Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/15/20: Bye-Bye Bill Barr!

bye bye

1. Bill Barr’s resignation. The Attorney General is leaving, and so would I, in his place. Unlike his predecessor, who endured unprofessional and destructive sniping from the President, Barr decided enough was enough. He issued a respectful letter of resignation, and said “bye-bye.” This was in contrast with other digruntled Trump officials like Mad Dog Mattis, who lived up to his name with a resignation letter guaranteed to give the Trump-hating media more fodder. I assume the final straw was Barr raking fire for correctly not using the Hunter Biden investigation as a GOP campaign weapon. With even half-competent and responsible news media coverage, the Justice Department’s silence about what they are supposed to be silent about would never have been an issue.

The President’s lack of loyalty, respect and gratitude toward his staff and associates is one more ugly character trait that motivates his critics.

2. Another unethical bait-and-switch. I have written about this issue too many times to devote a whole post to it again.. Yesterday Republican Michigan Rep. Paul Mitchell told CNN that he will change his party affiliation to Independent because of President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the 2020 presidential election and

Mitchell said he has put in a request to the Clerk of the House to change his party affiliation to “independent,” in an interview with CNN, and in a letter it is “unacceptable for political candidates to treat our election system as though we are a third-world nation and incite distrust of something so basic as the sanctity of our vote.” CNN, being incompetent, did not ask the necessary question, which is “Since you are lecturing the President and your party on ethics, why do you think it is ethical to run for re-election as a Republican, get the votes of Republicans in your district, and then change your party affiliation a month later?”

The ethical way to do it is to resign, and then run again under the new banner. A few party-switchers in the past have had the integrity to follow this procedure, notably former Senator Phil Gramm of Texas.

I would support a law requiring any elected official who switches party mid-term to have to resign. As the Ethics Alarm credo goes, “Where ethics fails, the law steps in.”

3. Ann Althouse gets in my lane! The retired law professor/blogger has a pure ethics post up today, inspired by, of all things, this tweet by Chelsea Clinton:

Clinton tweet

(Side issue: Why does anyone play any attention to what Chelsea does? She has no independent significance, expertise or authority whatsoever. Alyssa Milano may be an idiot, but at least she had a starring role in two successful TV series. Why does the USA still deem it important and a credential to have famous parents even when an individual is useless and unremarkable?)

Ann’s ethics alarms started ringing: I’m not sure mine would have. She writes in part,

First of all, are you lying? This better not be a cover for not sending a present. How long ago was the wedding? Did you attend the wedding? How expensive was the present? Why are you accusing the new occupant of just keeping the present when you know there are thieves who steal items from doorsteps? Surely, the identity of the people you’re accusing — or just asking about — could be easily uncovered. What’s the etiquette about insinuating that random private citizens are thieves? How many people are in the category “my closest childhood friends” for you? Does the “childhood” part mean you’re not really friends with them anymore? Did you even consider going to the wedding? Are you tweeting this now because you heard from the childhood friend and wanted to do something to vouch for your interest in her wedding? 

4. You want to know why so many people don’t respect transsexual activists or their demands? This is why so many people don’t respect transsexual activists or their demands... Zinnia Jones, also known as Lauren McNamara, who has transgender issues website, tweeted,

If children can’t consent to puberty blockers which pause any permanent changes even with the relevant professional evaluation, how can they consent to the permanent and irreversible changes that come with their own puberty with no professional evaluation whatsoever? This is literally a position that permanent changes are fine as long as you’re not trans. An inability to offer informed consent or understand the long-term consequences is actually an argument for putting every single cis and trans person on puberty blockers until they acquire that ability…. Also, if you don’t understand that use of puberty blockers is *always* followed by undergoing puberty whether natal (discontinuation) or induced cross-sex (continuation) you have no place saying anything about this topic to anyone

This is the transexual equivalent of “Open borders!,””Defund the police!” and…

(Please let me know when a version of this clip arrives without Greek subtitles…)

5. Oh, good job, Harvard! Clearly the education your students are getting is top notch…Professor Adrian Vermeule. …Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule is a constant source of amusement and enlighten ment on Twitter, where he delights in pointing out the absurdities of U.S. politics, largely from a conservative perspective. Now the  People’s Parity Project, a group of law students and new attorneys who aim to “unfuck the law” by ending “how the legal profession—and the law itself—enables harassment, discrimination, and other injustices,” is demanding that Vermeule bt publicly shamed by the law school and humiliated by stripping him of key teaching assignments, including teaching first year law students. From their letter to the Harvard administration:

We ask that Harvard Law School take the following steps:

1. Release a statement condemning Prof. Vermeule’s spread of inaccurate conspiracy theories about the election, violent rhetoric, and intolerant statements.
2. Conduct an investigation into whether Prof. Vermeule is spreading misinformation or discriminatory content in his classes or discriminating against students on the basis of characteristics protected by HLS’s Policy Against Discrimination, and take appropriate action until the investigation is completed.
3. Create at least two sections of Administrative Law per semester, so that no student is forced to take a class with Prof. Vermeule.
4. Commit that going forward, Prof. Vermeule will not teach 1Ls

Writes blogging tax law professor and Pepperdine law school dean Paul Caron:

“We are at a very dangerous place. The push to homogenize the intellectual life at our top universities is being driven by intolerant students and student groups who are so self-absorbed they think nothing of destroying careers to satisfy their own political and personal agenda.”

It also goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that would bet my head that every single one of the students involved in this attack voted for Joe Biden. What does this tell us?

61 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/15/20: Bye-Bye Bill Barr!

  1. Regarding #2: Apparently, Paul Mitchell did not run for re-election in 2020, so he is headed out in a couple weeks.

    Does that change the analysis?

    Is this still a bait-and-switch? Or is this a protest resignation from the party? Would the latter just be virtue-signaling, grandstanding, or a meaningful condemnation of the party?


      • Resign?

        I understand why you like the position taken by Phil gram.

        However, to resign, and leave your constituents un represented, all of them-not just those in a particular party, is problematic too.

        There is a duty to your constituents.

        How do you account for that?


          • No, no, no.

            He was a lame duck member of the House.

            No, PRE-tense. His decision was completely after the fact.

            Meanwhile, any of his constituents would be deprived of a crucial vote on any of the pressing issues that arise in these 4 lame-duck weeks.


            • He was was elected to be a Republican for his entire term. In the current House, his vote is meaningless. If you are going to use his unique circumstance to be an exception to the rule, you have to use everything. In reality, he doesn’t matter. All that matters is what he’s doing—an unethical bait and switch. For a month or a year—it’s still unethical.

    • Mitchell announced he was not running for reelection in July of 2019, long before the embarrassing antics of Trump and his “lawyers” (I use that term loosely). It’s logical to assume his disgust with the party developed well after his decision not to run again. Ethics hero in my book.

      • What’s embarrassing is how Mitchell did change parties. The ethical thing to do would have been for him to wait until he was no longer in office, and then switch parties privately. It is not ethical to make a spectacle of the thing, and it is not ethical to drag other people through the mud while doing so.

    • 4)Haven’t seen the movie — when I was watching that clip, I kept waiting for someone in the crowd to just shoot him (it was a revolution, right?) and put the country out of its misery.

  2. 3. I think Ann is being too harsh. Chelsea Clinton sent a wedding present to one of her old friends. We have no way of knowing if she did or did not attend the wedding and, frankly, it doesn’t matter. There have been tons of weddings I haven’t been able to attend myself due to distance or schedule conflicts. She was nice enough to send a gift (possibly in lieu of attending) and accidentally sent it to an old address – something I’ve done, too.

    Sure, she shouldn’t assume the people living there kept it, but I think accusing her of lying is unfair.

    She is asking for advice. Why doesn’t Ann just answer the question instead of criticizing?

    • Perhaps Ann shouldn’t have criticized, but, why would someone with her (Chelsea) status, education and background need advice from the Twitter verse? Didn’t her friend notify the USPS of her address change? Mail is forwarded for a year – must have been a really old address — Unless maybe she used FedEx or UPS, so then, what did she do with the tracking number (even if she used USPS)- did she verify the package was delivered? Those things are easy enough to check.

      • * She’s asking for etiquette advice. She’s allowed to bounce the situation off disinterested parties to see what they think. Who she is and what resources she has shouldn’t change that. Remember when some airline passenger decided to harass Trump’s daughter and family, chastizing them for flying a commercial airline instead of “fly[ing] private”? Trump’s daughter is allowed to fly commercially and Chelsea is allowed to ask Twitter its opinion. Whether they should, of course, is entirely different.

