I haven’t made one of the spammed Ethics Alarms hate comments a Comment of the Day for a while, but this one really asked for it. The commenter, who calls herself Sarah Bradley but isn’t, was spitting vitriol over a five-year old Ethics Alarms post that I remember well, the story about a mother’s attempt to shame and bully a cooking show star, Ina Garten, who politely turned down her sick son’s “Make A Wish Foundation” request that she hold a special live cooking exhibition just for him. The mother used her blog to call down the web Furies on the chef’s head, and I, as you may notice that I often do, pointed out that the conventional wisdom that the chef deserved the abuse was ethically obtuse, writing in part…
Garten’s refusal was not wrong, and it was not justification for criticism. There are many legitimate reasons for her choosing not to give Enzo an audience, including just not wanting to do it. Do all of us have an obligation to do a favor for a stranger simply because they asked for it? No. Do we have an obligation to do the favor if the stranger is sick? Young? Old? Dying? No, no, no and no. Accept any other answer, and we are declaring that whenever the Make-a-Wish Foundation delivers a request, it is really a demand, backed by the threat of public humiliation….dictatorship of the desperate, attack of the compassion bullies.
Would I make Enzo’s wish come true, under almost any circumstances? Yes. Ina Garten doesn’t have to. Would most celebrities? Yes…and Ina Garten still doesn’t have to. Being kind and generous is ethical, but saying no when there is no ethical duty to say yes is not unethical. If Enzo is making a request, then the request can be refused. If its isn’t really a request, but an order, Enzo has no right to issue it. There is a duty to rescue. There is a duty to confront and report wrongdoing. But a duty to comply with the random desires of sick children? Absolutely not.
I wish all of my posts were as clear and well-argued as that one. Yet “Sarah” thought it was deserving of an abusive, ethics- and logic- free attack, because she reasons like about 85% of the commenters on most blogs and news aggregating sites. There no objective logic, no balancing of interests, no understanding of values, no ability to distinguish rationalizations from ethical analysis, no ability to see a complex situation from multiple perspectives, no objectivity. All there is to support “Sarah’s” indignation and fury is knee-jerk emotion and pre-digested platitudes. She is typical of the average member of the public who has never been trained in logic or ethics, doesn’t understand why that’s a handicap, and who allows their lizard brain to guide them through life, making society and the culture a mine field for the rest of us.
I didn’t get into the ethics field to help people like Sarah, because people like Sarah are too far gone to help. I’m an ethicist to try to help people, and their kids, and anyone they may have an influence upon, to avoid becoming like her. When you can’t think any clearer than Sarah, you are incompetent at life, and others will suffer.
Here is Sarah Bradley’s Comment of the Day, on the post, The Barefoot Contessa and the Compassion Bullies: An Ethics Drama: Continue reading