Saturday Ethics Cool-Off, 5/22/2021: Another “Bad Ethics Date”


Yikes. May 22 is another of those cursed dates where ethics rot was in the air. For example, in 1958, rock superstar Jerry Lee Lewis admitted that his new bride was a child. He even lied while doing that, “admitting” she was 15 when Myra Gail Lewis was actually only 13 years old,and also Jerry Lee’s first cousin. Another detail Lewis didn’t mention was that the loving pair had married five months before his divorce from his second wife. Jerry Lee insisted the second marriage wasn’t legally valid because that one had taken place before his divorce from his first wife.

Other ethics low points on this day:

  • In 1939, Italy and Germany agreed to a military and political alliance, giving birth to the Axis powers, which would eventually include Japan.
  • In 1856, Southern Congressman Preston Brooks savagely beats Northern Senator Charles Sumner in the Senate Chamber. On May 19, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner began a two-day speech on the Senate floor in which he attacked three pro-slavery colleagues by name, one of whom, South Carolina Senator Andrew P. Butler, was sick and absent from the proceedings. Butler’s cousin, Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina, decided to defend the honor of his kin. Wielding a cane, Brooks entered the Senate chamber and began beating Sumner at his desk, which was bolted to the floor. Sumner’s legs were pinned by the desk so he could not escape, and the beating continued until Senators subdued Brooks. Brooks supporters cheered the vicious act and sent him many replacement canes. Sumner could not return to the Senate for three years while he recuperated from his injuries.
  • In 2017, right after pop star after Ariana Grande finished the final song of her May 22 concert at Manchester Arena in Great Britain, a suicide bomber detonated an explosion killing 22 concertgoers and injuring 116 more. ISIS claimed responsibility.
  • In 1868 the “Great Train Robbery” was pulled off, with seven members of the Reno Gang getting away with $98,000 in cash from a train’s safe in Indiana.

And a special Happy Birthday to Ted Kaczynski, the “Unabomber,” born this day in Evergreen Park, Illinois in 1942. Yes, we’re still keeping him alive; after all, he only murdered three innocent people (he maimed or injured 23 others.).

1. The Great Stupid, International Strain: The Globe Theatre, Great Britain’s famous reconstruction of the Elizabethan playhouse where William Shakespeare had his works first performed, has launched a project to “decolonise’ Shakespeare’s plays, the centerpiece of Western literature. The Globe has been listening to experts who conclude that his work is ‘problematic’ for linking whiteness to beauty. Another academic maintains all of Shakespeare’s plays are “race plays’ as they all contain ‘whiteness’. For example, the first line of the 1595 comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” famously opens with Thesus saying: “Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour Draws on apace.”

The Horror. Why any “expert” who makes an argument like this isn’t regarded exactly as if she had appeared in public naked, painted blue and wearing a squid on her head is beyond me. As Great Stupid break-outs go, this one is pretty trivial. Shakespeare plays have been routinely debased by absurd adaptations and meat-axe editing for centuries. The only reason this example is noteworthy is its source. You’d think the keepers of the Bard’s flame in England would have more sense, not to mention respect. [Pointer: Other Bill]

2. Sexualizing…LEGOS??? LEGO, the iconic Denmark toy company, for some reason thinks sex needs to be on the minds of children using building blocks. There will be a new LGBTQ-themed set of LEGOs called “Everyone Is Awesome” in time for “Pride Month.” The set contains faceless figures colored to match the Gay Pride rainbow, with one purple figure in a beehive wig , according to the set designer, Matthew Ashton, “a nod to all the fabulous drag queens out there.”

I hope LEGO loses a bundle on this cynical pandering and indoctrination exercise.

3. I was happy to read this in an essay about the dubious priorities in our culture’s fitness obsession:

The elevation of fitness to the highest of attainments is a sure sign of a culture grown neurotically inward and stunted. It’s a sign of diminished aspirations. When “self-improvement” entails not learning German but doing star jumps, we’re aiming to clear the lowest of bars. We’re not producing superheroes, but gym bunnies. In the end, no matter how much agony we undergo to build our biceps, those perishable muscles will still atrophy in old age and then end up on the scrap heap — at which point, what have we got to show? We could stand to demote the press-up back to the floor where it belongs.The whole purpose of maintaining a functional body is to be able to do something else: write books, invent new software, land a rover on Mars. Theoretically, Michelangelo could have spent all his time on chin-ups and never have got round to the Sistine Chapel.

