Demanding Blindfolds

From the New York Times:

“Netflix said on Thursday that it would not edit its movie “Bird Box” to remove footage of a disaster that killed 47 people in a Canadian town, rebuffing calls from town leaders who called the use of the video insensitive.”

Good.

This has got to stop somewhere, and “Bird Box,” the sensationally popular sci-fi horror film about Sandra Bullock and her children wandering around a forest blidfolded so they won’t see whatever it is that is driving everyone crazy and making them kill themselves, is a good a place to make a stand as anywhere.

In the movie, some things, or demons, or vibes cause insanity if they are seen: people really aren’t safe if they see them. Images that raise unpleasent thoughst and memories in real life are different, but somehow the idea was pawned that people have the right to expect to be “safe” from thoughts, memories, sights, symbols and ideas that might bother them. Thus “woke” college instructors felt compelled to give students “trigger warnings.” This principle, a really bad one that mistakes censorship for sensitivity, quickly metastasized into historical and artistic airbrushing. The National Park Service banned Confederate flags and their images from battlefield  gift shops—might remind some people of the Dylan Roof church shooting. Or slavery. Or racism.  Then the statues started coming down, because, as Carol Folt, blessedly outgoing chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill explained about why the terrifying pedestal of now toppled “Silent Sam,” a campus statue of a fictional Confederate soldier, must be destroyed:

“The presence of the remaining parts of the monument on campus poses a continuing threat both to the personal safety and well-being of our community and to our ability to provide a stable, productive educational environment. No one learns at their best when they feel unsafe.”

Unsafe! Continue reading

Happy News Year, Everyone. And Thanks.

I’ll be honest—this is an ethics blog, after all—this has not been a great year for my family, for my nation, for ethics. I leave 2018 more pessimistic than I entered it, and I hate that.  I feel alienated from a lot of my friends, and am feeling futile–I really hate that. I’ve spent too much of 2018 angry at selfish, dishonest, intellectually lazy, ignorant and mean people, and not enough—almost none, really—having fun. I can’t remember the last time I had fun.

The people, events and things that salvaged the year and made it bearable–the Red Sox had the best team and season by far in my lifetime, and it’s ridiculous how much that helps my state of mind—include the readers and commenters here on Ethics Alarms. As a group and individually, you all are attentive, respectful, serious, tough, smart and generous. Thank you.

Proethics also had a good year, even if some clients behaved spectacularly unprofessionally—how can you be unethical to an ethics company?–and even if every inquiry we got about sexual harassment training withered and died when I insisted that I wouldn’t do boilerplate junk, and would talk about the importance of due process for those accused.

True, I was targeted by a couple of vicious and ideology-driven social justice bullies and feminist Furies this year with minimal damage: I was slimed on a legal gossip website and blackballed on NPR for, the complaining host said, “seeming to defend Donald Trump,” which I wasn’t. I lost a contract for refusing to apologize to brainwashed Chinese academics for describing Mao as a mass murderer, which, or course, he was. As the year ends, Facebook is blocking my posts.

That’s OK. I appreciate the opportunity to practice the courage, integrity, obstinacy and stubborn adherence to principle that Jack Sr. worked so hard to instill in me. (Still working on it, Dad!).

I learn so much researching and writing this blog: as one of my mentors, U.S. Chamber of Commerce president Tom Donohue once told me, “Sometimes I don’t know what I think until I hear what I have to say.” I wish I had a bigger megaphone, a larger audience, more influence, a higher place on the cognitive dissonance scale. That I don’t is my own fault and failing, of course; there’s a price for being a dilettante. Well, I’m not going to wallow—if there was one thing I learned from directing “Follies,” regret will kill you.

So my resolution this year is the same as it has been for many years now. I want to end 2019 smarter, wiser, and more ethical than I began it, and if I can be of any assistance helping others to do the same, that will be wonderful.

