Tag Archives: Adolf Hitler

From The “It’s No Fun Being An Ethicist” Files: I Offend Some Seminar Attendees…

mao

I facilitated a professional ethics seminar a while ago for a scholarly institution, (The locale, names and client have been changed to protect the guilty.) The discussion came around to rationalizations and my favorite on the list, #22:

22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”

If “Everybody does it” is the Golden Rationalization, this is the bottom of the barrel. Yet amazingly, this excuse is popular in high places: witness the “Abu Ghraib was bad, but our soldiers would never cut off Nick Berg’s head” argument that was common during the height of the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal. It is true that for most ethical misconduct, there are indeed “worse things.” Lying to your boss in order to goof off at the golf course isn’t as bad as stealing a ham, and stealing a ham is nothing compared selling military secrets to North Korea. So what? We judge human conduct against ideals of good behavior that we aspire to, not by the bad behavior of others. One’s objective is to be the best human being that we can be, not to just avoid being the worst rotter anyone has ever met.

Behavior has to be assessed on its own terms, not according to some imaginary comparative scale. The fact that someone’s act is more or less ethical than yours has no effect on the ethical nature of your conduct. “There are worse things” is not an argument; it’s the desperate cry of someone who has run out of rationalizations.

In this case I did a sarcastic riff that is usually well received, about the common example of #22, “It’s not like he killed somebody”:

“Well, you can’t argue with that logic, can you? And if he did kill somebody, it’s not like he killed two people. And even then, that’s not as bad as being, say, a serial killer, like Son of Sam, who, when you think about it, isn’t nearly as bad as a mass murderer like Osama bin Laden. But he’s not as bad as Hitler, and even Adolf isn’t as bad as Mao, who killed about ten times more people than Hitler did. And Mao’s no so bad when you compare him to Darth Vader, who blew up Princess Leia’s whole planet…”

It made the point, and the audience laughed. Then, quite a bit later, I received an e-mail from a participant, complaing about this section. Can you guess what the complaint was?

Think about it a bit…

Time’s up!

Do you have an answer? Continue reading

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Esquire’s Ridiculous Book List Smear

esquire-book-list

To paraphrase Michael Corleone, every time I think I’ve gotten away from having to comment on the extraordinary unethical performance of the national media toward the President, they puuuull me back in.

What is the correct and fair reaction to the latest media cheap shot on the President of the United States? This one would have been contemptible to inflict on a candidate before the election; now, almost three months after it, the feature is something to behold. Godwin’s Law is invoked far too often, but in this case, it tells the tale.

Esquire’s embarrassing article is called “20 Essential Books to Prepare You for What’s Next: A handy reading list featuring not-so-speculative dystopian fiction, political memoirs, and cautionary tales from Nazi Germany.” The point being made, of course, though already hackneyed, dishonest and thoroughly debunked, is that the President is Hitler. This contention requires ignorance of the United States culture and institutions, Germany, world history, Hitler and the President, but never mind: hate and fear is all the article is intended to generate, not perception or understanding. Taking it seriously requires blocking out the fact that it is the President’s opponents who are flirting with totalitarian methods, using violence to stifle dissent, trying to overthrow lawful elections, calling for coups, and co-opting the news media. The list is an insult without substantiation or justification; Esquire might just as well have published a full page reading: “The President of the United States is a Poopy-Face, and We Hate Him!” There is no substantive difference.

For anyone who has read the books and is not deranged regarding the President to the point of delusion, Esquire’s book list is kind of hilarious. “1984,” for example, is a vision of Soviet-style totalitarianism, with a news media that distorts facts  to support a political party similar to the way our current news media manipulates it against the current administration, but previously did to bolster the Obama. Indeed, Esquire’s book list itself is Orwellian, using mass communication to control public opinion with deception, emotion and fear.

