Sunset Ethics Reflections, 10/19/2022: How Much Of This Stuff Matters, Anyway?

I’m increasingly feeling like it is impossible to distinguish the important and substantive ethics developments from those that are just annoying or depressing. For example, this:

That’s the new  Anna May Wong quarter, honoring the Chinese-American actress who joined the Hollywood community during the silent film era. Yes, it’s “historic”: she is the first Asian American to appear on US currency. This is the fifth new coin in the American Women Quarters Program. The others, all appearing in 2022, feature poet and activist Maya Angelou (of course); the first American woman in space, Sally Ride; Cherokee Nation leader Wilma Mankiller; and suffragist Nina Otero-Warren.

I don’t really care, but Wong is a trivia answer. She only is getting this honor because of her race. Quick: name a famous Anna May Wong role or film. Hint: There aren’t any. Handing out honors like having one’s image on a quarter based on race alone is racial discrimination. You want important American women on some quarters? Fine: try Eleanor Roosevelt. Abigail Adams. Harriet Beecher Stow. Lillian Hellman. Babe Zacharias. Marion Anderson. Sophy Treadwell. Emily Dickinson. Inventor-Actress Hedy Lamarr. Heck, Julia Child. There are hundreds of women who contributed more to U.S. society and culture than Anna May Wong, but she was the “right” color.

The question is whether this kind of thing is too trivial to bother with, or whether it is another unethical precedent-setting, tiny metaphorical cut.

1. No, John, this isn’t a medical record, and it doesn’t help. In a useful example of how one can convince everyone that he is indeed hiding something, the John Fetterman campaign released a letter by Dr. Clifford Chen saying that the Pennsylvania Democrat running for the open U.S. Senate seat  has “significantly improved” following his stroke in May and “can work full duty in public office.” The campaign  called this a “medical report” after Fetterman’s refusal to release his  health records began being criticized even in the Democratic Party allied news media. “Overall, Lt. Governor Fetterman is well and shows strong commitment to maintaining good fitness and health practices. He has no work restrictions and can work full duty in public office,” Chen wrote. But Chen, while he is one of Fetterman’s doctors, is a Democratic Party donor and a Fetterman donor as well. That’s a conflict of interest, and a letter from one’s physician is not the equivalent of health records. Why not just release the records? Well, we know why. It’s the same reason that Donald Trump doesn’t release his tax returns.

2. Speaking of the all-time record-holder for getting headlines when a public figure has no office or position whatsoever, Donald Trump announced that if he returns to the White House, he’ll appoint Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) to an important position. Great. The consistently absurd and irresponsible far-right Congresswoman visited the Wilder Brigade Monument in Georgia last night, writing later on social media, “Tonight, I stopped at the Wilder monument in Chickamauga, GA, which honors the Confederate soldiers of the Wilder Brigade. … I will always defend our nation’s history!” to claim that the memorial recognizes “Confederate soldiers.” Uh, no.  The monument  pays tribute to Union troops, John T. Wilder’s unit,  later nicknamed the Lightning Brigade, battled the South during the Civil War. Greene may defend our history, but she apparently doesn’t know how to find out what it is.

3. And speaking of unethical Georgia politicians, Stacey Abrams, whose defeat in her race for the State House, if it occurs, might convince me that the universe is just, added another irrelevant and callous rationalization for abortion to the already overflowing bundle of them being tossed like dust into the eyes of the public. Asked in an interview why Democrats are obsessed with abortion, when the public is far more concerned with inflation and the cost of living, Abrams replied,

“Having children is why you’re worried about your price for gas, it’s why you’re concerned about how much food costs. For women, this is not a reductive issue. You can’t divorce being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy from the economic realities of having a child. And so these are — it’s important for us to have both-and conversations. We don’t have the luxury of reducing it or separating them out,”

The same calculations presumably apply to children who have survived the gestation stage and are now out of the womb. They just might be too darn expensive to keep alive. Let’s have all those conversations!

