A Brief Message From The Ethics Bunker


Ethics Alarms was happily bumping along at record-setting pace this year for traffic and comments, and suddenly hit a wall about mid-April. Visitors have been down 10% or more ever since. Ironically, this occurred just as the registers followers of the blog took a large leap forward after being in a rut for almost six months. 2016 is still well ahead of EA’s previous best year, but an unexplained crater like this is troubling. Usually May is the blog’s best month.

At least one heavy contributor has gone AWOL due to Trump/Clinton depression, which I share.  I would not be surprised if EA lost a significant number of  Never Hillary readers because of the official position here, which will not change, that voting for one of the most untrustworthy candidates in U.S. history is the only rational, patriotic and ethical response to the existential danger to the nation posed by the candidacy of Donald Trump. (See: A Nation of Assholes; this, 7 months later, from George Will, and about 8 months later, this, from Robert Kagan.)

Sorry that the truth hurts, but there it is. I know a lot of readers don’t like the predominance of political topics this year, but it’s an election year of unusual ethics volatility. Believe it or not, I don’t post on many political issues I probably should, in order to keep this a pan-ethics forum and not just another public affairs site.

All I can do, I guess, is to continue to make my best judgments about the ethics topics that will enlighten, engage and provoke reasoned discourse, do the best job I can at explicating them objectively, and trying to make Ethics Alarms the best ethics commentary and analysis resource  available. Ideas and criticism–respectful, constructive criticism—are always welcome, and Fred and others continue to do a wonderful job flagging issues and stories that I may have missed. I have been getting a lot of abusive comments lately—they tend to get trashed or spammed— and that is never fun: combined with the unexplained drop in clicks, the insults erode my delicate ego and psyche, leading to crippling self-doubts and anxiety.

Well, that overstates it just a bit, but you know me. I’m fragile.

I know this isn’t a race or a competition. Ethics Alarms is sui generis. It doesn’t run ads, so a drop in activity doesn’t have tangible effects, only emotional ones. I just want to do a good job, because this is important.

156 thoughts on “A Brief Message From The Ethics Bunker

  1. At least one heavy contributor has gone AWOL due to Trump/Clinton depression, which I share. I would not be surprised if EA lost a significant number of Never Hillary readers because of the official position here, which will not change, that voting for one of the most untrustworthy candidates in U.S. history is the only rational, patriotic and ethical response to the existential danger to the nation posed by the candidacy of Donald Trump. (See: A Nation of Assholes; this, 7 months later, from George Will, and about 8 months later, this, from Robert Kagan.)

    So how is Gary Johnson so unethical, in your opinion?

  2. You are doing a great job, Jack. As you state, the ethics debate is closely related to the presidential campaign. I think posters and readers are taking a “timeout” to catch their breath before the great push through the conventions and the general election commences.

    Now, get back out there and ethicize!

  3. Although you and I are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, I enjoy reading your posts and I learn a great deal from them, even when I (often) disagree with your observations. You “make me think,” and for that I am truly grateful. Keep up the good work, Jack!

  4. I can understand self-doubt. I’ve been there at times. Sometimes, you need to ignore them. Other times, they are a warning system that something is wrong and you need to re-consider something.

    I cannot speak for what these doubts you are feeling are. I will admit to having profound disagreements in recent months (I am #NeverHillary, among other things – I’m sorry, but I have friends and family members who have held security clearances, and had they done what Hillary did, they’d be facing prison terms. Hillary is clearly getting special treatment in this regard, despite he fact she has probably committed serious felonies in this regard), but I always look forward to the posts.

  5. For the most part, Jack, you are civil and stay on topic. I can’t say that for all of your commenters. And for some of us that’s a deterrent to posting comments with unpopular sentiments. Of course that doesn’t affect clicking in — just commenting. But I wonder if there are times when some commenters see the topic and know ahead of time that it’s the type of post to which the commenters who are less civil are likely to post.

    For my part, I read about 99% of your blog posts, even if I don’t comment. I just don’t always have something to say that furthers the discussion.

    Keep up the good work, Jack. It IS important.

