Introducing Rationalization #63. Irrelevant Civility and #64 A. Bluto’s Mistake

The most infuriating comment threads on Ethics Alarms are those in which one or more intelligent readers are desperately tying to dispute the indisputable ethics breach, and finding no substantive ethical argument because there are none, desperately throw one rationalization after another against the metaphorical wall to see if they’ll stick. They don’t of, course.

Occasionally, however, there is a benefit to the exercise: in their furious effort to find an legitimate argument while hunting through the rationalization dumpster, one of the protesters uncovers one that the Ethics Alarms Rationalization List had thus far missed. So it is with one of the most rationalization-choked exchanges ever to break-out on this site, the debate over the cast of “Hamilton” crossing multiple ethics lines, thick red ones, to exploit the  opportunity for political grandstanding occasioned by Vice-President Elect Mike Peck engaging in the benign and supportive act of attending their show. (The posts on this episode are here and here.) Not only was a new rationalization revealed#63, Irrelevant Civility or “But I was nice about it!”—but my thinking about that one revealed that I had also missed another one, distinct but related, #63A, Bluto’s Mistake or “I said I was sorry!”

The total number of rationalizations on the list now stands at 80.

Rationalization 63. Irrelevant Civility or “But I was nice about it!”

This one is easy. Doing unethical things nicely is better than doing them cruelly or while laughing with maniacal glee, but the protest that an unethical act is somehow less unethical because of the manner in which it was performed is delusional, and no excuse at all. The rationalization emerges from the ooze that is #22, “It’s not the worst thing,” the bottom of the rationalization barrel. No, one does not enhance an unethical act by being polite in the process, or handing a victim flowers before kicking him in the groin.

I almost called this the “Frosting on a Turd” Rationalization.

An undeserved firing is just as undeserved if a nice farewell party follows. A betrayal of trust is just as wrong when the betrayer has the manners to reveal it himself, directly and with a sympathetic look on his face. Refusing to help someone dangling over a precipice is just as bad whether the bystander watches as he falls to his death, or sings him a lovely farewell song.

An unethical act completed using gentle words and a smile is seldom materially improved. By all means, mitigating the harm is an ethical obligation, but the core conduct is usually unaltered.

Rationalization 63A. Bluto’s Mistake or “I said I was sorry!”

A sub-category of #63 is #63A. Bluto’s Mistake, named for the classic moment in “Animal House” in which the chaotic Bluto, played by the late, great John Belushi, impulsively smashes to smithereens the guitar being strummed, to the sighs of comely co-eds, by a pompous student folk singer in accompaniment to his  off-key crooning.  “Sorry!” shrugs Bluto, as he hands the ruined instrument back to its owner.

Saying sorry before, during or after an unethical act is almost always insincere, but even it it isn’t, it doesn’t mitigate the conduct. Usually, the apology is being used to make the unethical party feel better and assuage his or her conscience. It doesn’t help the victim at all. True apologies are both admissions of wrongdoing and a requests for forgiveness. They cannot and do not change the nature of the conduct being apologized for. In too many cases, 63A apologies are meaningless, and are  attempts to avoid accountability.


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Etiquette and manners

52 responses to “Introducing Rationalization #63. Irrelevant Civility and #64 A. Bluto’s Mistake

  1. I see the cast’s choice as mistaken for a number of different reasons. But one is that I think it will backfire against them and that the public is tired to some extent of the grandstanding self-righteousness of the Left wingers.

    I am curious though — I hope it won’t be considered offensively silly — how ethics would decide Rick’s complicity in signing down the German in Casablanca?

    Technically, they should have allowed the Germans to finish and then have busted out with their National Anthem. But the whole purpose, of course, was to deliberately drown them out and to make a statement by doing so.

    The grandstanding of the lead actor and ‘playing to the audience’ was in the same genre, no?

    • Wayne B

      Your example in the case of Rick’s decision to drowned out the krauts in “Casablanca” comparing that to the “Hamilton” incident, really doesn’t fly Alizia. Comparing Mike Pence to a bunch of Nazi officers at an American nightclub full of Frenchmen? Now really!!!

