Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/27/2018: Petards, Conflicts, And Bullshit Edition

Good Morning!

1. Oh no! Hoisted by my own petard! I’m pretty certain that Clinton fixer Lanny Davis has an unwaivable conflict of interest in his representation of Trump fixer Michael Cohen. The legal ethics establishment is soft-peddling the issue because most legal ethicists apparently hate President Trump more than they like ethical lawyering, but I’ve been wrestling over whether to file a disciplinary complaint. The problem is that any complaint that has even a tinge of political motivation won’t be touched by the Bar (if prior performance is any indicator), so a complaint by me would be the proverbial lonely tree falling in the forest. The remedy would be to issue a publicity release about the complaint, but I’ve criticized that tactic as unethical right here, on more than one occasion. Rats.

It might be just as well. After the mere hint that I was defending Donald Trump (I was not) on NPR appears to have gotten me blackballed there after many years as an ethics commentator, I probably should not criticize the lawyer for the most popular sleaze in D.C. these days.

2. Neil Simon Ethics. In an alternate universe, my still operating professional theater company, dedicated to keeping unfairly buried, forgotten or unfashionable American theater works of the past in front of audiences who deserve a chance to see them, is looking at a lot of Neil Simon productions. The works of the —by far—most successful writer of comedies in Broadway history are already sneered at as sexist and “outdated,” and I can vouch for the fact that all it takes is one militant female board member with a checkbook and a chip on her shoulder to kill a production. Remember S.N Behrman? Seen any Philip Barry plays lately? How about Kaufman and Hart? Simon just died, and he’s already heading to obscurity along with those guys, and most of their plays are still funny too.

3. Here’s another topic it’s dangerous to get intoFrom CBS:

A pregnant Washington state woman said she was fired via text message from a sub shop where worked, with a store manager telling her “it’s not a good time to have somebody who is leaving for maternity leave in several months anyway.” Kameisha Denton told CBS Seattle affiliate KIRO-TV that she had told the manager she was pregnant and due in December, asking for maternity leave.

Denton said she realized that she hadn’t been assigned shifts at Jersey Mike’s sub shop in Marysville, Washington, so she sent a text to her manager inquiring about the hours. The response she says she received was shocking.

When Denton asked for her “updated schedule” she received something a bit different. The store manager named only as “Marcos” in Denton’s phone responded, “I am sorry to inform you but it’s not going to work out with Jersey Mikes. It’s not a good time to have somebody who is leaving for maternity leave in several months anyways. You also failed to tell me this during your interview.”

Denton posted the exchange on Facebook in a post that had garnered over 1,000 shares in just two days.  

Denton told KIRO-TV,  “I was just like in shock, it took me a minute to face reality — I was like this is really happening.”

I have had the infuriating experience of hiring an employee for a crucial project requiring full time attention for the next 12 months, and then having that employee tell me that she was pregnant only after she was hired. She then went on maternity leave, and I had to hire a second staffer to handle the project, when I only had the budget for one.  Then I had to law off another staffer to pay for the one replacing the women on maternity leave. Fortunately he was a man, so no harm was done.

Women interviewing for and accepting jobs when they know they will be essentially unable to do those jobs in the short term is unethical unless the employer is fully informed during the interview. Employers should also have some flexibility to refuse an otherwise qualified applicant in situations like mine.

4. An ethics conflict. The Democratic Party has killed its super-delegate system, in which insiders within the party held 15% of the nomination ballots regardless of who the primary voters favored. The system was installed to protect the party from popular extremist candidates swept into the convention by hyper-enthusiastic fringe voters—candidates like George McGovern, and in 2016, Bernie Sanders. The theory is akin to why the Founders devised the Senate to keep the House of Representatives from doing serious damage when it was overwhelmed by the passions of the moment. It is sound, it works, and it’s also undemocratic to an extent, though perhaps to a necessary extent. The question is, what is a political party? I argued in 2016 that it is an institution that has an obligation to give the nation a choice for President who is qualified, responsible, and of exemplary character, as well as electable. That means the party must be able to veto and refuse to nominate a candidate who may do serious harm to the party, the nation, or its institutions…like the Republicans should have refused to nominate Donald Trump.