    • Ditto. I read almost every entry.

      There are entries that I read, but that I refrain from posting on because I have either nothing to add or simply don’t know enough to be able to offer an educated opinion.

    • Same here. I read every post, but don’t comment often. So many times the comments are so good that I can’t add a thing.

    • Same here, though I haven’t been reading as much as I really should in general lately. That said, the fact that you and others still have the endurance to closely follow the mess that is this year’s presidential race without going mad is amazing in and of itself (honestly, I sometimes get less depressed reading another blog I follow about Hong Kong politics, and they have to deal with a plu/kleptocracy that makes what we have in the “West” look like fairy tale utopian socialism).

  6. Jack – I’ve noticed my participation in my usual haunts is way down. I’m discouraged by so much – the political situation and choices, the generally unhappy state of the world, the unbelievably stupid things being discussed (bathroom occupants, really?), and – most important to me – the overwhelming lack of empathy and compassion that seems to pervade every discussion on just about every topic. I’m usually the optimist’s optimist, but there seems to be just a little more wrong in the world these days than this liberal’s bleeding heart can tolerate.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this is nothing more than fatigue – for me, almost complete exsanguination. It never seems to get better and the incivility that seems to accompany the expression of even the slightest dissenting opinion is not worth it. I can’t recall a time when I have encountered more entrenched inflexibility – on every side and in both camps! Recently, it’s not unusual for me to get through most of a responsive paragraph only to jettison it with a “what’s the point?” (actually, it’s an “aw – fuck it . . .”). The direction of the conversation/thread/discussion is depressingly circular – my time is better spent elsewhere.

    Poor me.

    I use Ethics Alarms as a point of reference for quite a few issues – it is not surprising me to that people with even a modicum of thoughtfulness are withdrawing from the fray.

    • I share much of the same sentiments with Mark, except for the bleeding heart. Mine bleeds a little, but it is mostly just tender. I read at least once a week and am grateful for this place to take my ethics pulse. I agree we are facing an existential crisis and when I come here to get your take on the matters at hand, you rarely disappoint, Jack. I would really miss this if it were gone. At times the comments are excellent at broadening the topic. A post on abortion comes to mind – really excellent commentary! I always skim through the comments section. Years ago there was a frequent poster here who had a lot of rope with his incivility and he was successful strangling me with it. Once. I left for a long time. But finding myself curious about what you had to say regarding a baseball case, I came back and saw that you’d tossed the guy who rained on my parade. So, while I continue to read frequently, I am not one to contribute much by way of comments. Either I don’t have anything better to say than what others have contributed, or I’m not interested in engaging in a heated anonymous discussion without the benefit of facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, cadence, etc. I am here for your brilliant analysis, but I have to admit, the photos, movie/theater references and baseball delight, too!

  7. I suspect I’m not the only one feeling a helpless frustration at the presidential disg-race. My state is late enough that the ‘nomintion’ is always sewn up, so I’m stuck with no say. When I’m sure who I plan to vote for, the ads for next 6 months make me want to hide from ALL media. The sad thing is that similar leplessness and frustration is what were the incubators of some candidates, but worse.

  8. You don’t know how many quotes from you and the commenters here are archived under my “Favorite Quotes” page….quotes to be shared with others as the occasion arises. This often is my sanity blog – confirming that the ethical transgressions I see are seen by others. For example,

    “Most Americans wear some shade of partisan goggles, making it harder to see ethical violations by those they are sympathetic to and easier to see them by those they are not. It doesn’t help that there are any number of partisan dyes (racism, sexism, patriotism) we can release to further cloud the waters we swim in with these goggles on. Eventually there’s so much dye in the water and the lenses become so tinted that everyone forgets what clear water actually looks like.” A comment on Ethics Alarms

    This sums up the service Jack Marshall provides – trying ever so valiantly to knock the partisan goggles from our eyes.

  9. Most days I wake up (six hours ahead of East Coast time) and say to myself, “I’m not going to read what Jack’s up to today. He’s always on point and trenchant and cuts through the baloney like very few others and he’s always eloquent and most often funny, but it’s like watching Sisyphus.” Then I open up the page. Then I say, I’m not going to comment….”

