Morning Ethics Shout-Out, 10/28/2020: “And Tyler Too…”

I am ashamed: when I listed my anti-depression playlist, I somehow managed to leave out one of the best and most exhilarating songs of the group: The Isley Brothers’ “Shout.” I apologize profusely.

1. Self-delusion is not ethical. When Ben Ferencz, the last surviving lead prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, finally leaves us (he’s in his nineties now and still going strong), I will make him an Ethics Hero Emeritus. As the new Netflix documentary about his astounding and ethics-focused life makes clear, few have devoted the time and energy to the cause of human rights and justice any more intensity or longevity than Ferencz. My admiration of him is only marred by his advocacy for pacifism, which the last portion of the film highlights. Ferencz was instrumental in the creation of the World Court, a kind of standing extension of the Nuremberg Trials which the U.S. has, wisely, refused to participate in. The legal scholar speaks passionately for the  cause of eliminating war by substituting law and international tribunals. The idea is delusional on its face, and also cynically exploited by those who know the idea is impossible, but who support it as a way to impose world government, and the concomitant reduction in individual liberty that would necessarily entail.

As Ethics Alarms has discussed many times, one great weakness of ethics as a discipline is its drift toward utopianism, and its persistent destruction of its own credibility by advocating goals and standards that cannot be achieved, indeed, that defy history and common sense. Has anyone asked Ben Ferencz if he really believes that Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, the USSR or current day North Korea and Iran would voluntarily submit to the edicts of a World Court? If he has, it did not make the documentary. One can understand why a man who has seen and experiences why Ferencz has during his long life would cling to the hope that some day war will be eradicated and peace will reign forever, but rejecting reality for comforting idealism does not, and never has, advanced the cause of ethics.

2. This would seem to be an easy topic for a bipartisan bill. (Why isn’t it?) Democrats introduced legislation making it illegal for banks and other financial firms to discriminate against their customers because of their race, religion, sexual orientation and other characteristics. I thought this was illegal already, but the absence of any mention of financial services constitutes a loophole in the Civil Rights Act. Thus “The Fair Access to Financial Services Act,” introduced a week ago by members of the Senate Banking Committee, would explicitly outlaw discrimination against bank customers. Right now, it is legal for banks and other financial businesses to treat some customers differently based on race as long as the services aren’t denied entirely. Banks can legally use racial profiling to delay customer transactions, or require extra steps to prove their legitimacy.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 omitted banks when it listed the kinds of businesses that qualified as “public accommodations” that could not discriminate, and the courts have repeatedly ruled that the law does not apply to businesses not on the list.  The new bill, sponsored by Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Tina Smith of Minnesota, Cory Booker and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland stipulates that “all persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges and accommodations of financial institutions.”

3. There has to be something unethical about this. The practice of movies and TV shows using as background recordings that are supposed to make the audience think it is the original artists singing when it is not has long driven me to distraction. Apparently it is sufficiently expensive to use  an original recording that movies, with their mega-million buck budgets, seek to save money by hiring an unknown artist to cover the song while imitating the original. Such faking usually plays under dialogue, so that makes the phoniness harder to detect, and, of course, many watchers don’t know the material or the artists sufficiently to pick up on the deception. Some directors don’t do this (Martin Scorsese, George Lucas), but a lot do. Yesterday I heard a really bad imitation of Johnny Mathis singing “Chances Are” …

…on a soundtrack. First, I consider the attempt to deceive an insult, sort of like Jerry Seinfeld’s routine about men’s wigs. You expect me to be fooled by that? Second, it’s disrespectful to the artist. Now people think that’s what Johnny Mathis sounded like, and he was much, much better than that.

4. And today’s historical note… John Tyler, the tenth President, is one of my favorites. Tyler had a great ethics quote in a letter to one of his sons: “Truth should always be uttered no matter what the consequences. Nothing so degrades a man as equivocation and deceit.” He also is the reason we have such a smooth transition system when a President dies: Tyler decided when President Harrison died a month after his swearing in that the Vice President became President for the rest of the term, though the language of the Constitution could be read to mean he was only a temporary POTUS until a special elections could be held.

Amazingly, Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr., the older of two surviving Tyler grandsons, died last month in Tennessee. He was 95. His brother, Harrison Ruffin Tyler, is still alive at 91. Lyon Tyler, a lawyer and historian, and his brothers were sons of Lyon Gardiner Tyler Sr. (1853-1935), a longtime president of the College of William & Mary in Virginia. Their great-grandfather was Thomas Jefferson’s roommate in college.

6 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Shout-Out, 10/28/2020: “And Tyler Too…”

  1. 1. “Has anyone asked Ben Ferencz if he really believes that Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, the USSR or current day North Korea and Iran would voluntarily submit to the edicts of a World Court?”

    Germany and Japan certainly didn’t care what the League of Nations thought of them.

    That is the limitation of a world-wide governing body, like the League and its successor the UN – it’s got to have the ability to enforce its edicts. And the backbone.

    • For at least a time, my alma mater was the only Catholic college that formally recognized the Holocaust. A judge in Lithuania named Jacob Hiatt managed to escape the Nazis, but his parents fell victim to the Holocaust. He came to Worcester, MA and made a fortune. As the end of his life approached he began to give away large sums of money, and one such sum went to Holy Cross to build 2 new wings to the library As a result, each year we would have a Holocaust memorial service, which would feature speakers as well as the choir, of which I was a member. Ben Ferencz spoke in 1990. He had me, at one point even saying Hermann Goering was the only Nazi to have the decency to do himself in and save them the trouble, until he started plugging his then-recent book “A Common Sense Guide to World Peace.” At that point I switched off until it was time to close things out with “Ani Ma’amin.” Hebrew is actually not that hard to sing in – just pronounce all vowels as you would in Italian and all consonants as in English, with the addition of strong aspiration of the “h” and “ch” sounding more like “kh” (we called that the allergy syllable).

  2. Re 1. Reading that reminded me of one your “favorite” songs: Lennon’s “Imagine”. Now, given that and the “Baretta” theme song from this morning, I am glad you introduced the post with “Shout” so I can keep that playing in my head instead.

  3. “He also is the reason we have such a smooth transition system when a President dies: Tyler decided when President Harrison died a month after his swearing in that the Vice President became President for the rest of the term, though the language of the Constitution could be read to mean he was only a temporary POTUS until a special elections could be held.”

    Imagine if the alternative played out, that the VP merely sat until a special election could be geared up.

    How much more incentivized would the odd assassin become? A duly elected president hitting a temporarily unpopular moment of his presidency, where, would an election be held then, would go to the other party?

    After Tyler’s precedent, there have been almost 3 dozen assassination attempts of varying levels of seriousness (4 of which were successful). While just over a dozen of these are Clinton and later and lacked some seriousness but were still discovered anyway due to better intelligence gathering, we can at least glean that with about 2 dozen semi-serious to actually successful assassination attempts across a span of 3 dozen presidents…imagine *just how many more* attempts to do the deed would be incentivized by people trying to pull of a special election during a temporary period of unpopularity.

    Well done John Tyler.

  4. #2: It seems to me that given the wording you presented, banks would no longer be able to discriminate based on ability to pay. Is it cynical of me to assume that with Warren as a co-sponsor it likely assumes that disparate impact is proof of racism?

  5. Girl Scouts posted a tweet about the 5 female SCOTUS justices in American history. But it obviously included ACB.

    The Left couldn’t have that. The rage furies bullied the GSA, and like typical cowards took down the post and apologized for their non-partisan tweet being confused as a partisan tweet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.