Given the current state of the Democratic Party’s derangement, the death of the super-delegates is likely to produce any number of horrible scenarios. Be afraid. Be very afraid

5.  On civility. Fellow ethics blogger Steven Mintz, who has weighed in here now and then, has a fine essay up on his blog regarding the importance of civility. “Civility is about more than just politeness,” the professor writes. “It is about disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same. Indeed, “civility represents a long tradition of moral virtues essential to democracy. Virtues like empathy, humility, integrity, honesty, and respect for others are ideals of democratic engagement.” Without civility a society can morph into verbal, accusatory, offensive verbal attacks on one another which is the way things are headed in the U.S.”

Bloggress Ann Althouse objects to such sentiments, and even has a tag for her periodic rants on the subject,

In one of her recent commentaries on the matter, she writes,

Calling bullshit on calls for civility—That’s something I always do. That’s what my tag “civility bullshit” means: Calls for civility are always bullshit, because the real motivation is political advantage. Usually, the civility-demander is trying to get opponents tone it down and not take advantage of whatever hot passion and energy they’ve got on their side.

Sometimes though, the civility-demander wants a faction of his own side to rein it in, because it might scare the moderates and interfere with the message that we are the sane, reasonable, smart people. When that happens, you can get some in fighting, with the supposedly uncivil people insisting that now is not the time to be civil. These people are calling bullshit.

I’m with Steven.

Ann’s argument is bullshit.

36 Comments

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36 responses to “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/27/2018: Petards, Conflicts, And Bullshit Edition

  1. I probably should not criticize the lawyer for the most popular sleaze in D.C. these days.

    What arguments did Lanny Davis use to defend President Clinton?

    Women interviewing for and accepting jobs when they know they will be essentially unable to do those jobs in the short term is unethical unless the employer is fully informed during the interview. Employers should also have some flexibility to refuse an otherwise qualified applicant in situations like mine

    This is similar to laws that require religious accommodations, in that such laws require the prospective employee to inform the employer about what accommodations are needed.

  2. “Calling bullshit on calls for civility—That’s something I always do. That’s what my tag “civility bullshit” means: Calls for civility are always bullshit, because the real motivation is political advantage. Usually, the civility-demander is trying to get opponents tone it down and not take advantage of whatever hot passion and energy they’ve got on their side.

    “Sometimes though, the civility-demander wants a faction of his own side to rein it in, because it might scare the moderates and interfere with the message that we are the sane, reasonable, smart people. When that happens, you can get some in-fighting, with the supposedly uncivil people insisting that now is not the time to be civil. These people are calling bullshit.”

    It seems to me, Jack, that you operate from a position of confidence that, somehow, the conflicts coming out into the open are superable. I think that you imagine that this *crisis* will resolve itself, somehow, and at some point some accord will be reached and this will all seem like a bad dream.

    While ‘civility’ must be asked for, and must be offered by, those who participate, say, on a blog such as this where there are no real consequences, really, to anything someone says, out there in the larger world this is not the case at all.

    There is a *battle* taking shape and it has not fully been defined yet. When it is defined, I think, the real dimension of the struggle will be better understood.

    We are living, it seems to me, in a time of increasing consequences. We will definitely face drastic consequences if the Radical Left is not defeated and driven down. (That is my interpretation, largely, of the meaning of the present). As I see things, and without wishing to be caught in dramatic declarations of misperceptions, this is what the issue hinges in. It is just that it has not yet been overtly expressed as such, which means that it has not been seen.

    ‘Civility’ is meaningless in the larger, meta-political context. I would rather think that, in fact, now is the time for a far more radical incivility.

    The difference, in our day, is that because everything is so immensely interconnected I do not see how two distinct *sides* could take shape against each other (as they did in the sectional battle that defined the late Republic). That is what complicates things.

    • I just got sued and had to shell out over a thousand dollars to fight an allegation that my incivility caused devastating consequences.

      • I think I understand what you are saying but I am uncertain. My impression was that the man who sued you has mental problems?

        • Alizia Tyler wrote, “My impression was that the man who sued you has mental problems?”

          Careful Alizia, that kind of trolling can get you into trouble.

          • Well, let’s work a related angle:

            Zoltar, esteemed and respected Señor, your use of the term ‘troll’ and ‘trolling’ is unethical and, I might add, uncivil. I would ask that you ‘cease and desist’ from using that term in respect to my posts.

            You are, naturally, entitled to any opinion. But when you use such a term you must carefully qualify it. Because someone — not myself of course — could interpret as a defamation (or whatever legal term might apply).

            I have come to understand that when you use the term ‘troll’ to refer to a fellow participant here, you mean someone who you allow yourself to be triggered by. I have a very quick and direct way for you to rid yourself of any ‘troll’ you happen to encounter: don’t be triggered by anything anyone says.

