Ugh. The Great Stupid Snags “The Ethicist”

Not only is Kwame Anthony Appiah the most trustworthy and competent of all those who have authored the New York Times Magazine’s “The Ethicist” advice column, he’s also the only one who could be called a true ethicist, as he teaches philosophy at N.Y.U. Thus it is with great disappointment and sadness that I must report that “The Ethicist” has fallen victim to the dreaded Woke Virus, which, has, in the Times’ own lexicon, been “raging” through the paper for quite some time, poisoning its judgment, and as bias does, making its employees stupid.

Given Appiah’s assignment, which is to hand out ethical advice regarding various dilemmas and conflicts posed by correspondents, I would have thought that both he and the Times would have insisted that he practice social distancing and wear a Hazmat suit when visiting the office—maybe even eschew reading the paper. I guess not.

In this week’s column, a reader presented her problem thusly:

A friend’s daughter has sent my family an invitation to her upcoming “Plantation Wedding” in a Southern city. I had been looking forward to attending until I became aware of the appalling and tragic history of this estate and gardens. I am deeply troubled by the thought of celebrating on the grounds where hundreds of men, women and children were bought and sold, enslaved and tortured, so that white people can enjoy the privilege of a fairy-tale wedding….

I doubt I would be able to avoid speaking out during the wedding reception. Should I explain to the bride and groom the reason for my absence? She surely knows the estate’s history already. I foresee that all this will cause a rift in our families for some time. Would a donation to a historically Black college, in lieu of a wedding gift be appropriate?

Everyone in this scenario is white, raised in the Northeast and college-educated, and I’m astonished that they don’t realize this is a terrible idea. I want to act in good conscience and not create more disturbance. Do you have any thoughts?

Instead of his usual detached analysis, The Ethicist opted for compliant virtue signaling. He wrote,

In choosing a plantation wedding, this couple would appear to be idealizing lifestyles built directly on the unpaid labor of Black people who were treated as property and regularly abused. You regard that history with repugnance, and no doubt your friends would say they share that sentiment. But two decades into the 21st century, a couple planning a wedding would almost have to have gone out of their way not to see the connection. Evidently, they’ve tuned out a vigorous national discussion about the legacy of slavery; ignored much of what comes up if you simply type “plantation wedding” into Google; and achieved a serene obliviousness that normally requires the sort of monastic seclusion not associated with marriage.

Of course, there are all sorts of reasons that couples may choose a plantation setting for their wedding, but it doesn’t sound as if (like certain Black couples) they are seeking to subvert a racial hierarchy or to spend time amid the slave dwellings as a foray toward repair or education. Possibly, the couple haven’t given thought to how their Black guests would feel about the destination; possibly, there are no such guests. Either way, you can’t happily attend an event that takes place in what you understand to be an architectural adjunct to slavery.

You’re thinking about making a donation to a historically Black college in lieu of a gift. Perhaps the gesture is meant to assuage your guilt — akin to buying a carbon offset. It might be a good thing to make such a donation, but not for this reason. Or perhaps the donation is meant to send a message. But then you might as well tell them the truth: You’re pained you won’t be able to join them, but you can’t reconcile yourself to a celebration on these haunted grounds.

You rightly don’t want to find yourself bemoaning the venue of a wedding while you’re attending it and spoiling the special day for the couple. If you offer some innocuous excuse for your absence, however, you’ll only be protecting your own sense of moral purity. That’s why the braver, better path is to explain, well in advance, why you won’t be there. The exchange will be uncomfortable. But if our country is going to get out from under four centuries of racism, uncomfortable moments can’t be avoided. You may be accused of getting on a high horse. So be it. Those saddled on high horses sometimes see the fields more clearly than others.

Say it ain’t so, Appiah!

