The Answer To This “Ethics Question” is Easy, But There’s More To It Than The Answer

The New York Times headline is “How a Dog’s Killing Turned Brooklyn Progressives Against One Another.”

It begins with this opening, which is raw meat tor an ethics blogger:

Real-world ethics question: In a well-used city park, a man with a history of erratic behavior attacks a dog and its owner with a stick; five days later, the dog dies. The man is Black, the dog owner white; the adjoining neighborhood is famously progressive, often critical of the police and jail system. At the same time, crime is up in the neighborhood, with attacks by emotionally disturbed people around the city putting some residents on edge.

In a dog-loving, progressive enclave, where pushing law and order can clash with calls for social justice, what’s the right thing to do? How do you protect the public without furthering injustice against this man?

Well, let’s start with the point that if an ethics question isn’t “real world,” then it’s useless, or at best a waste of time. Ethics is the process of figuring out what the right thing to do is in possible situations that require balancing, prioritizing, and maintaining societal standards and principles without which civilization devolves into chaos. The first question shows flawed ethical analysis from the outset: “In a dog-loving, progressive enclave, where pushing law and order can clash with calls for social justice, what’s the right thing to do?” The right thing to do isn’t affected by how dog-loving the community may be, or what attitudes toward law enforcement and social justice may be. Attitudes, like biases, don’t alter the ethics rules, they just affect whether the results of applying them are popular.

The second question, as we would say in court, assumes facts not yet placed in evidence. Who says the man who attacked the woman and her dog is the victim of injustice? Yes, I know, I know, the social justice warriors, but to quote Abe Lincoln again, calling a dog’s tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg. The fact is that nothing in the account given justifies claiming that the man was or is a victim of injustice. The advocates for the attacker accept the doctrine that anyone who is black must be a victim. Doctrines are not facts.

Commenter “John Paul” flagged this Times story yesterday, writing, “I have no way to read it beyond a paywall, but what I’m seeing about it seems like an ethics fail on all levels. I was hoping someone could break it down.” For those who don’t pay to read the Times…and I wouldn’t if I didn’t have to for this blog…the short version of the tale is that Jessica Chrustic, 40, was walking her dog Moose in Park Slope, Brooklyn, when she saw a man she assumed was homeless looking through the garbage outside the Picnic House and yelling about immigrants and other things. Then he threw the contents of a bottle at her and the dog; the stuff was apparently urine. Her big Golden Retriever mix strained at the leash in a typical canine protective mode, and the man attacked, swinging a stick and striking her and her dog.

Chrustic was uninjured, but Moose died from the injuries inflicted by the man. Chrustic posted a description of the encounter on the neighborhood social network Nextdoor, warning others about the man and asking them to report any sightings to the police. The first responses to her various posts about the attack were supportive, with many expressing frustration that police hadn’t arrested the attacker, who was still being seen in the general area of the incident. Some sent donations to Chrustic to pay her veterinary bills.

But a vocal minority, the Times reported, asked why Park Slope residents, mostly white, were calling for the police “to take down a man who appeared to be homeless and emotionally disturbed.”

Why? Oh, gee, I don’t know: how about because the man is dangerous, has already attacked an innocent person trying to enjoy a public park, killed her dog, and is an unquestionable threat to the safety, welfare, peace, tranquility and order of the community. How’s that for an answer? Ethically this is just not a difficult controversy to resolve.

The Times and its writer, John Leland, try mightily to turn the tale into an ethics conflict, meaning that there are competing ethical considerations at issue. There are not, though the Times dug up one S. Matthew Liao, a professor of bioethics, philosophy and public health at New York University, to say,

It’s complicated. It’s a conflict of values, between wanting security and social justice. Everybody has a responsibility in some ways. There are a bunch of issues here, a bunch of threats. We can deal with them in a compassionate way, or a not compassionate way.

Translation: “We can be rational and responsible, or we can signal our virtue and say what will make us popular in Woke World during The Great Stupid.”

There is only one ethical way to deal with the facts at hand, beginning with taking the violent homeless person into custody. There is no rational argument for not doing that. His color and the color of his victim do not matter: there is no valid ethical system, meaning one that leads to a productive society where individuals have maximum freedom and safety to engage in the pursuit of happiness, in which letting the man roam free and potentially harm others is responsible, fair or ethical in any way.

Once the man is in custody, he needs to pay the penalty of his crimes. If he was not capable of realizing what he was doing or unable to stop himself, if he was legally insane, then the ethical course is to give him treatment and care, but to still keep him out of the way of law-abiding members of the public. If he is capable of self-control and meets the legal requirements of criminal responsibility, then he must be tried and, if found guilty, punished. “Compassion” is still not on the table: society has laws, laws are necessary for society to survive, and laws must be enforced for laws to function.

