Musings On The State Of Mind Of Your Friendly Neighborhood Ethicist


There are three reasons I just sat down to try to write the first Ethics Warm-Up in three days. The first is that the new, mandatory WordPress format makes it too difficult to create a post on my laptop, so I have to retreat to my office, a larger screen and my more responsive PC to compose, requiring me to abandon my wife and my dog. The second is, frankly, that writing posts just isn’t fun when I have to struggle with software that is actively impeding me.

The third is that I am increasingly feeling as if the fate of the United States of America rests on its citizens being responsible, becoming informed and realizing what awaits them and the nation if the Democrats seize power—and I do mean seize—and I feel as if what I do here is the equivalent of pointing out dolphins, flying fish and sunsets from the decks of the Titanic.

Oh, all right: I’m also boycotting baseball, which has been one of my greatest sources of joy and inspiration since childhood.

Almost nobody I know well or have met face to face reads Ethics Alarms. My family doesn’t, except for Grace. My son doesn’t; most of my friends don’t: I’m only aware of a couple. I did have a nice encounter this week when a neighbor I had never met called out my name, near my home: he recognized me from the photo on the blog and Spuds, whom I was walking at the time.

I used to be on other media occasionally; Michel Martin used me as a regular ethics commentator on NPR. Then she started cutting my segments to shorter and eventually impossibly short spots; I’m pretty good extemporaneously, but having three minutes or less to explain a complicated ethics issue based on a surprise question is a near impossible task.  Finally she abused me on the air, allowing a Georgetown Law prof pal of hers to both cut me off and misrepresent my position because she thought I was, as she told me later, “defending President Trump.” Mustn’t do that on NPR! Except that was not what I did. I had quite accurately described a phenomenon that the public does not understand relating to celebrity sexual harassment accusations generally, and, in fact, I had offered exactly what Martin knew I was going to be explaining when she invited me on. It was a set-up, and a betrayal: I was aware of her political orientation, but she had misled me into trusting her to be a fair and ethical journalist.

My fault. There are no ethical journalists. Well, some, somewhere, I guess. Sort of like there are some ivory-billed woodpeckers. There’s a sighting now and then.

My whole life’s goal has been to try to stimulate people  and to build things that have a valuable purpose. Right now writing the blog just feels like sitting around and complaining, and little else.

That makes me feel impotent, petty, and old.

47 thoughts on “Musings On The State Of Mind Of Your Friendly Neighborhood Ethicist

  1. Take a little break, it has been an extra stressful year for many reasons that have snowballed. If the asses tire us out into exhaustion and apathy, they win. I doubt it will last as the more, the harder they grip, the more grains slip away. ‘The silent majority’ don’t hang out in active sites and hang on talking heads’ every statement, they don’t have the time or energy in the new gig economy. But they see and remember.

  2. I have been reading through your list of ethical terms, and I cannot find an ethical principle the left has not violated this year. That is very disheartening, dismaying, frightening, and just plain scary. There are ethical violations on the right, but comparatively they are minor offensives.

    It scares me, how blatantly the left can violate societal norms with complete impunity with no apparent consequences. They seem to think, and apparently are, immune from consequences.

    I read recently where there have been polls about how close the American public thinks we are to civil war, as well as how willing they are to agree to justification for violence against their opponents. The numbers are not reassuring.

    The Covid virus seems to have pushed people into agreeing that civil rights are not actually rights, but conditional variables that might be better viewed as permissions that are granted by the government when it is convenient to the governments purpose

    That terrifies me.

    It means freedom is dead.

    Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble… are all subject to the government’s whim.

    That is terrifying. It keeps me up at night, planning how I might fight back. Planning how an insurrection night play out.

    The idea that I need to plan such things scares me to death.

  3. I’ll start by confessing that, although I’ve been reading your blog for some years now, I have never posted. While not excusing said failure on my part, the primary reason for it is that most of the time, you or one of your astute readers has already expertly covered and conveyed my own humble viewpoint and I don’t feel I have anything new to add.

    However, THIS post I will not simply read and then move on…

    Though I have not posted before, rest assured that your posts HAVE stimulated me (to use your own word) to learn more about news topics that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve read one of your posts and then followed up by checking various news outlets to get more detail and to see how they are covering the issue. I also cannot tell you how many times I’ve been confronted with an ethics situation and thought to myself “What would Jack say about this?” This has typically sent me back to your blog’s search engine to see if the topic had ever been covered.