Clarence Darrow’s Reflections On His Birthday

Today I’m going to indulge myself here, as it is Cognitive Dissonance Day, December First, my birthday and the 9th anniversary of my biggest birthday surprise, finding my 89-year-old father, Jack Sr., dead in his favorite chair when I arrived to pick him up to go out for dinner. Even though I know, and knew then, that the end was well timed, exactly as Dad would have wanted, and perhaps even self-willed, it’s a tough day for me, added to the only periodically dawning realization that I’m not going to be around forever myself. Dad was a lifelong iconoclast, loner, idealist, joker, cynic, optimist, hero and seeker of truth, and the best role model any son ever had. After he died, his doctor told me that normal men would have been in bed for months. “All sorts of things were killing him, and he was in a lot of pain,” he told me. “His attitude was ‘Just keep going, and nobody wants to hear old people complaining.'”

But I digress. Here’s today’s first installment of Ethics Alarms self-indulgence, frequent guest here Clarence Darrow’s reflections on his birthday. The SOB called himself an old man at 61. He was a kid!

I have always yearned for peace, but have lived a life of war. I do not know why, excepting that it is the law of my being. I have lived a life in front trenches, looking for trouble.

If I had known just what I was to run into here I would have worn a gas mask. A man is never painted as he is. One is either better or worse than the picture that is drawn. This is the first time that I have felt that I was worse. No one ever gave me a dinner like this before, and I really do not know how my friends happened to take into their heads to do it this time. I am sure it has been pleasant, although in spots more or less embarrassing; still on the whole I prefer the embarrassments incident to this dinner, rather than the ones I often get.

Like most others who reach the modest age of sixty-one, I have hardly noticed it. Still this morning for the first time in more than twenty yeas I felt a twinge of rheumatism, a gentle reminder on this birthday that I am no longer a “spring chicken.” On the whole the years have passed rapidly. Some of them, it is true, have dragged, but mainly they have hurried as if anxious to finish the job as soon as they possibly could. So quickly have they sped that I hardly realize that so many have been checked off, in fact I have scarcely thought about it as they went by.

I have been congratulated a good many times today, no doubt on the fact that I am so nearly done with it all. One scarcely feels as they go along that they are getting–well older. Of course I know my intellect is just as good as it ever was; I am sure of that. Everyone tells me that I am looking younger. I had my hair cut about a month ago; a friend remarked, “It makes you look ten years younger,” so I had it cut again. Perhaps I shall keep on getting it cut. Of course, one more or less doubts the truthfulness of thee old friends, when they say you are getting younger, but at the same time you try to believe them and do not contradict.

Perhaps it would be proper at a time like this to reminisce more or less, but I am always afraid to do it. I am never quite sure whether I might not have said the same things before . Neither am I certain that I shall not say something I had better leave unsaid. If one has lived an active life, as he grows old he finds that he has gathered a large fund of facts and fictions that he should keep to himself; and yet he always feels an urge to tell. Then I have had Tolstoy’s frightful example before me all my days. You know he lived a busy, useful life, getting about all there was out of it, and then after he got–well, past sixty-one, he grew good and began to moralize I presume Tolstoy did not know just what was the matter with him. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/23/18: (It’s My 38th Wedding Anniversary)

Good Morning!

1. A Thanksgiving Story. Yesterday, as we have in recent years since our available family has been inexorably shrinking or moving away, Grace and I, plus my son and his girl friend, went out to a favorite D.C. restaurant for our celebration. A very large party was next to our table, and when I overheard a comment or two, I figured out who it was. The extended Dole family, headed by former Senator Liddy Dole and former Senate Majority Leader, Presidential candidate and Vice-Presidential candidate Bob Dole, now 95, was having a holiday gathering with at least three generations on hand. My Dad deeply admired Dole’s military sacrifices in World War II as well as his wit, and both Doles had spent a lifetime in public service, so I decided to send the table a bottle of champaign with the Marshall family’s regards.

I expected at most a smile and a wave. Liddy Dole, however, came immediately over to our table, and chatted for quite a while, energetically expressing her  and Bob’s gratitude for the gift. Later a Dole niece came over to do the same, and I got a handshake and some nice words from Bob as we left. I would have assumed that lots of tables at the packed eatery would have sent some token of appreciation the Dole’s way, but we seemed to be the only ones. Indeed, we seemed to be the only ones who knew who they were. “Sic transit gloria mundi.”

