Comment Of The Day: The Not-Quite-Secret Language

This Comment of the Day, from intermittent participant Red Pill Ethics, is a model for dissenting opinions on Ethics Alarms. I omitted his amusing coda, in which he describes me as “the Stephen King of Ethics.”  That can mean any number of things; I think its a reference to quantity rather than quality….although a lot of the stuff on Ethics Alarms is pretty scary.

Here is Red Pill Ethics’ Comment of the Day on The Not-Quite-Secret Language:

Yeah….. nah. The core of your argument is that talking about someone within ear shot is somehow disrespectful. I don’t see how. If I walk around town in a clown outfit people are going to talk about me as I pass them. If I over hear them or not is irrelevant to whether or not it’s disrespectful – my behavior invites comment and there’s no ethical failure in people reacting to the intentional or unintentional invitation.

To bring it to restaurant ethics specifically: If you’re at a table and your table is making a ruckus (loud children, drunken adults, etc.) in an otherwise calm restaurant you have made yourself a topic of the local public conversation. Absolutely nothing wrong with people discussing their current environment. If you over hear it too bad – you dont get to skyline yourself and complain when your draw people’s attention.

More over not wanting the other table to hear your request to be moved is no way cowardly. Youre out of your mind on that call. If they were denigrating the other table then sure maybe you’d have a case for cowardice – fighting words absent the willingness to actually fight. But dear god, they asked to be moved. My mind is literally blown that you find that cowardly. What was the guy/gal supposed to do? Let look at the evidence.

1) The parents had signaled some level of disregard for the people around them by allowing their children to bounce all over the place.

2) The restaurant had signaled some willingness to accept this level of ruckus by not having the staff enforce some polite noise boundary on the table. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/14/19: Tlaib And Kavanaugh.

Good morning,

I hope…

1 Social Q’s ethics. I’m whomping the advice columnist in the Ethics Alarms poll regarding whether complimenting someone on weight loss can be reasonably taken as offensive by the object of praise. Looking at the same column, I have decided that Mr. Gallanes was just having a bad day. Another inquirer complained that he sleeps with her bedroom window open, and is often awakened in the morning when the next door neighbor takes his dog out for a 5 am walk, a ritual, she says, that is always preceded by his “disgusting” coughing. The advice columnist suggested that she ask him to do his disgusting coughing inside. Yeah, THAT will go over well. If you insist on leaving your window open, you have no standing to protest sounds that would not be heard if you kept it closed. Given the choice between waking one’s spouse with the morning hacking that most men of a certain age can identify with, and getting all the morning phlegm up while walking the dog, the latter is the wiser and more ethical choice.

2. Supreme Court ethics and pro-abortion fear-mongering.

a.) Somehow it was reported as news akin to squaring the circle that Justice Kavanaugh joined with the four typically liberal justices in a 5-4 ruling yesterday that left Thomas, Gorsuch, Roberts and Alito licking their wounds. This is non-news. It was a dishonest partisan smear on Kavanaugh to suggest that he would be a mindless puppet in lock-step with conservatives on every issue. Justices consider cases in good faith, and the fact that their judicial philosophies make some decisions predictable doesn’t mean, as non-lawyer, non-judge, political hacks seem to think, that they will not judge a case on its merits rather than which “side” favors a particular result.

b) Kavanaugh did join the conservative justices in a ruling that overturned a 1979 case in which the Court had allowed a citizen of one state to sue another state. This decision, being a reversal of an older case, immediately prompted the publication of fear-mongering op-ed pieces warning that the evil Court conservatives, having re-read and enjoyed “The Handmaiden’s Tale,” were slyly laying the ground for a Roe v. Wade reversal with a case that had nothing whatsoever to do with abortion. Don’t you see? Stare decisus is the SCOTUS tradition that older cases will generally not be overturned by later Courts, lest Constitutional law be seen as unstable and too fluid to rely on. Garbage. Stare decisus has never been an absolute bar to reversing a wrongly decided case, so no new affirmation of that fact is necessary. In addition, the case overturned yesterday was a relatively obscure case that seldom comes into play, exactly the kind of case in which a reversal is minimally disruptive. Roe, on the other hand, has become a foundation of supporting law and social policy. That doesn’t mean it can’t be overturned, but it does mean that the protection of stare decisus is strong. Continue reading

