Morning Ethics Round-Up, 8/13/2018: Rally? What Rally? Bias? What Bias? Texts? What Texts? Spy? What Spy?

Huh. I didn’t know that ZZ Top were white supremacists!

Good Morning!

I just know this week will be better than last week…

…though these items certainly don’t inspire hope.

1. The dangers of “future news” That huge, scary rally in Washington where the nation’s capital was going to be descended-upon by all those white supremicists activated by Donald Trump’s election and rhetoric to celebrate last year’s Charlotteville riots? About two-dozen people showed up. I talked to friends in the District who said they were terrified of the rally. CNN, the networks, the Times and the Post had all headlined this major, major event, which would show just how much racism there is in America. This was fake news, straight up. It was imaginary, “future news,” a headline about what was going to happen because the mainstream news media wanted it to happen. Then they could bleat out the narrative that President Trump was inspiring racists to come out of the woodwork. Maybe someone would get killed, like in Charlottesville! Well, they could hope.

What investigation went into the determination that there was going to be a huge gathering of racists in D.C.? Clearly, not enough. 24? 24??? I could set up a rally of locals who think Gilbert and Sullivan should be taught in the schools that is five times that with some phone calls, texts and a Facebook post. It would take me a couple of hours. Yet the Times put the inevitability of this massive white supremacy rally on its front page. “After weeks of hype…” wrote the Times. Weeks of hype by the press.

Incompetent, dishonest, irresponsible. You know. As usual.

It is worth mentioning that the counter-demonstration to the imaginary demonstration was many times larger than two-dozen people.

2. In related news about non-news...The Boston Globe has been contacting newspaper editorial boards and proposing a “coordinated response” to President Trump’s criticism of the news media, especially his controversial “enemy of the people” rhetoric. “We propose to publish an editorial on August 16 on the dangers of the administration’s assault on the press and ask others to commit to publishing their own editorials on the same date,” The Globe said in its pitch to fellow papers.

Talk about bad timing! We just had the explosion of the fake racist rally story. We have the Manafort trial being featured on the front page of most newspapers like it’s the O.J. trial, when  the majority of public has no idea who the man is and the trial details have nothing to do with anything newsworthy. We have the mainstream news media giving the claims of a reality show villain the kind of attention John Dean received for his Watergate testimony while it makes sure nobody knows that a Chinese spy infiltrated the staff of a powerful U.S. Senator for 20 years. Nah, the news media isn’t the enemy of the public! It just deliberately abdicates its duty to inform the public objectively , is engaged in a coordinated effort to bring down an elected President, has abused its First Amendment-bestowed immunity from the consequences of its conduct, and is working to divide the nation to the point where it cannot function. That’s all. None of this is good for the people or the nation, but that doesn’t make those intentionally harming both enemies, exactly….although off the top of my head,  I can’t think of a more accurate word for it. Continue reading

The 87th And 88th Rationalizations: The Reverse 15 And The Psychic Historian

Translation: “I got nuthin’!'”

I haven’t been in tip-top shape the last several days, making new posts more of an ordeal than they should be. Luckily this motivates me to catch up on updating the Rationalizations List, which has several waiting additions, including these:

Rationalization #15 A. The Reverse 15, or “If I don’t do it ( and I don’t want to) somebody else will.”

The Reverse 15 uses exactly the same excuse as #15. The Futility Illusion:  “If I don’t do it, somebody else will,” but for the opposite purpose. In #15, the rationalizer wants to avoid the consequences of doing something unethical by arguing that his or her refusal to follow orders would have no practical effect: someone else would just step in and do what was demanded anyway. How, asks the fictionalized version of Confederate Captain Henry Wirz in “The Andersonville Trial,” can a post-Civil War military tribunal fairly hold him responsible for cruelly mistreating the Union prisoners in the Georgia prison camp as he was ordered to, when if he refused he would have been shot, and his successor would have abused them anyway?

