Open Forum, But An Abyss Is Not Exactly The Kind Of Opening I’m Looking For…

Let’s keep the specific discussions about the Clarence Thomas ethics scandal under the appropriate post today. However, if anyone wants to talk about that larger ethical issues raised by reaction to it here, please do so, because I’d love someone to explain why it isn’t powerful evidence that I’ve been wasting my time. That’s how I feel right now, frankly. And Ethics Alarms takes up too much time in my life if it’s not going to enhance the cause of ethics.

This is not a blog about politics. There is no way to avoid politics, and the area is obviously a rich one for ethics analysis. However, the thesis at Ethics Alarms is that that society rots if ethical considerations are discarded for practical and strategic ones. Meanwhile, the trend in not only politics but journalism, scholarship, law and education, yes, even ethics has been exactly in that direction since I started this project in 2009. I don’t expect this blog to have major impact by itself: I’m not THAT deluded. I have seen, in my weird and eccentric life path, however, examples where my obsessions have had impact beyond my little corner of reality. (See Item #1 here, for example.)

Naively, I assumed that regular members of the commentariat here would agree with what I view as an automatic verdict: Thomas has besmirched the integrity of the Court, called his own judgment and trustworthiness into question, and must resign, consequences be damned. Instead, I am reading substantial support for Thomas, which amounts to a position that judicial ethics don’t matter. In fact, I cannot imagine a profession in which they matter more.

Well, I’ve written too much already here: this is your space and your agenda.

But I am morose. Just thought you should know…

46 thoughts on “Open Forum, But An Abyss Is Not Exactly The Kind Of Opening I’m Looking For…

    • Can you really expect everyone to wake up on Friday morning and think, “Oh. Good. A conservative on the Court is going to be replaced by a transgender, disabled, illegal alien who can’t read or speak English so the Court will look like America?” This is a shock, Jack. People are struggling with this. Give it some time.

      • “Can you really expect everyone to wake up on Friday morning and think, “Oh. Good. A conservative on the Court is going to be replaced by a transgender, disabled, illegal alien who can’t read or speak English so the Court will look like America?””

        I don’t think anyone could expect anyone to think that. Why did you?

          • Yes. It is really weird to think that Thomas would be replaced by “a transgender, disabled, illegal alien who can’t read or speak English.” There have never been any Supreme Court nominees who fit any of those categories, let alone all of them, and there is no evidence that is about to change.

        • I cannot know what Other Bill thinks, but there has been a priority in the Biden administration to hire or nominate people for their skin color, sex, sexuality, gender identity, and not their qualifications. It promotes the “historical” value of hiring someone who fulfills certain characteristics over competence.
          Biden disqualified anyone who was not a black woman when he selected his Vice President & and Supreme Court pick. Democrats currently hold the Senate and are likely to rubber stamp Biden’s nominations.
          Don’t come out of your hair; a Republican President & Senate would do the same.
          I disagree with Biden’s selection processes of using race & sex as qualifications. His Transportation Secretary might not have been nominated if he was heterosexual; I hope that isn’t the case and it was more like political horse-trading in which Pete dropped his run for President and threw his support to Biden in exchange for a Cabinet position.
          But then there’s the “historical” first homosexual Cabinet member, first black lesbian press secretary, first transgender Public Health commissioner; the Biden administration is really into “historical” hires.

          • Ok. There’s a way to make that critique without sounding like one is just mad at the existence of minorities—I know, because you just made it.

  1. “However, if anyone wants to talk about that larger ethical issues raised by reaction to it here, please do so, because I’d love someone to explain why it isn’t powerful evidence that I’ve been wasting my time.”

    This is a response that may be a bit too mixed with what you don’t want. I am not sure what my response to this revelation is. Part of it is because your post is the only information I have about this at all. I am not inclined to snap judgments.

    However, I would agree that it looks bad, even very bad.

    Is there any mitigating factor? Probably not. I expect that Thomas was there because his wife was there. She was probably the guest and he was probably his +1, as they say these days.

    Still it LOOKS bad, and that itself is bad enough.

    He should have seen that and he should have simply told his wife that he can’t accompany her on such trips.

    But, again, I am pondering….

    I was at a CLE once where judges were speaking about practicing in the Courtroom. One of the federal judges kind of lamented her role as a Judge because it was lonely. She was set off from her former legal colleagues; her friends still called her by name but, to other lawyers, she was now “Judge X.”. She could not engage in activities the way she could before (whether it be church groups, coaching, etc. (I forget exactly what activities she mentioned–maybe helping sell Girl Scout Cookies or other fundraising type things)) because she had to maintain the appearance of impartiality and not abusing her office for personal gain.

    Have you been wasting your time? Probably not. Even those supporting Thomas are at least aware of what principles they may be ignoring and what rationalizations they are employing. That puts them ahead of those who simply have no understanding of such concepts.

