Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 10/27/2019: The Grant Viktor Bowen Marshall Birthday Edition

Samara Orphanage #2, where we found our son,

It’s a good day.

On this date in 1994, my son Grant was born in Russia. His mother, who was unmarried, did not abort him as many women in her position might have and do, but chose to give him up to be cared for the state, as she declared under oath that she could not. For six months, he lived in one of the packed and underfunded orphanages in Samara, near Moscow. Samara is among the most depressing places I have ever visited, only slightly edged out on my list  by Lorton Penitentiary in Northern Virginia, now shuttered, and Lagos, Nigeria.

Our adventure adopting Grant is too long and involved to record today, but I need to do that. Boris Yeltsin was closing down international adoptions, and we were in a group of four American couples racing to rescue some kids before the gates closed for an unknown period. Children were (and are) seldom adopted in Russia by Russians, and usually they end up warehoused until they reach 18, when they are released to the street. Samara was, it is fair to say, a true hell-hole, lacking drinkable water, businesses, and basic infrastructure. The nurses and administrators running the orphanages were kind, caring and dedicated, but they were also desperate. They tried every tactic imaginable to persuade Americans to adopt multiple children. I am still haunted by the faces of the kids that were introduced to us, and who we left behind. I don’t want to think about.

After a week of being shuttled and raced around the Russian bureaucracy, bribing officials with clocks and silverware, Grace and I made it to the U.S. Embassy with our new son and the necessary papers. The documents falsely stated that he was suffering from multiple maladies, the only way an infant could be adopted by foreign parents under the existing laws. In fact, he had been the healthiest baby in Orphanage #2, a trait he has continued into adulthood. He is almost never sick.

Just like Damien in “The Omen.”

We flew back to the U.S. on the “orphan plane,” a regular Moscow-to-New York flight routinely filled with U.S. parents and their adopted Russian children. The sound of crying infants and chattering toddlers was constant the whole flight. It was glorious.

I look at Grant today, a healthy, defiantly independent, iconoclastic young man with a life of opportunities and challenges before him , and reflect upon the kind of life he would be facing in Samara had a series of accidents and random events not brought our family together.

When Grant was 6, he asked me why he was born in Russia (the little sneak had surreptitiously broken into our documents box and read his adoption papers. I told him that sometimes a loving couple’s child would be born in the wrong place, and then his or her parents had to retrieve him. That was what happened with him, I explained. Grant liked that story so much he told all his friends.

The funny thing is, although I made it up at the time, I believe that with all my heart.

Happy Birthday, son.

[It’s also a good day because on this date in 2004, the Boston Red Sox ended 86 years of frustration and won their first World Series since 1918. Grant said at the time that finally he was certain that I would never forget his birthday.]

2. How’s that minimum wage increase working out for everyone? I was in a Taco Bell last night. The chain has added computer ordering, and there was one person behind the counter. Minimum wage increases cost jobs and makes automation cost-effective. It drives small businesses to ruin, and moves low-skilled Americans from work to public assistance. All of this has been well-understood and known for decades, yet the Democratic Party and all of the current Presidential candidates still pander to organized labor the economically-challenged by making minimum wage hikes a rich-vs-poor rallying cry. Given that the increases don’t affect the rich at all and hurt the poor, I judge the advocacy and disinformation awfully close to evil. If that’s too harsh, It is certainly unforgivably unethical.

3. Here’s a classic ethics conflict….  David Mackereth, 56,worked for the Department for Work and Pensions in Great Britain. He was fired and held to have acted in breach of the country’s Equality Act when the agency ordered him to use transgendered clients’ preferred pronouns, and he refused. Mackereth challenged his dismissal, but a British court, found his stance to be “incompatible with human dignity.”

There is no First Amendment in the UK, or we wouldn’t be discussing this.

Dr. Mackereth’s human dignity was  ignored by forcing him to use pronouns that he did not believe were appropriate, and which contradicted his religious beliefs as a Christian.

The New York Times story unhelpfully adds,

The British government estimated in 2018 that there were 200,000 to half a million transgender people in the country, and a YouGov survey commissioned by Stonewall, a British L.G.B.T. charity, found that two in five trans respondents had experienced a hate crime or incident in the previous year.

That’s propaganda, not relevant information. It doesn’t matter to this controversy if there are 200,000 trans individuals in Great Britain or six, and not calling someone by their favored pronoun isn’t a hate crime.

No doubt about it, the doctor is being  a jerk, but so is any transgender individual who seeks to get someone fired for calling him or her “he” when she is sporting a four day beard growth, or “she” when he still has breasts. As with the various wedding cake controversies, a little mutual compromise and competent Golden Rule application ought to adopted on both sides without going to war. You want to be called “Boo-Boo”? Fine. Why should I care?

It is unreasonable to argue that using a pronoun is a religious burden. That’s even sillier than claiming that baking a cake for a gay wedding is “participating” in the wedding.

However, for an agency, or any employer, to insist that using disfavored pronouns is a violation of “human dignity,” and for a legal system to endorse such “mountain out of molehill”-making to the extent that a citizen can be punished for not conforming to a prevailing opinion shows a society losing its liberal bearings.

Now watch Piers Morgan, making us happier than ever that he is no longer on CNN, hectoring the doctor for his religious beliefs. Also note that Morgan’s definition of “bigotry” is completely wrong…

21 thoughts on “Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 10/27/2019: The Grant Viktor Bowen Marshall Birthday Edition

  1. Happy birthday and what an appropriate post since I have a trip planned to Russia next August. If I knew what the process was before I plunked down a deposit I would have gone elsewhere. The Visa process is hideous to be kind. An expensive nightmare that reminds me of Churchill’s comment on Russia. I have been to Cuba and China and the process was far less confusing, expensive, and daunting.