What an unprofessional mess of clichés, emotionalism, bad logic and pandering that answer was. I give him credit for one good moment: Appiah identified the woman’s idea of a compensatory contribution to a black college (which practices the racial discrimination that the writer supposedly feels so deeply opposed to and which artificially cleanses its current hypocrisy by appealing to “history”) as the Ruddigore Fallacy, which it most definitely would be if there was really anything wrong with holding an event on a former plantation—which there isn’t.

My own brief but memorable honeymoon took place at a former plantation : Prospect Hill, a country inn and bed-and-breakfast near Charlottesville, Virginia. We stayed in what had originally been the overseers quarters, now beautifully remodeled. We’re going back there eventually to celebrate what has been a long and eventful marriage. Did we feel guilty then about what the place had once been? Nope. Will we feel like we are endorsing racism when we return, despite the “vigorous national discussion about the legacy of slavery” that has been weaponized for political gain and racial spoils? No again, just as I am not wracked with remorse when I visit Mount Vernon, just up the road a bit, which was also a plantation, because, you see, it is beautiful, it was the home of our first President, and it isn’t a plantation any more.

The flawed logic The Ethicist has let burn holes in his brain is the same emotional delereium that makes some people avoid buying a home where someone has died (like my house!). There is no such thing as “haunted grounds” except when weak minds convince themselves of them, or when manipulative people exploit that description for their own agendas.

Surprisingly, many of the letters that followed the exchange about the wedding called out the woke questioner and the stumbling ethicist for this lunacy. One commenter wrote,

You Americans really have a monomaniacal obsession with race. Some people in the comments compared a wedding at a plantation to having a wedding at Auschwitz. If Auschwitz were a beautiful setting (which it’s not), I imagine there are many people who wouldn’t be troubled at the thought of holding a wedding there. Some people would be bothered by the atrocities that happened there and unable to enjoy the event while others would recognize their actions cannot influence the past and view treating a place where tragedy happened as hallowed as nothing more than superstition. If you don’t want to go, don’t go, but it’s hard to imagine how expressing your moral indignation will have any effect beyond ruining your friendship.

Another nailed the foolishness of the Ethicist’s reasoning, and is among the most highly rated:

Bingo. The Ethicist is parroting the same ultra-woke hysteria that has led to statue toppling, school-renaming, trigger warning on founding documents and worse. I have often wondered how long it will be before the majority black residents of Washington, D.C. start petitioning to change the name of the city, because living—and getting married!—in a place named after a slave-holder, thus “idealizing lifestyles built directly on the unpaid labor of Black people who were treated as property and regularly abused” is just too much to bear.

How does boycotting a wedding based on what was done at its locale more than a century ago help the country “get out from under four centuries of racism”? It doesn’t, of course, and those who keep finding racial grievances under every rug and in every corner, nook and cranny don’t want to “get out from under” it. Surely Appiah is astute enough to see that. The race-hucksters want to use the shadow of slavery to gain and hold power, and, if possible, impose compensatory racial burdens on white Americans, as long as their victims can be shamed and conned into accepting it.


17 thoughts on “Ugh. The Great Stupid Snags “The Ethicist”

  1. “Those saddled on high horses sometimes see the fields more clearly than others.”
    From the Collins Dictionary:

    “[to] get on your high horse

    to behave as if you are better than other people, and refuse to accept any criticism of yourself”

    • (cont’d) So, let me see if I have this right. According to The Ethicist, those who behave as if they are better than others, and refuse to accept any criticism of themselves, “see the field more clearly?” Please tell me how this can be interpreted as anything other than an endorsement of smugness, arrogance, and refusal to listen to others? There is nothing ethical about any of those things. Maybe he should start calling his column “The Moralist,” instead.

      If someone doesn’t want to attend a wedding, there are any number of reasons not to go that no one would ask about – expense, difficulty traveling, difficulty finding childcare arrangements (if applicable), other commitments, etc. I’m an attorney, so I kinda have a built-in excuse by claiming that I have a trial call the following Monday, and even if it doesn’t go forward, I have to treat it like it is (In NJ the the order of cases on a trial list isn’t set until the end of the week of the Monday of the trial call, partly due to logistics, partly to leverage the uncertainty to encourage settlement).

