Comment Of The Day: “Weekend Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/28/23: ‘The Usual’”

So far, the threshold ethics question that should begin any ethical analysis has not been answered regarding the horrific beating of young Tyre Nichols after a traffic stop. Five police officers were involved. That questions is, “What’s going on here?”

Emily, in her Comment of the Day on Item #1 of the post, “Weekend Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/28/23: ‘The Usual’,” has some thoughts…


I’ve been thinking about this, and the ethical breakdown that led to it. Why did the ethics alarms not ring?

The tragic state of policing Jack mentioned is part of it. But what keeps coming to mind is something Jack has brought up many times regarding dog attacks: that when they’re part of a “pack,” even otherwise well-mannered dogs become dangerous as instincts take over.

Dogs are not the only animals that hunt or defend territory in packs.

When we think about mob mentality, we usually think of riots or witch hunts (whether literal or metaphorical.) But the root of it is a simple one-two punch: a desire to be part of the group, and the feeling that, with the group to back you up, you have the power to be more aggressive than you would dare to be otherwise.

We can see it all the time in bullying (both social and physical) by any number of groups, from high school football players to inner city gangs, from catty sororities to the politics of professional organizations. Any team or clique or gang or squad with enough of a bond to act as one can mute the ethics alarms of all of its members.

I’m not saying this to excuse it at all. To the contrary, I wonder if some kind of public awareness campaign or school lecture series might help. We tell people not to bully, not to join gangs, not to “follow the crowd,” but we rarely acknowledge the general nature of it or state it bluntly: when you are part of a group in a situation that feels intense, your judgement is impacted. You may be capable of things you’d never do otherwise. You may find yourself agreeing with or encouraging actions that you know are wrong. If you are in a “pack,” beware of your surroundings, identify yourself as an individual in your thoughts, focus on your own actions, encourage separating or stepping back, and if you can’t control it, leave and sound the alarm.

That’s easier said than done. I’ve been on the popular side of trivial internet comment dog-piles, and there’s an exhilaration to knowing that you are right and “everyone” agrees with you and you can be as aggressive as you want in making your point; I can only imagine how much more intense it is in real life where there physical danger involved. But being aware is the first step to gaining perspective, and perspective in these situations is what lets you hear the ethics alarms in your own head over the cheers of your pack.

10 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Weekend Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/28/23: ‘The Usual’”

  1. Men, It Has Been Well Said, Think In Herds; It Will Be Seen That They Go Mad In Herds, While They Only Recover Their Senses Slowly, And One By One. Charles Mackay /Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The MADNESS OF CROWDS (1841)

    Written 182 years ago: Think things have gotten better, stayed the same, or gotten worse?

  2. Perhaps the violence was considered less bad and more ok because of the lack of self awareness of unwritten unspoken social compact between folks of the same group identification… Like a fight between me and my brother being different than between a stranger and my brother with me watching.

  3. Emily: “ If you are in a “pack,” beware of your surroundings, identify yourself as an individual in your thoughts, focus on your own actions, encourage separating or stepping back, and if you can’t control it, leave and sound the alarm.”

    In high school, there was an incident in Honduras. U.S. troops were sent in. There were protests planned. Being young and dumb, I thought, “Yay! Protest!” Actually, I was more of a protest tourist; I did not really care; I was just there because it was something to do.

    I got there and saw a bunch of aging hippy-activist with a new reason-to-be and a bunch of young activists in training. After about 20-30 minutes in that protest and I realized I was not much of a herd animal.

    I don’t like the mob. I feel much better when my perspective is unique; if my thinking matches the prevailing point of view, I immediately become suspicious of myself (almost a reverse cognitive dissonance).

    Whatever you think of Carlin, he had it right here:

    “Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.” ~George Carlin


  4. Good article and all valid responses. While the police cannot be excused for this beating, I would like to add: When pulled over for reckless driving, Tyre briefly resisted then took of running. The cops chased after and caught him, and we all know what then transpired.
    I’m not certain why, but many times when a black man interacts with police it’s in the form of non cooperation which precipitates some form of escalation.
    Had Tyre cooperated, he would likely have went on his way with only a traffic ticket.

    • Ed. In theory I agree with you. Unfortunately, black teens have been taught, rightly or wrongly, to fear the police. As a result, some cases result in fight and flight which dangerously escalates the encounter.
      We cannot expect people of any race or profession to unilaterally surrender their rights or responsibilities to the other side. But the police must begin to demonstrate its willingness to train its officers better and hold accountable those who violate professional standards. Officers in police departments must accept the idea that their first responsibility is to the integrity of the department as a whole and not just to their partner or fellow officers. If we promote the idea of the broken window theory of neighborhood policing in communities, we must also do that within the police departments that serve those neighborhoods. What I mean by that is when an officer commits a minor policy breach that officer is subject to escalating punishment. When the behavior of an offender is overlooked, the boundaries of appropriate behavior eventually become so blurred that even those charged with the duty to “protect and serve” lose sight of their own professional responsibilities.

      In order to effectuate a positive change in the behavior of blacks or anyone else for that matter when dealing with the police it will be incumbent upon the police departments all the way down to the cop on the beat to report immediately any inappropriate acts by their members and not allow officers to become rogue.

  5. As to why this isn’t getting the press/protest air time that previous incidents have, it’s simple. There is no such thing as black on black violence. The stats don’t exist, the videos are faked, and any stories about it are make up by racists to dehumanize the saintly black culture. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, we have always been at war with eastasia, these are not the druids you’re looking for. You racists, you.

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