      • Not if you view things from the perspective of the play’s writer, the cast, and the general viewpoint of the dominant progressive faction. It is completely clear and undeniable, from any perspective, that Trump and Co. speaks to — either by choice or inadvertently — to a sector of the population which, even by standard definition would be seen as Nazi-like.

        Look, I know that Casablanca is a fictional narrative and to use it is suspect, but in that sense too the ‘play-within-a-play’ of the lead man’s theatrical presentation was also a form of fiction. It is a kind of game really. A game of gestures and meanings.

        To the American left, right now, and even to some of the conservatives (like Glenn Beck) Trump is a manifestation of what they see as a dangerous and destructive power. Seen from their angle you could not, except if you really worked to deny it, fail to see their position as connecting to an ethical posture.

        These are *meme-wars* overall though.

        I think it personally would have been best if they could have taken Pence prisoner and ransomed him back to the KKK.

        Or here’s another one: captured him and hauled him down to Louisiana where they’d dress him up like Patsey in 12 Years a Slave (clutching her little scrap of soap) and mercillesly had David Duke whip him/her until he/she screamed allegience to the homosexual agenda, jumped ship, and joined the Man-Loves-Boy Underground …

        There are all sorts of interesting meme-war options … 😉

        • Wayne B

          These are really ridiculous comments Alizia. What in the hell does Mike Pence and the KKK have in common? Nothing. Btw, for your information that Klan was started by a bunch of Southern Democrats who were responsibly for all of the black lynching in the South since the inception of the Klan. Even FDR was afraid to go after them. I suggest strongly that you bone up on your US History.

          • It is pretty clear that you don’t read the NYTs!

            Nor do you follow the media generally which associate Trump with white supremicism. I doubt that you read either the Spanish (Latin American) press or the French press and so you do not understand how Trumpism is viewed from abroad either. Nor do you seem to read or understand the opinion and orientation of a certain and not unsubstantial percentage of white America that is revisiting the themes, if not the membership, of the KKK in its days when it was a nationwide organization with significant membership in many American cities.

            “Although the KKK had reemerged in the South in 1915, it wasn’t until after the end of World War I that the organization experienced a national resurgence. Membership in the KKK skyrocketed from a few thousand to over 100,000 in a mere ten months. Local chapters of the KKK sprang up all over the country, and by the 1920s, it had become a truly national organization, with a formidable presence not just in the South, but in New England, the Midwest, and all across the northern United States.”

            My understanding is that in the 20s and 30s the KKK had a sizable membership all across America. It is fairly obvious that you do not read or listen to the tremendous volume of material now being put out in podcasts, YouTube presentations and in written form on many different websites by white activists, white nationalists, white cultural chauvinists and Eurocentrics, nor do I imagine you are very familar with David Duke and his political base which is not insignificant and is growing, nationally and also internationally. That is, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the former Eastern Block, Australia, and even to a limited degree in South America (my neck of the worldwoods).

            If you did ever bother to understand these things better, you would in no sense discount the fear and apprehension of the Left and Progressives generally and then you’d be (IMO) in a better position to analyse the developing social conflict which has risen to the fore in recent months, but which has genesis in recent years. Were you to understand this conflict, and the crisis that will come of it, you would not have said what amounts to an ignorant statement about ‘ridiculous’.

            I assume as well that you likely live in your own ‘echo-chamber’ (as the saying now goes) and most likely have little and possibly no understanding of the ideas and concerns on which the Progressive Left constructs itself and its social-activism platform.

            But if you did, you see, you would be in a much better position to gauge and even to explain *what is going on in our present*. The idea is simple: if you cannot see what really is motivating people, if you cannot see it in this sense *through their eyes*, you will fail when it comes to communicating with those people. If you cannot really see *what is going on and why* you will more or less be left out on the sidelines of opinion. Your opinion just won’t count for much.

            Here is Richard Spencer, a man I admite quite a bit, who was interviewed on NPR just recently.