    And, perhaps the reluctance of some is bias, cognitive dissonance, and consequentialism. They like Thomas, they are hesitant to think he could have done something bad (which has been reinforced by the years of baseless calls by his detractors that he should be impeached), and they don’t like the outcome of such lines of thought (their side not only loses a seat, the other side gets a seat AND a moral victory).

    All three of those hurdles can be overcome. But, they are overcome more easily if you are actually aware of them. And, sometimes it takes time for those hurdles to be understood and processed. And, gut reactions are not processed reactions. What comes from the gut is often crap, which, ironically, is processed, so to speak.


    • I posted this in the other thread but it’s probably going to get lost in the noise. since you mentioned consequentialism, where does consequentialism and the ends justify the means rationalization leave off and utilitarianism begin? I’ve been reading the interwebs trying to understand the difference but it’s rather fuzzy.

      • This actually speaks to something I’ve wanted to go into around here: what a rationalization actually is.

        A rationalization can only occur once we’ve determined that something is unethical. As an example:

        Paying your best player more money than lesser players is not unethical, so that is not The King’s Pass.

        Allowing your best player to break rules that would bench lesser players is unethical, so saying it’s because he’s too good to bench is a rationalization, The King’s Pass.

        Utilitarianism is a philosophy for determining what is and is not “good”/ethical. A friend of mine calls it the best possible moral system for Gods.

        The reason for that tongue in cheek description is that, when used as intended, it doesn’t just take into account the best way to achieve a goal (the ends which are justified by the means), it takes into account the best way to achieve the best possible world. This is basically impossible to do, but if you could (if you were God and could see all possible future outcomes) obviously it would be good to use it!

        So, torturing a terrorist who you know will honestly reveal information that will save lives has some amount of utility — but if that will lead to torture being used as a matter of course, that’s negative utility that needs to be factored in by an honest utilitarian. If the torture might lead to retaliation that costs more lives in the long run, that also must be factored in. Etc.

        That’s what you do in utilitarianism to determine if the torture would be good. If it is good, if you knew in the grand scheme of the universe this would cause more benefits to humanity than harms, you’re not rationalizing, not excusing doing something wrong. It’s just the right thing to do.

        But usually the people who think they know enough to follow strictly utilitarian principles are mostly full of it.

        • I worked on creating a “Taxonomy” of Jack’s Rationalizations list a while back. Haven’t completed it, but in general, what falls under the “rationalizations” list, can broadly be divided into two categories:

          Rationalizations: The miscreant either recognizes the unethical nature of the act or doesn’t recognize it, but attempts to demonstrate the behavior is actually ethical.

          Diversions: The miscreant recognizes the unethical nature of the act but usually excuses the act by comparing it to other unethical acts or other people’s attitudes.

          There were a handful I couldn’t quite categorize, so maybe there are other broad categories as well. I should get back to work on that.

          • Dividing the list into categories would probably help me sort them out better. I’ve read the rationalization list multiple times and somewhere around the halfway mark they all start blurring together and sounding like they overlap. This is probably because they do overlap and are often used in combination.

        • “ A rationalization can only occur once we’ve determined that something is unethical.”

          Thank you! I found this bit particularly helpful at cleaning up the fuzziness.

      • It is fuzzy and there is probably no great demarcation because the notions overlap in ways. So, take what I say with a grain of salt, but…

        The ends justify the means is kind of a content-neutral directive. Once you have picked the end (a Marxist paradise), that end will justify any means of getting there (purges and gulags). If the end is winning the next election, cheating is okay.

        Utilitarianism has a more specific end: maximizing the happiness of the most amount of people. So, it is not really content neutral. It has to be directed toward happiness and it is kind of a balance sheet. If something does more harm than good, you should not do it. The end may not justify the means of getting there. But, killing 5 people to save 20 can be A-OK under utilitarianism because you have maximized “happiness.”

        Consequentialism seems the most vague. The two earlier examples were really forward-looking because they deal with what you are trying to accomplish. Consequentialism is sort of backward looking because you look at the outcome of an action and judge the action based upon that. But, that is one of the criticisms of utilitarianism–you don’t know what the right course of action until after you see the results. And, a bad result could lead eventually to a good result, so utilitarianism is not a good way to judge actions. Consequentialism is kind of a “well, it all turned out good in the end” sort of analysis.

        Anyway, just my take.


        • Consequentialism sounds a lot like hindsight bias. One of the websites I was looking at yesterday categorized utilitarianism as a type of consequentialism, but I don’t think that is strictly accurate based off of your explanation.


    If this comes to pass it will be the biggest takeover of private property in history. One wind farm has leased over 100,000 acres to willing landowners where I live. Without property rights, what rights do we have, really?
    They are also seeking public comments on eminent domain on interstate transmission lines. There’s something sketchy when all sides line up against the individual. The state, federal and sometimes local governments along with people who are no place even remotely close to where this is happening are shouting to “just do something”. Look. Just because it’s not on your own yard doesn’t mean something isn’t happening. Be careful what you wish for. Whatever you think about Trump, his words ring true. “They’re not coming after me, they’re coming after you.” It’s not too late, but we might be close to a tipping point. This feels very much like a conspiracy theory or ignorance, I’m not sure which. Either way it’s in everyone’s interest to keep private property private. This is the “I’m on the right side of history” argument. You know what they say about the road to hell being paved with good intentions?

