Statue-Toppling, The Ethics Incompleteness Principle, And Calvin Griffith, Part One.

The Ethics Incompleteness Principle, a core concept on Ethics Alarms, holds that even the most convincing ethics rules, moral codes, laws and principles have exceptions. The inspiration for this observation was the work of Czech-born mathematician Kurt Gödel, whose two Incompleteness Theorems, which relate to mathematical proofs, are his most famous contribution to civilization and science. A linguist as well as a scientist,  Gödel unintentionally delivered an essential blow against the ethics absolutism of Kant and rigid morality when he proved that human language is not sufficiently precise to define rules that will work as designed in every instance. The logical extension of Gödel’s theorems, which he applied only to mathematics and, by extension, physics, tells us that there will always be anomalies on the periphery of every normative system, no matter how sound or well articulated it is. If one responds to an anomaly by trying to amend the rule or system to accommodate it, the integrity of the rule or system is disturbed, and perhaps ruined. Yet if one stubbornly applies the rule or system without amendment to the anomaly anyway, one may reach an absurd conclusion or an unjust result. [ Here is an online discussion of the application of Gödel to ethics, which appeared years after the Ethics Incompleteness Theorem was posited on Ethics Alarms.]

The Ethics Incompleteness Principle suggests that when a system or rule doesn’t seem to work well when applied to an unexpected or unusual situation, the wise response is to abandon the system or rule—in that one anomalous case only— and use  basic ethics principles and analysis to find the best solution. Then return to the system and rules as they were, without altering them to make the treatment of the anomalous situation “consistent.”

Much as we would like it to be otherwise, for life would be so much simpler if it were so, no system or rule is going to work equally well with every possible scenario. This is why is why committing to a single ethical system is folly, and why it is important to keep basic ethical values in mind in case a pre-determined formula for determining what is right breaks down.

When a reader and frequent commenter sent me this announcement from the Minnesota Twins a few days ago, my reflex reaction was as you would expect: Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Scary Tales Of The George Floyd Freakout: The Mission On The Bay Fiasco”

Arthur in Maine accepted the challenge of answering my query that began the Mission on the Bay story: “What is it about restaurants that generate so many ethics messes?” I had never considered the reasons he cites, but they are sound. I was thinking about all the various restaurant ethics blow-ups I have posted on in the past, as well as the many I have left undiscussed. I was especially thinking about this one from seven years ago, about an Applebees waitress who posted online a receipt from an obnoxious customer, a pastor to shame her. That controversy prompted two additional posts, here and here. Yet as unethical as the waitress in that episode was, the eavesdropping bartender in Swampscott was worse.

Arthur argues persuasively that the culture of the restaurant business makes it a breeding ground for unethical conduct. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “Scary Tales Of The George Floyd Freakout: The Mission On The Bay Fiasco”:

Jack, your header asks why so many ethics problems arise in restaurants. Having spent some time in the field, I offer the following in answer.

  • High end restaurants tend not to have this type of issue. They usually hire highly competent kitchen and front-of-house staff, and management is usually diligent in training and supervision.

The ethical problems are more common in mid-level houses and chains.

  •  In such houses, staffing is a never-ending challenge, for the simple reason that restaurant work is essentially one of the few fields that actually rewards vagrancy. Servers and kitchen personnel might work a given house for a year or two and move on to something else – either a gig where they think they can make more money, or a different place altogether. Serving and cooking skills are easily transferable; if you leave one location for whatever reason (family, problems with the law, just a desire to see another part of the country, you name it) – it’s pretty easy to find another gig doing exactly the same thing.

In mid-level houses, actual loyalty to the organization tends to be the exception, rather than the rule.

  • The nature of restaurant staff. Senior-level positions – chef or sous chef (or kitchen manager) and the front-of-house manager generally require a fair amount of training and experience. These tend to be genuinely skilled positions. But servers and line cooks… candidly, these are mostly semi-skilled positions. The work is fairly physically demanding but really isn’t particularly mentally taxing most of the time. And with regard to service personnel: very few people in the United States actually work as restaurant servers because that’s their chosen field. Yes, you find true professionals in the high-end places. But for pretty much everyone else, it’s a way to pay the bills while waiting for your screenplay to be picked up, or finishing school, or whatever.

And in fairness, there are servers who really don’t have other options available to them based upon their skills and where they live. But for many, the number of hours required to make a decent amount of money are comparatively short. Continue reading

Scary Tales Of The George Floyd Freakout: The Mission On The Bay Fiasco

The “mission” appears to be to enforce conformity of thought.