  2. Happy Birthday to your son. I know you are very proud of him.

    2. I’m sure you’ve been to a supermarket lately. My local grocery stores and big big retailers are down to a few manned checkout aisles with most of them being self-checkout stations.

    It’s a pain in the neck to try to scan and bag a full cart of groceries.

    • I hate it. The evidence of what the minimum wage hikes are doing is right in front of us, yet it is still denied, denied, denied.

      I wonder if Bernie and Liz Warren ever go to supermarkets…

      • I’m sure the have staffers do the tedious process of grocery shopping. I can’t see either one of them using Door Dash to get Chinese food delivered.

  3. Happy birthday to your son!

    #3) I have tried many times to get Christians to cite where in the bible or natural law that using a specific set of pronouns is a moral issue. I usually get called mean things in return.

    They will usually cite “Male and Female he created them, dumbass”, to which I respond, “Where is God insisting that Eve be called ‘she’ under penalty of mortal sin?”. It also doesn’t help to point out that ancient Hebrew doesn’t seem to have distinct pronouns for “he”, “she”, or even “it”.

    Occasionally, my instance will get a “like”, but rather rarely a statement of concurrence.

    • The pronoun itself is not the issue. The issue is that when you are forced to refer to a man as “she,” you are being forced to pretend that he is a woman, which is false according to the Christian’s faith.

    • Many would probably label me a near fundamentalist Christian, but I think those who make a big deal about pronouns are wrong. I think the trans person is deeply confused and emotionally hurting, but intentionally calling them other than their preferred pronoun is just unnecessarily mean. Calling them a he or she or Sally or Steve has no moral dimension to me.

      I would also sell them a cake or flowers or photography were I in those lines of work. Our lives are filled with work done for those we may disagree with and I don’t see this as a hill worth dying on.

      I think the push back comes from two places: 1) a confused idea that calling someone by a preferred pronoun means approval of their situation (it does not); or 2) a misguided attempt to fight back against a culture that say you must do this or we will make you pay.

  4. Happy Birthday to grant. We have a friend that adopted a Russian child. The child was 4 at the time and had a number of behavioral issues as a direct result of the Russian orphanage. It takes a lot of patience and love to succeed with some of these kids. Grant was extrodinarily lucky that you made such a commitment.

    The loss of personnel to cut costs will in the near term lose sales so whatever savings resulted reduced overall sales. I needed to buy two tires yesterday. Anyone who has bought tires knows that the tire price is not what you actually pay because every seller upsells mounting, balancing, road hazard etc which can add up to 50% more.

    I went to WalMart to get their prices and total costs and stood behind a dozen people who chose to go to the automotive clerk to checkout. The clerk was taking calls, running a register and trying to sell tires and batteries all at the same time. I left without buying.

    I left and went to Sams Club where the single clerk spent 20 minutes on the phone going over various tire prices with a person who was not ready willing to buy. A manager came through and told the clerk to follow up with an installer that had a question. No one spoke to me. I have no idea how long that call lasted because again I left without buying.

    Brick and mortar stores sales are not suffering from the Internet. Internet stores are benefitting from poor customer service and bad retail management. Profit is a function of costs to sales revenue. Costs are always a fraction of the sales dollar (if not you are doing it wrong) if sales dollars per hour drop more than costs fall per hour profit falls.

    The problem with raising the minimum wage is not the increase it is the problem of not getting a commensurate increase in marginal revenue product. Far too many employees believe they are entitled to increases in pay without having to produce more in terms of actual output or better customer service.

  5. Happy Birthday Grant Viktor Bowen Marshall. And congratulations to all three of you (I’m including Ms. Marshall) on finding just the right people to love.


  6. I want to wade into something, but I don’t want to case a sore spot or make it seem like an attack, based on the subject matter.

    “After a week of being shuttled and raced around the Russian bureaucracy, bribing officials with clocks and silverware, Grace and I made it to the U.S. Embassy with our new son and the necessary papers. The documents falsely stated that he was suffering from multiple maladies, the only way an infant could be adopted by foreign parents under the existing laws. In fact, he had been the healthiest baby in Orphanage #2, a trait he has continued into adulthood. He is almost never sick.”

    Have you written about the ethics involved in doing dubious things to adopt your son? I would love to read about it. Some of the things you mention here might easily be covered on your list of unethical rationalizations. Some that come to mind, think of the children, these are not normal times, it worked out for the best, I had no choice, just this once, no harm, no foul, everybody does it. etc..

    I know there has to be more to it, but I can’t see it. How do we know when things that are typically seen as unethical become ethical (or necessary)? What makes one “these are extraordinary times” situation different from another?

    A while ago I got into a discussion with a fellow minister. He argued that lying is always wrong. I noted in Exodus 1 the midwives were blessed for lying to save the children’s death, thus showing that lying isn’t always wrong. While I can see morals have that kind of flexibility, I find that ethics tend to be more ridged.

    Anyway, any light you could shed on this subject could be helpful.

    • Good topic, and I will cover it in a post.

      When you adopted from Russia then, you put yourself in the hands on a reputable agency that handled all of it. We were told, shortly before we left, that the opportunity was closing. We were also told that currency was useless, that the Russian bureaucracy and system was so corrupt that we would have to bribe our way through the process, and were given a list of items to have along. And that was just the beginning.

    • When faced with a system where ethics have no bearing, and following the rules produces evil (child left languish for life), ethics take a back seat in doing the right thing.

      Ethics have to be functional. Following ethics to produce evil is unethical, if you will.

      I propose that this was a situation outside ethics, like in war, where ethics do not apply.

  7. …although I made it up at the time, I believe that with all my heart.

    What you “made up” was a truth to begin with. What is, is what was meant to be, yes?

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