      • Have you ever dealt with a company who can use eminent domain? That is forever you know. There’s no abandonment language in those easements. There is no liability protection. There is no clear language as to timeframe of construction. The keystone pipeline? That easement is still in place. The abandoned railroad? That space is now public paths through private property. They offer the one time payment of money as if they’re buying the property but they’re not it’s more like a lease because I’m still here. I don’t leave. It’s a huge liability. When that company goes bankrupt, unless you propose wind and solar to also become public utilities, what happens then?

        • Correct. Back in the 1990’s, they got the idea here in Indiana to open a Garfield-themed amusement park (yes, Garfield the comic strip cat. His creator, Jim Davis, is a Hoosier native and had his studio here). They grabbed farmland from a family that had worked it for generations per eminent domain.

          The park never got built.

          That family has been trying to get its land back for decades now.

          • It’s all about perspective! I am know they are enjoyed. I view them as a huge liability risk, long term. Not everyone will keep to the path. Someone will eventually get hurt on what is still the landowners property plus there’s a risk of damage to the rest of the land. Never mind the oddity of the long term campers that can use that gray area as their new home. I saw that, it was on the corner under a transmission line and a trail and next to a truck stop. Hikers can toss a cigarette butt and catch the property on fire for example. Add livestock nearby and children… If these easements continue permanently, then liability protection should be automatically included. After all, the current landowners with railroads and now trails didn’t even agree to the easement.

      • @Seriously? I can’t believe with the entire commentary you single out my one comment on Trump. Forget it. I should’ve never added such a divisive person into it. It’s too important of a topic for politics. I absolutely do not care what side you’re on. Not even a little bit. The idea of a takeover by eminent domain of millions of acres for power scares me. It’s not about Trump it’s about the possibility the CEO of JP Morgan is encouraging a massive shift in power from the private sector to corporations. “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.” – Steven Covey Have you seen a wind lease? Solar? Transmission line? Pipeline? Oil or gas? Have you tried to negotiate as a private property owner with someone who wants to use your land? If the answer is no, then maybe you don’t know what you don’t know.

        • It was just weird to see you move so seamlessly from a condemnation of eminent domain to a praise of Trump. I wasn’t sure you knew about his history with abuse of eminent domain. Did you? If not, now that you know about it, do you care?

          • @Seriously.
            Why are you making this about Trump? I’m saying there’s a real danger of a massive reallocation of private property to corporations with the government’s blessing.
            But to answer your question. 1. Saying one quote rings true is hardly an endorsement of a person, but I know very little of his business practices. 2. An opinion piece from the Washington post is hardly credible evidence against anyone, but I couldn’t read it because I don’t subscribe to the Wa Post.
            3. Do I care what Trump did? I am guessing he used it to seize property for a hotel or something, much like they did for the casinos in the mountains nearby, the new airport, and the transmission line. I care that these practices are constantly allowed and gives very little options to the counties or landowners. There is a systematic problem with the law as written. In my state, private companies can not use eminent domain. The public utility can and recently paid out $57,000 less per mile than the private company would and allowed less contract negotiations because they don’t have to bargain. Turns out “good faith” is a bit vague when most people just sign blindly.

            • You brought up Trump, not me, and I already explained to you why I found that worth noting. But to explain further, you specifically invoked a Trump quote to illuminate the dangers of eminent domain to the common man. Pointing out that he has used it himself against the common man seems completely relevant.

              There is plenty of evidence of his abuse of eminent domain out there beyond just a WaPo link. It sounds like this is an issue you are passionate about, so again I think it’s strange that you don’t know how it was abused by our former president.

    • JP Morgan’s CEO should have started that conversation by voluntarily donating all his property to eminent domain for solar farms. Then I would give him a little more credence. Climate change alarmist are – among other miserable things – very willing to spend other people’s money and assets.

  3. There is something I’ve been thinking about for a while now and I think the Thomas situation just makes this more and more clear. Some professions can’t have friends. There are just some jobs that can’t be separated from who they are from there professional life to the personal.

    It’s extremely frustrating as a minster. I am never allowed to turn off. People tell me there problems, people come to me for advice, I’m seen as a someone above the average person (though I know I’m not). I’m given less grace when I make a mistake and I’m constantly under a microscope.

    About the only people I have good friendship status with are people who don’t go to my church.

    Am I wrong here?

    • About the only people I have good friendship status with are people who don’t go to my church.

      Probably a good strategy, John Paul. Probably a feature rather than a bug.

  4. No, you are not wrong JP. Just be your authentic self, speak from the heart guided by the HS, and openly preach about it when guided to do so. There is no escape from the microscope but you are free to react any way you want. The burden of navigating boundaries and relationships is not just on you but also on the congregation.

    Also, do not be afraid to tell someone; now is not a good time or, I don’t know but will think about it, etc.

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