In my native state of Massachusetts, in the coastal town of Swampscott, home of Boston Red Sox tragic hero, the late Tony Conigliaro, comes a story where every element represents an ethics breach. The victim is being made the villain, the villain the hero. As I tell the tale, the faint refrain of “The World Turned Upside-Down,” the song the band played when General Cornwallis surrendered to General Washington, should  echo in the background.

What is it about restaurants that generate so many ethics messes? This one occurred at Mission on the Bay, an upscale waterside eatery that serves food with a Brazilian and Asian influence. Selectman Donald Hause was dining with a friend in the outdoor dining area, and bartender Erik Heilman was eavesdropping, what people are doing when they say later, “I couldn’t help but overhear.” Heilman heard Hause criticize Black Lives Matter, allegedly saying that the group was “liberal bullshit,” and making the case that white privilege was a myth.

What the Selectman said, short of planning a crime, was none of Heilman’s business; nonetheless, the bartender says he was “distraught” at the comments, and so he posted what he heard or thought he heard to a local website,  because he wanted to “inform” the community about the thoughts of an elected official.  Hause disputes his account, but it doesn’t matter, and I don’t care what he said.  Heilman’s conduct was unethical no matter what was said, or whether his post was accurate or not. Customers at a restaurant should, indeed must, be able to depend on the discretion and confidentiality of the staff. The bartender’s actions were a betrayal of his duties to the restaurant and its patrons.

We know Heilman’s rationalization for doing what he did springs from the totalitarian strain in what Commentary Magazine has called “the great unraveling.” Dissent from the Black Lives Matter and its supporters’ anti-American narrative will not be tolerated, and those resisting the mob, the movement’s mission dictates, must be exposed and destroyed. Continue reading

The Uncle Ben Conundrum

Let’s begin with this: what’s racist about Uncle Ben?

Yesterday we discussed PepsiCo dumping Aunt Jemima on the silly pretense that doing so would  “make progress toward racial equality,” thus grabbing the lead in the breakfast food grovel  sweepstakes. Even though Aunt Jemima no longer looks like a “mammy,” the idea was that she began as an offensive racist stereotype, and once a stereotype, always a stereotype. First they came for Aunt Jemima…and then it was Mrs. Butterworth. Like Althouse, who blogged about Mrs. B yesterday, I never thought of the female-shaped syrup container as having any race at all. An article in the  New York  Post claimed that the bottle was modeled after Butterfly McQueen, the black actress who played  the mentally-challenged slave Prissy in “Gone With The Wind.” That’s odd: I don’t recall Prissy being filled with syrup. This is one more example (among many) of activists desperately searching for things to be offended about  to bend individuals and companies to their will at a time when so many of those with power appear to be ready to agree to anything to prove how woke they are.

Now we learn that Mars is going to rebrand Uncle Ben’s Rice because Ben evokes a racist stereotype. What would that be? Uncle Ben appears to be a middle aged-black guy in a bow tie, and that’s how he’s always looked. What’s the theory here?

The clue may be the Cream of Wheat man, who never had a name that I was aware of.

Reportedly he’s on the chopping block too. Is it because he’s a chef? Is it because he’s smiling? Is it because he had a relationship with Aunt Jemima? Continue reading

Ethics Grab Bag: 6/18/20: Absolutism, DACA, Cancel Culture And Pancakes

1. Oh, I’m sure that will help a lot. Quaker announced yesterday that the Aunt Jemima brand would be rebranded and renamed “to make progress toward racial equality.” Yeah, I’m sure the pancake box design and hearing that demon name “Jemima” has retarded the progress of racial justice for decades.  I couldn’t care less what pancake mix is called and I doubt that anyone else does, but  if any portion of the market claims to find the logo offensive, that’s a good reason to ditch it, which I assume means that Uncle Ben’s Rice will be called “U.B.R.” soon. Nonetheless, Quaker’s move isn’t substantive. It’s virtue signaling, and at this point, more historical airbrushing. Getting rid of Aunt Jemima will cost Quaker millions of dollars, and probably raise the price of the product. It won’t affect racial equality one iota.

Meanwhile, cultural context and history is lost. The R. T. Davis Milling Company hired former slave Nancy Green as a spokesperson for the Aunt Jemima pancake mix in 1890, and she continued in that role  until her death in 1923. Green appeared as Jemima beside the “world’s largest flour barrel” while operating a pancake-cooking display at Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. After the Expo, Green was given a lifetime contract to  promote the pancake mix. Aunt Jemima was Nancy Green’s one link to immortality.

