Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/6/2020: Euphemism, Epidemiology And Epistemology

Blazing Sun

1. Unfortunately, the University of Chicago is not typical of American educational institutions. Smith College is. When Jodi Shaw, a Smith administrative staff member, criticized the college’s critical race theory-based “sensitivity training” required of all staff members and posted here own YouTube videos on the issue, the president of Smith College, Kathleen McCartney, felt it necessary to issue a formal statement that said in part:

This past week, an employee of the college posted a personal video to express their concerns about the college’s programming to promote racial justice….This employee does not speak for the college or any part of the college. Further, we believe the video mischaracterizes the college’s important, ongoing efforts to build a more equitable and inclusive living, learning and working environment.

You should know that the employee has not violated any college policies by sharing their personal views on a personal channel. The National Labor Relations Act protects employees who engage in concerted activities, including speech, with respect to workplace conditions. All members of any workplace, including Smith College, have the freedom to criticize the policies and practices of their employer.

Nevertheless, I am writing to affirm that the President’s Cabinet and I believe we have a moral responsibility to promote racial justice, equity and inclusion at Smith College. To the people of color in our community, please know our commitment is steadfast. And especially to our students of color, please know we are here for you always.

All members of Smith College, have the freedom to criticize the policies and practices of their employer; they just risk having the president call them racists.

“Racial justice” is now an Orwellian phrase and euphemism (like “black lives matter”) to avoid discussion and to cut off dissent before it starts. After all, what kind of person objects to “justice”?

2. But wait! There’s more! In an open letter to the Smith community authored by an alumnae group, Shaw is being targeted for “re-education”:

The existence and deleterious effects of White privilege and implicit bias have been well documented and established. That this staff member, despite being employed at a top U.S. college, remains ignorant of such documentation––in service, we presume from her video, of maintaining a guiltless understanding of her own Whiteness––only reinforces the need for ongoing education at Smith.

In the face of uncomfortable learning and change, there will always be those whose insecurity manifests as a digging in of heels. It is clear that this staff member, whose video evinces both a staggering lack of self-awareness and a deep preoccupation with disavowing the idea of White privilege, is indeed in need of further training before she can safely interact with students and fellow staff in the course of her employment.

Shaw’s non-conforming views “perpetuate an environment that is unsafe for BIPOC [black, indigenous and people of color] Smith community members,” the letter says. [Pointer: College Fix]

3. An addendum to the previous post about epidemiologists wanting us to wear masks and socially distance forever: the New York Times reports that two studies suggest that people working out wearing masks are not as miserable as they expected to be, and “may” even do some good. As you know, “may” is officially good enough to justify making life crummier forever. Says one scientist to the Times,“Covid-19 changes almost every aspect of our lives and makes simple things more complicated…But we can learn how to keep doing the essential things, such as exercise….I believe we can get used to going to the gym with a mask.”

Isn’t that wonderful?

4. Are you ready for the coming riots? Because they are coming...Last month, a Minnesota judge ruled that all four officers who were involved in the George Floyd incident will be tried together, and that the trial will be held in the Twin Cities as long as an unbiased jury can be selected. Despite the ambiguity around the causes of Floyd’s death, the officers are being prosecuted for political as much as legal reasons. This is the 1992 Rodney King fiasco all over again, and the likelihood that the officers, any of them, can be convicted on a legitimate “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard in a verdict that will stand up on appeal is distant at best. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Attorney General, Keith Ellison, continues to make public statements referring to Floyd’s death as a “murder.” A prosecutor, indeed any Minnesota lawyer, can’t do that. Minnesota Rule of Professional Conduct Rule 3.6 says that “A lawyer who is participating or has participated in the investigation or litigation of a criminal matter shall not make an extrajudicial statement about the matter that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know will be disseminated by means of public communication and will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing a jury trial in a pending criminal matter.” That language is incorporate by reference in Rule 3.8, governing prosecutors.

Statements like Ellison’s, coming from the top lawyer in the state, rob the defendants of a fair trial.

5. Time to open up the ol’ Ethics Alarms mailbag! Reader and frequent commenter Steve Witherspoon (whose excellent blog was just added to the Links here) asks if Barack Obama’s recent comments in an interview warrant Ethics Hero status.

In an interview with historian Ron Chernow in conjunction with Obama receiving the “Voice of Influence Award” from the literary organization PEN, he said, among other things,

“The lines have blurred now between propaganda and what we would consider journalism in a way that has been described as truth decay. You’ve got an epistemological problem where people don’t know now entirely what’s true and what’s not, and the old authorities and curators of what is factual are greatly weakened. And that’s dangerous for our democracy, and I don’t think that that’s going to be solved just by a new president. I think, internally, news organizations and all of us, culturally, are going to have to think about what to do about that.”

