Tag Archives: appeal to authority

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 1/12/2018: Sigh. It Never Ends. (Part I)

Good Morning.

Blecchh.

I can’t begin to describe how much I would rather discuss something else. But I don’t control the universe, why, I don’t know.

1 Is this Plan K? Oh, probably. Sigh.

With the rapid demise of Plan E, this time around, anyway—that’s the “let’s remove President Trump because he’s mentally disabled” plot, which was quickly reactivated once Plan J (“Let’s force the President to resign like Al Franken because of unverified sexual misconduct accusers that voters knew about when they elected him”), the over-heated reporting of alleged vulgar and arguably racist comments the President may have made in a non-public meeting would suggest that “the resistance” and the mainstream media (but I repeat myself) will be fulminating and demanding dire consequences for the foreseeable future.Plan K will be “Vulgarity and undiplomatic statements about immigrants pretty much exactly like how Trump began his Presiential campaign is grounds for impeachment” or something similar. Please send me the link to the first appearance of this argument, will you?

This obviously will never end, and I despair. Democrats will never accept their obligations as citizens and regard the elected leader of the Unites States as legitimate and entitled to do his job until he is either defeated or prevails in the next election. They would prefer to dangerously divide the nation and undermine its institutions, perhaps doing permanent damage.

Yesterday, Times op-ed writer Nicholas Kristoff wrote another Trump/hate/fear-mongering piece indistinguishable from dozens—hundreds?— that have been written and published since January of last year. “Trump’s Threat To Democracy,” it was called—ironic, since the only current threat to democracy is not the President, but Kristof and his fellow travelers seeking to overthrow an elected government “by any means possible,” via Plans A-J and whatever’s next. His screed is an appeal to the authority of two Harvard profs, because as we have seen in the sad cases of Larry Lessig and Lawrence Tribe, you can find previously distinguished Harvard professors who will say almost anything to polish their progressive creds in the age of Trump Derangement.

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have a book coming out–no, I won’t plug it—that argues that Trump displays what they call “the four four warning signs” that a political leader is a dangerous authoritarian:

1.The leader shows only a weak commitment to democratic rules.

2. He or she denies the legitimacy of opponents.

3. He or she tolerates violence.

4. He or she shows some willingness to curb civil liberties or the media.

“A politician who meets even one of these criteria is cause for concern,” they say. Of course, as the professors show  in their examples and  Kristoff proves in his column,  what constitutes evidence of those “warning signs” is a subjective judgment that can be manipulated and built on biased political calculations. He writes, Continue reading

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It’s A Comment Of The Day Weekend! First Up…Comment Of The Day (3): “An Ethics Alarms Holiday Challenge! Identify The Rationalizations, Logical Fallacies, Falsehoods And Outright Errors In This Essay…” AND, In Related News, Another Bakery Gets Slammed In Oregon

I’m not exaggerating: I have at least four Comments of the Day stacked up on the Ethics alarms runway after this one, and there are usually COTDs arriving on Saturdays. I can’t promise to get all of them up today, especially since I’m hacking away at the 2017 Ethics Alarms Awards, and this is a long working weekend at ProEthics. Still, I will get a lot of them to you, and it’s a provocative group, as you will soon see.

But first, a prelude and some context.

An Oregon appellate court this week upheld a ruling against the owners of the since-closed Sweetcakes by Melissa,  Aaron and Melissa Klein, forcing them to pay emotional-distress damages of $135,000 to Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, a lesbian couple for whom they refused to design and sell a wedding cake almost five years ago. The Klein’s argued that state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian violated state and federal laws and their rights as artists to free speech, their rights to religious freedom and their rights as defendants to  due process.

The Oregon court ruled that the Kleins’ argument that their cakes entail an artistic expression is “entitled to be taken seriously,” but it’s not enough for the couple to assert their cakes are pieces of art:

“Although we accept that the Kleins imbue each wedding cake with their own aesthetic choices, they have made no showing that other people will necessarily experience any wedding cake that the Kleins create predominantly as ‘expression’ rather than as food.”

