Category Archives: Daily Life

Rationalization 32 B: “The Comforting Accusation,” Or “You Would Have Done The Same Thing!”

It’s been a long time since the last new rationalization joined the list. This one, “The Comforting Accusation” or “You would have done the same thing!“, follows #32. The Unethical Role Model: “He/She would have done the same thing,” and #,32A. Imaginary Consent,  or He/She Would Have Wanted It This Way.”

32 B adds the nasty little element of alleged hypocrisy to the mix, making it especially effective. How can someone criticize your conduct if they couldn’t or wouldn’t resist the same thing? Thus the author of an unethical act deflects his or her own accountability by making someone else the target of an accusation, albeit based on assumption rather than fact. The rationalization attempts to transform the wrongdoer into the judge’s reflection.

There are four problems with #32. First, it may be that the assumption that someone else would have taken the same unethical course is wrong, and, of course, it is just speculation anyway. Second, it doesn’t matter: this is just a personalized fractal of the hoariest rationalization of them all, Numero Uno, “Everybody does it.” Unethical conduct is not cleansed because it has company, or, as in this case, might have company.

Third, it’s a sneaky evocation of #14. Self-validating Virtue, in which an act is judged by the perceived goodness the person doing it, rather than the other way around. Most people, because of bias, automatically think of themselves as the most ethical person they know. The Comforting Accusation recruits the cognitive dissonance scale to elevate an unethical act by attaching it to something deep in the positive end of the scale for just about everyone: themselves. #32B is ultimately an appeal to bias.

Most important of all, the fact that I may have done what you did under similar circumstances doesn’t make what you did less wrong, It only means I have some sympathy for you, and am more likely to apply the Golden Rule if I am assigned the responsibility of holding you to account—which I should apply anyway.

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Daily Life

The Flight Connection Dilemma, Or “It’s Hell Being An Ethicist”

Increasingly, I find myself wondering whether everyone who travels on business regularly encounters the vast range of irritations, outrages and generally unpleasant experiences I do, or if it’s just me. This time, on an over-night trip to Boston, I had important medicine confiscated by the TSA, got trapped in a hotel elevator, ran out of the house without my computer, injured my mouth when a sharp piece of food pierced a gum, and, of course, my flight was delayed. This time the delay would cause a genuine hardship: I had an important and time-sensitive task to complete involving the welfare, indeed safety, of two family members, and it meant that I had to be home no later than 6:40 pm.

When we finally landed at Reagan National, which is less than a 20 minute cab ride from my home if the lights and traffic break well, there was still a slim chance that I could make my deadline, IF the plane emptied quickly. The flight attendants said that there were several passenger who probably had tight connections, and asked them to raise their hands so everyone could stay seated to help them bolt the plane and try to make their flights.

Being human, my mind filled with rationalizations for raising my hand. I did have a tight connection, sort of. The urgency of my need to leave the plane wasn’t necessarily less than any of my fellow passengers. In fact, it was objectively important. And really, what would be the harm if I raised my hand? What might that cost one of the passengers trying to make a connection, 5 seconds? Ten? And how did I know everyone raising their hands really had a plane to catch?

But crap. I’m an ethicist. Raising my hand would be a lie, and there were no substantial or legitimate justifications for it. So I kept my hand down. I missed my crucial appointment, and it is going to cause me and two family members a lot of unpleasantness. Nonetheless, it was the right thing to do.

Right?

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Daily Life, Professions

My Confession, Just In Case The FBI Investigates…

The scene of the crime…

In an earlier post about the Kavanaugh debacle, I introduced a poll with this:

Memory I: As a junior, I engineered an elaborate prank to steal a sofa from two classmates and friends who had swiped a sofa from two other students in their dorm. It almost worked, too: the pay-off was going to be when they visited our suite and saw their sofa there. The plan fell apart, and the original owners even got their sofa back.

Question: Should this episode, which technically involved attempted theft, disqualify me for some positions as an adult and professional?

The polls results:

Several commenters have admitted that their votes were tongue in cheek, so I don’t believe for a minute that there were really 13% of voters who believe that the episode when I was 20 should bar me from being an ethicist, a lawyer, or a SCOTUS judge, and needed to be investigated by the FBI. Just in case, however, I feel I should tell the whole, sordid story about what came to be called “The Great Sofa Caper,” and which is a tale told and retold at every reunion of my room mates.