The ethics Alarms answer to Steve’s question is an emphatic “no,” because:

  • If he’s trying to say journalism no longer is journalism, he picked a mealy way to do it.
  • It’s not exactly an original or perceptive observation.
  • He used “epistological.” Pompous and intentionally vague, but darn, he sure speaks purdy…
  • “Fake news” is clearer and more to the point.
  • He waited 12 years to state what he benefited from directly for eight, and what President Trump was burdened with for four.
  • He’s not really say that journalism in general has become propaganda, he’s saying that sources that don’t follow “the old authorities and curators”—you know, like CNN, CBS, the New York Times and the Washington Post, all part of his cheering section—are the problem.
  • As usual, Obama offers no solutions, but expects applause anyway.

I will add, as a tangential point,  that those who argue that the Presidency of Joe Biden will just be “Obama, the Sequel” should understand that Biden’s defenders won’t be able to stifle criticism by calling his critics racist.

18 thoughts on “Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/6/2020: Euphemism, Epidemiology And Epistemology

  1. 5. Obama/Biden

    Jack said:

    I will add, as a tangential point, that those who argue that the Presidency of Joe Biden will just be “Obama, the Sequel” should understand that Biden’s defenders won’t be able to stifle criticism by calling his critics racist.

    Sure he will, as long as Kamala Harris agrees with him. Then, he gets the benefit/immunity of her minority status as long as she stands with him, or so the press will say.

    • Good point, Glenn.

      Critics of Biden will simply be called Nazis or enemies of democracy or the people or, worse yet, I suppose, Republicans or Conservatives.

      And regarding 5, I’ve recently nominated Barack Obama for ethics corrupter for the following:

      “Former president Barack Obama has criticized the usage of the ‘defund the police’ slogan and warns that the ‘white population’ is fearful that the ‘African American community’ will get out of control with police reform.
      Obama made the remarks in two separate interviews, one with CNN analyst April Ryan and the other for a segment on Peter Hamby’s Snapchat show Good Luck America.”

      From: Obama criticizes Democrats for alienating voters with the defund the police slogan | Daily Mail Online

      • OB quoted the Daily Mail:

        Former president Barack Obama has criticized the usage of the ‘defund the police’ slogan and warns that the ‘white population’ is fearful that the ‘African American community’ will get out of control with police reform.

        Heh. Who can imagine radical Marxist types going too far with their proposals? It’s inconceivable. [ / snark ]

        Also, imagine if Trump had used this exact same construction. Can you imagine the media response?

        The Dems do love to rub our collective noses in their double standards, n’est ce pas?

  2. #5 Here is why I sent the question to Jack.

    When I read what President Obama stated my first thought was about how those that support him elevate almost anything he says as if it’s some kind of inspiration straight from God himself and if the Obama worshipers would actually be inspired to start openly discussing what’s truly happened to the media.

    Let’s be honest President Obama got a Nobel Prize for nothing but talk, Nobel committee stated that the “Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples” when he actually hadn’t accomplished a damn thing before they awarded him the honor; they bastardized the honor and tainted it forever. President Obama get’s high honors for a few words without action, so if his statements are so damned influential and hold such clout with his worshipers is there a good reason that we shouldn’t think that these statements would have less clout?

    Could these statements from President Obama be the proverbial pebble in the pond for the political left?

    If the statements don’t become the pebble in the pond thus inspiring the political left on their own can the political right use the statements to ram the discussion down the throat of the political left? After all, their God has spoken about the media propaganda problems, isn’t it time for the God’s worshipers to take it and run with it.

    Continuous Propaganda Morphs the Thinking of Society

    • No chance, Steve. As Jack notes, if anyone needs him to clarify, he will do so. He was only speaking about Fox News and other media outlets that have wandered off the plantation.

      • Other Bill wrote, “He was only speaking about Fox News and other media outlets that have wandered off the plantation.”

        Where I completely agree that that is part of what he was talking about I don’t agree that that was the “only” thing he was talking about. I simply did not get that impression from the video. Judge it for yourself.

        • I am looking at this video in the context of his statements about the internet. He has deemed an independent internet a danger to democracy because people can post things without going through the ‘gatekeepers’. My suspicion is that he means the same thing here. He is talking about the new independent journalism that isn’t beholden to the Democratic Party. He is talking about the alt-tech social media sites that don’t require information to be censored first.

    • my first thought was about how those that support him elevate almost anything he says as if it’s some kind of inspiration straight from God himself
      ————-
      When I read that, my first thought was that it also applies to a lot of Trump supporters.

      Not saying that’s good or bad, but there’s some similarities.

      • This is a fair point, but I’d say there are far more Trump-skeptical Republicans than Democrats who don’t think former president Obama’s words are holy writ.

        I can offer anecdotal evidence — every one of my close friends falls under the Trump-skeptical category even while they supported his presidency, and all but one of us hail from a small, redneck town in Kentucky.