2. Today’s SCOTUS decision on DACA. Here’s how NPR put it: “A narrowly divided U.S. Supreme Court extended a life-support line to some 650,000 so-called DREAMers on Thursday, allowing them to remain safe from deportation for now, while the Trump administration jumps through the administrative hoops that the court said are required before ending the program.”

The President called this a political decision in his inimitable, meat-axe way:

This is an especially stupid tweet. Every time SCOTUS doesn’t back the administration isn’t a political decision, and lumping apples and kumquats together, which is what generalizing about decisions as diverse as the gay discrimination decision and this one is, just shows that the President doesn’t read the opinions he’s complaining about, and only cares about the results. (Of course, in this he is like most Americans, sad to say.)

After wading through as much of the assorted opinions in the case as I can stand (Great thanks, once again, to valkygrrl for sending me the link), I think that’s unfair.

Chief Justice Roberts, again the swing man, joined with the four liberal Justices and authored the majority opinion. This sentence says it all: “The dispute before the Court is not whether DHS may rescind DACA. All parties agree that it may. The dispute is instead primarily about the procedure the agency followed in doing so.” That means that the decision isn’t about substance or policy, but rather process. Process decisions are not, or shouldn’t be, political. This note also undermines the idea that the Justices were just acting in partisan lockstep:

ROBERTS, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, except as to Part IV. GINSBURG, BREYER, and KAGAN, JJ., joined that opinion in full, and SOTOMAYOR, J., joined as to all but Part IV. SOTOMAYOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in part, concurring in the judgment in part, and dissenting in part. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part anddissenting in part, in which ALITO and GORSUCH, JJ., joined. ALITO, J., and KAVANAUGH, J., filed opinions concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part.

If the President paid attention, he would see that a majority of the Court found that his actions regarding DACA were not motivated by “animus,” thus denying Big Lie #4.

I am unalterably opposed to DACA, for reasons stated frequently here. The short version: it is incompetent and irresponsible law-making to provide an incentive for people to break the law. DACA is fueled by emotion and sentimentality (“Think if the children!”) and is an incremental step toward open borders. However, other than some dicta among the concurrences and dissents, there is no reason to see the decision as either favoring or disfavoring the law. Continue reading

Wednesday Ethics Jolts, 6/17/2020: I Think We Have Our Answer To Question 13….

Look out!

It’s Wednesday, Wednesday got me thinking about the Wednesday Addams, which got me thinking about Charles Addams, which reminded me of that Addams cartoon…

Yes, this is how my mind works, as if you didn’t know…

1. “You know: literate morons.” The National Book Critics Circle (NBCC), of all people, decided to give us an example of where the George Floyd Freakout can lead. The president of the NBCC drafted the obligatory institutional pander affirming Black Lives Matter and circulated it to the board for its approval. One contrarian and sane board member, a board president named Carlin Romano, said he disagreed with much of the letter, didn’t want to “distract the great majority of the Board from its mission,” but couldn’t resist explicating his objections, including describing the systemic racism premise as “absolute nonsense.” He did not, he wrote, believe that the publishing business operated with “the full benefits of white supremacy and institutional racism” and that “white gatekeeping had been working to stifle black voices at every level of our industry.” Such claims, he wrote, amounted to “calumnies on multiple generations of white publishers and editors” who had fought to publish authors of color. “I resent the idea that whites in the book publishing and literary world are an oppositional force that needs to be assigned to reeducation camps.”

In her reply,the current president told Romano that she’d always appreciate his perspective. It “shines unlike anyone else’s,” she wrote, adding, “your objections are all valid, of course.”

As a result of her respectful acceptance of a reasoned dissent, more than half of the 24-member board of NBCC  resigned, including, of course, all of its non-white members. The president resigned too. Romano has not. In response to another member’s accusation that his criticism had displayed ” racism and anti-blackness,” he countered, “It did nothing of the sort. I’m not racist and I’m not anti-black. Quite the contrary. I just don’t check my mind at the door when people used to operating in echo chambers make false claims.”

Ethics Hero.

2.  Pandering BLM Groveler of the Year? I’m pretty sure nobody will be able to top NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. After dismissing Colin Kaepernick and his fellow NFL kneelers as a distraction to the game and an annoyance to fans, he is now not only encouraging the players to demonstrate on the field for “racial justice,”—if he thinks such workplace stunts will stop with mere kneeling, he really is a dolt—he is now encouraging NFL teams to sign Kaepernick, who hasn’t played  for three years. He hasn’t been signed because the distractions his political grandstanding carried with him couldn’t begin to be justified by his declining quarterbacking skills, and that’s the case now more than ever. Does Goodell really think capitulating to the mob will keep him and his league safe? Is someone holding his family at gunpoint somewhere, or is he really this ignorant?