The Not-Quite-Secret Language

In the Sunday Times column Social Qs, an inquirer asked,

My adult family and I went to dinner at an Italian trattoria. When the owner led us to a table near a family with bouncy children, I asked, in Italian, if he could seat us someplace quieter. He did. After we were seated, the woman from the table with children came up to me and said: “Don’t worry. We’ll be leaving soon.” She had clearly heard and understood me. I think she crossed a social boundary. You?”

SHE crossed a boundary? The questioner says something within earshot of another party who might be offended by it, and doesn’t have the guts to be open and honest ,  or, in the alternative, to discuss the matter with the restaurant staff privately. Maybe the woman would have crossed a social boundary if she said,  ‘Guess what, dickwad, you’re not the only one who speaks Italian!” But she didn’t; she just behaved as if the request had been in English, and the Italian-as-secret-code user was embarrassed.

Good. Continue reading

Ethical Quote Of The Month: Will Middlebrooks

“Don’t take one thing for granted. Not a single thing. Because when it’s gone it’s gone. Love and enjoy your teammates. You’re surrounded by some of the best players in the world and guess what, you’re one of them kid! Believe in your abilities day in and day out and never, ever let off the gas. Play this game like you know someone is coming for your job and today could be the last time you ever put on a big league uniform.”

—Former Boston Red Sox rookie sensation Will Middlebrooks, now retired, giving advice to current Red Sox rookie sensation Michael Chavis through an interview with Boston radio station WEEI’s Rob Bradford.

Although Middlebrooks’ sage advice was given in the context of playing Major League Baseball, it applies equally well to all passions, pursuits, opportunities, privileges, jobs, pleasures, honors, relationships, and  professions, as well as love, youth, and life in general. It is the present day Will Middlebrooks telling his younger self what he wishes he had understood before it was too late. Continue reading

Crosswalk Ethics

I was waiting at red light in Alexandria, on the way home from a brief acting coach gig for a friend.  On one side of street, preparing to cross, was a striking African-American couple, the women in a formfitting orange and white pattern dress, he in an open white blazer and slacks, highlighted by a pocket hanky that matched the orange in the woman’s dress.

When the “Walk” light finally flashed on, they crossed in front of my car, and as they passed, I rolled down my window and called out, “Best dressed couple I have seen all say!” and saluted.

They beamed. They waved. They shouted, in unison, “Thank you!” and walked on, laughing. I think I may have made their day.

And I thought, I really need to be on the look-out for opportunities like that. This is the way to combat the metastasizing nastiness, incivility and distrust in our culture. Be nice. Reach out. Socialize. Try to make meeting you a positive experience, no matter how brief or trivial.  It takes almost no time at all. It’s not hard. All it requires is committing to making the people around you as happy as possible.

I also had two thoughts. One: if they had been talking on their smart phones, texting or otherwise not interacting with the world around them, I wouldn’t have said anything at all.

Two: I wish I had been wearing a MAGA cap.

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/24/2019: Big Brotherism At The Ballet, And How Hillary Sicced Mueller On Trump

Good morning…

Depressed and discouraged today, about many things…time for Jimmy…

1. Another angle on the the topics here...arrives courtesy of Michael West, who pointed me to this article. about the psychology of unethical behavior. Mostly, it frames in slightly different packages familiar themes on Ethics Alarms, beginning with who people often don’t speak up and actively oppose unethical conduct that they witness or are a part of. Ethics Alarms has examined this phenomenon (and will continue to) many ways. One example was a two part post in 2015 on the duty to confront. (Part II is here) Other posts can be found by clicking on the tags below, such as the duty to lead, the duty to oppose evil, the duty to warn, and the duty to fix the problem.