    It’s general exhaustion, Jack. It’s nothing personal. At least you’ve got that big DOJ contract coming your way.

  10. Sorry Jack about the probably temporary crater in visitors. I do not agree that voting for Hillary over Trump is the only rational thing to do. The idea that Bill Clinton will ever have anything to say about how this Nation is run as a senior advisor appalls me. In addition, if Hillary wins the Presidency, she will be in a position to appoint new Supreme Court Justices which will leave us with more Sonia Sotomayors or worse. This will drastically effect the U.S.A. for years to come. Sorry, but I have joined the Never Hillary crowd and will not turn back.

  11. I’ll add my voice to all the others who are saying they like your blog. I get a lot of emails and have thought of unsubscribing or blocking different groups but I don’t think it will be yours. I am really enjoying your blog. I think we probably disagree on somethings but I find it heartening that you can still see right and wrong when so many people can’t. I don’t feel lost in a sea of craziness when I read your blog. I appreciate the work you are putting into it. Hang in there. Don’t despair. You are not alone in the internet world.

  12. It doesn tf help that most of yor well-written but not always well-considered prose,is,about HRC or The Donald and we already know what you are going to say as soon as their blood-dripping names appear. You might want to look for new materual.

    Also, I think — especially but not exclusively in the above matters — you confuse ethics with opinipn, or your screed lacks context which could offer the reader more information to judge your writing. Just as an example, with all your malice towards Hillary, there have been ample one-suded, and also fair, investigations of her. To my knowledge she hasn’t been charged or convicted in a court of anything. Also, ALL politicians change theircpositipns, and ALL complex legislation has flaws

  13. Is it better to not vote or to vote for someone who has no chance?

    I’ve said a few times: If the only choice is Hilary or Trump, my choice is “crack the cyanide capsule hidden in my tooth and wait ten seconds for death.” (This was long before that obituary you featured here the other day). I really just do not want either of them to be President, and I don’t want to vote for either of them, even if it cancels out the vote the other. If I could somehow vote for “Neither of these schmucks” and cancel out one vote for each of them, I’d do that, even if it made absolutely no mathematical difference at all.

    The only circumstance in which I would have voted for Trump would be if somehow him being President would be worse for him than it would be for the country. But I gave up that dream months and months ago, as he’s got some sort of magical scandal judo that makes him come out more powerful the more asinine stuff he says. Him coming out as anti-vaccine cements my desire never to see him in the presidency, so even if he went back on that, I will not vote for him.

    I’ve been dreading a Hillary presidency since 2003ish. I thought, “why do we need to follow up a relative of a former president to another one?” I really, really don’t want her to be President. There is really no circumstance in which I will vote for her, either. It seems like the typical Machiavellian Clintonian ploy to somehow conjure a candidate that makes her seem like the only choice. If Clinton was financing his run for President to make herself look better, I would believe it.

    I forgot which year it was, but one year left me disenfranchised enough to write in “No One” on every write-in candidate line. I did vote yay or nay on a few of the propositions, the ones I had an opinion about.

    As it is, if they really are the choices we have at the end… I will either not vote or write in Lincoln Chafee. And I don’t even think he was a good or effective governor. Chafee as President would be make Jimmy Carter look like LBJ.

    It’s not crucially important to me that I vote. But it is important that, when I vote, I do it for someone that I actually believe in, rather than play some cockamamie game of “Somewhat Less Shitty.”

    But no matter who I vote for… I’ll surely be reading this blog, as I have for the last twelve years.

  14. Jack,

    I have been with you for a long time and I doubt there are more than a handful of posts that I haven’t read, even when I was deployed in the middle of nowhere I would try to stay up to date and when I couldn’t I would go back and read the 7 or more months of posts I missed. I am not as conservative as I used to be and it is your fault, you have brought me around on a lot of subjects. I am a Marine, an old Marine who needs to retire soon as too many changes are hitting all at once and I am too disgruntled to be as good a leader as I should be. You have helped me help many of my Marines adjust by putting many of the social changes being forced on us in context, I still don’t agree with many of the changes but that’s why they call them Orders.