In 15A, the argument is the opposite. The rationalizer refuses to perform a necessary ethical act out of apathy, callousness or fear, but this was reasonable because he or she was certain that someone else would do the right thing instead. The Reverse 15 could also be called “The Kitty Genovese Rationalization,” recalling that the many people who heard the murdered woman’s screams chose not to “get involves” while convincing themselves that someone would come to her aid. All of the Mount Everest climbers who left a stricken colleague behind to die protested later that they were certain the next climber behind them (or the next, perhaps) would stop to help the man. We pass a stopped car in distress on the highway at night, reasoning that someone else will stop to help, sparing us the trouble.

Sometimes someone does. Sometimes not. This abdication of an ethical duty is accomplished by casting one’s lot, and gambling with the fate of another, while relying on the unpredictable quirks of moral luck. The only ethical decision is to take action. You must do what you know is the ethical act yourself, and not ignore your obligation because you can pass the buck and then argue, disingenuously, “How could I know that everyone else would be as unethical as I am?”

Rationalization #1B. The Psychic Historian, or “I’m On The Right Side Of History”

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/31/17: Southern Poverty Law Center Edition

A Cayman Islands sunrise!

Good Morning, Everyone!

1.For the second time in two months, I had the wrong date on yesterday’s Warm-Up. This time, I was six days off. That’s incompetence, not malice. If I made anyone miss a birthday, anniversary of other appointment, I am so, so sorry.

2. D. James Kennedy Ministries of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, an evangelical Christian ministry, is suing the Southern Poverty Law Center for calling the ministry a hate group because of its stance against LGBT rights. The SPLC is an Alabama-based, self-styled  watchdog group that tracks tracks what it considers extremist organizations, and it publicly names organizations it considers hate groups. It considers hate groups to be any group that is sufficiently aggressive in opposing certain core progressive positions. The entire operation is a masterpiece of self-validating virtue. The name was carefully chosen to signal unimpeachable virtue: it’s “Southern,” so its stance against discrimination is obviously defient and in opposition to its surrounding culture and biases. Though little of its activity involves poverty, the name also signals charity and virtuous motives.  What’s a law center? Well. I grdauted from one, and that was a law school. The Southern Poverty Law Center isn’t a law school, but doesn’t the name sound impressive? Originally, the SPLC acted as a public interest law firm (I would call its use of “law center” misleading, and a breach of several states’ legal ethics rules if it were still a law firm), but now it is a progressive activist and propaganda organization. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but part of its schtick is to designate organizations as hate groups because, well, they say so. Then the left-leaning news media accepts their verdict as fact. You will read articles saying that there are 917 hate groups in the U.S. No, there are 917 groups the Southern Poverty Law Center calls “hate groups.” .Many of the organizations on the SPLC’s list are undeniably racist and violent. Many are not, or may not be. Lumping them all together as “hate groups” is an effective way to demonize dissent. “Hate group” has no accepted definition, but SPLC defines a ‘general hate group” thusly: “These groups espouse a variety of rather unique hateful doctrines and beliefs that are not easily categorized.”

Got it. The Southern Poverty Law Center is a hate group by its own definition. To be a reliable arbiter of whether a group is promoting hate rather than a just a controversial policy position, a group would have to be non-partisan, objective and politically neutral. all things that the SPLC is not. This is an organization that designates groups that espouse views that it hates as hate groups.

I hate that. Continue reading

Ethics, Motives, Killing With Kindness, “Amadeus” And Related Matters

On a thread about the hysterical doom-sayers in response to the US’s exit from the Paris accords on climate change, one dedicated defender of progressive orthodoxy, lacking a genuine rebuttal for the proposition that the social media and pundit panic was nonsense (for there is none), defaulted to the argument that the withdrawal was unethical because the President’s stated motives for it were untrue. This raised two issues, one centuries old, and the other, an irritating one, of more recent vintage.