    I, too, grow increasingly frustrated with the media bias and I, too, grow increasingly alarmed by the direction the country is heading and by how some leading Democrats have completely abandoned ethics in their quest to retain and increase their power. It frightens me to think what will happen over the next few years if the Democrats seize power (again, your words) in November.

    All of that leads me to my (overly verbose, to this juncture) point: This blog IS relevant and YOU are relevant. I completely understand the frustration with the new software; I’m actually in software development and I have seen your experience from both sides, as the developer and the user. Using bad tools is frustrating; having a previously good tool broken by “enhancements” is maddening. Regardless, I truly hope you do not allow that to drive you away from this most important service you provide.

    For my part, I’ll try to overcome my own hesitation and intellectual inadequacies and make my voice heard on this blog. I’ll also continue sharing your blog with friends, family, and acquaintances. This is an important resource and deserves to be publicized and utilized by all.

    For now Jack, please heed mariedowd’s advice: take some time to clear your head and let the stress calm down. We value your insights, your intellect, and your opinions. Take a break and then come back stronger than ever.

    • And here is a perfect example of someone beating me to the well -said statement. All I can add is DITTO . I keep a running list of insightful quotes that I constantly share with others…and “by Jack Marshall of Ethics Alarms” follows an abundance of them . Your wisdom is needed more now than ever .

    • Exactly – you hit the nail on the head. I find your blog; your ‘complaints’, Jack; to be the first and often only nuanced site to actually analyze complex situations. It has been consistently so for years now.. When all the rest of the world and the internet is blowing up with “you’ll never believe what just happened!” I know that usually within a day or so, I can come here to find you asking “ok, what actually happened?” It is exhausting to constantly stand against the tide, to do battle against the forces of entropy – but do know that you are providing a bulwark for those lucky few who know where to find it. I’m sorry you’ve been hit so hard this year. Please rest when you need to, write when you must, and take care of you and yours “in these difficult times.” Thank you for your hard work, Jack.

    • Agreed! My wife often gets annoyed when I point out unethical things in TV shows we watch (for example, when the “good people” get away with petty crimes because the recipient of the crime is a “bad person”), but I attribute my being more aware of ethics rationalizations, bias, and unethical behavior to this blog, among other things.

      Thank you, Jack! And amazing commenters who add so much to the blog.

    • I have perhaps 30 blogs that I read regularly. This is the only blog that I read every day and it is the first blog that I read every day. Your thoughts and the thoughts of the regulars here provide intellectual stimulation that I simply don’t get anywhere else. Never, ever, think that you are not making a difference or that you aren’t appreciated. There’s a whole bunch of us here who feel like family on this site.

  4. All my whole life, my orientation has been to try to stimulate people and to build things that have a valuable purpose. Right now writing the blog just feels like sitting around and complaining, and little else.

    If this helps, I want you to know that because of what I have learned here I will be joining a group on Tuesday to seek the ouster of a school board member that has expressed vile statements about the president. I don’t think I would have been as moved to act had it not been for reading this blog. Far to many of us think we are alone in our thinking when we see something wrong so we do little to nothing to effect change. We merely sit back take it and and complain.

    There is great value in hearing similar complaints. As the combined voices increase the amplitude of the complaint it becomes a call to action. So, for what it is worth, your posts have gotten me off my ass to do something positive.

  5. I was up at 4:30 this morning continuing to play around with the WordPress blocks formatting on my blog so I could learn and become more comfortable with the how the block editor works. I created a blog post just for the purpose of learning the part of the tools that I’ll likely use, I called the blog post Please Ignore This Post: I’m Just Testing A Bunch Of WordPress Editor Block Features. I’m editing it, updating it, and checking out how it works and how it displays in an actual blog post, I’m not really fond of the WordPress block editor but I’m actively learning how it all works.

    If you’ve been using a laptop with a touchpad and not you find the desktop with the mouse works better for navigating then get a mouse for your laptop so you can get back to being with your family keeping your composition environment consistent will help! If you need it to add back a level of comfort to composing posts then get a larger laptop and a good mouse.

    I much prefer a mouse now but that’s probably because I’m driven that way because of changes to CAD computer software since the early 1990’s. I’m an old rapid keystroke DOS man that’s had to force myself to adapt to the newer technologies that’s forced me to use a mouse and it has slowed me down. I still haven’t gotten into the WYSIWYG method of programming, I’m a straight coder; I look at the code behind the WYSIWYG based creation of web pages and it makes me cringe seeing how terribly unorganized and unreadable it is – I’m a bit OCD in that way.