3. Wait, why haven’t I read all of this before? On Medium, Gavrillo David argues that there may be enough evidence to insulate Derek Chauvin from a murder conviction. he cites six facts in support of his theory: Continue reading

Yes, I Think EBay Has Wrapped Up The “Most Unethical Fortune 500 Company Of The Year” Prize…

Yikes.

Six eBay employees mounted a cyberstalking campaign  including sending boxes of live spiders and cockroaches and a Halloween mask of a bloody pig’s face —followed by a threatening Twitter message— against a Natick, Mass. couple who ran an online e-commerce newsletter, according to charges filed by federal prosecutors yesterday.

I’ve never heard of anything like this, except perhaps in one of the cheesy horror movies I watch late at night to anesthetize my brain.

The employees, all of whom have now left the company, engineered a campaign against the couple that included ominous emails and deliveries on unordered products obvious chosen to terrify, such as a bloody pig mask, a funeral wreath and a book about how to surviving grief after the death of a spouse. Just to enrich your nightmares, here are the mask and the book: Continue reading

Your Morning Ethics Update On The George Floyd Freakout

I was musing early yesterday about whether calling the current reaction/over-reaction/ exploitation/ “Hey great now we can do all kinds of stuff because nobody will dare say no to us!” to the George Floyd video a “freakout” was excessively denigrating it, trivializing or misrepresenting it.  I decided it was all three. By the end of yesterday, I realized I was wrong.

I’ll still use the “George Floyd Ethics Train Wreck” tag on posts  emanating  from this madness, but ethics train wrecks, situations where virtually anyone who gets involved instantly engages in unethical conduct, are more rational than ethics freakouts, which are almost entirely fueled by emotion, hysteria, hate, present time perspective, and mob mentality.

I haven’t used the description often here, but looking back through the lens of history, I’d list among past freakouts the Salem witch trials,  the French Revolution and “The Terror,”  World War I, the Holocaust, and the U.S.’s ” Red Scare.” There are others; I’m not looking to compile the definitive list.  The definition of a freakout, as opposed to a an ethics train wreck, is partially that once the fever has passed, virtually everyone looks back on the event and thinks, “What the hell? How did that happen? What was wrong with those people?” The other distinguishing factor is that while wise members of a society will contend with each other during an ethics train wreck and try to stop the runaway train, the tendency of the un-freaked during  a freakout is to try to keep their heads down,  avoid making eye contact, and if confronted with one of the raving, just nod and mutter, “Sure. Whatever you say.”

THAT, as the partial list above demonstrates, is a dire mistake. Ethics freakouts get people killed, and do damage to lives and society that can take decades to repair. Continue reading

A Whole Lot Of Resigning Going On

There have been a lot of interesting resignations in the last couple of days, all with ethics implications.

1. Reddit Co-founder Alexis Ohanian  announced his resignation from the company’s board. This was an apparent capitulation to  critics who claimed Reddit didn’t do enough opinion censorship, the new rage among tech companies and social media platforms.

Former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao, who lost her position under fire for being censorship-minded, criticized the tech company earlier last week after it published its mandatory George Floyd letter. Pao responded by accusing the social network knowingly of profiting from hate. “You don’t get to say BLM when reddit nurtures and monetizes white supremacy and hate all day long,” Pao tweeted. Smart–she knew that in the throes of mass virtue-signaling and white flagellation, nobody would have the guts to ask her, “Who gets to define hate, Ellen? You?”

Lacking the fortitude to make an argument, Ohanian, who is married to professional tennis player Serena Williams, said he would commit to using future gains from his Reddit stock to serve the black community and focus on curbing racial hate, because, as we all know, throwing money around has been so effective at that.  Ohanian said he would donate $1 million to former NFL player and activist Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp. Then he said that he wanted his replacement to be black, Not experienced, fair, wise, savvy or effective. Black. That’s what matters. Continue reading

A Message From PetSmart

I just received a message from the CEO of PetSmart, which inspires this project: I ask any and all Ethics Alarms readers to send in, as comments to this post, other virtue-signaling screeds from businesses and organizations on the topic of race. Once we have a sizable collection, Ethics Alarms will hand out some awards—Most Sincere, Most Offensive; Most Ridiculous; Most Hypocritical; Most Substantive, even Most Useful, if there is such a message. Perhaps I will put these up for a vote.

Here’s the PetSmart letter; I’ll have some comments at the end. Continue reading