      It doesn’t sound like the letter writer is that close to the couple. The bride is the daughter of a friend of the writer, not herself a friend of the writer. That could mean anything from the writer seeing occasional pictures of the bride growing up while in the office to being an unofficial aunt to the bride. That also plays into the equation. If the bride and her family aren’t that close, won’t be offended if you skip, and are just trying to squeeze out a few more presents, then write a check or contribute to the registry and think no more of it.

      There are times when it’s appropriate to raise issues like this, and times when it’s not. There are also things it’s appropriate to publicly pass judgment on, and things that it isn’t. That goes double if what you’re going to say isn’t completely positive, and triple if you are not in a position to judge, like a superior at work. A wedding isn’t an appropriate time to raise this, and someone’s choice of venue isn’t an appropriate thing to publicly pass judgment on. Speaking out during the ceremony is flat-out wrong. There is no right to spoil memories that can’t later be reconstructed for someone else, no matter how strongly you might feel. That includes creating “uncomfortable” issues beforehand, no matter how far in advance.

      “Haunted grounds?” Don’t make me laugh. As I’ve said elsewhere on this board, I do some fantasy writing when I’m not practicing law, and hauntings tied to past wrongs are very useful plot devices – in a fantasy setting. In real life, no headless phantom ranges the roads near Sleepy Hollow, no faceless gray figure appears on Pawley’s Island when a storm draws near, and no dead queens walk the Tower of London at night. Any “haunted” feeling the Ethicist might have about this plantation is his own creation, and he shouldn’t put it on someone else.

      He’s right that donating to a historically black college in lieu of a wedding gift would be for the wrong reasons here, to say nothing of weaponizing gift-giving to tell the recipient exactly what you think, which is frankly an insult. I know I would be very offended if someone made a donation to some cause that they knew I didn’t agree with IN MY NAME, then let me know about it. I get it. I’m pro-Second Amendment and you aren’t, you don’t need to make a donation to Anytown For Gun Safety in my name to make that point. How’s that anything other than being deliberately obnoxious?

      You know, in the Soviet Union it was customary almost to the point of mandatory for a newlywed couple to visit the nearest war memorial immediately following the wedding, and for them to lay a floral tribute (sometimes the bridal bouquet, but I’ve also heard of having an arrangement specifically made for this), in memory of the fallen of WW2, there called the Great Patriotic War, without which there might not be a motherland. Is the United States headed toward a time when every life event is going to have to be marked by a groveling tribute to slavery, indigenous people, or both? I sure hope not.

  2. “I am deeply troubled by the thought of celebrating on the grounds where hundreds of men, women and children were bought and sold, enslaved and tortured”

    I bet they don’t say the same thing about a trip to NYC, even though it would apply to well-visited areas of that city just as well.

  3. The left are highly selective about which bits of history over which they choose to become indignant. You might even suspect a bit of virtue signaling comes into play from time to time. Even the second scolding letter noted suggests the fiction that Europeans were the first to use conquest to gain territory in the Americas.

    Many of these same people undoubtedly follow news of “royals” and gush over their weddings & etc., despite the fact that they largely owe their privileged positions to multiple ancestors who just happened to be the most successful thieves and murderers in their particular vicinity at the time.

    • I will cop to getting up to watch the funeral of the Queen Mother and I did tune in for the funeral of Prince Philip. I will probably tune in for at least part of the coronation of Charles (or William). I am very much an Anglophile and royalist, at least as much as an American can be. My sister-in-law and niece got up early both in 2011 and 2018 to watch the royal weddings. My sil is both far left and an Irish UK-hater. That does not really compute, but what do I know?