The wonderfully named author Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg identifies several concepts in her essay, including omnipotence, cultural numbness, justified neglect, and looking out for signs of moral capture.

Ethics Alarms uses different approaches: omnipotence is essentially “The King’s Pass” and “The Saint’s Excuse” in the rationalizations list. Cultural numbness describes how “the Big Yellow Circle’s” gravitational pull influences the Green Circle, encompassing personal values and conscience. Justified neglect isn’t really justified: she is talking about how non-ethical consideration freeze ethics alarms. “Looking out for signs of moral capture” is the topic of Philip Zimbardo’s “rules” to avoid being corrupted by peer groups and organizations. I would assume that the author has studied these, since “Dr. Z” is one of the leading writers and researchers in the area.

Inevitably, the article delves into leadership, concluding,

“The reality is that, for many leaders, there is no true straight-and-narrow path to follow. You beat the path as you go. Therefore, ethical leadership relies a lot on your personal judgment. Because of this, the moral or ethical dilemmas you experience may feel solitary or taboo — struggles you don’t want to let your peers know about. It can sometimes feel shameful to admit that you feel torn or unsure about how to proceed. But you have to recognize that this is part of work life and should be addressed in a direct and open way.”

I disagree with that description of leadership technique, and I’m tempted to say that its the claim as someone who has not done much leading. It does seem typical of so-called “female leadership models,” which emphasize consensus and transparency. Traditional leadership theories hold that a leader’s followers don’t want to know how conflicted a leaders, and learning that a leader is “unsure” is the last thing they want to know. Effective leaders learn to keep their doubts and insecurities to themselves—one more reason leadership isn’t for everyone. Continue reading

Asshole vs. Asshole, And How To Avoid Starring In It

If you are old enough, you may remember the long-running comic  in Mad Magazine called “Spy vs Spy.” It was kind of a wordless Roadrunner cartoon with a Cold War vibe, and not especially funny, but I just thought of it for the first time in decades. (Incredibly, it is apparently still running in Mad, though the magazine itself is sinking fast.) I was considering this ridiculous story…

…It started small, but disputes over a Kansas man’s alleged violations of his homeowner association’s rules has led to a complex legal battle that is now the most expensive of its kind. Owner Jim Hildenbrand, has been locked in conflict with the HOA of Avignon Villa Homes since he moved there in 2012…

What began with a disagreement over the placement of a satellite dish and a decorative wall has escalated into a legal back-and-forth that has cost both parties at least a combined $1 million. It is the most expensive HOA dispute in the country.

It is also yet another example of the increasingly common societal phenomenon of “Asshole vs. Asshole.” These are ethics breakdowns where two parties in disagreement decide that making the other side pay for daring to have an adverse position overwhelms whatever the original objectives of the two parties were. It is reminiscent of the kinds of disputes parents—the good ones, anyway–arbitrate between siblings. “You’re both right,” Mom or Dad will say, “And you’re both wrong. You have reached the point where the escalation of anger and retaliation is the problem, not what you think you are arguing about.. Work it out. Compromise. See it from the other one’s perspective. And if you don’t, we’re going to punish both of you.”

In the case of Mr. Hildebrand and his fascist Home Owner Association, both sides say it’s the principle of the thing. As any reader hear know, I am a believer in and a practitioner of taking stands for principle, but knowing when this is essential (Do NOT apologize for speaking the truth or bucking the mob) and destructive is a critical life skill. The trick is keeping emotion out of it, and engaging in ethics problem solving. Asshole vs Asshole occurs when hate, and anger, and the desire to teach that jerk a lesson blinds both parties to common sense, the Golden Rule, and the human duty to seek peace, not war. Continue reading