Waning Sunday Ethics Reveries, 7/12/2020: You Know, Ethics Isn’t Fun For Me When Everyone’s Acting Irrationally

Let’s see what we have today…

1. Oh. The art made some people uncomfortable. Well that’s a good reason to destroy it… Vermont Law School is going to paint over a mural in its student center that celebrates Vermont’s role in the Underground Railroad and the abolitionist movement. Several students and alumni had recently objected to its depictions of African Americans and said it made some people uncomfortable.

VLS President and Dean Thomas McHenry said in a campus-wide email last week that the mural in the Chase Community Center  painted by Vermont-based artist Sam Kerson in 1993 had to go because “the depictions of the African-Americans on the mural are offensive to many in our community and, upon reflection and consultation, we have determined that the mural is not consistent with our School’s commitment to fairness, inclusion, diversity, and social justice. Accordingly, we have decided to paint over the mural.”

Translation: ‘Some of our African American students and alumni as well as supporters of the George Floyd Freakout thought this was an ideal time to show what they could  do by crying “racism” in an institution that could be counted upon to cave to just about any demands in order to avoid being called “unwoke” and be swarmed by social media mobs. And they were right!’

The mural is titled “The Underground Railroad, Vermont and the Fugitive Slave” and has two 8-by-24-foot panels, with four scenes in each panel intended to“celebrate the efforts of black and white Americans in Vermont and throughout the United States to achieve freedom and justice,” the artist’s website says.

The first panel includes half-naked Africans being forced into slavery and sold at auction, as well as resistance symbolized, in part, by “the resurgence of African culture via drums, masks and costumes.”

The second panel includes images of John Brown, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Beecher Stowe, as well as a scene where a blonde Vermont woman tries to block the view of a bounty hunter bearing down on fugitives trying to escape slavery on the Underground Railroad. Here it is…

VLS students Jameson Davis and April Urbanowski resembled yahoos at a modern art exhibit complaining that “them dang Picasso people look like freaks!,” writing “One issue of many, is the fact that the depictions of Black people are completely inaccurate. Regardless of what story is being told over-exaggerating Black features is not OK and should not be tolerated.”

The artist is not happy. “This is a monument to abolition in Vermont and a description of the people who struggled against slavery, and it is important to our culture,” Kerson said of his mural. “To paint it over is outlandish — it’s like burning books. It’s so inflammatory, I can’t believe it’s actually happening.”

Forget it, Sam. It’s George Floyd Freakout Town…

2. Speaking of demands, what are the odds Princeton shows a spine?

3. Warning to professional sports teams: People care about sports because it has nothing to do with the rest of the world and human conflicts. Politicizing sport is incompetent and irresponsible. Nobody wants to see athletes grandstanding about “social justice” during games, because…  A. There is no reason to care what they think more than one would care about the local 7-11 clerk’s views, because their public policy acumen is not why they are prominent public figures, B. Sports should be a unifying force in communities, and forcing political views on fans and spectators is divisive and obnoxious. C. The need for sports to unite us now is more stark than ever—so, of course, the NBA and the NFL have caved to its employees’ demands, and fans of those two leagues will now be subjected to propaganda all season long.

Now comes the WNBA, a dubious league to begin with, whose players are peeved with Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler (yes, the Georgia U.S. Senator) because she vocally opposes the league’s announcement  that its upcoming season would be “dedicated to social justice with games honoring the Black Lives Matter movement.” She’s right, and the WNBA is wrong.

“The truth is, we need less — not more politics in sports. In a time when polarizing politics is as divisive as ever, sports has the power to be a unifying antidote,” Loeffler wrote. She added, “I adamantly oppose the Black Lives Matter political movement, which has advocated for the defunding of police, called for the removal of Jesus from churches and the disruption of the nuclear family structure, harbored anti-Semitic views, and promoted violence and destruction across the country.”

That’s a fair assessment of BLM.

