Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/16/2020: Zugswang!

Good morning, inmates!

I’ve been reading that social isolation may be deadly. Zugswang!

Last week “ethics zugswangmade a return to Ethics Alarms, and you can expect to read a lot more of it. The chess term describing the dilemma is which the only safe move is to stay still, and staying still is impossible, seems to be applying to increasing numbers of dire situations recently, especially in the ethical sense, in which all choices are unethical.Upon reflection, several posts involved ethics zugswang even when I didn’t use that term. The woman whose student loan debts topped 900,000 dollars is in zugswang. Progressive feminists who use gender-baiting as a partisan weapon are in self-condemned zugswang when political allies use misogynist terms against conservative women.

It’s really fun saying “zugswang,” but I will try to touch on some matters that don’t involve ethics zugswang….like…

1. “Hogan’s Heroes” ethics. I never thought it would happen, but a cable channel is re-running “Hogan’s Heroes” episodes. The very popular Sixties sitcom about POW prison camp and the wacky and inept Nazis running it has been thoroughly excoriated as outrageously tasteless and politically incorrect. My father loved the show because anything that made the Nazis look ridiculous was aces with him. Is it tasteless and offensive to show “Hogan’s Heroes” today?

It was clearly satire, in the same spirit as Larry, Moe and Curly playing Hitler and cronies, or Charley Chaplin in “The Great Dictator”—or, to pick a recent example, the child’s view of Hitler as an imaginary friend in “Jo-Jo Rabbit.” The show obviously took its inspiration from “The Great Escape,” of which it is virtually a parody (without the executions, of course.) WW II vets like my father were accustomed to the Nazis being ridiculed and trivialized in the process. In an age that has seen the Holocaust Museum’s exhibits and widely distributed documentaries about the full barbarity of Nazi Germany, the satire may no longer work.

There are other reasons why “Hogan’s Heroes” is no longer funny, despite the very talented cast. Its laugh track is annoying now, especially when the jokes are old and repetitive: how hard can you keep laughing when Sgt. Schultz (John Banner) says “I know nothing! NOTHING!” for the thousandth time? Perhaps the kiss of death for the series is the ubiquity of series star Bob Crane as Hogan, Crane was always smarmy for my taste, but knowing his fate—Crane was bludgeoned to death by a likely participant in his sick S & M porno ring that involved, among other revolting activities,  secretly videotaping women engaged in sex—make watching the show a painful experience. Continue reading

Encore: “Forgetting What We Know”

Rosemary's director is more horrible than her baby...because he's real.

Rosemary’s director is more horrible than her baby…because he’s real.

I noted with horror that Roman Polanski has a new film out that is, as usual, garnering rave reviews. Polanski is a perpetual burr under my metaphorical saddle, and when he is out of the spotlight I am a happier person. One of the early reviews, under the heading “About the director,” describes him this way:

“Roman Polanski is a Polish film director, producer, writer and actor. Having made films in Poland, Britain, France and the USA, he is considered one of the few truly international filmmakers.”

This leaves out what I would argue are the most important parts of his biography, namely that he is a child rapist and a fugitive from the law of the United States. He is also an ethics corrupter on a grand scale. When his name once again made its unwelcome intrusion on my senses, I recalled that one of the very first posts on Ethics Alarms, on Halloween of 2009, was inspired by Polanski. I read it again last night, and reflected on how the blog recently passed its 1,000,000th page view since its launch that same month. I like it, and not many people read it at the time. With a few small edits, I decided to post it again.

Here it is:

Ethics evolves. It isn’t that what is right and wrong actually changes, but that human beings gradually learn, sometimes so slowly it can hardly be detected. For example, slavery was always wrong, but for centuries very few people who weren’t slaves understood that fact. There was never anything immoral about being born gay and living accordingly, but it has taken all of the collected experience of civilization to make this dawn on most of society. While we are learning, and even after we have learned, there are always those who not only lag behind but who work actively to undo the ethical progress we have made. We assume these individuals will come from the ranks of ideological conservatives, misapplying valid concepts like respect for tradition, suspicion of change for change’s sake, and a reliance on consistent standards, making them slow to accept new wisdom . Sometimes, however, the people who try to make us forget what we know come from the left side of the political spectrum, misusing values such as tolerance, freedom, empathy and fairness in the process. This is especially true when it comes to the topic of sex. Liberals fought so long and well to break down the long-established taboos about sex that many of them lost the ability to comprehend that unethical conduct can  involve sex in any way.

The most striking recent example is the bizarre defense of Roman Polanski, best known as the director of the horror classic, “Rosemary’s Baby.” Continue reading