            Troll vanishes! ::: poof! :::

            Now, if you don’t wish to ‘cease & desist’, a shaman I know has told me that he will set after you an army of deadly poisonous frogs from my South American jungle. According to him they will hop their way to Chattanooga. I’ve begged him not to take my defence so personally, but he is a stubborn fellow!

            (True, it will take between 8-10 years for them to arrive. And that is why I would kindly ask that you keep Jack updated in case you change address).

            • Waaaaaaa……………… 😉 😉 😉

              Alizia Tyler wrote, “I have come to understand that when you use the term ‘troll’ to refer to a fellow participant here, you mean someone who you allow yourself to be triggered by. I have a very quick and direct way for you to rid yourself of any ‘troll’ you happen to encounter: don’t be triggered by anything anyone says.”

              Wrong again.

              Troll: Those that post inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion, often for their own amusement.

              You going off on a “mental problems” tangent was inflammatory, extraneous, and well off-topic and was posted in a manner to provoke someone that can no longer post here into an emotional response, therefore it was trolling.

              P.S. I haven’t lived in Chattanooga since around 1970’ish so the threat of the deadly poisonous frogs is a jokingly futile attempt to silence the truth which cannot, and should not, be silenced. 😉

              Now that we’re done with all that fun let’s be serious for just a moment; the comment I’m currently replying to is also trolling. 🙂

              Can we be done with this now?

            • P.S. Your comment was actually pretty funny. 🙂

              • You going off on a “mental problems” tangent was inflammatory, extraneous, and well off-topic and was posted in a manner to provoke someone that can no longer post here into an emotional response, therefore it was trolling.

                This is all interpretation on your part, Zoltar. It might be true that making any comment of any sort is ill-advised but it was not ‘trolling’ as you define it.

                Troll: Those that post inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion, often for their own amusement.

                You have posted this definition at least 3 times so far. I think that you assume that because you post it, it qualifies as ‘valid’ and that it stands?

                It is your opinion that my design is to inflame (et cetera) but I take issue with that term. It is a label that is in itself (mildly) defamatory. If you modify it, however, it will be 1) more accurate and 2) more acceptable to me.

                The age that we live in is one of controversy and a certain strife. I have described myself as a ‘rightwing critic of American conservatism’ and this position is, by its nature, confrontative to what has sold us out. There is no way for my basic position not to provoke some reaction or other. The better reaction is through articulated ideas though, not through emoted responses.

                If I am to be true to myself and my ideas I can only work to explain what I mean through careful, considered prose. And this is what I do. You make biased statements about my efforts because (I gather) you do not like the content of my ideas.

                Your definition as ‘troll’ is unfair, prejudiced, and even — to use conventional terms — slanderous.

                Again, I ask you as politely as I can to cease using that term in relation to me.
                ________________

                So, I have done here what is the *appropriate* thing: to engage you civilly with a direct request.

                • Alizia Tyler wrote, “Your definition as ‘troll’ is unfair, prejudiced, and even — to use conventional terms — slanderous.”

                  You clearly don’t understand the basis of slander.

                  • No? You like definitions, here is the one I use: “the action of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation”.

                    Other terms are: defamation, defamation of character, character assassination, misrepresentation of character, calumny.

                    The statement that you make — that I am a troll — has no other purpose, as I have seen, but to discredit me and to ‘slander’ my work. I certainly do not see your effort as ‘criminal’, but I do see it as (slightly) slanderous. It is mild ‘character assassination’.

                    However, if you engage me with your criticism, that is a fair approach on a Blog like this that deals, by its nature, in controversial and sometimes difficult subjects.

                • Alizia Tyler wrote, “You have posted this definition at least 3 times so far. I think that you assume that because you post it, it qualifies as ‘valid’ and that it stands?”

                  I’ve provided a definition that I found on the internet word-for-word (probably the older one before wikipedia update the current similar’ish one), thank you very much but I don’t take credit for something that’s not mine.

                  Alizia Tyler wrote, “Again, I ask you as politely as I can to cease using that term in relation to me.”

                  Do you know how the word trolling and troll differ?

                  Do you know how a verb and a noun differ?

                  Fin.

                  • You have merely shown, Dearest Zoltar, how willful you intend to be, if you will permit me to say, in avoiding facing up to the unethical choices you have made when you use an unfair term.