          • Here is I think an instructive piece which will help you and anyone else to better understand a group of ideas which, for most if not all of *you*, are ideas so outlandish, so frightening, that they cannot even be thought about.


          • PS: To help understand ‘meme-war options’ I submit the following. It is really quite hilarious.

            • That’s the dumbest thing I think I’ve watched; and I watched Thankskilling.

              • Agreed. I made it through 34 seconds and turned it off. Dumb.


                • ‘Cara de limón’ is what comes to mind. The English translation sourpuss is pretty accurate!

                  • No me malinterpretes, mi amiga Alizia.

                    No soy gruñon (bueno, tal vez un poco – pregúntale a mi esposa; me imagino que ella te diría otra cosa), ni aguas fiestas. Tengo un sentido de humór higantezco. Pero, el video no es bueno. Lo siento.


                    • Cada uno su gusto.

                      Out of curiosity did you recognize the various figures in it? That was some part of the humor. And the girl with the mirror sunglasses? You recognize her?

                    • Do I recognize Sunglass Girl? Nope. Would that be . . . you? If so, tell me why Taylor Hawkins from the Foo Fighters was lopping of heads at around the 1:03 mark. I thought of him as a drummer and a huge Rush fan, but not head-cutter-offerer-of-liberals.


                    • No, she was from an *important* meme that circulated this summer: a Russian girl in a training camp of some sort talking about ‘defending her people’ and ‘feeling empowered to do so’. The Foo Fighter (luaghs!) is The Golden One. A young Swede bodybuilder who got politicized to the Alt Right and posted many interesting vids. (You would hate them no doubt. My bf knows him and bought some of his Aux Armes shirts. The heads he lopped were of Hillary supporters and that is why you see a political button “I’m with her” flying through the air. Each of those faces, including Richard Spencer, Kevin McDonald and others are all part if the ‘meme’ wars of the various Deplorables. With all that info, and the self-mockery of it, it WAS funny.

                      But still my point was to only illustrate meme-war-making. Can I go now ? 😉

                    • Speaking of meme-wars and such . . .

                      Tex, I want you to know that you are I think my most favorite Cuck! A sold-out fake Cuckservative with a drained away discourse. One can do away with reading any post of yours since you do not, ever, deal in any substantial communication of IDEAS. But you do a fine job of insulting people, like myself, who is attempting to do so. So, as an early Christmas present I would like to offer you a presentation which talks more about VALUE and IDEA than, to all appearances, has even moved in you in your entire incarnation! See if you can get through it you fake! ;

                      One of these days I am going to come down to Texas and we will certainly have a duel. What are your measurements? For the casket? (Spencer BTW is from Dallas). How about that?

                    • You look like a sophomoric buffoon. And that’s being gentle.

                      You see, when I read your posts (which is rare these days), I’m always reminded of that scene from Good Will Hunting. Now I think you feel you’re a kind of Matt Damon in that scene…when you don’t realize you’re really more like the long haired blonde dude…

                      I know it’s difficult, but I didn’t insult you, I insulted the video you posted. Because it was stupid.

                      You should know I deleted about 6 paragraphs more. But you and your pseudo-intellect are a waste of time and not worthy of substance, because to you substance is just another opportunity to copy paste some of multi-syllable words you noticed on some website somewhere.

                    • Don’t worry about it Tex. I just felt like banging you on the head. You have insulted me from day one. It is your nature. You are harmless because you are free of any ideas and lovable in your way.

                    • Whatever helps you sleep at night.

    • No. Pence was just quietly watching a show, like everyone else. At Ric’s it was the Nazis unethically mistreating the assembled and hijacking the venue without consent or notice.

      I have never been able to say this before, but I was Ric Blaine …in the alternate universe of this post.

      • I have come to see the examples you present as ethics exercises. A way to flex and stretch and strain the moral mind.

        But you do have the *luxury* in a sense of selecting the terms under which they are presented. If one or more of the terms change, then the ethical situation changes. Takes Ric’s ‘Gin Joint’. One assumes that it had a public piano for paying and drinking customers and that it was normal there for customers to play and sing. Therefor the Germans were likely not acting out of character of the place. And, were they to have sung La Marseillaise they would have gotten a rounds of applause and much more.

