Preface: On The Comments Of The Day Regarding “Unethical Website Of The Month, “March For Our Lives” Edition: Change.Org”

The recent post on the incredibly annoying Change.Org petition backing the “March For Our Lives’ sparked two epic Comments of the Day. I am gratified. That idiotic petition was signed by one of my favorite people alive, and this both inspired the post and made me depressed even before my left-wing Facebook friends started making one terrible argument after another in defense of the thing. (Not  a word from the signee. I have a feeling she was so moved by her two teenagers, even though she knows better. I hope that is the excuse. Creeping dementia would be the only other explanation.)

This is a strange issue: the ethics really orbit around tangential matters rather than the alleged controversy itself. The Second Amendment isn’t going anywhere, no matter how loud the screams are or how many demonstrations there are. As is often noted on Ethics Alarms, I am not interested in abstract ethics without real life consequences; indeed, ethical formulas that only work in theory aren’t ethical. To me, the ethics issues following the Parkland shooting are,

  • The cynical exploitation of the children by the Left
  • The equally cynical, and unwise, hesitation to hold them accountable for their worse excesses in rhetoric
  • The recycling of bad statistics and demonstrably (and demonstrated) bad arguments that have been used before to mislead and frighten the public, and
  • The unethical cheerleading  for the anti-gun position by the news media and pundits.
  • The unusually vivid disconnect between the actual facts of the Parkland shooting and the measures being “demanded” in its wake.

The fake controversy—Should the United States allow law-abiding citizens to arm themselves with reasonably state-of-the-art firearms for whatever lawful purposes they decide are necessary and to the extent those citizens feel necessary?—isn’t on the table. This is the United States of America, and that question was answered long, long ago. As long as it is the United States of America, the answer will be the same. Those sufficiently unwilling to accept that fact really are well-advised to consider Australia. I don’t say this as a “Love it or Leave it” rebuke. I’m sorry such people don’t like the basic values and culture of the country, but I would have a similar suggestion for a friend who is determined to keep protesting that the U.S. should make its national language Danish, except, of course, then I would recommend repatriation to Denmark.

The two comments will follow now in successive posts without further musings by me…

The Unlikely Ethics Dunce, And Why Nobody Pays Attention To Ethicists And I Don’t Blame Them

Wait, how can the nation's most famous ethicist be an Ethics Dunce? It's not easy...

Wait, how can the nation’s most famous ethicist be an Ethics Dunce? It’s not easy…

Ethicists have managed to make ethics nearly invisible in our cultural debates, and nearly useless as a decision-making tool, when it ought to be the most useful tool of all. They accomplished this over centuries of work, making the discipline of ethics abstruse, elitist, abstract, and worse of all, boring. Nobody should be bored with ethics, hence my statement, “Ethics isn’t boring, ethicists are.” Once ethics was pigeon-holed in the realm of philosophy, however (it belongs with “crucial life skills” and “critical thinking”) and philosophy became associated with scholarship, advanced degrees and academia, the jig was up.

The problem is that academic ethicists teach and write about abstract ethics, and life is not abstract. Their quest is for one formula to determine right from wrong, and life and human beings are more complicated than any one formula can encompass. When I started this blog, I got a lot of grad students writing me who demanded to know whether I was a Utilitarian,  Kantian Deontologist, a follower of Natural Law Ethics,  a Virtue Ethicist or a devotee of Stakeholder theory. My answer was “all of the above and none of them.” All of these and more are useful tools of analysis, but none work all the time, and the amount of words loaded into jargon to explain and debate the nuances of any of them render them all useless except for  writing scholarly papers.

The ethics that the public learns, as a result, are what pop culture and society teach them, and most of that isn’t ethics at all. For example, in the cable series “The Affair,” a well-educated older man was advising a young woman, the mistress in the affair, about how to think about the illicit relationship that broke up he lover’s marriage. Wise and thoughtful, he described his own adulterous affair, and then said, “What you did wasn’t wrong. You didn’t kill anybody. You didn’t break any laws.  Don’t be so hard on yourself.”  There is no ethics in that statement. Itis just employs two popular and facile rationalizations (#4. Marion Barry’s Misdirection, or “If it isn’t illegal, it’s ethical,” and #22, the worst of all, #22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”) with another lurking but unspoken one, the Cheater’s Special, #23. Woody’s Excuse: “The heart wants what the heart wants,’ underlying the whole scene.

That’s ethics, I would guess, to about 90% of the population. Scary. This is, however, where ethicists have taken us. They could be so important to the culture, if they would get their heads out of their asinine models and explain ethical principles that are relevant to real lives in a manner that doesn’t make normal people become hostile to the subject.

This brings us to Peter Singer, Princeton’s acclaimed professor of bioethics who has been called the most influential ethicist alive. It is admittedly faint praise, but probably correct. Continue reading