Monday Ethics Warm-Up, 12/14/2020: Last Week Before Getting Freaked Out Over Christmas Edition

Anxious Santa

1. American companies doing China’s censorship for a buck. The Chinese government pulled the American film “Monster Hunter” from theaters because a childish pun was deemed racist. “Look at my knees!” says an American soldier played by a Chinese-American rapper known as MC Jin as he rides in a military vehicle. “What kind of knees are these?” Then he answers his own question: “Chi-nese!”

Based on that, the movie was attacked and censored, so the line was removed, and German production company that co-produced the film (Sony is the U.S. distributor) apologized.

I am increasingly convinced that the media edict that it was racist to refer to the Wuhan-originating virus as the Wuhan virus was entirely motivated by corporate media interests in Chinese revenue. If U.S. companies won’t represent U.S. values in their dealings abroad, then the role of the U.S. as a beacon of democracy and human rights in the world is a sham.

I intend to call the pandemic the Wuhan virus forever.

2. Are absurd gay stereotypes unethical? Late night talk show host James Corden is being pilloried for his performance in Netflix’s musical The Prom. He plays an openly gay Broadway actor who describes himself as “gay as a bucket of wigs” in the Broadway musical’s film adaptation that premiered last week. I haven’t seen the film, but I know what gay stereotypes look like, from the Flaming gay director (and his even more flaming assistant) in Mel Brooks’ original “The Producers” to Martin Short’s event planner in “Father of the Bride.” The new name for this kind of performance is “gayface,” an obvious reference to blackface.

Are extreme gay stereotypes funny? I don’t know: they always made me uncomfortable, and I mean even when I was a child. They are inherently “othering” and therefore cruel. Having worked in theater for decades, I have known too many wonderful gay men and women to regard such mean-spirited ridicule as anything but unfair and “punching down.”

On the other hand, stereotypes are a form of satire. Why should only certain groups be immune from ridicule, while others, like middle aged white men, are regarded as legitimate targets? Or is the new, kinder, gentler, anti-free expression totalitarian America going to decree what we can laugh at?

3. RIP Walter Williams. Black economist and conservative Walter Williams died last week. I worked with Williams, an iconoclast and contrarian, long ago when we did a project together at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Here are some representative quotes from Walter, who in addition to being brave and brilliant, was a very nice man:

“But let me offer you my definition of social justice: I keep what I earn and you keep what you earn. Do you disagree? Well then tell me how much of what I earn belongs to you – and why?”

“How does something immoral, when done privately, become moral when it is done collectively? Furthermore, does legality establish morality? Slavery was legal; apartheid is legal; Stalinist, Nazi, and Maoist purges were legal. Clearly, the fact of legality does not justify these crimes. Legality, alone, cannot be the talisman of moral people.”

“Democracy and liberty are not the same. Democracy is little more than mob rule, while liberty refers to the sovereignty of the individual.”

“No matter how worthy the cause, it is robbery, theft, and injustice to confiscate the property of one person and give it to another to whom it does not belong”

“The recognition of the fact that Congress has no resources of its own forces us to acknowledge that the only way Congress can give one American one dollar is to first, through intimidation, threats, and coercion, confiscate that dollar from some other American. If a private citizen did the same thing that Congress does, we would call it an immoral act—namely theft. Acts such as theft that are immoral when done privately do not become moral when done collectively. The moral tragedy that has befallen Americans is our belief that it is okay for government to forcibly use one American to serve the purposes of another”

“French economist/philosopher Frederic Bastiat (1801–50) gave a test for immoral government acts: “See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.”

“Philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe explained that “no one is as hopelessly enslaved as the person who thinks he’s free.” That’s becoming an apt description for Americans who are oblivious to—or ignorant of—the liberties we’ve lost.”

“Some say it’s wrong to profit from the misfortune of others. I ask my students whether they’d support a law against doing so. But I caution them with some examples. An orthopedist profits from your misfortune of having broken your leg skiing. When there’s news of a pending ice storm, I doubt whether it saddens the hearts of those in the collision repair business. I also tell my students that I profit from their misfortune—their ignorance of economic theory.”

4. And speaking of Walter’s theme in those quotes, here was the fatuous answer by the increasingly unbearable Phillip Galanes when a reader asked how he should react to an uncle who chastised him for wanting to have his student loans cancelled, saying, “No one forgave my student loans!” Galanes answered in part,

“Your uncle’s apparent grievance at the prospect of social progress seems odd. When the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, for instance, I don’t recall older members of the L.G.B.T.Q. community expressing bitterness that they hadn’t enjoyed the right to marry in their youth. No, we all celebrated the decision as a big step on the road to greater equality.”

Anyone who thinks that’s a fair analogy has no business writing an advice column, or fortune cookie fortunes, for that matter. The uncle paid his own debts, and now he’s being asked to pay part of his nephew’s debt as well! Galanes really thinks allowing people to borrow money and then not have the obligation to repay it is “social progress.”

5. Brava! Ann Althouse nailed this one. A local news story noted that Wisconsin governor Tony Evers had “announced Friday that the state Department of Administration has been awarded $60,000 in federal grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts to help restore the ‘Forward’ and Col. Hans Christian Heg statues. Restoration of the two statues has begun and both are anticipated to be reinstalled by mid-2021. Evers also has asked the State Capitol and Executive Residence Board to consider a new statue on the Capitol grounds of the late Vel Phillips, Wisconsin’s first Black secretary of state. A community advisory committee plans to complete a proposal to erect a statue of Phillips by early 2021.”