        I have a feeling that Deery, Chris and the others have some part of a point when they point out the radical nature of the play itself. It is not a play attended by the conservative set. It is one attended by freaky liberal-progressives of unimaginably strange orientations. It is more or less in keeping with the whole tone of the play which is a group of radical lies and ridiculous revisions of History; the reworking of it to fit and reflect the perversions of the present and the outrageous novelization of the past (just like ‘Lincoln’ and just like Twelve Years a Slave’). And the people who attend the show, I am relatively certain, would WANT it to be disrupted with a topical drama. It is the perfect point for the interjection of it.

        The comparison between Ric’s Cafe and that Broadway theatre is only for the purpose of drawing political comparisons. The Nazis were invading and dominating Europe. And Trump & Co. are moving in the direction of turning back, turning over, reversing and thwarting one of the first and only significant progressive-inspired turns to the Left in American history. For Heaven’s sake they elected an Alinsky-trained neighborhood organizer.

        It fits into their world that the motivation for the grandstanding, if not the insulting act itself, was justified in and of itself. They did him no harm, they did not stop the show to make the point, and it was after all ‘just some words’.

        I don’t think there is an absolute formula to decide it. But then there is no absolute ethical system either.

        [Many don’t know that everyone on that stage has been rounded up and after being waterboarded and given zoltarectomies are on their way to Guantanamo for reconditioning, which I admit does bring up important ethical issues insofar as many of them had plants AND pets which require attention. Is it right that the pets should suffer for what their owners had done?]

    • joed68

      To some extent?

  2. Other Bill

    Both these new rationalizations are samples of one of my least favorite behaviors: passive-aggressiveness. And it’s epidemic these days. It tends to bring out aggressive-aggressiveness in otherwise reasonable people. I think there’s an argument to be made in favor of at least viewing Bluto’s action in context as a fairly rational reaction to a decade or so of folk music. Which is what makes it so funny. Plus, his “apology” is another spot on mockery of passive-aggressiveness.

    • Other Bill

      And show me one guy who ever pulled out a guitar and started strumming on it in a social setting for any reason other than to try to get laid.

  3. Chris

    To accept that “because they were nice about it,” in this case, is a rationalization, would mean accepting that any public message to Mike Pence after the show is inherently unethical. I don’t accept that, and find it ridiculous, and would find it equally ridiculous if this has happened to Obama.

    Pence was, if you’ll pardon the pun, the “elephant in the room.” Pence knew this. To expect he wouldn’t be addressed in some manner is ludicrous. The “Hamilton” cast chose the best manner possible–expressing concern, but also hope that Pence would work for all Americans. To stay silent and not address the “elephant in the room” would have violated the very ethos of the show, which is entirely about not staying silent and speaking truth to power.

    Pence and Trump are unethical for making Pence out to be a victim when all he had to deal with here was mild criticism. This is more of Trump’s war on freedom of speech and his determination to silence dissent, which is a much more serious and pressing ethics issue than “whether or not actors should say stuff.”

    • “To accept that “because they were nice about it,” in this case, is a rationalization, would mean accepting that any public message to Mike Pence after the show is inherently unethical.”

      DING! Not reading after that distortion, Chris. The context is everything. This is about theater and audiences.

    • Other Bill

      To accept that “because they were nice about it,” in this case, is a rationalization, would mean accepting that any public message to Mike Pence after the show is inherently unethical. IT IS. I don’t accept that, SO? and find it ridiculous, and would find it equally ridiculous if this has happened to Obama. COME ON.