    Lastly; I read almost every Ethics Alarms blog post whether I participate in commenting or not, it’s become an important staple in my life. I really like the overall focus on ethics, it inspires me to always become better than I was the day before. I honestly veer away from things that are related to professional sports, which I completely boycotted many years ago, but once in a while I’ll even read one of those posts. When I see something that I consider a need I’m one of those people that stands up and tries to do something about it.

    I know you’re not asking for this but reading your ethics blog is important to me and I’ll gladly contribute $100 to help you get a new computer that better fits your needs. I suspect that I’m not the only one around here that would be willing to contribute and if between 10-20 regulars around here would do the same thing, you could get a fast up-to-date laptop with a nice 17″ monitor and a mouse that would fit your needs for quite a while. I’ll contribute directly via PayPal or some kind of crowd fundraiser if you can get one set up. I’m completely serious.

    There’s my idea. I know this is me sticking my nose into someone else’s business where it probably doesn’t belong but when I see what I perceive as a real need, sticking my nose in where it doesn’t belong to help come up with a viable solution is part of me.

  6. 1. If, with all that you have accomplished and continue to accomplish, you feel impotent, petty, and old, what chance do we mere mortals have for happiness. Thanks, Jack, I needed the added pressure as I stumble through my miserable, wretched life. But as Amy Coney Barrett said (I doubt she coined the phrase), “Life is difficult, but at least it’s short”.
    2. If you post that you have contracted Wuhan virus, you will NOT get 1.8 million likes. So you have that going for you.
    3. For what it is worth, I do not, nor have I ever, considered you impotent or petty. I feel confident that most of your thousands of ardent followers would agree (see #1).

    I’ll let others more articulate than I address the legitimacy of your lament.

  7. This is part of my daily reading as it is the only sane place. I can’t believe where this country is headed. Apparently, the indoctrination of our youth has succeeded. It is a sad state of affairs, but we are about to reap what we sow. We allowed the village to raise the youth instead the parents.

  8. I am also a daily reader of your blog. How did I find your blog? It was a recommendation from an FBI agent via my nephew, both of whom served together in the Air Force. I think you have more readers than you think and a much more diverse group than you would expect. I, too, forward your blog posts to friends who accept conventional wisdom. I do this because very often you have information for your readers months ahead of when the news media finally addresses the issue. Thank you for those times when you provided the “gotcha” for my liberal friends.

  9. Impotent. Petty. Old.
    Go back through the comments you got in response to this post. It hardly is an indication of impotence that so many of us turn regularly to Ethics Alarms to get a better grasp on the important issues of the day. The insights that you provide, the perspectives of those who comment, the organization of information and the focus that result, these are powerful. The potency you have is akin to that of a classroom teacher; you know the viewer count just as they know how many chairs have been filled over the years, but you and they don’t know how much knowledge and wisdom has been acquired nor to what extent it has been spread to others. The feedback you get is but a small fraction of the actual impact.
    I don’t need to tell you that ethics is anything but petty. Sure, some of the situations that are featured are slam-dunk unethical, and it may seem trivial or repetitive to point out why. But, that stuff needs to be called out and, for at least some us, an explanation of the ethics implications also is needed. For me, the site soars when there are disagreements and the subject matter experts here come to the fore and illuminate an issue with knowledge and experience.
    When you reflect on what you are accomplishing with this site and on the need that still is there, that ‘old’ feeling should dissipate a bit. I doubt it’s in your nature to take a break from Ethics Alarms. But, to the extent you can, nurture and reward yourself. You’ve done so much for so many of us; do a little for yourself.

  10. “what awaits them and the nation if the Democrats seize power”

    The thing is, they can’t seize power. They can only assert it. The response is clear:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

  11. Hi Jack,

    I get where you’re coming from, and I hope that I can cheer you up. I cam across your blog when you wrote about the exoneration of Brian Banks. I saw the news, but found the particular article lacking in details, so I googled his name and your blog popped up. I read more and more, impressed with what I read. I’ve been hooked since. That makes it 8 years now that I’ve been a loyal reader. I don’t recall when I first started commenting, probably half the time I’ve been reading.

    As others have noted, it’s not just your blog, but the top notch commenters that you’ve attracted. It’s sad that you’ve lost the lefties from the commentariat, but that’s their inability to remain sane, not you. I’d welcome a counterpoint, but this isn’t a problem specific to your blog. I find that I can’t find a rational counterpoint these days from the left, they are all irrational.

    Ever since the media totally lost it in the last decade, I’ve found your blog all the more valuable. No, you’re not a primary source reporter, but I find your analysis is spot on. Mind you, I say that as someone who is not aligned with a fair amount of your politics.