Typical of the “social justice” advocates (I place this in quotes because it’s so often a cover-phrase used to obscure the truth, for there is nothing “just” about allowing someone to behave as the homeless man did without consequences) were the posts put on NextDoor by a 52-year-old dancer and choreographer named Martin Lofsnes. He urged people consider “400 yrs of systematic racism which has prevented black people from building generational wealth through homeownership resulting in the extreme disparity we see today.” Arresting the man, he wrote, would solve none of that. Maybe critics should raise money to help the man, not throw him to the lethal jail system, from which he would most likely emerge more dangerous, or not emerge at all.

Maybe Lofnes should take the man under his wing, give him a place to live and provide him money and a job, then, since he feels responsible for the attacker’s plight. Like so much of the posturing of kinder, gentler progressives, the lecture is always in the abstract, and from a distance: Lofnes no longer lives in Brooklyn, so it’s as easy for him to say “Let the violent homeless man run free!’ as it is for the residents of Martha’s Vineyard to have signs that welcome illegal immigrants until some actually turn up.

There is a lot more in the Times story: a man who tried to organize a neighborhood patrol group being harassed into abandoning the idea; efforts to get police protection and encourage action from the government running afoul of the neighborhood’s representative on the City Council, who appeared to be more concerned with the safety of the attacker than with the threat he might pose to others; posts on NextDoor warning of a “violent and sociopathic” man still at large and a threat to the park being taken down by the platform without explanation. But again, the ethical verdict is clear. This isn’t a “conflict of values.” This is a clash of established, proven, societally accepted ethical values and priorities on one side, and ideological, reality-free, naive and irresponsible cant on the other. The right, ethical, and responsible position is clear and not realistically subject to logical rebuttal. The competing position, like so many others confounding and dividing society and politics right now—“defunding the police,” reparations, “diversity, equity and inclusion,” “restorative justice,” “equitable grading,” elimination of bail and jail time for criminal acts, decriminalization of petty theft—are abstract faddish fantasies that appear to be “compassionate” but that are certain to do widespread, serious and lasting harm if they ever become the predominant policies.

John Paul didn’t have the advantage of reading the whole article, but I can assure him, there was no “ethics fail on all levels.” There was an ethics fail on one level, and one side—the side that we continue to see try to undermine the values and principles that have sustained American society in the name of abstract “compassion.”


Completely tangential, but I have to note: The Times calls the late Moose a “Golden Retriever.” He was not a Golden Retriever: I gave the Times the benefit of the doubt by calling the dog a Golden Retriever mix. Think about Moose the next time you read about what the media calls a pitbull attack.

4 thoughts on “The Answer To This “Ethics Question” is Easy, But There’s More To It Than The Answer

  1. How do progressives explain why Black homeownership rates as well as literacy and graduation rates were higher during that awful period before the Great Society programs and the expansion of all sorts of disparity remedies that followed? I am sick of hearing about the wealth disparities between racial groups. Wealth disparities are a function of delayed gratification. Those who choose to consume all resources and invest little – like not maximizing educational opportunities that help them achieve – will have fewer wealth building resources than those who save and invest for the future. Government programs that limit asset development by reducing assistance too soon keeps disparate wealth accumulation in place.

  2. Once the man is in custody, he needs to pay the penalty of his crimes.

    Do you recall the saying about the difference between being a neurotic and being a psychotic? If I’m neurotic, I have a problem, but if I’m psychotic, you have a problem. Similarly, he doesn’t need to pay the penalty of his crimes, others need that from him.

    I really, really, don’t like this sort of abuse of the English language that occurs in the U.S. dialect. It enables and facilitates the sort of transference involved in “we’re doing this for your own good” – an easy step from “you need this” – as well as taking your eye off the ball in understanding what is going on and what to do about it. It shifts the focus, a “rectification of names” sort of thing. Dare I say, here you (transferrers) have a problem. By framing things like that, you have already conceded that the needs of the perpetrator are paramount – and you are estopped from putting forward anything else.

    • It should have been “for” his crimes. You’re right: it’s a short-cut, backwards, colloquial use of need. Society needs him to pay the penalty. HE needs to pat IF he’s going to meet his debt to society and IF he cares.

  3. Poor Moose. He wasn’t able to choose where he was going to live. His owner is responsible. She assumed the risk of living in Park Slope. I’d say Brooklyn generates more bad ideas per square inch than anywhere else in the world. Amanda Marcotte. Jill Filipovic. Even Chuck Schumer. Park Slope should be scraped and salted.

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