      Pence was, if you’ll pardon the pun, the “elephant in the room.” VICTIME BLAMING. Pence knew this. HE HAD IT COMING. To expect he wouldn’t be addressed in some manner is ludicrous. The “Hamilton” cast chose the best manner possible IT’S NOT THE WORST THING.–expressing concern, but also hope that Pence would work for all LGTB, LATINO, OF COLOR Americans IN THE COUNTER PRODUCTIVE MANNER THAT HAS SO FRACTURED THE NATION WHICH HALF OF THE VOTERS HAVE GROWN TIRED OF. To stay silent and not address the “elephant in the room” would have violated the very ethos of the show, which is entirely about not staying silent and speaking truth to power. SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER. HAD TO BLOW THE DUST OFF THAT ONE. HAVEN’T HEARD THAT ONE SINCE THE END OF THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION.

      Pence and Trump are unethical for making Pence out to be a victim when all he had to deal with here was mild criticism. MILD CRITICISM? This is more of Trump’s war on freedom of speech WOW. HE’S GOING TO SHUT DOWN BROADWAY MUSICALS? and his determination to silence dissent, HOW’S HE GOING TO DO THAT? which is a much more serious and pressing NOW THERE’S A STRAW MAN. ethics issue than “whether or not actors should say stuff.”

      • Other Bill

        Chris, haven’t other people like deery already proffered your arguments in the previous “Hamilton” posts?

        • Other Bill

          And what exactly are you so afraid of Trump doing? How will he limit freedom of speech? How will he silence dissent? How is he going to harm so many people? What has Mike Pence threatened to do? What are you so terrified of?

          Obama’s EPA unilaterally declaring CO2 is a pollutant terrified me but I think the courts will take care of that. You think Trump is going to issue an executive order suspending the First Amendment?

      • Chris

        It isn’t “victim blaming,” because Mike Pence wasn’t a “victim.” Criticizing someone isn’t victimizing them.


        Yes. Did you read the speech? That’s exactly what it was.

        • Good Lord. Pointing out a specific person from the stage and placing them on the spot is, in fact, an act of aggression, and does make them a victim of wrongful conduct.And that’s why other audience members intervening is ethically appropriate, and why no cast will get away with this if I’m around, or any fair minded audience member with guts and principle.

          • Chris

            Good Lord. Pointing out a specific person from the stage and placing them on the spot is, in fact, an act of aggression, and does make them a victim of wrongful conduct.

            No. Speech is not aggression, nor is it victimizing.

            • Diversion. The speech, in and of itself, isn’t the problem; the delivery, setting, and nature of the ambush are.

              Do you have anything that isn’t a diversion or rationalization?

              • Chris

                And nothing about the delivery, setting, or nature makes it “an act of aggression.” This is hysterics.

                • a forceful action or procedure (as an unprovoked attack) especially when intended to dominate or master.

                  Forceful? Check
                  Unprovoked? Check
                  Intended to dominate? Check

                  By bare minimum standards, Merriam-Webster would say you are wrong. But that’s just a dictionary.

                  Sure he didn’t hit or cuss at Pence which would fit a stereotypical gut reaction to the term “aggression”.

                  But really, you claim to want to lecture Humble “as an adult” but it is *impossible* to presume you are approaching this topic anywhere above the level of juvenile yourself.

                  Please, I really implore you, stop embarrassing yourself.

                  The arguments are all out there and your responses have been nothing BUT rationalizations and diversions.

                  • Remember also that the audience had booed Pence, adding their hostility to the equation.

                    • Then again, as from the other post, theater is dying because Art in general is becoming an echo chamber of wealthy elite liberals hanging out to reinforce their false beliefs about America.

                    • Chris

                      “Remember also that the audience had booed Pence, adding their hostility to the equation.”

                      Yes, and the cast demanded they stop it.

                    • “and the cast demanded they stop it.”

                      If you are talking about the half-hearted “There’s nothing to boo here, ladies and gentelmen”, I do wonder how you define the word “demand”…

                      If you are talking about the pre-show boo-fest, I haven’t found video yet of cast members denouncing that. So… link or it didn’t happen.