        * Maybe her friend didn’t notify USPS. Or maybe she did and the thing still wasn’t forwarded. Or maybe the address change was a year or two ago – well past the time USPS forwards mail – and Chelsea just failed to update her address book. Maybe she did use a shipping company with a tracking number, verified it was delivered and the people living there claim they never saw it – they could be lying; they could, as Ann pointed out, have been victims of porch pirates. We just don’t know.

        All we do know is that she sent a gift to the wrong address and her friend never received it. She believes the people living there now kept it.

        The thing is that we can only go by what she wrote in her tweet. Columnists like Dear Abby have to do the same. There are plenty of letters to Abby that seem like they’re missing information, but, by and large, the only answer that can be given is based on the information provided.

        I just don’t see cause to start nitpicking the situation to pieces as Althouse did and certainly not to accuse her of lying.

        • Actually, all we do know is that she SAID she sent a gift to the wrong address and her friend never received it. Perhaps it is my bias showing here but I find anything she says hard to believe. Frankly, I think the whole this is code for, “hey, twits, I sent a box of ballots to Stacey Abrams but she said she didn’t receive them. Should I send another batch, this time by FedEx?”


          • I wouldn’t trust Stacey Abrams as far as I could throw her. But I don’t see any reason not to believe Chelsea’s version of events.

            • May be not, but I find it hard to believe Chelsea Clinton (a) bought a gift, (b) wrapped a gift; (c) went to the USPO, and (d) mailed a gift. Those are way too pedestrian for her.

              I admit my disdain for her is showing.


              • Is it possible that there’s some confirmation bias there? I got that vibe off of Althouse. With all due respect to her and those who have replied, I just don’t think this is an important enough situation to question the veracity of…and seems a little like Clinton Derangement Syndrome.

    • Why Twitter? If I mistakenly sent a present to the wrong address and it got lost or grabbed by porch pirates, I’d send a replacement. Done. No need to appeal to the public at large that I really did send a present, I really care, etc. Clinton’s assumption about the current residents is unkind.

      This is part of a bigger issue that’s been bugging me. Why does everything need to be public? A teenager being reunited with his lost dog, a baby getting hearing aids and hearing her mother’s voice for the first time, baby’s first steps, these are moments that could have been intimate emotional vignettes in these people’s lives, but no, someone is purposely videoing, making sure they get the perfect video for Twitter/Instagram. You’re one step removed when you’re looking through a viewfinder/holding a phone up in front of your face. People who video events often remember them incompletely as they are focused on the task at hand while watching with one eye. The mother filming her son could have joined him in hugging the dog, the father of the baby with the hearing aids could have also been holding or at least touching his baby. It’s almost as if things aren’t complete or real unless they’re posted.

  3. Number 4 actually makes sense to me. It’s just a criticism of the idea that even with a professional evaluation indicating it might be in their best psychological interests, children should not receive a temporary treatment that (in theory) has no permanent effects. That criticism sounds reasonable to me, based only on what you quoted. If you’re going to mock that idea, you’re going to have to have something more trenchant than saying it’s like other ideas that people may or may not consider ridiculous to varying degrees.

    When you let go of the concept of “obvious,” a strong mind like yours ought to be able to find your way to a reasonable opinion, and letting go of assumptions about what’s obvious will make it easier for you to lead other people there as well.

    • If your own criticism is the idea that billions of people throughout history have had to go through puberty without any consultation as to what type of puberty they would undergo, and most of them turned out… kind of alright… and that interference with puberty is more likely to cause harm than a lack of interference, well, that’s also a reasonable statement, but it’s important to explicitly state it so that we have something concrete to discuss.

      We can talk about what methods we’d need to use to establish when interference is more likely to help than to harm, for instance. It doesn’t take that much effort to keep things in the realm of sanity, once you know what to look for.

      • I don’t think the fact that informed consent is unnecessary for normal human maturation to be seen as ethical needs an “argument.” The reverse needs an argument, and I haven’t heard one short of laughable or demented. Whether the result of natural growth is generally “all right” or not is irrelevant. This is like arguing that allowing the sun to come up without our consent is unethical.

    • Huh? The analogy offered is that the concept that one must “consent” to natural physiological growth is analogous to “consent” to extraordinary, un-natural interference with maturation. That’s obviously absurd. No?

      • That sounds like an appeal to nature fallacy to me. Just because nobody used to have a choice about how their bodies develop doesn’t mean people don’t deserve a choice in the future. We do still have to take into account the liabilities, though:

        Scarcity: What does it cost to give people multiple options for puberty, and how many people really need them?
        Disaster: What risks does those options involve for those individuals and for society as a whole?
        Stagnation: Do those options contribute to mental or emotional habits that will likely impair their ability to responsibly pursue goals?
        Conflict: Do those options interfere with other people’s goals in a way that harms society as a whole?