4. I’m shocked, shocked, that the Congressional Black Caucus prefers white progressives over black conservatives! The conservative media is enjoying the revelation that campaign finance filings show the Congressional Black Caucus donating $5,000 to Frank Mrvan, a white Democrat, in Indiana’s First Congressional District. despite the fact that he is white and running against Jennifer-Ruth Green, a black Republican. This is allegedly hypocrisy, but it is really the journalism equivalent of dog bites man. The Congressional Black Caucus has always been an arm of the Democratic Party, and in its eyes, blacks like Green might as well be white. Wait, what did I just write?

5. Today’s evidence that the Left really, really doesn’t like the First Amendment: “We Should Try to Prevent Another Alex Jones.” a New York Times op-ed by NYT opinion columnist Zeynep Tufekci. Read this thing. She dances around it, but the only way to stop assholes like Alex Jones from abusing their First Amendment rights and spreading lies in print, online and over airwaves is to restrict free speech, with good, right and wise people like her as the arbiters of what can be said. Naturally, this being the Times, she ties dumb conspiracy theorist Jones—how many people really believed his claim that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax, and are they allowed to use forks when the eat?—to Donald Trump, January 6, Fox News, Wuhan virus vaccine skeptics and male hormones….you know, eeeeevil. She writes in part,

Rather than pursuing legally dubious and inadvisable efforts to ban speech or define and target misinformation, regulations should target the incentives for and the speed with which lies can be spread, amplified and monetized.

One part of the solution might be to target reckless data surveillance online, by greatly limiting how much data can be collected, how long it can be retained, what it can be used for and how it can be traded. Among other benefits, this could make chasing engagement less attractive as a business model.

There could also be new, careful versions of the Fairness Doctrine — which required mass broadcasters that essentially held a monopoly on the public sphere to present broader viewpoints on topics of public importance. It wasn’t a perfect solution, and it could be weaponized, but it recognized that good speech can confront bad speech only if there is access to the same audiences. Versions for the 21st century might involve a requirement that when blatant or harmful lies on issues of public importance are amplified, the people who are sent those lies are also sent corrections and further explanations.

In other words, she wants legally dubious and inadvisable efforts to ban speech or define and target misinformation, packaged in ways that the Left might get away with. The “solution” for divisive, unethical liars like Alex Jones is for gullible, lazy members of the public to be responsible and learn how to apply critical thinking.

What’s the solution to the lies and misinformation spread by the New York Times?

15 thoughts on “Sunset Ethics Reflections, 10/19/2022: How Much Of This Stuff Matters, Anyway?

  1. >>>One part of the solution might be to target reckless data surveillance online, by greatly limiting how much data can be collected, how long it can be retained, what it can be used for and how it can be traded.

    Wait, what? You just had a post about Authentic Frontier Gibberish — isn’t this kind of piling on?

    Data surveillance? What the heck is that, reckless or otherwise? What does collecting data have to do with free speech or unfree censorship? What if we have stealth data flitting about the internet, evading all that surveillance. Perhaps we’ll have chaff generators…..

    I are confuzzled.

  2. 5. “One part of the solution might be to target reckless data surveillance online, by greatly limiting how much data can be collected, how long it can be retained, what it can be used for and how it can be traded. Among other benefits, this could make chasing engagement less attractive as a business model.”

    I understand that to mean, “If we make it difficult to track people for the purposes of targeted advertisement, advertising revenue will drop. The business model of misinformation websites is to generate ad revenue through clicks, so those will shut down.”

    How much collateral damage would that do, I wonder, to perfectly legitimate sites that rely on ad revenue? Speaking as someone who rarely buys things, I rather like getting free educational and entertainment content which is funded by the fact that other people apparently do buy the things they see in advertisements. That said, I should get used to the idea that I might one day have to pay for entertainment.

    As for the “Fairness Doctrine”, I appreciate the brainstorming, but I don’t think that’s going to work in the Age of the Internet. In my opinion, it’d be a better investment to just teach people how to do critical research whenever they read something and they really care whether it’s true or not.