    If you feel the need for a break, I’m understanding. You are not paid for this, after all. It’s not your job. I’ll miss you. Just know if you keep right on posting, I’m going to be here. I’m reading every one of them, even if I’m not commenting. Often I’ve got nothing to say because either you or another commenter has added all I wish to add.

  12. Reading your blog is usually the first thing I do in the morning! I look forward to it everyday. It’s therapeutic for me because I usually agree with your anger and general disgust. Hopefully you find writing the blog therapeutic too.

    I’m also not sure how blogs get more traffic. Maybe you should post your blog links to some Reddit subs?

  13. First, a note of gratitude. I started reading Ethics Alarms in college when I Googled “just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s ethical” or something to that effect. Since then I’ve I read each new post, except for some months this past year when I dropped off the radar. I get most of my news here, and it reminds me that there are sane, honorable people who care about having a healthy society. Jack, I salute your honor and dedication, and if there’s anything I can do to help (like chipping in for a new computer or peripherals), let me know. If you need to take a break and recenter, we’ll wait as long as it takes.

    Second, a ray of hope. I know how you’re probably feeling, Jack. For nearly as long as I can remember, I’ve experienced the frustration of seeing people ignoring or just ignorant of the basic principles necessary for keeping civilization going. Trying to change the course of American politics feels like trying to stop an impending train wreck with one’s bare hands… from a mile away.

    Fear not, though. That’s the exact problem I’ve been working on for the past month. A few weeks ago, I wrote up a set of (theoretically) universal values or goals that I assumed everyone could get behind (e.g. “everyone is well nourished,” et cetera) and was baffled to learn that the person I was soliciting feedback from didn’t believe that their political rivals subscribed to those goals. They weren’t just skeptical; they were convinced that their rivals didn’t want good things for humanity, and apparently hadn’t looked for any counterevidence.

    From this surprise I realized that the key problems here are fear and mistrust. People have been taught by their leaders and the media to feel fear and mistrust for people who disagree with them. They have been taught that the trade-offs they make are not actually trade-offs, but self-evident moral axioms, and that anyone who rejects those trade-offs is stupid or evil.

    This is a stubborn problem, but ultimately a simple one. It may also be the lynchpin for all of our other problems. After all, humans already collectively possess all the skills and wisdom they need to overcome their other obstacles. They just need to be willing to work together to assemble those pieces.

    To fix the problem of fear and mistrust, I’m launching the plan outlined below:
    1. Demonstrate that I understand the fears of a person’s political faction, to earn their trust.
    2. Persuade them to listen to someone from a rival political faction.
    3. The rival faction member earns their trust in the same way, and then vows to protect people from their fears.
    4. The rival faction member explains that they have their own fears, and explains them in a way that, combined with the trust they have earned, helps the original person understand that these are valid concerns.
    5. The rival faction member and I propose an approach to solve a problem the original person has, in a holistic manner–one that puts to rest the fears of both parties, including fears about accountability or being somehow tricked.
    6. We demonstrate this process to increasingly wider audiences, and dissolve the barriers of fear and mistrust that prevent people from working together to solve problems.
    7. People become comfortable with uniting to demand ethical and responsible policies and rejecting any politician from any party who blames rivals for impasses or passes reckless legislation instead of working to accomplish constructive goals.
    8. Ideally at some point I get paid for helping make this happen. It’s infinitely more useful than what I get paid to do now.

    If this sounds familiar, it’s also called “conflict resolution,” “negotiation,” and “politics mindset as it’s intended to be practiced.” I’m meeting with some highly ethical and influential visionaries tomorrow to try and arrange a demonstration on a large platform, and we’ll do our utmost to un-alienate people from each other.

    My point here is that you’re not alone. We’ve all got different ways of trying to fix society, and when any of us makes a breakthrough, the effect will cascade as all the other sane people step up and people start to recognize them. We’ll be ready when that happens. In the meantime, I’ll keep working on becoming more like you.

    I’m grateful that you bring together so many of us, around so many nuanced topics on which to hone our minds, and with so many tools and case studies to examine how best to reconcile human conflict. Unfortunately I haven’t got wings, so I can’t show you the difference you’ve been making. You’ll have to take our collective word on that, and maybe a bit of time to recalibrate perspective and refresh the emotions. Take care of yourself!

  14. I don’t think it’s a waste of time. EthicsAlarms is about the only place one can find an objective take on current events. And it’s also about the only place one can find a wide variety of perspectives from which to view a problem and expound on the details and unseen complications that arise from the conclusions of any particular topic.

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