        • The idea that one’s natural gender is something that should be viewed with fear and doubt is socially induced neurosis to allow a tiny minority an easier path to acceptance. “Appeal to nature” can be a fallacy, or it can just be stating facts. Nature, at very least, should be the default route absent a rational reason to look elsewhere in a particular case.

  4. I have a disagreement with you on the DOJ policy regarding current political candidates. Being a political candidate should NOT be a shield for you or anyone you know from investigations or the reporting of them. Creating a political class with special exemptions seems like a profoundly un-American policy to me. It turns ‘Candidate’ into a de-facto title of nobility.

    A general policy of not releasing information about ANY investigations regardless of who is being investigated would be fine, but not just for political candidates, and if I recall correctly the policy is against pursuing the investigations. At least that’s how it was described when they were attacking Comey for saying anything about the clinton email investigation.

    There’s possibly an ethics zugzwang involved though. I see the confirmation that rules are only for the little guy as worse than allowing the DOJ to investigate the current president’s opponents, as long as the DOJ is consistent and honest. Of course, it isn’t either of those things…

    • The policy is to suspend investigations that may have an effect on an election, and not to reveal that such an investigation exists. The Clinton violation was out in the open: many were alleging that she violated the law. The investigation was, as far as I can tell, made public as a way to help Hillary. Besides, not investigating misconduct by Obama’s SOS would look like a cover-up. General policies don’t always work in specific cases. Hunter’s issues were much closer to what the policy is designed to avoid:DOJ looking like it’s abusing its power to influence the election.

      • So they publicized one investigation to help a democrat and invented a mens rea standard that isn’t present in the law on classified information, and suspended a different investigation which would have hurt a democrat. If the goal is to avoid the DOJ looking like it’s abused it’s power, they’ve failed utterly.

        Side note: I think ALL white collar crimes should have a mens rea requirement.

      • If we had a functioning press, the DOJ’s investigation would be a non-issue. As it stands, the press wholly ignored and/or dismissed it as Russian disinformation, or as in NPR’s case, actively refused to report on it. Barr following DOJ policy is appropriate; what is inexcusable, is that the press worked in conjunction with the DNC, the state and intelligence departments, and the RNC to kill off the biggest threat to their existence.


  5. RE: 2 –
    There are 10 states where the vacancy is filled by the Governor. If you are not politically aligned with the Governor, is resigning and giving a free seat to the opposition party more desirable than remaining in your seat and switching to Independent? (Doesn’t apply to Michigan, as they have a rule for Special Elections to fill vacancies.) I guess I just generally disagree with you on this issue. Is it really better to have a RINO or DINO and have them constantly voting with the opposition than to have them openly admit that they’re political philosophy has changed and that candidates from their former party should begin organizing the next election campaign?

    • I guess I’ve always felt, personally, that once elected, every politician should be removed from political parties entirely and enter into a new affiliation called “Incumbent” to turn every race into a potential 3-way race if the political parties wanted to put up a new candidate.

    • If you are not politically aligned with the Governor, is resigning and giving a free seat to the opposition party more desirable than remaining in your seat and switching to Independent?

      Yes. The issue isn’t the political result, the issue is integrity.

  6. Jack, You said,

    “The President’s lack of loyalty, respect and gratitude toward his staff and associates is one more ugly character trait that motivates his critics.”

    This assumes that we believe that Trump was wholly unaware of the political intrigue going on behind his back. What if he knew it was General Mattis or any of the others who were one of the many “high ranking anonymous sources” working to undermine his agenda from the inside? What loyalty does a boss owe to a subordinate that while employed surreptitiously works to harm you and then upon departure makes very public accusations that are the departed employee’s opinion?

    There are a great number of people who came and went from the administration. He did not trash everyone or even most. I have absolutely no respect for Mattis or McCain; for they seek the grandeur of war to which Trump is diametrically opposed . I have none for Romney nor Flake as they both have spines of Jello. Scaramucci and Omorosa are slime and were a bad choices from the start but I attribute those choices to attempts to be loyal to people who may have been close in other ventures. These two are merely self-serving hangers on and he figured it out rather quickly. Loyalty is a two way street.