          • Would your evaluation of the episode be different, if the message given, though still in “spontaneous” fashion have been something a bit more politic and less lecture-y like:

            “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for attending our show. Our nation has gone through a turbulent election cycle, and I hope that our show is an opporunity to reflect on our shared heritage as Americans. I know our leadership faces an incredible challenge uniting our diverse and vibrant culture. To that end, I would like to acknowledge an honorable guest who was with us tonight — Governor Mike Pence. Congratulations on your election to the Vice Presidency. May your leadership guide our nation as you protect our planet, our children, our parents, and our inalienable rights. Thank you again for honoring us with your attendance.”

            See, I know full well the **”civility” message doesn’t CHANGE the ethics of that this message was an ambush…but what if the *type* of message were different. There surely is room for acknowledging the presence of national figures is there not, though the delivery of that message make come as a surprise? Or would even such an acknowledgement be incorrect if it came as a surprise to the recipient?

            **I wouldn’t even necessarily say this was a civil message after watching it several times…

        • Glenn Logan

          It wasn’t really criticism, though, was it? He didn’t single Pence out and say, “I disagree with your politics, and here’s where you’re wrong…”

          No, what he said was:

          “We hope you will hear us out. We, sir — we — are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights. We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”

          This is not criticism. It is the unjust assumption of the mantle of America, that same America who elected Trump and Pence and not the speaker’s preferred candidate. It implicitly assails not just Pence, but all Trump voters as un-American, and disagreements with his laundry list of left-liberal policy preferences as illegitimate.

          The diatribe was not aimed at Pence but at the rest of the world. It was pure grandstanding, and intended to indict Pence in a way and in a setting where he could not answer, thereby making him “understood to consent” by silence via an ambush, knowing Pence had too much class to join the speaker in the ethics gutter and further disrupt the proceedings. Jack accurately described this as bullying, and it unquestionably was, at minimum. There is no ethical principle this assault did not violate, in my opinion.

          Having read you, I’m unsurprised you don’t get this. It is sad that there are so many people that can’t wait to defend this unethical assault by way of rationalization and logical fallacy, secure in the belief of their smug superiority even while shamelessly demonstrating their intellectual and ethical ineptitude.

  4. Schmendrick

    I agree that doing something nicely doesn’t cover for an ethics violation, but I am reminded of Michel de Montaigne’s saying “hypocrisy is the bow that vice pays to virtue” (bow as in “bow and curtsey,” not “violin bow”). The heightened politesse displayed by people doing something unethical often represents the tacit acknowledgement that what they’re doing is, at some fundamental level, wrong. It shows that ethical norms aren’t completely dead, which I tend to view as somewhat of a silver-lining.

  5. I think there should be a corollary to this Rationalization. It’s the, “Hey, I’m Just Being Honest” Corollary. That is a beauty. Any hurtful statement (e.g., “Your child is really ugly”) is immediately rendered magnanimous by simply adding, “Hey, I’m just being honest”. It is more cynical than the statement,”Just sayin'”, because it shrouds itself in the virtue of honesty and, who can argue with someone being honest, no?


  6. Steve-O-in-NJ

    Now that I think about it, the phrase “moral gloss” that I sometimes use, could also be a corollary or a subcategory of this, where individuals try to “paint over” unethical behavior with some value that might appear unquestionable. The other side of this is “moral tar” where you justify unethical behavior by throwing a repulsive value onto the target of your behavior.

    Examples of moral glossing:

    – Someone breaches a fence at King’s Bay and attempts to paint antiwar slogans or pour blood on one of the submarines based there. When grabbed by the SPs he argues that he was only there to advance the cause of peace and disarm a terrible weapon.

    – Someone spikes trees or deliberately damages logging equipment. When caught on a security camera and later arrested, he argues that he was just trying to help out the environment.

    – Someone shoots at an abortionist on his way to his clinic. When later arrested he calls himself a defender of the babies.

    Examples of moral tarring:

    – Tommy Franks is being honored by the state veterans and someone tries to create a disruption, claiming that the general is a murderer for leading the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    – Someone attempts to assassinate Ray Kelly, claiming that Kelly was a danger to civil rights and created a culture where young black men were hunted like dogs.

    – Someone throws garbage at James Dobson during an event, claiming he is an enemy of human rights and not deserving of anything but being silenced.

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