      • Diego Garcia wrote, “When I read that, my first thought was that it also applies to a lot of Trump supporters.”

        That’s not an unfair point; however, it’s completely irrelevant to the point I made.

        Plus, this is Ethics Alarms and we should at least try to avoid using the Golden Rationalization.

  3. I am no ethics expert nor did I stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night but for my money an ethics hero should be one that models ethical behavior on a regular basis. A singular comment from a demagogue that demonstrates good ethical principles does not make that demagogue an ethical person. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut from time to time.

    Note: in a prior comment on a different post I believe I used pedagogue in place of demagogue in reference to former president Obama. Neither his demagoguery nor his type of pedagogy in the classroom is welcome by me.

    • Chris Marschner wrote, “A singular comment from a demagogue that demonstrates good ethical principles does not make that demagogue an ethical person. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut from time to time.”

      So in a way you’re saying that President Obama stuck his foot in his mouth. Maybe this is so far off the reservation for the political left and draws unwanted criticism of media propaganda that they’ll have to cancel President Obama.

      • Steve
        No I don’t think Obama will get cancelled. The left is just using the newspaper to gently swat him across the nose.

        My specific point is that we attach the word hero to many undeserved persons for too many expected behaviors.

        An anology would be praising a 30 year old for getting out of bed and going to work.

  4. “The existence and deleterious effects of white privilege and implicit bias have been well documented and established”.

    By whom and by what standard are we measuring White privilege. Can’t we say all races hold implicit biases against other races. Can’t we say that different genders hold implicit biases against other genders. I can quantify many areas of Black or other minority privilege. Affirmative action is a privilege not afforded to all.

    When was the last time a minority owned firm was targeted by either Sharpton and Jackson’s shakedown teams. Every group has its privileges but only one is shamed for it.

    I left the demoralizing self-flagellating college environment in 2012 because of the growth in what is either pandering to minorities or self loathing because of the racialist and gender indoctrination taking place.

    Nothing says privilege then getting another group to grovel to you.

  5. You’ve got an epistemological problem where people don’t know now entirely what’s true and what’s not, and the old authorities and curators of what is factual are greatly weakened.

    That is why there is so much skepticism about the risk of COVID-19.

    It’s not exactly an original or perceptive observation.

    It was being made as early as 1994.

    http://groups.google.com/g/talk.politics.guns/c/gZg_XyptjyU/m/NiPCvQIctwUJ

    Well I have to look that up for myself. I’m just going by what I see/read in the news media.

    – Darryl Hamilton

    That’s an interesting approach, kind of like trying to determine the actual
    intelligence and character of Black people by watching “Birth of a Nation”….

    – Christopher Charles Morton

  6. I’m no psychologist so there may be a neat little term for this that I don’t know about, but I see a particular emotional phenomenon playing out in statements and thinkpieces coming from the political Left right now.

    When a person (all of us included) goes “too far” in pursuit of some achievement or victory, and succeeds a little TOO much by breaching known ethical or moral boundaries, there is a self-defeating urge to walk back some meaningless percentage of one’s success. This is not the same as having an artack of conscience (that would manifest itself in meaningful repentance and restitution of some kind;) it’s more of a subconscious feeling that a crime will be less obvious if you downplay the windfall it brought you.

    I’ll call this the “giving some back” effect. Suppose I play poker with five friends, betting real money, and come from behind to win big. All of us are old friends and are used to trash talk and being good sports about it, plus I’ve had my share of losses. So in that setting, I would be openly happy, give out some good-natured taunts, and go home with my cash.

    Now, everything else being equal, suppose I somehow blatantly cheat, completely rigging the game, and once again, clean everyone else out. The smart play to cover up my crime would be to act just as I would if the game were clean. But I’m my guilt, I would be more likely to decline to take all my winnings, keeping only most of them so as to offer an “olive branch.”

    Behold, the Left, many of whom were screaming “Nazi!” two months ago, now offering substanceless olive branches, proclaiming “a time to heal” and allowing themselves to tut tut a bit over the institutions that they have irrevocably destroyed just to hurt Trump.

    They crossed every line, lied every lie, made up fake news, covered up real news, prosecuted innocent people, harassed and terrorized teenagers, groomed false witnesses, exploited a public health crisis, and abused every power and platform they had, and now some of them can’t help but feel a little sheepish about that.

    Even the perpetually self-serving scoundrel, Obama, sees that they’ve gone too far. Not that he feels guilty; just aware that people might be noticing. And since he can’t benefit any more than he already has at this point, he gets to play Pilate and wash his hands. “Let the record show that I am against this thing now that the game is over and I no longer personally need it. I must distance myself from that which was my entire modus operandi since the only con left for me is my legacy.”

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