From The “Bias Makes You Stupid Files”: The “Work Friend” Misses The Point

Roxanne Gay is an impressive character. She’s a prolific writer of prose and fiction (including science fiction and comic books), a visiting professor at Yale as well as a professional feminist and LGBTQ advocate. She also contributes opinion essays to the New York Times, and as if she isn’t busy enough, is one of their advice columnists, writing the “Work Friend” Sunday column, which is almost always astute and wise in its advice regarding workplace politics and ethical dilemmas.

Not in this case, however. A female inquirer took offense when two male colleagues offered her unsolicited advice about improving her Zooming technique. She framed them as sexist attacks on a woman’s “appearance,” and Gay took the bait. Continue reading

Ugh. The Great Stupid Snags “The Ethicist”

Not only is Kwame Anthony Appiah the most trustworthy and competent of all those who have authored the New York Times Magazine’s “The Ethicist” advice column, he’s also the only one who could be called a true ethicist, as he teaches philosophy at N.Y.U. Thus it is with great disappointment and sadness that I must report that “The Ethicist” has fallen victim to the dreaded Woke Virus, which, has, in the Times’ own lexicon, been “raging” through the paper for quite some time, poisoning its judgment, and as bias does, making its employees stupid.

Given Appiah’s assignment, which is to hand out ethical advice regarding various dilemmas and conflicts posed by correspondents, I would have thought that both he and the Times would have insisted that he practice social distancing and wear a Hazmat suit when visiting the office—maybe even eschew reading the paper. I guess not.

In this week’s column, a reader presented her problem thusly:

Continue reading

Why Aren’t People Ashamed To Ask A Question Like This?

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Kwame Anthony Appiah, aka. “The Ethicist,” received this question three weeks ago. He answered correctly and excessively nicely, as I would expect him to, but my concern is with the question and the questioner. “E.K.” asked,

My husband and I employ a local dog walker….She is an excellent dog walker: reliable, responsible and kind. A friend told me that throughout the fall and after the presidential election, she frequently posted rants on Facebook about liberals and immigrants, pro-Trump messages and falsehoods about how the election was stolen. We are disgusted by the postings and now wonder if we should use her again. On the one hand, we respect people’s right to their opinions and appreciate the good service she provided. On the other, we do not want our money to go to someone who supports viewpoints that we believe are hurtful and detrimental to our democracy.

This is why I’m not an advice columnist, I guess. Here is how I would have answered that question:

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/13/2020: Kamala Harris Selection Hangover Edition [UPDATED]

Hi!

In the 1945 drama “The Lost Weekend,” Ray Milland (above) played alcoholic Don Birnam, and won  the Oscar for Best Actor. The film also won the Oscar for Best Picture. Have you ever seen it? The film is virtually never shown on TV. Milland is another one of the once major Hollywood stars who are almost completely forgotten today, a fascinating group that includes Claire Trevor, Fredric March, Irene Dunne, John Garfield, and Norma Shearer, among others. If their major works were in black and white, they weren’t lucky enough to star in a film regarded as a classic, and they didn’t have a popular TV show when their movie career waned, the culture just forgets about them….and loses as a result. How many non-film nerd Americans under the age of 40 could recognize any of those actors, never mind all of them?

1. Nothing to see here: move along! Yesterday it was reported that the Democratic Party purchased the Antifa.com domain, and that clicks on the link went directly to the Biden campaign site. I checked: it did. Then, by 5:30 pm, the Biden redirect was eliminated. Res ipsa loquitur!

UPDATE: I’m putting an official question mark on this one. It is true that the Antifa.com went to Biden’s site, but that could have been a partisan dirty trick.  Of course, if true, this is the kind of story that the mainstream media would bury. If it was a set-up, it’s the kind of story the right-leaning media would credulously report as proof of Democratic de facto embrace of violence.

Trustworthy, objective journalists would be nice…

2. The vise tightens...Yesterday I noted that colleges and universities were increasingly cancelling their acceptances of students based on revelations of their past social media posts. In one case, Liberty Woodley, 17, the 2020 valedictorian of her high school class in Cape Coral, Florida., had accepted an offer to attend the University of Florida. Then a self-righteous and vicious  actress and “influencer” named Skai Jackson last month asked her more than 500,000 Twitter followers to send her screenshots of  “hateful” social media posts, so she could wrck lives and inflict pain on strangers. Someone sent in one of Woodley’s old Instagram posts in which she wrote when she was 16.

“I really try so hard not to be a racist person, but I most definitely am, there’s no denying it,” it said. Based on that, her acceptance was revoked.