Naturally, the predictable occurred. The players union posted on Twitter, “E-N-O-U-G-H! O-U-T!” in reference to Loeffler. The WNBA commissioner, Cathy Engelbert, spat out a statement reaffirming the league’s commitment to “vigorously advocate for social justice.” The women’s pro basket ball league should advocate for women’s basketball. In its own emailed statement, the Dream said, “The Atlanta Dream is not a political entity — we are in the business of sports and entertainment. The Dream players and staff are focused on building a successful team on the court, winning games and creating a second-to-none fan experience.”

Bingo.

17 thoughts on “Waning Sunday Ethics Reveries, 7/12/2020: You Know, Ethics Isn’t Fun For Me When Everyone’s Acting Irrationally

    • Yes, and remind the mob that the US is not Nineveh in the time of Jonah. We will not reform in sackcloth and ashes. The mob is also not St. Gregory, and we will not walk barefoot to beg their forgiveness like Henry IV.

  1. I dub this the White Scare.

    No doubt there are still a few people who have nightmares of the living nightmare of sitting uncomfortable and squirming in the lowest seat in the Senate chamber. You sit alone before an intimidating array of microphones, all eyes on you, questions being fired at you like crossbow bolts from every angle about anything and everything. You don’t exactly know how you got there, maybe someone said your name was mentioned in connection with some gathering or that you said or wrote something that concerned them. Your finances, your job, your friendships, your family, nothing is off-limits. Question after question, hour after hour, it drags on until you forget when it began and have no idea when it will end. Letters you wrote years ago, conversations you barely remember having, meetings you remember attending, but can’t remember who else was there, leave alone the subject, the questions keep coming. As you shake inwardly, your shirt soaked from the stress of the interrogation and the fear of its consequences, the stern-faced Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin fixes you with a glare like God throwing the Egyptian host into a panic and thunders possibly the most dreaded question in history, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” Refuse to answer, give the wrong answer, claim not to remember, or equivocate, and you are finished, tarred as a “Red,” a Communist, someone in league with the most evil regime then in the world, and the second or third worst ever, against America, the Constitution, and everything that was good.

    If you have few friends when you sit down in this loneliest chair in the world, you could well have none when you leave it. There’s a very good chance that if you held a security clearance it will be revoked, because there are just too many maybes for you to be trusted. There’s a good chance that you will lose your job as you can’t hide or scrub off the red stain. There’s a very good chance your life and your family’s life will collapse or be greatly damaged or diminished.

    Few dare say a word against this unfairness. Many people are afraid that they will become targets themselves if they speak out, for who is the greater villain, the villain, or the villain who defends him or covers for him? Many more fear that there really is a vast Communist underground in the US, and no one knows how deep or wide it is. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg have been tried and convicted of espionage for passing nuclear secrets to the Soviets, for which they will ultimately meet death in the electric chair. Alger Hiss, a convincing lawyer and high official who helped set up the UN, has been revealed as a liar and a spy by the infamous “pumpkin papers.” Everyone wonders, ”just what else will these investigations reveal?” It’s the Red Scare at its height, probably the most damaging moral panic this nation ever went through.

    Thankfully today this is only history for most of us. McCarthy fell from power in 1954 when he overreached himself by attacking the military, and TV journalist (when the title meant something) Edward R. Murrow exposed him for the power-mad paranoid he was (it turned out later that he was also a stealer of valor, but let’s not get too far afield ). He died three years later, at the relatively early age of 48, officially from hepatitis, no doubt exacerbated by alcoholism, and the parallel House Committee on Un-American Activities was dissolved. Unfortunately, this came too late for many people whose lives had already been torn apart. Financial ruin is like a lobster trap, a simple matter to enter, but very hard to escape once you have. A reputation is like a china statuette, easily shattered, difficult to put back together, and never the same even if it is put back together.