    I don’t think Barr decided “enough was enough”. I believe Barr believed there was nothing more he could accomplish in the next thirty days that would warrant him taking a taxpayer funded paycheck. That is the ethical man.

    Trump’s willingness to fight back against those who are disloyal may motivate his critics but it could also be that his media critics were willing to pay huge dollars to encourage others to level internal attacks against Trump.

    Perhaps we should ask the following people on their opinion of loyalty.
    Betsy DeVos
    Dr. Ben Carson
    Michael Pompeo
    Asst. Acting Directors of Homeland Security
    Steve Mnuchin
    Kayleigh McEnany
    Hogan Giddly
    Sarah Sanders

    I have some unique insight into this as my wife was well acquainted with Trump’s personal valet (Tony) before Trump ran for office. She knew Tony when he was mayor of Martinsburg WV many years ago and they kept in touch over the years while he worked for Trump. When Tony retired from Mr. Trump’s service he told her of the many ways DJT would go out of his way to assist others. Tony never had a harsh word about his employer nor did he ever suggest that Trump was anything other than a gentleman. It is because of that knowledge of Trump my wife is a staunch supporter of Trump.

    We see the brash bravado of a guy that plays for keeps. To him, this is not a game of high dollar chess in which today you win, tomorrow you lose at the tax payer expense and no one cares because they are spending money from future generations.

    Trump was a threat to the ruling classes ability to live lavishly while doing virtually nothing except enact laws that take from one smaller electoral group and give to a larger electoral group or start wars that allow their interests in Raytheon, McDonnel Douglas, Boeing et al to rise in value. In the process, of redistribution or conflict the rulers get their cut. That is why Trump had to go.

    I don’t blame him for exposing the many who truly believe they are entitled to power and prestige, and the money that follows it.

    • Fact: no competent and ethical leader—not a baseball manager, not a CEO, not a General or President, openly criticizes a subordinate in public Ever. No exceptions. The fact that Trump may not have attacked every subordinate is obviously irrelevant. Kelly, Sessions, Barr, Tillerson are 4. That’s four more than the last six Presidents combined.

      This Leadership and Management 101. None of what you wrote mitigates the unethical conduct, and I don’t know why you would make the effort.

      • Excellent comment, as usual, Chris.

        However, I have to agree with Jack on this one. This is not one of Trump’s attractive qualities.

        On the other hand, as I believe we’ve said here from time to time, Trump’s gotta Trump.

        • “Not one of his attractive qualities”—two rationalizations cover that one. It’s a terrible quality, especially for a leader.

          And he doesn’t have to be an asshole, he chooses to be, because too many people have let him get away with it for too long.

      • “Fact: no competent and ethical leader—not a baseball manager, not a CEO, not a General or President, openly criticizes a subordinate in public Ever. No exceptions.”

        Point of precision: this “fact” is based on generalized inferences and value judgments. I agree with the statement, but using the word “fact” to describe an assertion like this just makes things easier for those who are in the business of manipulating information and manufacturing “facts” in order to silence dissent by wearing the clothes of “experts” and “fact-checking”.

        • No, when an activity demands standards, and those standards are supported by centuries of experienec as well as common sense and analysis, then it’s fact. It’s fact th crashing a plane intentionall is bad piloting. It’s fact that teaching students falsities is bad teaching. It’s fact that beating your kids is bad parenting, and its fact that competent and successful leaders do not undermine their authority and their followers by airing disagreements outside of the organization.

          Let’s not be pedantic, EC.

          • In my experience, declaring value judgments as facts leads to pointless arguments about what data is significant and what definitions are best, because people get distracted from considering what they actually care about. Without an understanding of what someone values and their trust that you understand, your collection of facts is not guaranteed to be relevant to their opinion.

            I find it is much more persuasive to describe what outcome a particular policy is likely to lead to, and why. Then people can judge for themselves what aspects of that outcome seem most important, and whether the approach can be modified to remove negative side effects while still accomplishing meaningful improvement.

            For example, you can say that leaders who openly criticize their subordinates discourage loyalty by unnecessarily and unilaterally damaging the reputations of those subordinates, that they fail to take advantage of the team relationship to provide feedback in private, where it is more effectively received. That equips people to make their own value judgments, which will likely be similar to yours, since you avoided triggering their instinct to push back against an opinion that’s handed to them. Does that make sense?