In order to sanctify many of the Obama administration’s policy botches, many people have adapted  aggressive versions of three prime rationalizations on the Ethics Alarms List: #13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”; #13A  The Road To Hell, or “I meant well” (“I didn’t mean any harm!”) and #14. Self-validating Virtue. To refresh your memory:

13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”

This rationalization has probably caused more death and human suffering than any other. The words “it’s for a good cause” have been used to justify all sorts of lies, scams and mayhem. It is the downfall of the zealot, the true believer, and the passionate advocate that almost any action that supports “the Cause,’ whether it be liberty, religion, charity, or curing a plague, is seen as being justified by the inherent rightness of the ultimate goal. Thus Catholic Bishops protected child-molesting priests to protect the Church, and the American Red Cross used deceptive promotions to swell its blood supplies after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The Saint’s Excuse  allows charities to strong-arm contributors, and advocacy groups to use lies and innuendo to savage ideological opponents. The Saint’s Excuse is that the ends justify the means, because the “saint” has decided that the ends are worth any price—especially when that price will have to be paid by someone else.

13A  The Road To Hell, or “I meant well” (“I didn’t mean any harm!”)

This sub-rationalization to the Saint’s Excuse is related to its parent but arguably worse. Rationalization 13 is one of the really deadly rationalizations, the closest on the list to “The ends justified the means”:

 The Saint’s Excuse is that the ends justify the means, because the “saint” has decided that the ends are worth any price—especially when that price will have to be paid by someone else. 

But while the wielder of the Saint’s Excuse typically at least has a beneficial or valuable result to claim as justification for unethical and inexcusable acts, the desperate employers of 13A only have their alleged good intentions, which may be the product of emotion, misunderstanding, ignorance or stupidity. How a bad actor intended his unethical conduct to turn out is no mitigation at all. The underlying logic is that the wrongdoer isn’t a bad person, so the wrongful act shouldn’t be held against him or her as harshly as if he was. The logic is flawed (it is the same logic as in The King’s Pass, #11, which holds that societal valuable people would be held to lower standards of conduct than everyone else) and dangerous, encouraging the reckless not to consider the substance of a course of action, but only its motivations.

The Saint’s Excuse attempts to justify unethical actions that accomplish worthy goals The Road to Hell attempts to justify unethical conduct even when it does undeniable harm, just because it was undertaken with admirable intent.

14. Self-validating Virtue

A  corollary of the Saint’s Excuse  is “Self-validating Virtue,” in which the act is judged by the perceived goodness the person doing it, rather than the other way around. This is applied by the doer, who reasons, “I am a good and ethical person. I have decided to do this; therefore this must be an ethical thing to do, since I would never do anything unethical.” Effective, seductive, and dangerous, this rationalization short-circuits ethical decision-making, and is among the reasons good people do bad things, and keep doing them, even when the critics point out their obvious unethical nature. Good people sometimes do bad things because they are good people, and because of complacency and self-esteem they begin with a conviction, often well supported by their experience, that they are incapable of doing something terribly wrong. But all of us are capable of that, if our ethics alarms freeze due to our environment, emotions, peer pressure, and corrupting leadership, among many possible causes. At the end of the movie “Falling Down,” the rampaging vigilante played by Michael Douglas, once a submissive, law-abiding citizen, suddenly realizes what he has done. “I’m the bad guy?” he asks incredulously. Indeed he is. Any of us, no matter how virtuous, are capable of becoming “the bad guy”…especially when we are convinced that we are not.

This has led to the seeming absurdity of recent arguments, some accepted in court, that the same conduct can be right or wrong, depending on whether the conduct is based on “good” motives, and who is the actor. Since, to take one random example, Barack Obama is obviously good and means well, even inept, poorly planned and irresponsible policies are ethical. Because President Trump is a villain, the same conduct emanating from his dastardly motives would make the same conduct unethical. I have dealt with this biased approach before and will again, but not today.

