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.