It reminded me of this passage, which I wrote here in 2009:

It’s time; indeed, it is past time. I think there is even a case to be made that a fat individual may be overweight for ethical reasons. You can spend a couple hours a day jogging and pumping iron—14 hours a week, 56 hours a month, 672 hours a year—or you can spend the same time on pursuits that benefit people other than yourself, like your family, the poor, or society. Extra weight may be a form of sacrifice, a badge of honor. … If Oprah Winfrey wants to call herself fat, fine, but who can criticize how she uses her time? She cares about other things more than the scale and the mirror. Good for her.

18 thoughts on “Saturday Ethics Cool-Off, 5/22/2021: Another “Bad Ethics Date”

  1. I guess the Killer liked something other than Chantilly lace and a pretty face. Great balls of fire. But he was from rural Louisiana and grew up poor. Kind of par for the course, kissin’ cousins and branchless family trees, etc. He is also a cousin of Jimmy Swaggart! And he sure as heck knows how to put on a show. I always admired his honesty in being okay with not having the success Elvis had by saying “I think Elvis had something I don’t have.”

    • Until well into his seventies, he was one of the most electric performers I’ve ever seen, and that was just on TV. He was the white Little Richard, and that’s high praise.

      • Amazing Jerry Lee is still performing after a stroke he suffered. He went through wives like Mickey Rooney and there’s something about that old Louisiana hillbilly that’s still compelling. I saw him perform once in the 1980s and he still had it in him.

  2. “Shakespeare plays have been routinely debases by absurd adaptations and meat-axe editing for centuries.”
    Yes, and even the Globe, which was founded to allow audiences to experience Shakespeare in close-to-original form, has started doing this. Coincidentally, it was ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ that was the subject on my last (final) visit. A great shame, particularly since much of the audience is tourists seeking a taste of the real Shakespeare.

  3. I know this is beside the point of why the essay was shared, but America most certainly does not have a fitness obsession. A fitness subculture maybe. A fitness enclave. A fitness oasis.

  4. It is a bit of a stretch to take an argument against obsessiveness, which is what Shriver is writing about, and use that as an argument against something that, in moderation, is known to be beneficial.
    “The elevation of fitness to the highest of attainments” may be true for some, in fact a fairly large number of people, but it definitely is not “a sure sign of a culture grown neurotically inward and stunted.” It is instead a sign that some people have grown neurotically inward and stunted.
    To leap in the other direction and say that people are fat for ethical reasons likewise is a stretch. That may be true for some, although it would be difficult to establish that as a fact for anyone. But it would take a lot more than anecdotal evidence for such a generalization to be supported.
    On the other hand, there is plentiful evidence that maintaining a reasonable level of fitness can help people be more productive and improve brain function.

    • Yep. The fact that we have a relatively small subset of people who take fitness to unhealthy levels and a large subset of people who can’t be bothered to exercise to (literally) save their life demonstrates to me that we, as a society, do not value moderation.

      We’ll always celebrate the extremes–those who give up the chance for a normal life (or even worse, take a parent away from their children) in order to be the best at something.

      Near me, we’ve got Iron Cowboy James Lawrence, who is apparently more interested in becoming famous and a Guinness record holder than giving his children any of his (or apparently his wife’s) time for at least 6 months. I don’t see any good coming out of his unhealthy and obsessive experiment, but he’s being lauded all over the country.

      • Everything in excess! To enjoy the flavor of life, take big bites. Moderation is for monks.
        Excerpt from the notebooks of Lazarus Long, from Robert Heinlein’s “Time Enough for Love”

  5. Let’s not forget Laurence Keitt, who advised Brooks to beat Sumner rather than challenging him to a duel, since he believed he had no honor, and drew a pistol and ordered other senators not to try to intervene and restrain Brooks. Brooks was convicted of assault and fined $300, about $8,000 today. He then resigned to let his constituents vote on his actions. They returned him to office by a significant margin, but he died of croup (in agony, I might add, which is no less than he deserved) at the age of 37, before he could begin the new term. Sumner, although suffering from lingering effects of what we would recognize now as TBI and PTSD, returned to the Senate and continued to represent MA until his death in 1874 at the more respectable age for that time of 63.

