sub-rationalization of the new #24. #36 A is a new sub-category of #36, Victim Blindness, or “They/He/She/ You should have seen it coming.”
#24. Juror 3’s Stand (“It’s My Right!”)
In the climax of “Twelve Angry Men,” a juror who had been advocating a guilty verdict for a teenager accused of murdering his father finds himself the only remaining member of the jury who refuses to accept that there is reasonable doubt about the defendant’s guilt. It is dawning on him that his certitude is based more on stubbornness, ego, emotion and bias than facts, but before he gives in, his last argument to support his vote is to shout, “It’s my right!” He finally realizes, however, that his right to be unjust doesn’t excuse him. We all have a right to do many terrible, unfair, wrongful and harmful things. People have a right to have children they can’t take care of, for example. They have a right to be unfaithful to their spouses, to misrepresent their affections to partners who think they are loved. Parents have a right to warp the values and education of their children. People have a right to accept jobs that they are unqualified to do well; they have a right not to retire long after they know they have become incompetent. We have a right to be biased, to be prejudiced, and to hate irrationally. We have a right to vote, even if we vote ignorantly and without meeting our duty to be informed citizens. The issue in which this rationalization was raised on Ethics Alarms was a news story about a grandmother who killed her cat and kittens to punish her grandchildren. Yes, she had a right to kill them, for they were her property. A billionaire could buy a great work of art and destroy it on a whim, too. Gratuitous, wanton or cruel destruction of property that others derive joy or practical use from, however, is still unethical.
Yes, we often have a right to do something wrong. Using rights that way, however, is to abuse them
#36 A. The Extortionist’s Absolution (“You were warned!”)
#36, Victim Blindness, is the rationalization that attempts to shift responsibility for wrongdoing to the victims of it, who, the theory goes, knew or should have known that their actions would inspire the conduct that caused the harm, and thus it was their responsibility to either avoid doing what sparked the unethical response, or by not avoiding it, they waived their right to object to the results. The rationalization takes the side of the treacherous scorpion in the fable of “The Scorpion and the Frog.” #36 A, “Extortion Ethics,” takes that argument one step further, asserting that a victim’s defiance of a threat or warning that unethical conduct will be the response to an ethical action constitutes a waiver of ethical principles by the victim.
It doesn’t. The fact that a victim ignored a warning may make him guilty of negligence, or recklessness, or foolishness, or bad judgment, but it doesn’t mitigate the unethical quality of the threatened response in any way. The law takes the same approach. A “Trespassers will be shot!” sign doesn’t give a property owner the right to shoot trespassers with impunity. “The Extortionist’s Absolution” rationalizes that the threat “Do what I want or I’ll harm you!” removes all future ethical responsibility from the potential harm. This does not apply, of course, to a warning that is reasonable and justified, of consequences that are proportionate, legal and fair.