Monday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/10/23: Remembering A Forgotten Ethics Hero

If the name Henry Bergh rings an ethics bell, you’re better informed than I, or have a better memory. I dimly recall having read the name, but only today, checking for ethics landmarks on the date, did I realize his significance.

Bergh was the diplomat and philanthropist who, on this date in 1866, founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In a New York City speech following a trip to Europe where he had been horrified by the treatment of work horses, he appealed to human compassion for “these mute servants of mankind” and argued that protecting animals was should not face any class or partisan disagreements. “This is a matter purely of conscience; it has no perplexing side issues,” he said. “It is a moral question in all its aspects.” Bergh then introduced his “Declaration of the Rights of Animals.”

Soon after, the New York State legislature passed a charter incorporating the ASPCA, the first animal cruelty law in the United States was passed, authorizing the ASPCA to investigate complaints of animal cruelty and to make arrests. Bergh, meanwhile, was frequently ridiculed for his passion, as in the cartoon above that was accompanied by an article calling him a “traitor to his species.”

Morons. To the contrary, Bergh’s personal rescues of mistreated horses and livestock inspired activists and social reformers taking up the cause of abused children. In 1874, they founded the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Henry Bergh served as one of the group’s first vice presidents.

1. I’m tempted to post this one from yesterday again...Maybe it was Easter’s fault, but The Sandy Hook Ethics Train Wreck Jumps The Rails In Tennessee attracted far fewer comments than the silly tale of Bud Light thinking a ridiculous trans “influencer” was a perfect choice to be a beer spokesperson. Meanwhile, the mainstream media is barfing up op-eds about how Tennessee Republicans punishing three Democratic legislators for helping a mob shut down the work of the legislature in order to demand that “something” be done about gun violence shows that Republicans are hostile to democracy. What head exploding hypocrisy! I wrote,

The behavior of the three (Democratic, of course) state reps was indefensible. No one has explained why Republican members of Congress who supported the January 6 protest against what many believed was a rigged election were threatened by Democrats with a Constitutional ban from running for office as punishment, but the Tennessee legislators who actually participated in disrupting the government were pronounced by the same news media and party that condemned the Republicans as heroes. This is because it can’t be explained: it’s mind-blowing hypocrisy and a flaming double standard. What the Tennessee Democrats did was clearly worse: no Republicans too part in the January 6 attack on the Capital? No riot in Nashville, you say? That’s because, and only because, of moral luck. Police did not try to force the Nashville demonstrators to leave and didn’t have the numbers to even try. The anti-gun protesters, as you might expect, did not have a contingent of wackos prone to violence, though they might have. The news media’s near unanimous position is that people disrupting a Republican-run legislature in the midst of doing government business is admirable, but disrupting a Democratic-run Congress is an “insurrection.”

This time, I beat Professor Turley by almost a full day, who wrote last night,

The three members yelled “No action, no peace” and “Power to the people” as their colleagues objected to their stopping the legislative process. Undeterred, the three refused to allow “business as usual” to continue. Nothing says deliberative debate like a bullhorn. American politics, it seems, has become a matter of simple amplification. Many on the left lionized the three for their disruption of the legislature. President Biden denounced the sanctioning of their “peaceful protest” as “shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent.” There was little criticism of the members for obstructing the legislative business or refusing to accept the democratic process that rejected their gun-control demands. Today, for many, there is no room for nuance. Instead, they live in a world occupied only by “fascists” and “insurrectionists.”…This is now our “historic reality.” Liberals and the media, long criticized for downplaying violence from the left, are now rationalizing a disruption of legislative procedure as “good trouble” because the cause is considered to be correct.

2. Speaking of unethical Federal judges, since debating the blatantly unethical conduct of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas dominated much of Ethics Alarms’ time and space over the weekend, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of Texas issued a power-abusing decision that made the entire judicial branch look bad, cancelling the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, the first drug approved for an abortion pill, 23 years after it was first approved. This is the first time in history that a court has asserted the power to pull a drug from the market after FDA approval, and it is an abuse of power at that. Kacsmaryk is a passionate abortion opponent, but that does not allow him to decide based on anti-abortion activist assertions that a drug is unsafe and that the FDA is less qualified to declare a drug safe than he is. Within an hour of its release, his ruling started a constitutional crisis when a federal judge in Washington issued an injunction ordering the FDA to allow mifepristone in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

This isn’t an ethical issue regarding abortion. The ethics issue is abuse of power and process—again, as in the previous story, an ideological claim that laws, rules and ethical principles can be ignored to make “good trouble” in Prof. Turley’s term.