Sinclair Lewis’s “It Can’t Happen Here” was considered hysterical when it was written in the Thirties. Including “The Handmaiden’s Tale” as a guide to “what happens next” is about as silly an example of fearmongering as one could imagine: Continue reading

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Ethics Observations On The Iran Deal And Its Media Coverage

treaty1. Throughout the negotiations for the apparently now completed Iran nuclear deal, all I could think about is how it would have made my old negotiation professor, the late Adrian Fisher  (who negotiated the SALT treaty) throw up. He taught his negotiation class at Georgetown Law Center, where he was the Dean, that no advantageous negotiation can occur unless your side is willing to walk away from the table. It has been clear from the beginning that the Obama Administration was desperate for this deal for political purposes, not national security, which the treaty does not assist in any way.

Dean Fisher—and his frequent guests, like Averill Harriman— taught his class that deadlines were essential in the negotiation process, both as a tool to force the other side to make tough decisions, and as a demonstration of resolve.  In this negotiation, the U.S. repeatedly allowed “deadlines” to pass, with no consequences. That tells the Iranians all they need to know about the U.S.’s likely response when they violate the terms of the agreement, as they are certain to do, at least as long as this weak, feckless, posturing and irresolute President is in office.

Of course, to be fair, the Iranians had plenty of evidence on that score already, as did we all.  “Red line,” you know.

2. The administration admits that it does not trust Iran. GOP Senator Lindsey Graham, who opposes the treaty, stated that Iran has never kept any international agreement or promise,, and thus cannot be trusted to keep this one. Nobody is seriously disputing that. Under such conditions, the whole concept of the deal is irresponsible. Who signs a treaty that it seriously doubts the other side will obey? Graham called this is the equivalent of making a deal with “religious Nazis.” The comparison is apt, except that the Obama arrangement with Iran is in some ways even more reckless than the one Neville Chamberlain made with Hitler. At least Chamberlain believed—stupidly, naively—that Hitler wanted peace. The Iran deal is what the Munich treaty would have been if Chamberlain was pretty sure Germany would invade Czechoslovakia and Poland anyway.

Chamberlain’s “peace in our time” was a pathetic hope. Obama’s is more like a lie. Continue reading

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Ethics Hero Emeritus: Sir Nicholas Winton (1909 – 2015)

winton and child

Another hero of the Holocaust has died. Nicholas Winton organized and substantially financed the last-minute escape of 669 Jewish children from Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II, but never sought the fame and public accolades that Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg received. He got the accolades anyway, especially in his native Great Britain and Czechoslovakia, once his heroics were publicized long after they occurred.

I had never heard of him or his exploits until the news reports of his death. Continue reading

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The “Ordinary People Who Are Struggling Within Gaza” Are Not Innocent

President Obama continued a pattern of declaring deceitful formal support of Israel while throwing coded support for Palestinians to the Democratic base, which is, disgracefully, largely siding with the anti-Israel forces in Europe. His reluctance to commit the moral weight of his office against the conduct of Hamas and behind Israel was embarrassingly clear when he said, “I also think it is important to remember that Hamas acts extraordinarily irresponsibly when it is deliberately siting rocket launchers in population centers, putting populations at risk because of that particular military strategy.” Intentionally placing its own citizens, including children, in harm’s way to maximize photo-ready casualties that can turn world opinion against Israel is not “irresponsible.” The President trying to play both ends against the middle in the Gaza crisis is irresponsible. Using Gazans as human shields when Hamas forces Israel to respond militarily to missiles and tunnels is indistinguishable from evil, and the President, were he responsible, would say so unequivocally. Instead, he resorts to weasel words, equivocations. Surely, this President extolled for his eloquence knows the meaning of the words he uses.

Then, this week, Obama gave us this:

“I have no sympathy for Hamas. I have great sympathy for ordinary people who are struggling within Gaza.”