It was the end of winter, and spring cleaning of sorts at the Harvard dorms. I lived in a suite at Lowell House with five other juniors, and was visiting friends and fellow classmates “Oscar” and “Felix” across the campus in the high rise dorms, Leverett Towers. “Oscar” was a theater friend who looked like a dissipated cross between Omar Shariff and Teddy Roosevelt; “Felix” looked like a pint-size Rodney Dangerfield. Shortly after I entered their abode, Felix said, “Hey, what do you think about the new sofa we swiped?” Indeed, prominently displayed in the main room was what appeared to be a very new, very nice, fully upholstered  sofa.

“You swiped it?” I said, and Felix laughed. “No, I was just kidding. Some upperclassmen were changing rooms, and this was left out in the hall for anyone to take. Nice, eh?”

“You swiped it! That’s brand new! Nobody would throw that out. Come on!” I said. Indeed, furniture and other junk was often being left out for communal expropriating in such moves, but this seemed like wilful, contrived ignorance by my friends to me. Nonetheless, Felix and Oscar swore that they would never steal anything, and that the brand new sofa was abandoned property.

Right.

I went back to Lowell House deep in thought and ethics conflict, wondering what the right thing to do was. I couldn’t report my friends for what was, even if it was theft in the real world, pretty standard college silliness. Still, I felt this was excessive. Then I hit on my plan. It would be both a good practical joke and a lesson for Felix and Oscar. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Daily Life, Education, Humor and Satire

While Working On Keeping My Gorge Down So I Can Address The Latest Anti-Kavanaugh Tactics, Here Are Some Preparatory Musings And Polls Galore!

I’ve been searching my college memories…

Memory I: As a junior, I engineered an elaborate prank to steal a sofa from two classmates and friends who had swiped a sofa from two other students in their dorm. It almost worked, too: the pay-off was going to be when they visited our suite and saw their sofa there. The plan fell apart, and the original owners even got their sofa back.

Question: Should this episode, which technically involved attempted theft, disqualify me for some positions as an adult and professional?

 

Memory II: I dimly recall that one of my roommates once put a traffic cone over his head and face, carried a broom as a baton, and paraded naked around a room in our suite singing “Can’t get enough of those Sugar Crisp!” as another roommate was engaged with a date.

Question: Is this incident legitimate information to send to a potential employer?

 

Notes: Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Childhood and children, Daily Life, Ethics Train Wrecks, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics

Travel Notes…[UPDATED]

Every trip I take seems to require some ethical clarification…

  • Lose-lose. At our hotel in Ft. Lauderdale, a convention of either transvestites, transgender individuals, or some combination of the two dominated the hotel. The organization was “Himmaher”…I think I’m spelling it right. [Correction: I wasn’t. And that wasn’t the organization; it was the name that was listed for the gathering, and the name was HIMMERSHE. Thanks to Zanshin in the Comments below for the correction.]

I had several illuminating encounters. I don’t know that this is true of all such people, but the members of this association or club all seemed to want to make any non-club member they saw as uncomfortable as possible. Yes, that’s unethical. How you choose to dress, what you choose to have lopped off, and who you want to sleep with could not interest me less, and that is the  attitude a society like ours should strive to encourage. (None of those things should engender and advantages, either.) But what these people seemed to be seeking was imposed ethics zugswang. If you looked directly at them, the response was a chip-on-the-shoulder, “Go ahead and stare, honey: neverf seen a freak before?” If you appeared to be avoiding staring—I regard a six-foot ex-male standing in the middle of a hotel lobby in a  wig, skimpy bathing suit, 6 inch heels and speaking loudly in a base voice as parading a psychological problem or ten, and deserving the same social courtesy I would offer to a Tourette’s victim or a hebephrenic—then the individual decided to make it a project to get you to stare, as if your failure to provide the attention they craved was an insult.

Yeah, I know this is a stage, similar to the early stages of the gay rights movement. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Daily Life, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Marketing and Advertising, Popular Culture, Professions, U.S. Society

Fish Bone Ethics: A Poll

My tuna sandwich had an unwelcome bonus: a 3/4 inch, two-pronged bone. It stuck me in the gums. No blood drawn, but I expect better from my usual brand of white albacore in water.