3. The rest of the story: The president of Hamline University in Minnesota, Fayneese Miller, announced her early retirement after the school’s faculty demanded her resignation because she dismissed a professor for showing images of Muhammad as part of an art class. Ethics Alarms covered the story here. In one sense this is condign justice, but Miller is still going to hang around in her job, for which she is spectacularly unqualified and in which she is an embarrassment, until her contract runs out more than a year from now, and fired Professor Prater’s lawsuit [pdf] still has to be dealt with.

4. Should we make Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York the official Queen of “The Great Stupid?” She is calling for Justice Thomas’s impeachment over his unreported vacations, which virtually everyone agrees cannot sustain an impeachment (as unethical as they were). Her reaction to the wrong-headed Texas judge’s ruling was to tell CNN’s Anderson Cooper that President Biden should just ignore it and do what he wants anyway.

Jeez, won’t somebody tell her? That’s not how the system works: such conduct would justify impeaching Biden! No President has successfully defied a court order since Andrew Jackson, and King Andy was, well, special. But so is AOC: she has the stunning gall to attack Thomas for his handling of gifts while she is under investigation for…mishandling gifts!

Long Live the Queen!

5. People are leaving Portland and Oregon? Huh. I wonder why? The Oregonian finally woke up after a multi-year slumber to issue this op-ed, whining about how people were leaving Oregon in general and its uber-woke, lawless, extreme Left-wing Portland, once the state’s crown jewel city, which embraced the George Floyd Freakout and celebrated The Great Stupid like no other.

6. And today’s “Nah, there’s no mainstream media bias” note: Riley Gaines, the collegiate swimmer who has spoken out against the unfairness of allowing trans-women to compete against biological women in athletic competitions where their male advantages are often decisive, was shouted down by a mob of students in a frightening scene as she tried to speak at San Francisco State University. Gaines posted some video:

CNN’s coverage stated that “Former NCAA swimmer Riley Gaines said she was assaulted Thursday on the campus of San Francisco State University.” “Said”? What happened to “believe all women”? Especially when the woman has video that proves what she is saying is true: the legal definition of “assault” is “an intentional act that puts another person in reasonable apprehension of imminent harmful or offensive contact.”

Gaines was assaulted by definition.

5 thoughts on “Monday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/10/23: Remembering A Forgotten Ethics Hero

  1. 6. Catch this ridiculous piece on trans athletes:

    The highlights: “School sports are meant to be about inclusivity and team work and having fun. Laws like the one in Kansas aren’t being made because of a scientific consensus, they’re not being made because of ‘fairness’ – they’re being made to hurt and humiliate young trans people. And these laws, I can’t stress enough, will not just affect trans people: they’ll impact everyone who doesn’t conform to rigid gender stereotypes. Indeed, cisgender women who don’t present in a “feminine” way are already being harassed in public bathrooms because of anti-trans hysteria. There is no clear line between trans rights and women’s rights and gay rights: Republicans are coming for all of us.”

  2. I’m of mixed minds, Jack, regarding #2. On the surface level, it strikes me that one doesn’t need to be an expert on something to put the breaks on it. He may or may not know better than the FDA, but if there are valid concerns, then it strikes me an appropriate use of judicial power to exercise caution. Admittedly, I know very little beyond what you’ve shared with us here.

    On a macro level, this strikes me as an extension of the prisoner’s dilemma discussion we’ve been having on Clarence Thomas. If I remember my discussions on the prisoner’s dilemma, the optimal solution was to behave beneficially, until one encountered negativity, and then the best course of action was to respond precisely as you had been served. To that specific person, at least. Fails the golden rule, but at least passes Kant’s universal imperative. If everyone followed it, everyone would be nice, and the only people who suffered would be those who couldn’t play nice.

    If that is so, then it’s about time the courts started abusing power back towards the right. Yes, it’s an abuse of power, yes it leaves a vile taste in my mouth to utter, but the alternatives are also pretty bad.

    • Good example of the left being exposed to one of their favorite tactics these days: having a lefty District Court judge, preferably sitting in the Ninth Circuit, issue a nationwide ruling. which means it will have to go all the way to the Supremes before it’s struck down.

    • Well, the stuff has an extensively documented record that marks it as safer than, say, penicillin and lots of other drugs. After 23 years, it is clear that this isn’t a drug safety decision but an “abortion is evil” decision, and no judge has, or should have, the power to decide that issue after SCOTUS put it clearly in the hands of the legislative branch.

    • Don’t be fooled that this is about the wisdom or morality of abortion policy. It isn’t. This is about process and matters of law. The theory of standing put forth by the plaintiffs was extremely indirect and hypothetical, the kind of theory of standing that conservatives have long resisted, because it would tend to turn the courts into policymakers of last (or even first) resort. That, in turn, would transform our system of representative democracy under the rule of law into governance by pure lawfare. His treatment of the statute of limitations likewise would obliterate any need for a live legal issue, pushing the courts further down that same path.

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