Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/2/18: Talking Rabbits, Giant Ants, And California Progressives

Good Morning!

1. I may start banning commenters who keep saying this. A new, articulate and agenda-driven commenter, Ross Grazier, writes, “But your writing on this blog seems to be all about politics and much less about ethics.” I don’t want to drive Ross off, since the position of Ethics Alarms Knee-jerk Progressive Ratioanalizer And Denier of Mainstream Media Bias seems to be vacant at the moment, but I’m really, really sick of this common smear of my work (Ross’s comment also reminded me that I need to add the “s0 called ethicist” and “self-anointed ethicist” to the magic phrases that can get a commenter banned). Not for the first time, I decided to categorize every topic I wrote about here in the past week as political, non-political, or “mixed,” meaning that the article included substantive relevance to political figures or controversies but that the ethical issues involved were not solely political in scope or relevance. There were 42 distinct topics discussed (I did not include the Comments of the Day). Of these, 26 were non-political. Ten were “mixed.” Exactly six were  “about politics.”

I was surprised, frankly. I expected a bit more emphasis on politics.

I regard Ross’s accusation and others like it as an either an effort to undermine my credibility and the reputation of Ethics Alarms, or as an example of confirmation bias at work. Easily debunked claims that are asserted anyway in print are unethical.

2. Movie Ethics Potpourri! A. I finally saw “Peter Rabbit,” which was the subject of a (Non political, Ross!) post here. You may recall that Sony was pressured into grovelling an apology for a scene in which the animated rabbits shot blackberries into Mr. McGregor’s mouth using sling-shots, provoking an allergic reaction. Seeking its 15 minutes of cheap publicity and social media outrage mongering, Kenneth Mendez, president and chief executive of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, said, “Making light of this condition hurts our members because it encourages the public not to take the risk of allergic reactions seriously, and this cavalier attitude may make them act in ways that could put an allergic person in danger.” Naturally, there was a Change.org petition demanding that the offending sequence be removed. Now that I’ve seen the film—which is pretty good, not quite “Babe” good, but well-done and fun—I can appreciate the full insanity of the complaints.  B. The British film “Calibre,” now playing on Netflix, is a “Deliverance” style ethics movie, in which two reasonable good guys go on a hunting trip in Scotland and are hurled by bad luck and panic into a series of ethical dilemmas, managing to make exactly the wrong decision at every turn. In the end, three people are dead, multiple crimes have been committed, and the lessons are murky. This is an excellent “what would you do?” film for group discussion, though the ultimate answer is “Don’t go hunting, in Scotland or anywhere else.” C. Finally, in the rarified category of giant ant movie ethics, there is “Them!” It is a justly admired 50’s Sci-Fi flick about an alien invasion of giant ants, featuring a surprisingly accomplished and diverse cast including pre-“Gunsmoke” Jim Arness, James Whitmore, ol’ Santa Clause himself, Edmund Gwenn, ubiquitous Western character actor Dub Taylor, and Sigourney Weaver’s wacky uncle, Doodles Weaver. I hadn’t seen it for a while, and forgot that it included one of the most blatant examples of Rationalization #58. The Universal Trump, or “Think of the children!” on film.

Scientists and the military have determined that the giant ants—We’re talking THIS big:

—have invaded California (from outer space, in ant-shaped space ships!), that they pose a threat to LA, the state, and entire country, and that there may be hundreds of thousands of them. California has declared martial law. A military commander announces that the best strategy is to gas underground passages where the ants are presumably gathering, and then kill the ones who escape to the surface. No, says Big Jim. It seems that there are two small children missing that were taken by the ants from their now thoroughly masticated and dead father. As long as there’s a chance they may still be alive,  Jim says, we can’t take the chance of harming them. The man is gob-smacked. “You mean you’d risk all of Los Angeles for two kids who are probably already dead?” he asks, in a fair framing of the issue. “Why don’t you ask their mother?” says Arness. “She’s right over there.”

Well all righty then! How can you argue with that?