 In an interview with The Gainesville Sun,  Liberty explained that had written the post out of anger at a time when she was being constantly bullied by some black classmates. “I am not racist at all, and I am not full of hate,” she said.  Well, there’s a Catch-22 for you! Oprah Winfrey and others are haranguing whites to admit their inherent racism as a first step to addressing “systemic racism,” but if they do what is asked, it means they are hateful and must be cancelled.

What do you want to bet that Liberty will vote for all Democrats in November? Continue reading

Ethics Alarms Thanks The Ethicist For Some Non-Pandemic Topics

With  about 80% or more of all news stories somehow involving the Wuhan virus and its effects (World War II must have been like this), finding non -pandemic stories and ethics issues has become an irritating and challenging job.

Fortunately, Kwame Anthony Appiah’s “The Ethicist” column” this week saw two interesting issues arise, both of which he answered correctly. (There are other questions in the column too.) One inquirer asked, “It has become clear to me, however, that individual senators and other elected officials outside my state do indeed have a powerful effect on the entire country. Is it appropriate for me to donate to candidates in elections in which I cannot vote?”

Of course it is. Appiah wrote essentially what I would: “As you recognize, the effects politicians have aren’t confined to their immediate constituencies. On the contrary, the prospects for our country depend on who holds elective offices at every level. For one thing, representatives from each of the states in the U.S. House and Senate vote on national legislation. For another, policies in one state affect what happens in others….We are one nation; if we’re to aim at liberty and justice for all, we need to do it together.”

Bingo.

The second question was interesting because it is amazing that anyone would have the gall to make such an outrageous request, and fascinating that anyone would be so  puzzled about how to respond that they would seek advice from a third party: Continue reading

Another Visit To “The Ethicist”: Appiah Overthinks The Dilemma Of The Treacherous Ex-Wife

is the first and only competent ethicist to handle the long-time New York Times Magazine column, so I feel badly that most of the time when I reference his opinions, it is to criticize one of them. He over-all record is excellent, despite the impression one might get from Ethics Alarms. For example, read his superb, if a bit overblown, response to a white woman who was “deeply offended” that a contractor hired by her husband flew a small confederate flag on his truck. She wanted to report him as a racist to his boss, and asked Appiah if this was the right thing to do.

That nuanced advice is more typical of “The Ethicist’s” work than this recent chapter, in which a man wrote that he had split from his wife after she had refused any physical intimacy, saying that it was no longer “part of her life.” She suggested a trial separation, which led to a formal divorce, and the couple signed a non-disparagement agreement as part of the process. Recently she admitted to him that she had repeatedly cheated on him during their marriage, and that she suggested the trial separation so she could resolve her affair at the time with a married man.

The inquirer says that he has never blamed his wife in discussions with his sons for the end of the marriage, but that he has learned from them that she “places the sole blame on me for every problem ever experienced by our family, including the drug addiction of our older son. When I recently contacted her about visiting him in jail, she said he didn’t want to see me. I contacted him and found that this was not true.”

He asks “The Ethicist” if he can ethically violate the non-disparagement agreement in his own defense, and tell the sons what a lying, cheating, betraying mother they have. To my amazement, Appiah said he could, and even suggested that he should, arguing in the process of a looooong discourse, Continue reading

Dead Wrong: The Withdrawn Bequest Share

That is, the advice columnist’s answer to an easy ethics question last week was dead wrong.  Once again, the advice-giver in question is Philip Galanes, the Times proprietor of Social Q’s, essentially that paper’s version of “Miss Manners.” Galanes, I now see upon googling him, is a novelist and a lawyer. That explains, perhaps, his unfamiliarity with some of the more nuanced aspects of ethics. Here’s the question he received in its entirety:

My brother died last year and bequeathed his entire (small) estate to me. He had one child, a daughter, to whom he left nothing. Feeling sorry for her, I told my niece I would give her half of the estate. (None of this becomes official until April.) But my circumstances have changed dramatically. My husband was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He is undergoing treatment, but we face a very uncertain financial future. I would now like to keep the entire estate. My niece is doing well financially, with many earning years ahead of her, unlike me. Is there a way to tell her I’ve changed my mind so she won’t hate me forever?

The Social Q’s verdict: “…Say, ‘I’m sorry if your father’s will hurt you. I promised you half of my inheritance out of love for you and hoping to heal any pain the will caused. But my husband is seriously ill, and I can’t afford to give you the money now. If I can make it up to you later, or in my estate, I will do it.’….For readers worrying about a verbal contract here, let’s assume B’s promise falls into one of several exceptions that requires agreements to be in writing….”

Yeccchh.

Here’s the ethical answer: Continue reading

Ethics Alarms To “The Ethicist”: It’s Called “The Golden Rule”—Why Is That So Hard?

