These have been on the drawing board waiting for induction into the Ethics Alarms list of Unethical Rationalizations and Misconceptions far too long. It’s also a good time to re-read the list, which was recently brought up to date. I wrote the damn thing, and it it still reminded me of some things.
Rationalization 1C. It Happens To Everybody, or “You’re not alone!’
This is yet another variation on the Golden Rationalization, “Everybody Does It,” but the transitive version. The theory is the same, that somehow the ethical nature of an act is changed by its frequency, or, in the case of #1C, how many victims the unethical conduct has claimed. This one is so frequently employed that it doesn’t register as a rationalization, perhaps because the one who wield’s it is often a third party. “Don’t feel too bad,” the nice person patting your head says, “You’re not the only one.” The swift answer to this should be, “So what?” Should I feel less raped because others have been raped? Should I feel less lied to because others have been deceived? Should I feel richer because others have been robbed?” Even if it is offered in kindness, this is a rationalization that aides the wrongdoer. Arguing that as long as the misery inflicted has company, what was done isn’t as bad as it was.
Rationalization 9 B. Murkowski’s Lament, or “It was a difficult decision”
Senator Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) official statement on why she was voting against Justice Brett Kavanaugh after his ethics train wreck of a confirmation hearing brought this common rationalization into focus. Kavanaugh’s record as a judge would have had him automatically, unanimously confirmed by the Senate under any previous standards. To their undying shame, Democrats on the Senate judiciary committee allowed the traditional inquiry to become a circus, low-lighted by permitting a bizarre, three decades old #MeToo accusation regarding alleged (and unsubstantiated) attempted sexual assault (maybe) by Kavanaugh when he was in high school and a minor to breach all standards of fairness and due process. The episode represented the zenith of “believe all women” feminist cant. Murkowski, who has long tried to burnish her credentials as a Republican feminist, voted against Kavanaugh, an indefensible decision, and tried to gird herself against criticism by saying that “this has truly been the most difficult evaluation of a decision that I have ever had to make.”
Well, too bad. You’re a Senator, and decisions that affect lives, careers and institutions are often difficult. Your job is to use valid analysis, dispassionate reasoning and critical thought to make good decisions, not to make bad ones and try to justify them by saying they were hard.
How does the fact that a decision-maker almost made a better, more principled, more ethical decision make the wrong decision better or more palatable to those who suffer because of it? It doesn’t. Murkpwski’s Lament attempts to use sympathy and pity to duck accountability.