    Although there was never a formal law passed or agreement made, never again would Congress convene a committee to accuse citizens of “Un-American Activities.” Never again would legislators summon citizens to grill them on alleged ties to enemies of this nation based on rumors or things that happened years or decades ago. Even through the turbulent years of Vietnam, when and Watergate, when it looked like the country was falling on its face and couldn’t keep young, angry people in line, Congress did nothing similar. The most that happened were a few trials of unhinged activists that usually ended with the court system looking relatively powerless, even though the activists were the ones deliberately being uncontrollable. No one was ever reduced to poverty or ruin just by a shadowy accusation, although some chose to live on the outside. The major congressional hearings of that time were against Richard Nixon for his involvement with the criminal web that was Watergate. Even during the nervous years of the Cold War, when civilization was the closest to doom it had been since the Nika riots, neither House nor Senate attempted to publicly shame those who opposed Reagan’s strong defense of the US and its interests. The Berrigan brothers and their hangers-on usually got nothing more than slaps on the wrist for their vandalism. What no one will tell you is that they were usually cut loose with a slap on the wrist because the thought was that they weren’t at all important, and trying them would just give them free publicity. This changed, of course, in the wake of 9/11, because it dawned on the US that if vandals could penetrate secure areas, so could terrorists, but that’s just an aside. Even so, even after the greatest attack on this nation since Pearl Harbor and 2 wars, one of which we had to pick up again after a 2-year hiatus, the other of which has never stopped, nothing like it has happened.
    During any of these times, no one was ostracized for being less than loyal or for displaying sympathy for this nation’s adversaries. If you spoke out against the arms race, you might be told you were wrong, but you wouldn’t lose your job. If you said this nation’s involvement in Vietnam was wrong, for whatever reason, you wouldn’t suddenly find yourself on the outs with everyone respectable you knew.

    As often as not, the wealthy and otherwise respectable were supporters of the radical like Ira Einhorn, even the violent like Mumia abu-Jamal. As often as not also, if you said something along the lines that maybe some of these folks who do nothing but criticize should be looked at more closely or that those who aligned religiously or philosophically with this nation’s sworn enemies could be enemies themselves, you would be told not to revive the Red Scare or conjure up McCarthy’s ghost. The fact is also that way of thinking has a basis in the Constitution. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech. If someone says that the current war effort is not in this country’s best interest, or that war generally is bad, or that this country isn’t living up to its ideals, they are supposed to be free to say that, as much as you might disagree with them, and they aren’t supposed to be ruined for it. If someone shares the faith of the men who knocked those towers down, that’s supposed to be all right, there’s supposed to be freedom of religion. You weren’t supposed to suddenly not trust Hamid up the block after 9/11, even if he compared this to the Palestinian Arab situation. It was considered unfair when suddenly customers stopped coming to a diner owned by two Muslim brothers and their families, and it WAS unfair.

    This nation is supposed to have moved past scares and moral panics. This nation is supposed to have moved past demands for absolute and expressed loyalty to any cause as a prerequisite for acceptance. This nation is supposed to have moved past tearing people’s lives apart based on single statements, or rumors, or things they said or did years ago, or attitudes they held at one time. It’s not fair, it’s not just, and it’s not supposed to be what the Constitution is all about. However, the events of the last few months make it clear we have not moved past any of these things. They have just been quiescent, like floodwaters held back by a dam, waiting for that one weakest spot to fail, or flammable gas building up in a mine or a tunnel, just waiting for the spark in just the right place that will set it off.
    There have been a few indicators that one part of this was coming: adult athletes being attacked because of tweets they made when they were in high school, the first attempt to cancel J.K. Rowling when she dared to say that a transwoman and a woman born a woman were not one and the same thing, the brief ignition of the Kavanaugh hearings, which ultimately flamed out as everything pivoted to the midterm elections. There have been a few other indications that another part was coming: the Zimmerman trial, Ferguson in the wake of the death of Michael Brown, Baltimore in the wake of the death of Freddy Gray, and others. However, all of these remained localized and bottled up, and eventually retreated. Plenty of damage was done, including the horrifying mass murder of five officers in an ambush in Dallas and the outright assassination of two NYPD officers who were not engaged in a police action. Baltimore and Ferguson are still rebuilding. However, none of these sparks touched off a nationwide insurrection. Maybe there were just too many questions about those particular incidents, and maybe the aftermaths eroded sympathy too quickly for that. Also, since there was no ongoing pandemic, The killing of George Floyd, with the knee of a crazy (though not proven racist) white officer pressed into his neck and back while he was outnumbered and handcuffed, looking for all the world like an arrogant high school football player torturing and bullying a helpless classmate just because he could, was the perfect spark, and now this issue has exploded.