Godwin’s Law be damned: a Nazi Germany analogy is instructive here. Continue reading

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More On The Dangers Of Godwin’s Law

 

Mike Godwin

Mike Godwin

In correctly diagnosing the Obama Administration’s and the Democratic Party’s continued use of the misleading “77 cents” statistic, I rejected the application of Godwin’s Law as a bar to the evocation of the Big Lie’s most accomplished practitioners and champions, Hitler and Goebbels. I want to expand a bit on what I wrote explaining why.

Godwin’s Law, to begin with, began as a joke. An early Usenet moderator (and attorney) named Mike Godwin coined the “rule” in 1990 as a tongue-in-cheek  method to detect when internet debates had gone on too long, stating that  “if you mention Adolf Hitler or Nazis within a discussion thread, you’ve automatically ended whatever discussion you were taking part in.” The Wikipedia entry, based on the original “law” posted by Godwin, says that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches —​ that is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Nazism.”

In the ensuing years, Godwin’s Law has been cited, but seriously, as a genuine discourse limitation; that it is somehow taboo to raise the Nazis or Hitler as comparisons or references in any serious debate, online or off. It is even cited as an absolute, frequently by people who haven’t given a second’s thought to why there should be such a “law.” This, of course, is classic morality reasoning. You can’t mention Hitler because an authority, “Godwin,” has decreed otherwise, and you blindly follow because, well, he says it’s right, so it is. I have wondered if anyone would take Godwin’s Law seriously if his name had been Mike Snotwelder, or something similar. Continue reading

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To Hell With Godwin’s Law: As The Cynical “GOP War On Women” Strategy Officially Adopts “Big Lie” Tactics, Who Will Have The Integrity To Call It What It Is?

Sometimes recalling Der Fuhrer is necessary to give credit where credit is due.

Sorry. Sometimes recalling Der Fuhrer is necessary to give credit where credit is due.

One thing one can’t deny about the “Big Lie,” it sure works.

An H. F. Elson from Bethesda, Maryland indignantly writes the editor of the Washington Post:

“The April 10 news article “Senate Republicans block wage-equality legislation” reported that Republicans “say that the bill is unnecessary because discrimination based on gender is already illegal.” Pardon my sarcasm, but existing laws have worked really well, haven’t they? Republicans fear the bill would increase civil lawsuits, but the threat of lawsuits is the only way to get these needed changes in compensation made. When are Republicans going to stop antagonizing thinking, intelligent women?”

Let’s see…it’s hard to write such an incompetent and irresponsible letter while simultaneously being snotty about it, but H.F. was up to the challenge:

1. Discrimination based on gender IS already illegal. The law in question was Democratic showboating with a bad bill that would permit lawsuits when no evidence of intentional gender discrimination exists.

2. Yes, H.F., the existing laws have worked very well indeed. The remaining differences in pay by gender are almost entirely due to factors other than discrimination.

3. The only way to get the changes made in compensation would be for women to behave exactly like men, and adopt the same priorities and career paths. Lawsuits, on the other hand, are just a way to increase the costs of doing business, lose jobs, and give more money to trial lawyers—who are overwhelmingly male, by the way.

4. “When are Republicans going to stop antagonizing thinking, intelligent women?”  The real question is when will “thinking, intelligent women” stop accepting on faith outright misrepresentations about gender pay inequities, and do some research before adopting partisan talking points and writing snotty letters to the editor?

There are virtually no serious analysts of this topic that accept the proposition that “women get paid only 77 cents on the dollar compared to men in the same jobs” as an accurate measure of discrimination in the workplace and gender inequity. The misleading nature of that statistic and similar ones has been thoroughly explained and vetted in scholarly documents and the news media for decades, yet whenever Democrats want to activate their “base,” which includes a disproportionate number of women, their candidates and leaders shamelessly use the same dishonest figures. Obama and Biden used this tactic during the 2012 sliming of Mitt Romney, for example, because, after all, the ends justify the means, and besides, mean old Romney kept all those poor women in binders.

I just about fell off of my chair when President Obama sank to this abysmal deceit again in his 2014 State of the Union message, when he intoned, Continue reading

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