  3. 2) I’ll admit that I’d not heard of the Wilder Brigade previously, and an initial presumption is reasonable that a Civil War monument in Georgia is honoring Confederates.

    However, Chickamauga is a rather famous battle, which I’ve certainly read about, and which had huge consequences for the war in the West. While I guess I hadn’t realized (or had forgotten) that Chickamauga was in Georgia — my initial presumption would have been Tennessee — arguably the most famous aspects of the battle were on the Union side.

    It’s kind of like presuming that a Civil War monument in Pennsylvania must be solely a Union one, even at a small town named Gettysburg. Or Wisconsin, where I believe there is a plaque honored Confederate POWs.

    Hard to excuse.

  4. 1. Wong is a nobody. Compared to other women who have had a real impact on history, she is in fact less than that. An Asian women who broke the “color line” in silent films? Really? I’d vote for Hedy Lamar: she invented advanced electronic systems that helped win wars and which the military still uses, the basics of which led to wi-fi and bluetooth. She is also in the Inventors Hall of Fame. The others Jack mentions are, like Hedy, light years ahead of Wong. She gets a coin because she’s Asian? What agency decides who appears on coins? I’m going to find out and complain directly to them. This is ridiculous, unfair, and demonstrates complete historical ignorance.

    2. Re internet surveillance: This is the beginning of the end of free speech. Why not go after all those ultra liberal candidates and ‘thought leaders’ who spew lies all the time, not only on the internet but on TV and radio? There is too much hate and blather out there, but then it’s everyone’s right to demonstrate ignorance, hate, and total idiocy. It’s a bedrock Constitutional right: just because we seem to have more morons than usual doesn’t mean we can change the Bill of Rights. Bear with the idiots: they reveal themselves, but we cannot, cannot censor them.

  5. PS Abortion as a means of controlling inflation is a new one on me, and very creative. Why bother to abort? Lots of living children are expensive and hard to support during a recession. Why not go the Nazi route and decide which kids are worth is and which are not?

    • I think Janet Yellen was the first person to make the “abortion lowers inflation” argument (June 2022?), not the loser of the 2018 Georgia Gubernatorial election.
      It’s hard to tell, but I think Yellen was slightly squirming when she advanced this notion. Abrams has no discomfort with this ghoulish method of reducing inflation.
      Nancy should point out that we’ll need them to pick crops, so there’s that.

  6. Anna Mae Wong-For me the issue is not whose image is on the coin of the realm but the value of that coin in the market. As of today, the coin is worth 20% less than its face value. However, I do agree that if we must have images on our coin then the choice should be based on merit rather than race.

  7. One part of the solution might be to target reckless data surveillance online, by greatly limiting how much data can be collected, how long it can be retained, what it can be used for and how it can be traded. Among other benefits, this could make chasing engagement less attractive as a business model.

    Authentic frontier gibberish

  8. I long ago ceased to be surprised by the historical ignorance of politicians. Over the years, I have visited the Chickamauga battlefield dozens of times and walked most of it in detail. I have climbed the Wilder Brigade Tower Monument (a stone observation tower) many times. It was the first monument built in the battlefield park. After the war, Wilder helped industrialize east Tennessee and served as mayor of Chattanooga for a time. He is buried there. MTG no doubt shocked some area residents with her ignorance about Wilder, but again, my expectations are not high anymore.

    • It indicates that, while she might’ve been in the area, she certainly didn’t actually visit the monument.

      Or wait — the war pitted brother against brother. Were there any Confederates in Wilder’s brigade? Maybe he recruited some POWs. Ok, sorry, my whimsical side shines through sometimes……

  9. “Wait, what did I just write?”

    You wrote that blacks like Green might as well be white to the C.B.C., prompting them to YELL “OH! This makes me see red!!!” until they’re blue in the face and feel justified in resorting to violets.

    Orange you glad I made that clarification?

    –Dwayne

    P.S. I just couldn’t pass up this golden opportunity.

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