    However, it’s gone farther than protests. It’s gone farther than marches like Selma. It’s gone farther even than riots. Governments from the local to the state level have acted paralyzed at best, been involved in the destruction at worst. Calls for the elimination of police departments are not only being taken seriously, they are actually receiving positive votes in municipal councils. Everyone is suddenly taking a knee, when three years ago few did. Corporations are tripping over themselves to prove their wokeness. It’s not enough to not be racist, the mobs say. Everyone has to prove to us that they are actively anti-racist. How it must be proven varies, but it starts with the mandatory utterance of the phrase “black lives matter.” Only that phrase will do. If you dare co-opt that phrase and say any other kind of life matters, or you dare to say that “all lives matter,” you will be judged a racist and targeted. Taking a knee is another, especially before the flag or when the national anthem is played, when the normal protocol is to stand. If you stand, as is the normal practice, you are telling the mob that you do not stand with them, which makes you a racist. Supporting the defunding of the police is apparently yet another, as the mob has decided that, because of the acts of certain police officers, the entire force, even the entire concept of policing, has to be eliminated. If you dare say that there needs to be another system in place before that’s considered, or that you think the idea is a bad one, or heaven forbid, that it is unfair to punish every officer for the acts of some, you are a racist in league with a racist system. If you are a corporation or other institution, you need to make a public statement that black lives matter and a big donation toward anti-racist causes. If you don’t use the right verbiage, or you’re too slow on the draw, you are a racist. Of course if you really want to prove you’re anti-racist, you can repudiate the whole system since Columbus first landed in Hispaniola and began this nation’s unbroken history of racism and genocide. The 13 colonies were racist, the Declaration of Independence was written just to benefit the white male aristocracy, the Revolutionary War was just about that and getting at the lands west of the Appalachians, the Constitution is tainted because it did not abolish slavery then and there, and so on, up to 2008, when the nation finally started to do right be electing Barack Obama, only to throw it all out the window with the election of Donald Trump. This system isn’t worth of honor. Disagree, or try to defend the system, and you’re a racist defending a racist system.

    If you are determined to be a racist, expect deep dives into any and all aspects of your life. Expect your donation history to be checked. If you made a donation to a politically incorrect cause, you’re in trouble. Expect your social media presence to be examined going all the way back to when you started it. If you said something that’s no longer considered acceptable expect a light to be shone on it. Expect anything else you wrote to be examined to. If anything is politically incorrect, expect to be publicly humiliated, lose your job, lose any public office you hold, and take all the consequences that come with those events. MAYBE you can atone by suitably groveling publicly and making as big a donation as you can spare to a lefty cause or Black Lives Matter directly, but it still won’t save your career.

    As I pointed out above, financial ruin and loss of reputation are nearly impossible to come back from. Since this is mainly targeted at alleged white supremacy, I dub it the White Scare. The difference is, in the Red Scare people were targeted by elected officials, who could be removed, as some were. In this scare, people are being targeted by activists and mobs, who answer to no one, and who no one will protect against.

  2. 3. Surely the Atlanta Dream is dreaming. Anyone who thinks the WNBA and its teams are not political entities is naive to the point of idiocy. The WNBA is essentially a massive lesbian awareness and enhancement project.

  3. I am pretty sure Vermont Law School needs to eliminate Dred Scott and Plessy from its curriculum. That can’t reflect their values. They can just teach Brown.
    -Jut

  4. I’m torn. On the one hand, I’m adamantly opposed to the erasure of public works of art just because some loud crybabies want to flex their social-justice muscles. On the other hand, a couple coats of Dutch Boy would greatly improve that grotesque mural. That’s just bad art. I know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all, but damn…

  5. An OpEd in a recent WSJ on Princeton’s renaming of the Wilson School – hope they don’t get their offer letter rescinded for such heresy:

    Princeton Sets a Bad Example
    I personally benefited from his ideals. It’s reductive to judge him solely as a racist.
    By Baher Iskander
    July 7, 2020 7:05 pm ET

    “I will matriculate this fall at Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs. I’m disappointed by the university’s decision to cast Woodrow Wilson as a racist and remove his name from the school.