                    The lesson seems to be: polite communication with civil requests sometimes do not work. 😉

        • No, that is just my opinion.

          • Incivility of that sort, at least in my mind, can cause no ‘damage’. I do not think we are speaking to the same issue. You seem to be saying that if you had been more ‘civil’ you would not have been sued?

            I think that what Althouse refers to is the much larger issue of social divisions arising.

            (Would you be willing to help me write a suit against Zoltar? His spiritual tortures are telling on me!)

            ::: grins :::

    • John Glass

      You are quite correct in stating that civility is being used for political advantage, And proponents are now using libraries to advance their agenda. https://www.urbanlibraries.org/innovations/2013-innovations/civic-community-engagement/choose-civility-a-community-wide-campaign

  3. Here is an excerpt of an article Ann Althouse cited in her own post.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/06/the-civility-instinct/563978/

    Marginalized people remain at risk of being labeled “uncivil” for all but the most passive of disagreements. From outrage over black activists stopping cars in San Francisco to essays that lectured Women’s March participants for signs that “send a message of hostility to those conservatives and Trump voters,” to the two-year-long freakout about Colin Kaepernick’s choice to kneel, cries to return to civility often overshadow the actual violence being targeted by protest. Remarkably, the current national hand-wringing was provoked by two legal and entirely nonviolent methods of protest. Denying a senior administration official a meal is perfectly legal in Virginia; Waters advocated a campaign of public shaming, not acts of violence.

    The term civility itself is more a reflection of majority-enforced social norms than of a proven set of rules for effective debate. Ironically, a country founded on on tea-dumping, property-smashing, and norm-breaking has as its major bipartisan project a robust defense of social norms. [Martin Luther King Jr.] understood this dynamic well, and even applied it to riots in the inner-city. “A riot is the language of the unheard,” King famously said in his “The Other America” speech….

    What King understood was that civility stood not as a companion or a near-synonym to his project of radical, militant nonviolence, but as its most insidious opponent. King and his intellectual forebears engineered nonviolence specifically as a tool that would break the violent foundations of white supremacy, and doing so necessarily meant disrupting order and breaking the law. The current model of civility counsels accommodation to violent power, but that course of action is actually antithetical to the Kingian project…

    The cruel irony is that the success of King’s own project has made the call for more civility from America’s aggrieved groups all the more routine. Poor people, immigrants, black activists, and perhaps LGBT employees at a restaurant in Virginia are bludgeoned into silence by the constant cry for civility, made to hold still as injustices are visited upon them. Meanwhile, those with no real fear that they’ll ever wind up on the wrong side of the power dynamic in America can scold and hector…..

    Civility is an instinct that only serves to silence them. It is itself wielded as a cudgel against those already facing obliteration that dictates to them how they must face it. It snuffs out nonviolent and violent protest alike. Civility is the sleep-aid of a majority inclined to ignore the violence done in its name—because in the end, they will be alright.

    • Interesting argument, Michael.

      In my Rush-infused mind, “civility” as advocated by Dr. King is the belief that the target of your protest is a person of good will and will change once the error of his/her ways is clearly and concisely demonstrated. King believed that true change came from conversion and turning away from former evil ways.

      I don’t think King meant that advocates should be dispassionate or contrite. On the contrary, his actions were intended to be down right uncomfortable – protesting for voter laws or the end of Jim Crow while watching water cannons blasting civil rights demonstrators in the streets was intended to shake people to their cores as a way of showing just how wrong those beliefs, laws, policies were/are.

      jvb

  4. #4 Me thinks Ann Althouse is using rationalization to justify that opinion. If nothing else is obvious, she is capitulating to incivility and she knows it.

    • Her point has validity in certain contexts, as when Democrats were blaming incivility for the Giffords shooting, or the GOP was claiming incivility got Scalise shot. But Ann’s not uncivil–why not, if it doesn’t matter?

    • Civility is “defined” by society, or subgroups within that society, and as society shifts so does what is perceived as acceptable levels of incivility. The limits of acceptable incivility is “defined” by society or any subgroup within that society. An extreme opposites example: what is perceived as being reasonably civil within a brigade of infantry soldiers or marines might not be equally perceived as being civil in a church nave.

      What Althouse seems to be shoving aside is that incivility is just a single rhetorical tool in a multi-drawer rhetorical toolbox, it’s not the only tool. What I think Althouse is preaching is anti-civility and for that reason alone I think Althouse is intentionally promoting chaos.