            • I don’t understand why a correct analysis with no reasonable alternative should not be called a fact. You know, there are no writers or specialists in leadership and management anywhere that argue that it is good leadership practice to attack or criticize a subordinate in public. That’s because it isn’t. Is, say, pronouncing that rape is not an acceptably way to handle relationship with women just a value judgement, or a fact? Doesn’t your formula lead to ethical relativism?

              • Do you think that value judgments are arbitrary? That the mere whim of a group determines what is ethical and what isn’t? That might explain why you are reluctant to accept that much of what you declare as “fact” is ultimately contingent on what people value and desire.

                The degree to which someone possesses a skill is an empirical fact, measured by whether they can reliably produce a defined result.

                The degree to which someone is a good candidate for a job is based on a value judgment: how much are the stakeholders of that job willing to accept the consequences of having that person do the job, versus having someone else do it or letting it go undone? What are the other options and how amenable or averse are the stakeholders to them?

                The value judgment of the stakeholders to accept varying levels of skill is not completely arbitrary, though. Some values are self-defeating. If people do not value competence, they will not accomplish their other goals. People who do not deal effectively with liabilities will be pushed aside by those who do.

                Investment, preparation, transcendence, and ethics are the virtues that deal with liabilities in a constructive and sustainable fashion. Forsaking these values comes with a cost, and that’s a fact. It is also a fact that people cannot be forced to practice them.

                The statement, “I should wake up at 7 AM,” is not a fact. It is a normative assertion, based on a value assumption. The statement, “I should wake up at 7 AM if I want to catch my flight,” may be a fact, because it uses a conditional statement in place of a value assumption. If I don’t want to catch my flight, the statement may still be true, and we can discuss it intelligently now that I have the option to say, “I don’t want to catch that flight because it is cancelled.”

                It causes huge, entirely avoidable problems when people toss out “facts” with baked-in assumptions of what people value and desire. Those assumptions are frequently invalid when dealing with people of different groups, and untangling “facts” to figure out which value assumptions are still true and whether the fact itself is still sound is very difficult, especially because many such facts cause people to feel attacked and become defensive, completely unnecessarily. People get distracted arguing about things that are only tangentially related to what they actually care about, because they can’t quite figure out why they think the statement is wrong.

                There’s nothing ethically relative about what I’m saying. My way is more effective at influencing people to reconsider their positions, both by putting them at ease emotionally and by helping them walk through the flaws in their reasoning to see for themselves. Sometimes I even get to update my own point of view to be more complete and helpful to others, when people draw my attention to a flaw I’ve overlooked. If you want to convince people to take you seriously when they wouldn’t otherwise be inclined to, I have some experience with that. I’m starting to think I’m considerably beyond most humans in that respect, which is odd because it’s something I was taught growing up; I just developed it further over time.

                Mostly, though, you should avoid calling statements “facts” when they have baked-in value assumptions because that’s something you would criticize a journalist for doing, and rightly so, in my opinion.

                • You are making a general argument about value judgments that I don’t disagree with at all. But its an abstract argument, and it doesn’t apply forever, or in every circumstance. If, for example, you live in a society where those who do not get up at 7 am have their family slaughtered and a finger amputated as instant punishment, “I should get up at 7AM IS a fact.” There is no rational, real world “value” that argues against it, nor can there be.

                  Management and leadership are results based roles: if the organization doesn’t succeed, then there was not competent and effective management, by definition. The reverse is also true: if the organization succeeds under a manager or leader, then that was a competent, effective leader or manager. That’s a fact,because success can be measured. Is it a fact that a manager or leader shouldn’t over-pay himself and spend huge proportions of the organization’s budget on his office furniture? Do you really want to argue that this isn’t a fact? If so, then use your imagination and explain any circumstance where such conduct is good management. There isn’t–because there can’t be. That makes it a fact.

                  • “There is no rational, real world “value” that argues against it, nor can there be.”

                    That may be so in your example, but when you’re arguing with someone, things are not nearly so clear-cut, and you’d be best served by not insisting on referring to statements as facts when they are actually derivations of objective facts, value judgments, and insufficiently certain inferences. (For best results, you should allow anyone in the argument to decide if an inference is insufficiently certain. You are free to exclude people from the discussion if they reject more inferences than you’re prepared to explain, though.)

                    There are statements that are true that aren’t necessarily “facts”. Calling something a fact when it’s contingent on what people want is a bad habit because it leads people to forget that some of their “facts” are based on invalid assumptions about what people want. Even though your examples are probably true, I’ll bet that you have other more tenuous “facts” that you try to assert that completely fail to convince reasonable people.