Those two statues, one of an abolitionist and the other dedicated to women’s rights, were torn down by Black Lives Matter rioters over the summer. (The State Journal headline calls them “protesters.” Protesters don’t do $60,000 worth of damage.) Ann writes,

I don’t understand the connection between replacing torn-down statues and putting up a new statue that represents the cause that was involved in tearing down the old statues. I’d like Tony Evers to make a clear statement that is something reasonable and respectable, otherwise it seems to reward destructive behavior. Nothing against Vel Phillips, I just think it’s dangerous to respond positively to destruction. What’s to prevent the statues — including the new one — from getting torn down again? Or is that the reasoning, that the new statue is supposed to appease the statue-destroyers, so all 3 statues can remain standing? That’s a strange sort of moderation, and it’s not something that Evers or the advisory committee would say out loud. And it’s not even accurate, because the statue-topplers had no fact-based reason for going after “Forward” — a symbol of progress — and Hans Christian Heg — a Civil War abolitionist who died for the cause. With such bad targeting, they might topple a statue of Vel Phillips. 

13 thoughts on “Monday Ethics Warm-Up, 12/14/2020: Last Week Before Getting Freaked Out Over Christmas Edition

  1. #4: Galanes’ analogy is particularly inapt, as a common, valid, argument in support of legalizing gay unions was “It doesn’t take anything away from YOU.” Obviously not the case in forcing someone else to pay your debts.

    • I suspect Galanes would claim that nobody has to reply the debts. This is where modern monetary theory comes in handy — i.e., the idea which is taken seriously at the NYT that forgiving student debts and other debts does not require others to foot the bill, since the government can just print more money. This is how a classic societal trade-off with clear winners and losers can be re-branded unambiguous “social justice”, notwithstanding Walter Williams’ definition.

      Don’t shoot the messenger…

  2. Regarding #5 Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, Virginia has this beat by a mile. Governor Ralph Northam has announced that he is seeking $25 million for social justice initiatives “to transform historical sites in Virginia” including the recent “corrective measures” on Richmond’s Monument Avenue. See it here:

    This is presumably $25 million in tax dollars to repair the damage that was intentionally done to monuments that were mostly privately financed through donations in the last century. It is good that our Virginia governor is so dedicated to enhancing public spaces so that everyone can feel safer. Tax money well spent… I guess.

  3. 1) it is of existential danger now that we extricate ourselves from interest in earning Chinese “money”. They’ve played so many bull-crap monetary games on the backs of their rural (basically slave) population. And when the time is right, and we’re getting very close to that time, China can bend entire economies to it’s will by jacked with the international monetary system.

    • One of the goals of the Chinese Belt and Road strategy is to make the Yuan the world’s dominant currency. This would allow them to manipulate everyone else’s energy costs. Does anyone believe that the requisite equipment needed to collect, store and control renewable electrical generation will be readily available if the components are made in China. Maybe we can put little Greta Thundberg on a bicycle attached to a generator.

    • I have been watching the recent Chinese “envoy” and Eric Swalwell disaster with amusement for the last week or so. I see that the fetching young lady was involved with mayors in Mid-West towns, too. I wonder why that would be. What did China have to gain by having their lady befriend small town mayors? Oh. Grain? Meat? Control of the US agriculture centers? Could be.


  4. 4) The real crap with student loan forgiveness is it is literally taking money from people who have worked hard, and in 2/3rds of cases *DO NOT HAVE DEGREES OF THEIR OWN* to give to kids who either made stupid investments that aren’t paying off or at a minimum are *already in a privileged position of attending and graduating college*.

    How utterly immoral is student loan forgiveness. Abjectly immoral.

  5. Maybe the nephew should havve done well enough in school to get into West Point, or at least earn a full ROTC scholarship.

    Contrary to what many read, there is tuition-free university education in the U.S.

    • No, there is not.
      In the case of the academies or ROTC scholarships, some one else is paying (taxpayers).
      Even in the case of ‘free’ online courses, there is a cost to the creator of the course, possibly just lost time in creating the course, or, payment that is less than the full value of the course.

  6. Regarding #2:

    Stereotypes can obviously be demeaning but not necessarily so. They convey lots of information by relying on the viewers preconceptions. The Simpsons does this very effectively. The use iof stereotypes is not necessarily offensive, and can innocently be used for humor by setting up certain expectations that can be used for humorous effect.

    Then you can go to the opposite extreme. Apparently, Dumbledore the Wizard is homosexual. Apart from his penchant for flashy robes, which I always took to be a Wizarding thing, there seemed to be no indication of his homosexuality (and, no, I am not going to re-read several thousand pages in order to learn that, on Page 358 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Dumbledore mentioned a friend he had in his youth who was, unbeknownst to anyone, was Dumbledore’s gay lover). Dumbledore’s sexuality is neither apparent nor insightful. Knowing his sexuality does not appear to further the story in any way.

    And, that could be Rowling’s point: that homosexuals are no different from heterosexuals. But, that suggests that stereotypes are not a useful device for telling a story. That would be kind of funny, especially when talking about a story about a boarding school in Great Britain for aspiring wizards and witches, where they ride brooms, mix potions and cast spells with the assistance of a magic wand.


    • Real witches have 4 ex-husbands, smell like cat litter and incense, and manage crappy bookstores in Idyllwild that sell crystal statues of naked dwarves and 12 different special-editions of The Secret. You wouldn’t want to watch a movie about them.

  7. Flaming gay stereotypes don’t really hit with people outside of L.A. You’ll see your share of extremely, intentionally flamboyant gay men there, sure, but not so much everywhere else. So the gags have been a decades-long sort of Hollywood in-joke that must be hilarious to screenwriters and directors, but which the rest of us had just had to endure.

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