3.  Spoiler: This is unconstitutional. California governor Jerry Brown is being asked to sign a now-passed bill from his out-there legislature that will require publicly-traded companies headquartered in California to place at least one woman on their board by the end of next year — or face a penalty. Some European countries have such requirements, so this must be a good rule. A majority of the S&P 500 have at least one woman on their boards, but only 25% have more than two. CNN cheers this development in the Golden State, saying, “Research shows that female representation on boards is key for women’s advancement in corporate America. Women on boards are more likely to consider female leaders for the C-suite and choose more diverse candidates for the board itself.”

Somehow it managed to omit some key information: the law would be unconstitutional, though some of the female SCOTUS justices would likely try to torture law and logic to justify it. It even violates the California Constitution, as lawyer Hans Bader points out…

Courts have struck down gender-balance requirements for government boards, concluding that they are illegal quotas that violate the Constitution’s equal protection clause. See, e.g., Back v. Carter, 933 F.Supp. 738 (N.D. Ind. 1996).

They also have struck down requirements that regulated entities (such as private companies) adopt racial or sexual quotas, or gender-balance requirements, governing their own workforces. See, e.g., Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod v. FCC, 141 F.3d 344 (D.C. Cir. 1998).

Courts also have also rejected the argument that “diversity” justifies gender quotas. See, e.g., Lamprecht v. FCC, 958 F.3d 382 (D.C. Cir. 1992).

The California Constitution’s equal-protection clause also forbids racial and sexual proportionality requirements. (See Connerly v. State Personnel Board, 92 Cal.App.4th 16 (2001)). And such requirements are at odds with the public policy contained in Article I, Section 31 of the California Constitution, which forbids racial and gender quotas even in the public sector. (See Hi-Voltage Wireworks v. City of San Jose, 12 P.3d 1068 (Cal. 2000)).

This isn’t even a close call. True liberals shouldn’t want governments demanding what individuals companies choose to manage them based on race or sex. When did “the ends justify the means” become the operating principle of the Democratic Party?

Governor Brown would show courage and integrity if he refused to sign the bill. He knows it’s illegal, and he knows it will be overturned.

36 thoughts on “Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/2/18: Talking Rabbits, Giant Ants, And California Progressives

  1. “Governor Brown would show courage and integrity if he refused to sign the bill. He knows it’s illegal, and he knows it will be overturned.”
    So, in other words, he’ll sign the thing.

  2. Honestly, though, Peter Rabbit got Farmer MacGregor’s death all wrong. It wasn’t an allergy…

    Did nobody read “Peter Rabbit, Tank Killer” – that collaboration betweem Beatrix Potter and Sven Hassel?

    It was when Peter Rabbit and his cousin borrowed a rocket launcher, and blasted MacGregor’s Tiger II…

    Sheesh. Hollywood never follows the books any more.

      • So, I’m mistaken (I relied on a second-hand account). But it still didn’t follow the demise from the Potter/Hassel collaboration!

    • Thanks for inquiring, Mind. A long-retired kindergarten/First Grade teacher) I know, still promotes – for adults – what he calls “the originals,” all the more, considering he went over the same material interminably. He valued the excellent pastiches, background and commentary as much, calling them the “Other originals” that enhanced the pleasure of children’s classics. (The Pooh Perplex being our favorite “critical” look at anything at all … and thank you for reminding me of its existence – it’s the best fun with literature I ever had). He also introduced me to the life of Peter Rabbit’s author who, among many other skills and talents, was a self-made feminist I think I would have admired very much.

  3. Point 2. I thought the professor, aka Santa, said the giant ants were a byproduct of nuclear tests not from space. Did I misunderstand this? As for the children that seen demonstrates female empowerment in the 50’s showing men to be afraid of mothers. It’s less about the children and more about I’m unwilling to argue with her.

    • Well, in discussing “Them!” and “Peter Rabbit”, it would be easy enough, when considering both, to think of “The Thing”, which also starred Arness in a sort of giant carrot costume. Arness was best known for a western TV series. A well-known space western series was titled after its ship (class) “Firefly” , which is also, of course, a flying bug….So, a logical mistake.