  5. ARRGH…

    Oops, that should be “unintentionally promoting chaos”.

    • I disagree. I think Ann Althouse is rejecting the idea that civility requires the nicety that we all sit down for tea and crumpets and discuss these issues like reasonable people. Hardly. It took a violent revolution to break away from the Crown. It took direct action to end apartheid. It took direct action to get rid of Jim Crow laws.

      jvb

      • johnburger2013 wrote, “I think Ann Althouse is rejecting the idea that civility requires the nicety that we all sit down for tea and crumpets and discuss these issues like reasonable people. Hardly.”

        I understand your opinion but I really don’t think that’s what she’s saying/implying. When someone states that “calls for civility are always bullshit”, remember she said “always”, that’s their final opinion. In my humble opinion, she is “preaching anti-civility” and thus “unintentionally promoting chaos”, at the very least it’s enabling all levels of incivility.

        Point: Just we can accept the fact that incivility exists doesn’t mean that I should preach it, promote it, or enable it; that I believe is unethical.

        We’re just going to have to disagree on this one.

        • Oops, that should read…

          Point: Just because we can accept the fact that incivility exists doesn’t mean that we should preach it, promote it, or enable it; that I believe is unethical.

  6. Luke G

    It seems to me that arguing for civility is like arguing any other meta-issue (that is, an argument over the methods and tactics and rules of conflict, rather than the specific issue of the moment)- If your call for civility comes at a time when incivility has the potential to harm your goals, then it is tainted with the smell of self-interest. To carry real weight, it should come at a time when it’s YOUR aims that would be hampered by calmer rhetoric.

    If the other guy is rousing up passions and it’s overwhelming your argument, “be civil!” is just one more biased tactic. If it’s your side who’s landing the big angry haymakers, saying “Hey, they disagree with us but they’re not evil people. Shut up for a minute and listen to what they have to say” carries more weight.

  7. Glenn Logan

    “Civility is about more than just politeness,” the professor writes. “It is about disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same. Indeed, “civility represents a long tradition of moral virtues essential to democracy. Virtues like empathy, humility, integrity, honesty, and respect for others are ideals of democratic engagement.” Without civility a society can morph into verbal, accusatory, offensive verbal attacks on one another which is the way things are headed in the U.S.”

    There are a couple of things on which I’d like to offer an opinion.

    First, not all arguments deserve respect, depending upon the manner in which they are offered, and the context of the discussion. If, when presented with facts that defeat a particular argument, making it anyway deserves no civility — it is transparent trolling and uncivil in it’s own right.

    I do think that civility, generally, represents virtues, most of them which Prof. Mintz listed. I prefer a civil discussion to an uncivil one, but civility also, in Althouse’s defense, is a mechanism by which some try to suppress passion and intensity that are neither uncivil in themselves or close enough that it needn’t be mentioned. Insisting on civility can also invite a bunch of virtue-signalling and force the discussion off course. I used to always tell my commenters that civility is always best, but this isn’t tiddly-winks, and you should check that shoulder chip at the door, and reinforce that thin skin if you need to.

    Civility is desirable in reasoned debate because it improves the signal-to-noise ratio dramatically, and has the benefit of encouraging others to join. It also has the downside of attracting the party-crasher, who wants nothing more than to muck up the conversation with name-calling and invective.

    Civility is a judgment call. It’s always best, if appropriate, but sometimes it’s just another way to change the subject and derail a useful, if uncivil, debate.

  8. Steve-O-in-NJ

    “Civility,” “unity,” and “reasonableness” are objectively supposed to be shared values. All too often their good name gets leveraged so that one side in a political fight can get what it wants. I refuse to be a doormat and I refuse to let other people walk all over me. If it means I have to be rude, or foul-mouthed, or use force, so be it.

  9. 4. I can’t wait to see how the “end” of that super-delegate nominee-rigging system turns out! They’ll figure out a workaround; I have no doubt. They’ll still rig the primaries, I’m sure. They’ll make sure that the national convention is a coronation and love-fest, with all the right camera angles and microphone-positioning – maybe even with the “Echo Of God” speaker system again – with puff-piece saturation of every conceivable swamp-media outlet, every magazine cover, every cartoon in every newspaper, every Internet meme. The only real unknown unknown will be how much money from foreign sources will be imported to finance the propagandapalooza of the D party campaigns. Laws? WHAT laws? As usual, the ends will justify the means.

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