    I still read every post and will continue to do so but unlike many other time I haven’t agreed with you, your call on voting for Clinton diminished you in my eyes, I don’t say that to wound you but to let you know the depth of disagreement. I despise Trump but he hasn’t committed felonies and no matter how awful his ideas are he is still “qualified” to be president. Hillary has broken the law, she has peddled her influence, she has enabled a rapist, she has damaged national security and she has lied to the American people while in office. By virtue of not holding an official government position in his life Trump has done none of these things and would be hard pressed to actually rack up such a record in four years. I despise him and think he would be a bad president but I don’t think he could be worse constitutionally, just prestige, than Obama has been and Hillary would likely be.

    I base my position on ethics, on my compass that you have helped me calibrate.

    When I read that you are convinced Hillary should be president based on the greater good I can’t help but think you are rationalizing, that bias may be effecting your compass.

    I just cannot sanction with my vote that it is acceptable to elect such a corrupt and unethical person as Hillary to the oval office. It is a slippery slope that will eventually end with a dictatorship. Trump is guilty of having poor taste and terrible ideas, it will be congresses job to keep those bad ideas in check and the next Presidents job to restore dignity to the office.

    For now keep up the good work Jack and I will remind you how much better President Trump may have been in the years to come.

    • When I read that you are convinced Hillary should be president based on the greater good I can’t help but think you are rationalizing, that bias may be effecting your compass.

      The rationalization you were looking for is #22.

  15. I’m still a nearly-every-day reader, too, Jack. I suspect I’ll always appreciate the logical and relatively unbiased approach you take, even when we don’t end up agreeing (Count me in for neverhillary – if your choice is between an asshole and a crook, , I can’t put a crook in charge of the justice system, even if the other guy does promise to be spectacularly bad at the job) Your dogged determination, methodical approach, and sheer quantity and quality of posts are greatly appreciated. Thank you for all your hard work.

  16. Please Carry on, Jack. I learn more when I disagree with you than when I agree, but I learn then too. OK, I’m selfish, seeing your blog as something useful to me personally.

  17. I’ve only been not reading every article for a few days… I didn’t think you’d notice…

    Actually, I’ve been getting involved with some effective altruism organizations like Intentional Insights, and reading some rational fics, so that’s taken a slight bit of my focus away from here. Rest assured, though, Jack, that you’re still my foremost source of political news.

    If you (or anyone else) want to get involved in spreading rationality, I can hook you up with some of the leading organizations in the field.

    Furthermore, I’m revamping my world-changing plans to be much more user-friendly: I’ll help people develop the skills to better handle the lives they’re currently living, and then they’ll be much more comfortable making big changes for themselves and promoting change in the world around them. They’ll probably come up with the idea of changing the world themselves, since they’ll know change is possible now, and extend what they learn to envision a better society. Once the new paradigm settles in my head, I’ll revise and post the blog article drafts I have about the plan.

      • You are spreading rational ideas. However, the skill of rationality will not make its way into people’s heads simply by reading Ethics Alarms unless they are predisposed to it.

        What I am designing is a way to spread rationality even to people who are primed to fear the truth. The basic concept is simple: assuage their fears. That’s something you and most other people here don’t bother to do.

        Assuaging people’s fears requires a comprehensive understanding of what those fears can be, ways to diagnose them, and most importantly ways to address them. Some fears can be addressed by practical measures. Some merely require an expression of goodwill that engenders trust. Still others need to be displaced with a sense of confidence that takes time, diligence, and creativity to build.

        You identify unethical behavior with the incisive scalpel of rationality, separating the noble from the inconsequential from the excusable from the unacceptable. However, there is precious little comfort, succor, or escape offered to those who find themselves on the wrong side of the cuts you make. The fear of condemnation, not only by others, but also by themselves, is what you must counteract in order to get them to admit and correct their mistakes. That is how you spread rationality.

        Ethics Alarms as a concept is absolutely necessary to create a path to a better world. But in its current state, it is not sufficient.

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