Saturday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/27/2021: Confusion And Irony

Doomscrolling” is a relatively new term to describe the habit of constantly checking one’s smartphone for bad news. Jeffrey Hall, professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, has spent over 10 years studying technology use in conjunction with relationships. He says that the mass media is intentionally triggering the habit:

“People tend to have what’s called negativity bias when it comes to information. From an evolutionary perspective, it’s related to the idea that we needed to be more alert to threats. If things are not particularly surprising, we can reside in a very low energy state, but as soon as we see something that’s potentially threatening or worrisome, it piques our attention. The algorithms are picking up on what we engage in, and our attentive processes tend to focus on the more negative information….”

The professor recommends filtering social media as a remedy:

“You can also take active steps to recognize if there are people who are a part of your social network that seem to be fueling your sense of doom and gloom. You may want to consider unsubscribing or muting them. People are very loath to actually unfriend or stop following a person altogether. However, there are ways to not get that content. Oftentimes we’re very upset about content we see, but we don’t do anything to change what we see.”

I dunno, professor! The people on Facebook seem to revel in shared, if imaginary, gloom and doom. Most of them “muted” me when I pointed out that the false narratives about the President being some kind of a traitorous Nazi racist monster trying to end American democracy were media-driven, partisan scams. That should have been good news, and it happened to be true. Instead, my Facebook friends crawled back into their comforting imaginary crisis bubble and, from what I can see, virtually no one there reads any EA posts that I put up. Trump Derangement was (in fact, is) a fad, a pastime, and sort of a club that eventually metastasized into a mindless mob.

1. On the question of canceling artists of bad character…A note that on this date in 1936 Shirley Temple, who was all of seven years old, signed a deal paying her almost a million dollars per picture in today’s currency reminded me of this horrible story: when Shirley was an attractive teen seeking to transition away from child roles, she met with MGM’s legendary movie musical chief, Arthur Freed. He exposed himself at the interview, and Shirley’s mother decreed that she would have no further dealings with MGM.

First, how sick to you have to be to expose yourself to Shirley Temple (the term “scumbag” comes to mind)? Second, would that justify refusing to watch and enjoy all of the classic musicals he was responsible for at the studio, like “Singing in the Rain,” “The Bandwagon,” “Wizard of Oz,” “Gigi,” the Mickey and Judy films, “Meet Me in St. Louis,” and many more? How about all of the songs he wrote, including the ones used in “Singing’ in the Rain”? I love that movie, but it is presented as a celebration of Arthur Freed, as is another favorite, “That’s Entertainment!” And the guy exposed himself to Shirley Temple!!!

2. And speaking of entertainment, the Golden Globes Awards broadcast is Sunday. There is no sock drawer too neat that wouldn’t take priority over this annual over-hyped garbage; still, I note that Chadwick Boseman is overwhelmingly favored for the Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama category for his performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” He is presumed to be a lock because a) he’s black, and b) he’s dead (the “Black Panther” star perished of cancer last year at 43). I would have made him my favorite because Boseman was terrific in that role. His race and tragic death should have no bearing on the award at all, and the open admission that both will be factors in his favor diminish the award. We know artistic awards are tilted by bias, but that’s not supposed to be a good thing. The Globes can enhance my respect for their integrity by not giving the honor to Boseman.

3. From the res ipsa loquitur files, “job incompetence” section—this is from Maldon, Essex (that’s in Great Britain):


Not only did the painter make the error, he or she didn’t notice it. How’s that public school education going over there, GB?

Everyone seemed to be amused, but apparently the sign will be corrected. I think if everyone is so amused, it should be left as it is, both as a long-lasting source of mirth, but also as a mark of shame.

4. And speaking of incompetence: In Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, 54-year-old Donald Cassidy reported his car as stolen. State troopers located the vehicle in some woods; it had been burned thoroughly, but the VIN number was visible, and it verified Cassidy as the owner. The investigation resulted in a search of Cassidy’s smartphone, on which the internet history revealed that Cassidy had googled “how to set your car on fire and make it look like an accident.”

Cassidy has been charged with arson, false reports and risking a catastrophe. I assume he didn’t have time to engage in insurance fraud, but that was probably his goal.

Is it more ethical to be an incompetent scammer, or a competent one?

12 thoughts on “Saturday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/27/2021: Confusion And Irony

  1. 3. Are we sure the sign painter wasn’t turning down a proposal from … ‘Enry? Perhaps ‘Enry has had his parking privileges revoked?

  2. Just as an addition, as most folks probably know, Shirley Temple Black (her married name) was later ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. Most don’t know that she actually ran for Congress in a special election in California, but lost in the primary. Most had no idea, or didn’t bother to notice, that she was in fact a lifelong Republican. Upon her death from COPD at age 85 in 2014 (she was a lifelong smoker but didn’t do it publicly because she didn’t want to set a bad example) there were more than a few posts and tweets that condemned her and expressed shock that she was such a cute kid, where did she go so wrong?

  3. Not only did the painter make the error, he or she didn’t notice it. How’s that public school education going over there, GB?

    British public school education is still among the best in the world, e.g. Eton, Harrow, Winchester etc. But it’s unlikely that a public school boy did that, unless it came up as part of a vacation job or some such. It’s the state school education that leaves much to be desired, unless you can game the system by living in the catchment area for a good school. That’s what lefty politicians like the Benns did.

      • Why do you run things like that through a filter that makes you think “gratuitous snark” rather than, quite simply, clarification and showing you cultural differences? It’s no more gratuitous than when I practically had to use a sledge hammer to show you what a cockney is, let alone a snark, and you were quite offended by the lengths I had to go to for that – yet the alternative was to allow material error to dig itself in.

        These issues are particularly important for readers who take your usage as an example and wheel it out in the wrong context by mistake. The U.S. meaning of “public school” is the same as here in Australia, but it seemed to need clarifying when you were writing about British practices – just as it would if you used U.S. gallons to describe what goes on in Britain.

        Here’s some more clarification: “public schools” in Britain are public in the same sense as public telephones, i.e. unrestricted to the public though not free (a denominational school might or might not be public in that sense, depending on the implementations of the beliefs behind it; Ampleforth qualifies, though Roman Catholic). Private education in Britain means using private resources, all the way from home schooling to paid tutors. The Royal family was entirely privately educated until recent generations, when Prince Charles went to a public school. There’s a lot of social history there, having to do with the aftermath of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, but it would be too much of a digression to go into that.

        • Here’s a clarification: I was applying the term “gratuitous snark” to my own dickish line, “How’s that public school education going over there, GB?”, and not anything that you wrote. Of course, since I have been thin-skinned in reaction to some of your notes in the past, it is understandable that you would assume I was chiding you, but for once I wasn’t.

          I’ll try to be better.

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