                    “The reverse is also true: if the organization succeeds under a manager or leader, then that was a competent, effective leader or manager.”

                    Does that mean that it’s not possible for an organization to get lucky and succeed despite managerial incompetence? Because I think it is possible and therefore I do reject this “fact”.

                    • Of course, But why do you think that changes the fact? Your definition is so abstract as to be useless, as it leaves conduct out of the factual category completely. What’s the purpose in doing that? If I, or anyone, mistakenly claims that it is a fact that X is Y, that can easily be countered by showing when X isn’t Y, or by producing a trustworthy authority who can make that case convincingly. You really want to argue that the statement “It’s fact that casting an Irish Setter as King Lear in a serious production is incompetent” is a value judgment?

                    • Yes, prescriptions for conduct are not “facts”. Descriptions can be “facts”, but not prescriptions. This is not only taught in English class (as a “fact” of how words are conventionally defined), but it is also very useful. Calling prescriptions or norms “facts” prevents further discussion, or moves the discussion in a direction that is not useful for your purposes.

                      My father taught me to say things like, “It seems to me…” or “As far as I can tell…” to give people room to raise points I overlook. Even if they’re not successful in doing so, the fact that I make it easy for them to try keeps them engaged. I’m rather surprised that you don’t seem to think this is important. You’re not going to change anyone’s mind going about it your way, and I’d expect that to be obvious to you.

                      Being more conscientious about avoiding epistemic overreach in your speech, no matter how confident you are, makes the difference between only being listened to by the people who agree with you already versus leading everyone to consider what you say whether they already agree or not. I consider a small price to pay for being able to successfully change people’s minds.

                      Regardless of whether you’re justified in using words as you do, I strongly suspect that it doesn’t communicate nearly as effectively as my way does. I believe you’ve quoted the amusing epitaph, “Here lies the body of William Jay Who died maintaining his right of way. He was right, dead right, as he sped along, but he’s just as dead as if he were wrong.”

                      I suppose the question I should be asking is, do you want to change anyone’s mind, or do you want only the choir to remain to preach to?

                    • Equivocation implies doubt and relativism. Prof Turley annoys me, and I’ve criticized him, for saying things like “this is troubling” about conduct that is unconscionable. Lawyers do not argue “my client is innocent (but maybe he’s guilty). That doesn’t convince juries about facts. If someone can’t mount a substantive counter argument, they should conclude that they have been on the wrong path. If they can’t do that, then a more flexible argument isn’t going to convince them.

                      If the mistreating and humiliating a subordinate is NOT terrible management and leadership practice to the point of certainty—hence a fact, it should be easy to show it. You’re hiding in abstractions so far. Can you?

                    • Ethical relativists fail to realize that opinions can be objectively judged against each other as better or worse for dealing with a liability. Opinions that accept unethical conduct will cause problems for society, and that is a fact.

                      That said, mistreating and humiliating a subordinate is indeed terrible management practice, but if you’re trying to establish that to someone who doesn’t already believe it, then it’s best to help them realize that for themselves. Whether it is “unacceptable,” by definition, depends entirely on whether they are willing to accept it. If they don’t start planning how to change it as soon as they have a reasonable opportunity, then they accept it.

                      Your lawyer analogy is not a good one. A lawyer has to make a case before a (theoretically) unbiased jury. The jury doesn’t have anything personally at stake, so they don’t feel attacked by the lawyers. If, on the other hand, you want to convince someone who’s biased against you, then dealing in absolutes won’t work. A person who feels attacked will cling to what they think they know. You have to make them feel comfortable enough to let go of their misplaced certainty, and in order to do so, you need to at least seem less certain about your own position, and more open to understanding their point of view, however wrong it may really be. They’ll be more willing to reconsider their position if they don’t see you as a threat to their identity.

                      I can’t claim this will persuade everyone in one go, but it will enable you to earn their respect. That affords you a) more conversations in the future, b) more pleasant conversations, c) more credibility over time, and d) more concessions from them even if they still don’t quite agree with you. If you don’t have their respect, then they’ll never speak with you again and you just have to hope their descendants don’t outnumber and outvote yours. That strikes me as a pathetic strategy, and I think we can do better than that.

                      I’m a fan of saying things are unconscionable if you have the arguments to back it up. If someone’s likely to get defensive, then it may be best to stick to “troubling,” but if your audience isn’t the people causing the problem, then by all means pull no punches. In any case, “unconscionable” is still an opinion, not a fact. You’re the only person I’ve ever heard claim otherwise.