    • Chris might also be cross-referencing with “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” (from roughly the same time period) when some atomic testing freed a prehistoric beast of the size of the Brontosaurus (I know a new name for it has come, but…) and the disposition of a T-Rex. It had it all: dinosaur, martial law, attack on a roller-coaster… I saw it a second time on MST3K; first time at the drive-in in my PJs.

      Sorry I cannot recall any of the dialog to make any kind of ethics analysis… but it did keep me awake for several nights, lurking in the stairwell by my bedroom.

  4. Thank God Brown is retiring: His common sense quotient approaches the lower 2% of the population. He should do a least one reasonable thing during his last term but considering the progressive dominated legislature, I will be surprised if he doesn’t sign the bill.

  5. When did “the ends justify the means” become the operating principle of the Democratic Party?

    The answer to this question is circa June of 2012 when the Obama administration enacted the DACA policy. DACA is the archetypal consequentialist policy, and from that point on, the Democrat party has embraced it as a core principle. “Hate speech” may be a precursor to the modern leftist embrace of consequentialism, as well, and that showed up back in the 1990’s

  6. #1: I wouldn’t worry too much about Ross. He was obviously trolling, primarily for Jack, and, personally, I doubt he will be back.

    #2: Chris is right, in the movie, Santa Claus did theorize that the ants were mutated by nuclear testing. Where was Jane Fonda when Hollywood needed her?

    #3: California is already famous for laws that are beyond-belief stupid. And which have a shelf-life of six months. Of course Brown will sign it, Equally of course, the California Supreme Court or SCOTUS will kill it. What I see as unethical is that everybody involved knows it is unconstitutional, both California’s and the U.S., AND THEY’RE DOING IT ANYWAY!!

  7. A military commander announces that the best strategy is to gas underground passages where the ants are presumably gathering, and then kill the ones who escape to the surface. No, says Big Jim. It seems that there are two small children missing that were taken by the ants from their now thoroughly masticated and dead father. As long as there’s a chance they may still be alive, Jim says, we can’t take the chance of harming them. The man is gob-smacked. “You mean you’d risk all of Los Angeles for two kids who are probably already dead?” he asks, in a fair framing of the issue. “Why don’t you ask their mother?” says Arness. “She’s right over there.”

    Well all righty then! How can you argue with that?

    Well isn’t thinking you can kill a few to save many just “ends justifies means” thinking? 😉

    Ok ok, my tongue is a little bit in cheek, but I do think it’s a good demonstration that running too far away from consequentialism leads to the moral relativism that Buckley referenced in his parable and this movie ends up demonstrating. Of course there’s plenty of examples of how wrong ends justifying means can go too. I’m still thinking on what it all means, the blog host probably already has the term for what I’m looking for as a descriptor of both principles in tension.

    • They weren’t saying that they should kill the kids to conquer the ants. The kids deaths were incidental to a necessary measures….and there was no good reason to think the children were alive anyway. The fallacy of “the ends justifies the means” doesn’t exclude the fact the some ends are justified by some means. Utilitarianism isn’t unethical. EXTREME utiitarianism is unethical.

      Nor does that scene involve consequentialism. Consequentialism would be concluding that it was right to risk all of LA on the slim chance that the two kids could be saved if the kids turned up alive and the ants were foiled anyway. The decision is either right or wrong, regardless of how it turns out.

      • Good to see we agree that extreme any method is unethical.

        So there is a difference between consequentialism and “ends justify means”? Because I’ve seen people use both interchangeably (though it wouldn’t be a shock to me that they were doing so incorrectly). Thus it was my understanding that killing the kids would be a justifiable consequence to saving LA.

        Now if you take requests, it would probably be a hoot to see you react to the anime-style Godzilla films on Netflix as… it’s kind of hilarious ethics wise.

        So what about the movies where they try to save pets? (like Alien and that stupid cat) lol

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