Now what? I have encountered negligently included matter in foodstuffs before, nothing large or horrible, like the famous human toe in the plug  of chewing tobacco often cited as a perfect illustration of “res ipsa loquitur”. (The Mississippi Supreme Court: we can “imagine no reason why, with ordinary care human toes could not be left out of chewing tobacco, and if toes are found in chewing tobacco, it seems to us that somebody has been very careless.”) In such cases I have just let it go, taking a Golden Rule approach. After all, some stuff is bound to slip through now and then. Yes, I made a big deal when I found a bug in my salad, but the occasional small hair, or bit of bone, I let pass.

This one was different, though. It was  bigger, and the damn thing stuck me.

So should I send the tuna fish company the bone and complain? If I do, what’s the objective? Is it to extort a lucky haul by getting the company to send a life supply of tuna fish? I know people that send in such complaints several times a year, often with spectacular results. They specialize in writing indignant, angry letters full of implied threats. These people like finding bones in their tuna fish. The problem is, I don’t like them.

Is it a matter of good citizenship to tell the company that some of their cans have bones along with the fish? Can I save another consumer from a stuck gum and a spoiled sandwich experience by alerting the company to a problem in their processing? It probably is good citizenship, except that I’m pretty sure that renegade fish bones are a well-known inevitability in the tuna fish business.

The question, then: what’s the ethical course?

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Citizenship, Daily Life

Ethics Salvage, 8/9/018: Here’s Why There Were No Ethics Alarms Posts Yesterday, And More

Good morning? What’s good about it?

My plan, as it is most days I travel, was to arrive at my destination (New Providence, NJ), check into the hotel, and spend the evening catching up on ethics posts, then get up early, compose an ethics warm-up. maybe another post r two before I lose control of the day in the onslaught of seminar-leading and more travel. It’s a good plan. Unfortunately, nothing went right. My original flight, into Newark airport, was cancelled after an hour’s delay: Newark had stopped all air traffic. I switched airlines and bought ticket to LaGuardia, where I was told that my client’s limo service could pick me up and take me to my destination.(My program was to start at 9:00 am today.) I got on the plane, we left the gate, and waited. It was storming in New York City and environs. After two more hours, the plane returned to then gate, where we were told to wait around. If things started up at LaGuardia, we were going to have to seize the moment, get on the plane and take off. Never mind: after a half hour or so, that flight was cancelled too.

Thus I ended up at the end of a line of about a hundred travelers , while a single American Airlines agent tried to handle each crisis, a process which appeared to bid fair to last until Christmas before they would get to my urgent need to be in Springfield, N.J. in time to meet up with my colleague and perform a three hour musical ethics seminar for a paying audience of over a hundred lawyers. My ProEthics partner and spouse was simultaneously coordinating with Mike, the musician, on his way to the hotel from Brooklyn, the New Jersey Bar, and the airlines, trying to develop plans B (an early morning flight from Dulles or National and a mad dash to the seminar), C (an overnight train trip), D ( driving to New Jersey), and E (hiring someone to drive me, so I didn’t fall asleep at the wheel). Cancelling was never an option: I’m a show-biz guy, and the show must go on.

For some reason an American agent came over to the back of the endless line, and said, conspiratorially, “Who wants to go to JFK?” About 2o of us eagerly followed her to another gate, and I eventually found myself on a plane to JFK—which stalled on the tarmac, because JFK had halted take-offs and landings too. After an hour or so, the pilot announced that he had “timed out” along with the rest of the crew, and that we were returning to the gate, de-planing, and would wait for a fresh pilot who was en route, assuming his plane arrived.

Well, to cut out a lot more twists and turns, eventually I got to JFK, paid $250 to have a car take me to my hotel in New Providence, and got to bed at around 4 am,  with a scheduled pick-up by a limo service to take me and Mike to the venue at 8. The limo driver got lost, incidentally. Then it was a blur of a three-hour interactive seminar (Mike, as usual, was brilliant), back to the airport, more delays, and home by about 7 pm last night. I started this post around 9, found myself unable to think, and went to bed.

My friend Tom Fuller is fond of saying that if you have no options, you have no problem. I had no options, but I do regard not being able to get posts up in a timely fashion a big problem.

I was, however thinking about multiple ethics issues that arose during my odyssey–actually, a Cyclops and some Sirens, even Scylla and Charybdis,  would have been welcome diversions from Airport Hades—and will pass some of them along now: Continue reading

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