I hadn’t checked in for a while on Kwame Anthony Appiah, the N.Y.U philosophy teacher and author who finally brought ethical consistency to the New York Times magazine’s advice column, “The Ethicist.” I was surprised to find him struggling to answer two family related queries that I would have assumed he could and should have answered  easily with three words: “The Golden Rule.”

The first inquirer asked in part,

Recently a mutual acquaintance who knows my friend’s husband well told me that he has been cheating on my friend on and off for years with someone who once worked with him.I know that if I reveal this information, my friend will take their child and leave her husband. Do I sit on this information and pretend the affair isn’t happening, or do I tell her?

Isn’t that an easy call? Of course she should tell her friend. The Golden Rule applies: would she want to be told if the positions were reversed? Sure she would; anyone would. Not telling her would be a betrayal of the worst kind.

Yet Appiah uses 608 words to reach that conclusion. 608! This makes a slam dunk of an ethics decision appear to be a difficult one. Oh, it’s difficult in the sense that the inquirer has to take sides in a crisis affecting a couple she and her husband are close to, and thus the repercussions as well as the process will be unpleasant, but that’s life. One of the Ethics Alarms rules is that if you can fix a problem, fix it. The Ethicist’s rabbinical musings about the decision just supplies a dangerous volume of rationalizations to temp the questioner into keeping the husband’s secret, and abetting the harm. Continue reading

Won’t You Try Saturday Afternoon Ethics, 1/25/20? The Segue Post…

The Winter of Hate would seem like a good time to remember the Summer of Love, don’t you think?

1.Well, that’s nice! A man gets along with his brothers! Rich Juzwiak is Slate’s sex advisor. A recent male enquirer asked him, “I live in a large house along with six brothers, all adults and close to each other in age, two of whom I am having sex with….The problem is that I don’t know what to call this arrangement…”

Oh, is that the problem?

What’s an interesting though experiment is trying to define exactly what this big, happy family arrangement is unethical, or even if it is. What harm does it do to society or non-consenting people? It doesn’t risk unhealthy babies, or ruin the family heirarchy like male-female incest

It the fair and honest answer to the reader’s question, “What do you call it?” “I call it so icky I want to barf, not that there’s anything wrong with that”? Is this the best example of the Ick Factor ever?

How about, “I don’t know what to call it, but if you don’t sell it as a reality show, you’re all idiots” ?

An aside: This reminded me of my favorite Ann Landers question of all time. Ann’s readers said she was having an affair with the husband of a professional lady wrestler, who walked in on her and the cheating husband as they were getting disrobed. He babbled that she was his masseuse, and, incredibly, the credulous wrestler bought it. She asked the terrified mistress if she would give her a massage too, and, trapped, Ann’s inquirer agreed. The wrestler was pleased—so pleased that the woman is giving her weekly massages while continuing to have sex with the wrestler’s husband. What do you think was her question to Ann?

“Can I get in trouble for giving massages without a license?”

This convinced me that Ann Landers answered more fake questions than I previously assumed. Continue reading

Sunday Before Christmas Ethics Ornaments, 12/22/19: Googling Ethics, “Cats,” Goldman Sachs, De Niro, Trump Derangement

Here’s hoping that the the next three days rescue the Spirit of Christmas…

…because the last few weeks have been a downer, man.

1. Googling ethics:  Phillip Galanes, at Social Q’s was consulted by a woman who had bad vibes about her girlfriend’s new love, so she googled him, and found out, as she suspected, that he had some serious red flags in his past. She told her friend, who had discovered the bad news herself, but who was hurt and angry that the inquirer did a background check on her boyfriend. “Was I wrong?” she asked. In his answer, Gallanes implies that she was, although “everybody does it.” I’d like a nice, succinct, substantive explanation of by what ethical theory it can ever be wrong to access publicly available information about anyone. This isn’t an issue of privacy, because the information isn’t private. There was nothing wrong with the inquirer’s motives, because she was concerned about her friend.

I’d call this the Ick Factor at work. It seems unethical because the fact that anyone can check our lives out online is creepy. The research itself, however, is ethically neutral. The ethics comes in with how the information is used.

2. I guess I have to mention “Cats”…since it is getting the most spectacular negative and cruel reviews since “Showgirls,” and maybe before that. “Exorcist II, The Heretic” perhaps. Oddly, the usually hyper-critical New York Times is not one of the worst defilers, but here was what the reviewer really found objectionable :

“It’s too bad that no one seems to have thought through the semiotics of Victoria’s chalky white cat face, given that Hayward is of mixed race and that the heavy is Idris Elba’s predatory Macavity. Elba seems to be having a fine time, but come on!”

Ah! The old “mixed-race actress in whiteface being menaced by a black actor playing a cat” racist imagery!

I can’t wait for them to write down these rules. Continue reading