    The Manchester bomber died in the attack, and his brother, who aided in the attack, is only going to see the UK equivalent of the parole board in 50 or so years because he was 20 at the time of the attack, and you have to be 21 in the UK in order to be eligible for a whole life tariff, i.e. life without parole. The real worrisome effect of that attack is that it jolted the UK into putting soldiers on the street next to the police, like the whole place was Belfast 1979. The bomber’s brother was grabbed by the SAS, which would be the equivalent of the US sending Delta Force or the Navy’s Special Warfare Development Group (better known as SEAL Team 6) after someone. That’s a dangerous power for a government to wield.

    In all fairness to the Unabomber question, he only didn’t fry because he agreed to plead guilty to all charges IF the US Attorney would take the death penalty off the table. He’s serving eight consecutive life sentences in super-maximum security without the possibility of parole, and will never draw a breath of free air again. The upside to this is that the families of the victims and the general public will never hear his name again until he dies in prison, for no one will take up the cause of saving his life as someone might if he were sentenced to death. As much as I’d have like to have seen him take the gurney ride, the thought of him dying alone, aged, and forgotten isn’t too bad of a consolation prize. It’ll be even better if no one claims the body and he ends up dumped in a potters’ field.

    1. (eyeroll) Stupid, and a betrayal of what the Globe is for. That said, I saw Sir Ian McKellen in a modern-costumed version of King Lear in London 2018, with Jeremy Irons’ wife Sinead Cusack as Kent and black actress Anita-Joy Uwajeh as Cordelia and it worked very well, BUT that might just be because that production had a kick-ass cast.

    2. Disgusting. I have fond memories of Legos as they introduced the minifigures, and I think it’s great that kids can play in almost any genre with them, though they might want to stop by to arm police and soldiers properly, but eroticism does NOT belong in children’s toys. Period. Full stop.

    3. Fitness is very important, speaking as someone who’s back in the gym trying to lose his “quarantine fifteen,” and I don’t think doctors would be asking “would you rather exercise one hour a day or be DEAD 24 hours a day?” if they didn’t believe it was important. However, like anything, it is bad if it becomes an obsession. It’s best, I think, in the best of all possible worlds, to keep it as part of an overall healthy approach to life: eating right, getting enough rest, not burning the candle at both ends, etc. However, I defer to folks like my friend Rhiannon Lambert (UK nutritionist and author) to advise on how best to approach it scientifically. It would be a terrible loss if your pen were silenced prematurely.

    • I believe it was David McCullough’s “Americans in Paris” that outlined some of Sumner’s post-attack trauma that led to a break in Paris. If I recall correctly, that is.

  6. 2. It’s likely that adult collectors will snap up these sets. You’d be surprised how much of the toy industry is geared to adults.

    I can’t see a single child, save one that’s been saturated with progressive indoctrination (ok, ok, maybe a little girl who likes the pretty colors), specifically asking for this set.

    • Actually I wouldn’t be, as a collector of toy aircraft and vehicles, as well as metal figures. Matchbox and Hot Wheels are only two of the most obvious toy manufacturers that make stuff pitched at adults (vehicles from television shows that adults were the primary audience, hyper-accurate WW2 planes, etc.).

    • I made a comment about this a while ago. I hate it.

      But specifically on the viability of the set; I think you’d be surprised. I just finished putting together Lego’s 10,000 piece Roman Colosseum set, which is about two feet across, two feet long, and a foot tall. It cost me about $750CDN, taxes in, and took me 30 hours to put together. I enjoyed the hell out of it, and if you’d like pictures, hit me up on Twitter, because I’m kind of proud of it. It sits beside my Lego Millennium Falcon.

      The kind of people that do things like that couldn’t be paid to pick up and assemble the rainbow set. Kids have a hard time playing the same game for 6 consecutive hours, hobbies like Lego are mostly for adults or kids on the autism spectrum. A garish junior set is going to appeal to… Who, exactly? This is going to be the kind of set that your aunt buys you at Christmas, and you maybe set up once before you lose a couple of pieces and the rubble makes it to a yard sale.

  7. As you might expect, between film, stage, and made-for-tv, I’ve probably seen over a dozen versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The only one I ever worked on, though (I played a conflation of Escalus and Philostrate), Hippolyta was played by, I believe, the only black actor in the cast. The director, is better known for opera, where race and body type matter hardly at all. It never occurred to me to ask him whether he simply cast the best actor for the role (as I suspect), or whether he was having a little ironic joke.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.