It is the second, older question that concerns me at the moment, and that is whether human motives should be used in the analysis of whether conduct is ethical or not. The conundrum come up repeatedly in one of my favorite ethics books,  “The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten.Continue reading

The Michael Slager Trial: When The Ethical Course Is To Not Exercise a Right

shooting_of_walter_scott

Michael Slager is the white North Charleston police officer who stopped African American Walter Scott for a taillight violation on April 4, 2015, and in the ensuing events, ended up fatally shooting Scott as he fled the scene, in the back, as recorded on a cell phone video. Of all the many police-involved shootings, this is the least equivocal. Slager is guilty of murder of one kind or another: in South Carolina, there is only one kind, and  mitigating circumstances are reflected in the sentence. He could receive life in prison, or much less time.

But every criminal defendant has the right to be tried by a jury of his peers before the law finds him guilty, and Slager is taking full advantage of the right. In doing so, he is forgoing his last clear chance at redemption. The former officer—he has already been fired for the episode and not just put on paid leave, as is usually the case—is understandably trying to avoid a conviction and jail time, even though, should he be acquitted by some miracle or act of mass hypnosis, it would be certain to provoke even more anger and distrust in the black community, and, I would hope, among non-African Americans as well. A justice system that finds, no matter how it reaches such a conclusion, that an officer who shoots a fleeing man dead like Slager did is not guilty needs to be blown up and seeded with salt. When Slager’s first lawyer saw the video, he quit.

Do you think an acquittal is impossible? Don’t. All that is needed is a jury full of people who “think,” and I use the word generously, like the signers of this petition. I’m pretty sure that there are more than twelve of them available. Continue reading

Presenting Three New Rationalizations: “Narcissist Ethics,” “The Dead Horse-Beater’s Dodge,” And “The Doomsday License”

the end of the world

I knew this was going to happen. Even as the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations list approached 70 self-serving lies in all, the cracks and crevices between them were being explored, mined and exploited. All three of today’s new additions turned up in a single, ill-begotten comment to a recent pots, and while I immediately recognized them as rationalizations, I also failed to find an exact fit for any of them on the list. It is by such a process that all rules and laws inevitably expand into near uselessness, because humans are so adept at finding loopholes.

I’m going to have to be vigilant lest the rationalizations become so thinly sliced that the list is too burdensome to be useful: some of the current entries have been criticized as redundant already. Nonetheless, I believe the three being unveiled now cover rationalization territory worth mapping. Here they are:

Rationalization 8A. The Dead Horse-Beater’s Dodge, or “This can’t make things any worse”

Rationalization 8, The Trivial Trap  or “No harm no foul!”, relies on #3. Consequentialism, or  “It Worked Out for the Best” for its dubious logic, but is less demanding. #3 posits that unethical conduct that ends up having beneficial or desirable results has been purged of its unethical nature. #8 argues for an even more lenient standard, holding that as long as the unethical conduct—usually a lie—has no negative effects, it can’t be wrong. The Dead Horse-Beater’s Dodge, carries things even further with the theory that as long as a situation can’t be made worse by wrongful conduct, the conduct itself can’t be wrongful. The most famous invocation of #8A of recent vintage is Hillary Clinton’s exasperated question during the Benghazi hearings, “At this point, what difference does it make?” Her argument: a lack of candor now about the fatal events in Benghazi can’t bring back the dead, so why harp on it?

In ethics, wrongful conduct is usually identifiable by its nature and intent. “This can’t make things any worse” is an assumption that individuals seldom can make with guaranteed accuracy, and it usually presumes consent from the supposedly bottom-lying individual or organization that the unethical act is done to. Get the informed consent, 8A devotees, and then we’ll talk.

No, looters, the fact that a business is a smoldering wreck does not make stealing even damaged merchandise from it “okay.” No, pulling the plug on a comatose patient without his previous consent or that of someone he has authorize to give it is still wrong, both legally and ethically. In most cases, the presumption that conduct unethical in its form and substance will not “make things any worse” is something about which the rationalizing wrong-doer can’t possibly be certain. That’s what makes it a rationalization: it is a lie we tell to ourselves.

Rationalization 50A.  Narcissist Ethics , or “I don’t care” Continue reading