    I am a direct beneficiary of Wilson’s foreign policy, which advanced free trade, democracy, human rights and self-determination—not white supremacy. My native Egypt joined the League of Nations after gaining full independence from Britain in 1936. My mother, an Egyptian national, worked for the U.S. Embassy in Cairo promoting Egypt-U.S. trade, before my family immigrated to the U.S. when I was a teenager. Without the values Wilson fought for, and were it not for the leadership he exemplified, I wouldn’t be an American, much less a Princeton student.

    Many students have celebrated Wilson’s erasure as a victory for “diversity and inclusion.” Yet it fits a pattern of college administrators acquiescing to noisy demands instead of urging us to do the difficult work of facing the complicated reality in both history and the present.

    Growing up as a Coptic Christian in Cairo, I saw injustice. My aunt’s career in the Education Ministry was stymied because of her unmistakably Christian name. I learned as a child that Egypt could never have a Christian president because Christians couldn’t wield authority over the Muslim majority. I was harassed for eating in public during Ramadan. Two years ago, I visited a church I attended as a child and saw the shrapnel of terrorist bombs that pierced its columns, the vestige of an attack that killed and maimed dozens of worshipers.

    I am therefore puzzled when some of my peers allege that the name of Woodrow Wilson, an avowed progressive, made them feel “unsafe” and “unwelcome.” It’s reductive to believe we can neatly categorize complex historical figures into two buckets, “racist” or “antiracist,” and that nothing else matters. Princeton had named its public policy school after Woodrow Wilson to honor his idealism, especially in foreign policy, not celebrate his racism. We should be able to hold tensions and think critically.

    While I recognize the importance of challenging simple narratives of heroism, equally simplistic stories of villainy are no better. Erasing Wilson’s name and taking down his large photograph from Princeton’s dining hall evinces an unjustified sense of self-righteous certitude.

    I will not be compelled by a vision that seeks to refocus the public eye only on the most damning aspects of a leader. If history judges me today, or sometime in the future, I certainly wouldn’t want to be reduced to one or two descriptors of my worst impulses or deeds.

    Princeton should have set an example for students by restating its 2016 recommendations to maintain the Wilson name while also acknowledging his racist ideas and actions and formulating long-term policies that would improve circumstances for students of color in meaningful ways.”

    Mr. Iskander is an incoming master’s student in international relations at Princeton and a former Senate Armed Services Committee staffer.

    • He certainly isn’t the first Egyptian I’ve heard tell that story. At least two other lawyers I know and one family that owns a gas station not too far from me, all of them sporting cross tattoos on their inner wrists, have told me they and their families left Egypt specifically because the Muslim majority were treating them very badly.

      That said, it IS reductive to judge Wilson just as a racist, and those saying he needs to be erased for that reason only are simply following the BLM piper. Wilson was a proto-tyrant, a liar, and a doctrinaire. Two of the nations founded in the wake of the treaty he pushed, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, no longer exist, because they were bad ideas to begin with. Iraq may yet join that list. Simple dismissal risks losing that part of the story.

      • Steve;
        I had a college girlfriend whose father, a Christian Egyptian and a very successful general contractor, was perhaps the most patriotic American I have ever known. He was politically conservative before conservatism was widely talked about. He even had American flag decals on all his company trucks. His wife was from Alabama, and I used to imagine the cultural educations that both of them had received during their marriage! Bottom line: he loved America more, and with more purpose, than many of the natural born Americans I have known, and certainly more than many I see in the media today.

  6. If the mural depicted an actual slave auction in what is now Ghana they would have to face the uncomfortable facts that the Ashanti tribe made their fortunes selling other black Africans.

  7. In perusing the Princeton Demand Diatribe I saw that the cosigners had parenthetical pronouns following their names. The print was rather small for my 72-year-old eyes. However, I noticed only one name followed by parenthetical plural pronouns. All the rest included the normal singular he/him, she/her and each seemed appropriate to their cis-gender names. Aside from their misguided demands they seem blind to the lack of diversity in the student body regarding sexual identity. Should we expect another diatribe soon?

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