It was funny: Liddy Dole did a wonderful job covering with opening comments that could have suggested that she had met us before, a skill anyone in public office must master. I managed to make it clear in my remarks that we hadn’t met, but her gratitude appeared genuine rather than formal.

So the Marshall family had a memorable collision with political history and Washington royalty! Best bottle of champagne I ever bought…

2.  If Obama wants to protect his own legacy and project a positive image of the Presidency, he really should shut up. During a summit this week for the Obama Foundation in Chicago, former President Barack Obama said,

“Climate change, we’re going to have to come up with some new technologies to solve the problem as much as we need to. Although even on something like that, right now I could take off the shelf existing technologies, we could reduce carbon emissions by, let’s say 30 percent, without any, you know, it’s not like we would have to go back to caves and, you know, live off, you know, fire. We could have electricity and smartphones and all that stuff, which would buy us probably another 20, 30 years for that technological breakthrough that’s necessary. The reason we don’t do it is because we are still confused, blind, shrouded with hate, anger, racism, mommy issues. “I mean … we are fraught with stuff.”

Stuff like, oh, reality. The U.S. is deeply in debt, in no small part due to Obama’s own mismanagement of the budget, and a trillion dollar infrastructure bill is overdue. Estimates—and on climate change, all we have is estimates, of what it would cost to reduce carbon emissions by 30% range from another 1.7 to 3 trillion dollars, and many estimates tell us that even that wouldn’t do enough, whatever “enough” is. “It’s not like we would have to go back to caves and, you know, live off, you know, fire’ is a masterpiece of “It’s not the worst thing” duplicity. OK, Big Shot, what would it mean? Of course, Obama has no idea. He’s just blathering, and at a level not much superior to the blathering President Trump gets regularly skewered for. Yes, we are indeed confused, because climate change research and hype are now indistinguishable thanks to messengers like Obama, but how the hell do “hate, anger, racism, (and) mommy issues” have anything to do with the issue other than to serve as standard left-wing insults at anyone who doesn’t agree with them?

The use of racism as a default explanation for any and all opposition has reached the point of self-parody. I wonder when the half the country not being victimized by it wakes up and sees how unfair and destructive this is… Continue reading

Thanksgiving Day Ethics Warm-Up, 11/22/2018: Turkeys And Vampire-Slayers

Happy Thanksgiving!

Now don’t let any “turkeys,” related or not, spoil it for you. This is a uniquely American holiday, celebrating our history, journey, values and culture, remembering the value of family, and extolling  qualities that Americans should all try to embrace in their daily lives: generosity, empathy, charity, loyalty, perspective, respect and gratitude. Once it was regarded as a religious holiday, but as the culture has gradually rejected religion, for better or worse, and not without the full complicity of organized religions whose conduct would repel anyone, the holiday has struggled to find new moorings. Its value as a yearly ethical touchpoint makes that struggle worth continuing.

1. Speaking of Thanksgiving “turkeys”...A helpful Twitter-user compiled these shots from various progressive websites and blogs:

Nice.

One of the things I have long been thankful for was the excellent training I received at our family dinner table from my proudly iconoclastic father, who could argue any side of any issues, and did, just to teach his kids that they better have a firm grasp of facts, logic, language, and critical thinking before making any assertion, lest they be made to look like fools. He also taught the value of an open mind, and resisting lazy conventional wisdom without foundation, like, say “Trump is a racist.”

2. This one is Obama’s fault. Though heated political arguments were always a potential part of family gatherings, it was Obama’s administration and his allies that made the disgusting decision to weaponize the holidays, commanding their human drones to arrive at gatherings ready to argue the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, and providing brochures and videos to help them accomplish the mission. (Bulletin from Justice Roberts: “There are no Obama Thanksgivings or Trump Thanksgivings!”) Continue reading

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.

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?