      • Oh, I’m fond of the UK & Ireland too, though not as much with more recent Orwellian tendencies, such as criminalizing citizens for teaching a dog a stupid trick, owning a banned book, insulting a dead person, etc. Been there a bunch of times, & will be back in May, Chinavirus willing. (I have a good anecdote involving a child and the Tower of London, but it doesn’t involve being trampled by warders.)

        My problem is with the hypocrisy of selecting an outrage (especially with inanimate objects) based on whose history is currently in or out of fashion.

  4. “You do realize that every square foot of land on which all of us walk, work, live, and attend weddings in the country in this country was violently taken at some point from the people who originally lived here?”

    Yes, violently taken by some other Native American tribe.

    According to Charles C. Mann’s “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus”, It was European germs that did the vast bulk of the “conquering”. In addition, with a history ~30,000 years of human presence in North America, it is safe to assume that every habitable piece of land had already changed hands many times before contact with Europeans.

  5. “You may be accused of getting on a high horse. So be it. Those saddled on high horses sometimes see the fields more clearly than others.”

    All the better to spot, run down, and capture those trying to escape from the fields. Oh, wait–that probably wasn’t what he meant. Whoops.

  6. If you follow the logic of both the inquirer and they ethicist, no place in the planet is appropriate to celebrate anything. A Christian church? Nope, not with the legacy of Papists and anti-papists. At the Giza pyramids? Nope, because they were built by Jewish slaves. In the Holy Land? Nope, not with the Crusaders or the Muslim hordes. Any place in North America? For obvious reasons, hell no. South America? Please. Too many Spaniards and Portuguese and Dutch subjugators. Asia? Forget it. What’s left? The Moon?


    • Come on now, don’t be so obtuse. Everyone knows that the only sin in human history worth caring about right now is historical American slavery. Because systemic racism George Floyd something something.

      Idiotic considerations like the ones reflected in this person’s letter are only appropriate within that context, and no others.

  7. You know, I am not so sure this was a genuine letter. Here is my thinking.

    Towards the end the writer states that everyone involved is from the Northeast and all are white.

    But he or she starts the letter by saying his family has been invited to a ‘plantation wedding’.

    That term struck me as odd right off the bat. Do we really think that someone from the northeast would be calling it a ‘plantation wedding’ just because of the location where the wedding was being held? Yes, this estate may be the site of a former plantation, but I would think ‘plantation wedding’ has lots more connotations than simply the place it was being held.

    We know that there are some columnists who essentially manufacture their own letters. It’s probably unfair to assume this about Mr. Appiah, but I admit to seriously wondering.

    Am I unreasonable?

  8. “I foresee that all this will cause a rift in our families for some time.”
    The rift already exists between the questioner (who probably should not be speaking for his/her family) and the wedding couple since they obviously have a significantly different view of the propriety of having a wedding on a former plantation. There’s no need to try to obscure that rift by using a fake excuse for not attending the wedding.
    Instead, the questioner should plan to attend provided the wedding is true to the historical nature of the plantation. The questioner (who is “deeply troubled”) should implore the wedding couple that only Blacks, dressed in historic slave garb, be employed for the wait staff and other laborers for the wedding and reception. Further, ask that those laborers be billeted in the slave cabins for the essential historic tour of the plantation which must be incorporated into the wedding ceremony.
    It also would be useful to point out to the wedding party that as they become more and more woke they ultimately may come to deeply regret their choice, as, for example, did Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively.
    There is no need to hide one’s sincerely held beliefs from friends, even friends of the family, and in this case, the elaboration of those beliefs should take place well before the wedding, lest one who tries to conceal them would not be “able to avoid speaking out during the wedding reception.”

    • My sentiments exactly.

      The questioner has a moral, ethical, historical, and social obligation to enlighten the wedding party and its guests about the true evil legacy of slavery, indentured servitude and human bondage. Hell, I would to so far as to add that marriage, in and of itself, is a hold over of times when women were treated as chattel, and dowries were exchanged to further economic interests.


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