                    • Wait, is that what you’ve been doing all this time? Arguing points as though you’re arguing to a jury? That doesn’t work outside the courtroom, because outside the courtroom the person you’re arguing with is not only the jury, but both the defense attorney and the defendant as well. (And probably a fool, as the saying goes).

                      You’re trying to convince them of their own guilt, and that’s not something that you can do with facts alone unless they are a mature human being. Even if you have the luxury of surrounding yourself with such people, their maturity may falter under stress, and that ignores the question of what exactly we do about the billions of immature human beings walking around preventing the world from getting better.

                      If we can’t conquer them and we can’t kill them, persuasion is the only hope left, and you seem to be sacrificing that option in favor of maintaining your own preferred style of communication. As you say, an approach can’t be ethical if it’s ineffective.

                      These lessons were impressed upon me years ago because my untempered arrogance was alienating everyone around me. Since then I have become decently well-liked and respected by the vast majority of people I know, and they consider me pleasant, reasonable, and worth listening to. That’s conclusive evidence for me of the importance of abiding by these principles. For further reading, I recommend checking out the book Difficult Conversations, by Patton, Stone, and Heen.

                    • No approach is effective if you are arguing to those who are incapable of critical thought. People agreeing with you because they like you isn’t agreement, it’s cognitive dissonance at work

                      I’m still waiting for a specific argument that derogating and employee or subordinate outside the organization is not bad leadership.

                    • I’m not saying it’s not bad leadership.  It is indeed bad leadership.  I’m saying that the way in which you assert and frame statements like that matters if you want people to consider that you may be right and they may be wrong.  

                      “People agreeing with you because they like you isn’t agreement, it’s cognitive dissonance at work.” 

                      They’re not supposed to agree with you because they like you.  They’re supposed to consider what you have to say because they don’t feel threatened by you.  Is that acceptable?

                      “No approach is effective if you are arguing to those who are incapable of critical thought.”  

                      I think what you really mean is that no approach you’ve tried is effective if you’re arguing to those incapable of critical thought.  I find a decent amount of success by introducing just a bit of critical thinking concepts and principles into the conversation, using mindsets like deconstruction, diagnosis, and translation.  People don’t need to understand all of critical thought right away; just enough to understand where I’m coming from.  

                      I suppose the relevant question here is whether you desire that people learn critical thinking and develop better ethics as a result.  If you do, then we can start talking about how it’s possible. (Don’t tell me it’s not; I’ve seen it myself and there is extensive recorded evidence of historical cases.)

  7. unacceptable for political candidates to treat our election system as though we are a third-world nation and incite distrust of something so basic as the sanctity of our vote

    You seem, to have forgotten to include a link to a quote from him condemning the Russian collusion nonsense.

  8. Now the People’s Parity Project, a group of law students and new attorneys who aim to “unfuck the law” by ending “how the legal profession—and the law itself—enables harassment, discrimination, and other injustices,” is demanding that Vermeule bt publicly shamed by the law school and humiliated by stripping him of key teaching assignments, including teaching first year law students.
    These people have the same ethos as the cancel culture faction of the religious right.

    The difference is that they have more influence.

    The cancel culture faction of the religious right masy have successfully pressured local TV station to stop broadcasting certain shows, pressured local radio stations to stop playing certain music, pressured local bookstores to stop selling certain books, or at worst, get people fired for supporting certain things like gay rights.

    But those like the People’s Parity Project have more power because they have support from academic and media elites,

    What are the odds that the Harvard administration even consider a request that a professor be “spreading misinformation or discriminatory content in his classes or discriminating against students on the basis of characteristics protected by HLS’s Policy Against Discrimination”, because the professor’s support for gay rights make some students feel “unsafe”?

  9. 1. Where does Bill Barr go from here? (other than prison, for working for Trump) I am asking seriously. What income-producing activity, for the sake of supporting himself, can he engage in?

    2. Nah. Can’t go with your proposed law. That would disenfranchise too many fake votes and dead voters. (I am TRYING to keep up with Zinnia Jones. You know she’s on the right side of history, right?)

    5. Hmmm…abstinence. From LAW. What a concept! We wouldn’t be seeing at Hahvahd the foreshadowings of a libertine society, would we? No laws, no justice, no peace…no people! I LIKE it!

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