“Dear Pronoun Problems”…Here Is How I Would Answer The Lament Of A Teacher Whose Attempt to “Create An Inclusive Environment” In Her Class Went Horribly Wrong

Slate, the pioneering web magazine that once had an interesting balance of commentary, jumped the woke shark long ago; I almost never bother with it any more. It carries an especially annoying Social Justice Warrior family advice column, “Care and Feeding,” whose writer, Doyin Richards, founder of the Anti-Racism Fight Club, is obsessed with “diversity, equity and inclusion.”

A teacher calling herself “Pronoun Problems” wrote in part,

On my first day, in an attempt to create an inclusive learning environment, I passed out an icebreaker worksheet that asked several questions, including preferred pronouns. This ended up backfiring. I live in a blue state, but in a suburban area with plenty of conservatives. It’s not uncommon to see a house with a Trump sign right next to a house with a Black Lives Matter sign. Consequently, while I had plenty of students who answered the question honestly, I also had lots of students who wrote their pronouns as “nor/mal” or “attack helicopter.” I feel like it started things off on the wrong foot. It gave me a negative first impression about some of the students, which I don’t think is a healthy mindset for a teacher. Worst of all, I’m afraid I ended up only creating a more hostile learning environment for my trans and non-binary students. The students didn’t necessarily see each other’s answers, but I basically gave some students a platform to express their transphobic views. After my contract ended, I got hired by a different school district, this time teaching eighth grade. I’m worried that if I give out the same icebreaker worksheet, even more of the students will write transphobic “joke” answers. At the same time, I’m glad I was able to learn the correct pronouns for my students and avoid misgendering them in class. How should I go about this in the future? Should I scold them or call them out? Or should I just grin and bear it for the sake of the students who take pronouns seriously?

The reply from Doyin is what you would expect (it begins, You absolutely did the right thing by creating the icebreaker activity; your only errors were not setting ground rules and not explaining why this is important…”). If you want to read it, it’s here.

My answer would be the following:

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Ethics Quiz: Terms Of Affection And The Second Wife

Ever since I dropped my subscription to the Washington Post in disgust (yes, the Times is better), I have been neglecting Carolyn Hax, the most consistently ethical advice columnist in captivity. I stumbled upon her latest column today, and my wife vociferously disagreed with my reaction to a question posed to her. I decided to make it an Ethics Quiz.

“Resentful” wrote that her father was widowed five years ago and remarried. She’s resentful that he keeps calling his second wife “Love of my life” in front of his adult children and his grandchildren. The daughter has “minimized contact with him as a result.” He’s hurt, and she wants to know what to tell him. “Quit [dumping] on the memory of my mother in my presence and you’ll see us more than twice a year” is what I WANT to say.”

The Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Is the daughter being fair to her father?

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

Roxane 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:

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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:

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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