Let’s See How The Ethics Alarms Of Some Advice Columnists Are Doing…


Well, let’s see: blog traffic is dead today, like most Sundays,, my in-progress post about the Big Lie that President Trump is a racist needs to be cut approximately in half (though it could easily be twice as long), and my current inventory is made up of either “too silly to write about,” yet more “2016 post election ethics train wreck” insanity, or  stuff that’s two complicated to handle working on half a brain, which is what I woke up with, now seems like as good a time as ever to see how the newspaper advice columnists are doing…

  • Philip Gananes (Social Q’s) advises a teenage son who is embarrassed by his mother’s “R-rated” tattoos “all over her arms and back.” The teen has asked Mom to cover up around his friends, and her reply is if people don’t like her tattoos, that’s their problem.”  He asks the advice columnist if he is out of line.

Gananes says in part, “As an adult, she is free to make her own choices about her body and body art. You’re entitled to have feelings about her tattoos. But to ask her to hide them to save you embarrassment is like asking her to pretend to be a different person — because you’re ashamed of the one she is. That has to sting…The next time one of your pals makes a crack about your mom’s tattoos, say: “I’m not crazy about them, either. But she’s a great person and a terrific mother.” When you can say that and really mean it, Brian, you will be a terrific son.”

The Ethics Alarms verdict:


I was surprised that Gallanes, who is usually on target, would embrace the “that’s just who I am” rationalization. The issue isn’t tattoos, but “R rated” tattoos. “Mom, would you please not fart and belch loudly around my friends?” “That’s just who I am!  If people don’t like it, that’s their problem.”  “Mom, would you stop saying “fuck” and “cock-sucker” when my friends are here? “That’s just who I am!  If people don’t like it, that’s their problem.”  “Mom, would you stop coming on to my male friends?….Mom, would you please stop dressing in a halter top and going bare midriff with your gut hanging over your belt when my friends are here? You’re 56 years old and weigh 212!…Mom, would you please not come out to talk to my friends when you’re drunk”?

That’s just who I am!  If people don’t like it, that’s their problem.”

Mom is insisting on being a vulgar boor in public, and being insensitive to her son’s feelings as well. He’s still a child, after all, and good for him that he has grasped the concepts of civility, decorum, dignity and respect for others despite his mother’s deficits in those areas. Mom can still be herself and not embarrass her son. She’s not a terrific mother. She’s a selfish slob.

  • Carolyn Hax (an Ethics Alarms favorite) is asked by a woman how she should respond to her sister’s enthusiastic participation in an Amway-style pyramid selling business. The inquirer writes, “What bothers me is: She seems to legitimately think this is her possible future career path” when the companies involved “sell this dream because that’s the only way for anyone to succeed at them — to recruit lower-level sellers, none of whom will actually make any real profit from selling products. You have to make them believe that it will work for them, if only they try hard enough and recruit, too….I kind of want to scream, “They are taking advantage of you, and this will never make you money unless you start taking advantage of other people!”

Hax curtly advised that the sister’s scam business is none of her business, and she should “keep her opinion to herself.”

The Ethics Alarms verdict:


Again, I was surprised at the cluelessness of this usually wise and ethical  columnist’s answer.

Maybe I know more about these scams than most people, having had the awful assignment of working closely with Amway and hanging out with it’s “Diamonds”—the venal tycoons at the top of the pyramids—many years ago. But calling these cynical businesses scams is not an “opinion,” it’s a fact, and friends and relatives don’t let their loved ones be scammed or participate in the scamming of others without making a good faith effort to make them see what’s going on. This is a pure duty to warn situation.

Not only have I told friends and relatives tempted by Amway and its ilk to, as the Amityville House used to say, “GET OUT!,” I once told an old army friend of my father’s who came to my parent’s home to try to sell them, me and my sister on getting involved that his business was a scam, right to his shocked face. I would do it again, too. (And if my cousin in River City told me that a wonderful man had come to town selling band instruments to the kids and promising that the kids could play by using the “Think System,” I’d tell her she was being sucked into a scam too.)

  • Kwame Anthony Appiah (The New York Times Mag’s “The Ethicist”) responded to a man who said he found a hundred dollars in cash in the back seat of a cab, and kept the money, giving half to a charity. He wanted “The Ethicist’s” blessing.

He didn’t get it. “The Ethicist” responded,

The cabdriver was in the same situation as you were: Most likely there was little he could do to get the money to its rightful owner. He could have called the city’s 311 line, or left the money and the information at a police precinct. But few taxi drivers would have the time and inclination to do any of this. And I don’t blame them. They can’t be obliged to expend serious effort to undo someone else’s negligence.

Still, people who leave things in a taxi in New York City can contact the driver by using the Taxi Lookup tool of the Taxi and Limousine Commission and entering the taxi’s license number, which is on the receipt. So if a) you had entrusted the cash to the cabdriver, and b) the previous passenger realized that the money had been left in that cab, and c) knew about the license lookup tool, and d) contacted the driver, the money could have been returned to its owner. And, if no one called, the driver could have kept the money in good conscience. Given that taxi drivers in New York earn below-average incomes, that wouldn’t have been such a bad outcome. You, by contrast, had no shot at returning the money, and what you did made the best outcome less likely. This outcome, of course, depended on that unlikely sequence of events, from a) to d). Yours, in short, was a venial sin — a pardonable offense. And, as long as the conscience-salving charity you gave the $50 to was a reputable one, you have entered something on the positive side of the moral ledger.

The Ethics Alarms verdict:




4 thoughts on “Let’s See How The Ethics Alarms Of Some Advice Columnists Are Doing…

  1. Mom is insisting on being a vulgar boor in public, and being insensitive to her son’s feelings as well.

    And also a bad mother. No good mother would do that.

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