As longtime followers here know, I have critiqued the ethics advice offered by whomever was in charge of the Times Magazine “The Ethicist” column for years. By far, the best of these has been the current holder of the title, Kwame Anthony Appiah, a real ethicist who teaches teaches philosophy at N.Y.U. Thus his most recent descent into bias and rationalizations to answer a recent query was profoundly discouraging.
“Name Withheld”(of course) complained,
My daughters grew up in a very progressive household, they have embraced the opposite political side from me. My granddaughter hears all the talk in her family, and I feel sure she believes she is hearing the truth. One of my daughters also does not believe in the vaccine and did not have my granddaughter vaccinated. I do not discuss politics with them any longer. They get all their information from the internet and don’t read the mainstream press. The worst thing of all to me is that they believe the election was stolen.
She asks The Ethicist if it would be ethical to disinherit them for their evil beliefs (my words, nor hers, but clearly her meaning) and give her accumulated wealth to “a good cause.” The simple answer is two-fold: “Name Withheld”—can I call her NW for short?—can do whatever she wants with her estate. There is no obligation to pass on wealth to one’s children. However, slapping at them from beyond the grave because Mom was unsuccessful in indoctrinating them in her woke value system is inherently petty and mean-spirited, if she would not have wanted to do so as long as they expressed sufficient sympathy for abortion, the Green New Deal and science-based incursions on liberty. To my surprise, however, Appiah lets his own biases trample his ethical training. First, he denigrates the daughters’ non-conforming beliefs without having sufficient details to know what their positions are. (“The Presidency was ‘stolen'” has more than one meaning, for example.) “[T]hese beliefs are badges of identity — the regalia of our tribes or teams — and come together with other beliefs and values,” he writes. Well, that’s an assumption and an unwarranted one. Beliefs don’t have to cluster around political “tribes,” and if people are thoughtful, informed and indulge in critical thinking, they won’t.
Then “The Ethicist” goes full on in his bias, writing, “A whole media apparatus aims to persuade people like your daughters to adopt mistaken views.” No, a whole media apparatus aims to counter the propaganda of media like “The Ethicist’s” employer, and thank God for that. Indeed, some, indeed many, of those sources are just as unreliable as the Left’s propaganda organs, and that’s a terrible problem. Seeing it as a problem on only one side of the political divide, however, is not only unjustified, it is foolish.
What’s clear is that your errant offspring have acquired the views that accompany certain identities or group allegiances, and that, by trusting unreliable sources, they have been led into error.
Who says their beliefs are “in error” compared to NH’s positions? Obviously Appiah does because, he adds, “I’m on your side.” That explains a lot, including his worry that “people with their views are doing a great deal of harm…Even if your daughters are, in some sense, more sinned against than sinning, you could reasonably worry that putting resources in their hands will allow them to support destructive causes.” Appiah writes this shortly after cautioning NW that “people tend to regard those who disagree with them on these factual matters as not simply wrong but wicked…[your daughters’ beliefs] make them wrongheaded; it doesn’t make them wicked.”
But apparent they can’t be trusted to use an inheritance for non-wicked purposes. So Appiah recommends a false framing device to make the disinheriting of the woman’s daughters for their “wicked” political opinions less of a burden on Mom’s conscience. After suggesting that she put some money away for the granddaughter when she reaches adulthood (after all, “she might very well defect from her mother’s political orientation” and no longer be danger to society), “The Ethicist” suggests that the mother “give the rest to causes you care about, perhaps including ones that are working to fortify voting participation and strengthen effective public health education…[b]ut don’t think of your updated will as a way to punish them for their mistaken beliefs. Think of it as taking measures to prevent your assets from being used to bad effect.”
Rationalizations are lies we tell ourselves to make it easy to regard our unethical conduct as ethical, when we know, or should, that it isn’t. “The Ethicist” in this instance encouraged a rationalized deception, so a mother could disinherit her daughters for not following her political views in sufficient lock-step.