This mess commenced  when Rachel Bowman-Cryer went to the suburban Portland bakery with her mother in January of 2013. When Aaron Klein was told that the wedding did not involve a male partner,  he said that the bakery did not make cakes for same-sex weddings. They left, but soon the mother returned to argue with Klein as Rachel sat in the car, weeping. her mother went in to speak with Klein. The mother told Klein she had once thought like him, but having two gay children forced her to see the error of her ways.  Klein retorted with Leviticus: “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.”

The complaint and action by Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries followed. You can read the opinion here.

Ugh.

This case is even worse than the one currently before the Supreme Court, discussed here. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/11/2017: Boston, Racism, Morality And The Media’s Continuing Conspiracy

Good Morning!

1 That’s my town! Spotlight, the Boston Globe investigative team that was the focus of the Academy Award-winning film about its crucial role in exposing the  Catholic Church’s child-molestation scandal, has published the results of an investigation into racism in Boston. Nobody who lives in Boston or did for any length of time (like me) can find that the conclusion of the Spotlight team qualifies as news: Boston is an overwhelmingly white city—the whitest of all the major metropolitan areas—which may have softened its traditional hostility to African Americans, but that so far hasn’t changed the impression among its black residents that they are outsiders, and tolerated rather than welcome.

I love Boston, and would move back there in a heartbeat if it didn’t mean uprooting my life in unpleasant ways. The report, however, is depressing, for that ironic feature of the city was a blight on it when I lived there, and decades have failed to change it significantly.

2. Not “Morality Alarms”. Let me stick this in quickly.

A commenter on the most recent Comment of the Day on the Masterpiece Cakeshop controversy sent in a defense of the baker’s conduct based on Scripture. I stated,

I dismiss this argument out of hand.

2000 year old biases are now called ignorance. They can be justified as of their time, but pretending nothing has changed since then is indefensible and willfully obtuse. The taboos against homosexuality were a matter of common sense when procreation was essential to a tribe’s survival. Before there was psychological research and knowledge of brain chemistry, ignorance about homosexuality was excusable, and even natural. 2000 years is a long time. There is no excuse for pretending that it isn’t, that human beings haven’t learned, that knowledge hasn’t expanded, and that ancient texts are not often dangerously and cruelly out of date.

In two follow-up comments I wrote, stitching them together,

That’s not reasoning or argument, and this blog is about ethics (what’s right?) not morality (what does God say is right?)…At some point discrimination and prejudice is still discrimination and prejudice. “The Bible says I should be prejudiced” is better, sort of, than “I just hate these people,” but it also is a cover.

Needless to say, an argument that relies entirely on the Bible is just an appeal to authority. That’s not a reasoned argument, but a declaration. Nor is it possible to argue with God, who works in mysterious ways, meaning that “but that makes no sense!” doesn’t work.

This isn’t a morality blog, and never has been. Simple as that. Continue reading

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Dear Idiots: Please Stop Making Me Defend The Bigoted Baker

I am pleased that the Supreme Court will be taking the case of Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple because, he said, they wanted it to be customized, and doing so would offend his faith.  His claim is based on the First Amendment, which prevents the government from making you say what you don’t want to say as much as it prevents the government from stopping you from saying what you want to.

Colorado’s courts denied that Phillips was doing anything but saying that he doesn’t like or respect gays sufficiently to make the exact same cake for them that he would make for non-gays.  I agree with their holding that his actions violated the public accommodations laws. I wrote when this case first reared its frosted head…

“The court’s conclusion  is impossible to rebut. The cake the baker was asked to bake for the gay wedding differed not at all from one he would normally sell a straight couple. In truth, this had nothing to do with expression. He was just refusing to serve a gay couple because of their sexual orientation. Selling them a standard cake would neither constitute, nor would it be recognized as a “message” in support of gay marriage.

The Court agreed that a wedding cake with a customized message celebrating a same-sex marriage as such might implicate First Amendment speech issues, but “we need not reach this issue,” the court said. “We note, again, that Phillips denied Craig’s and Mullins’ request without any discussion regarding the wedding cake’s design or any possible written inscriptions.”

In other words, Phillips was gratuitously and unnecessarily being a cruel jerk. An alleged Christian who is unable to detect the basic Golden Rule application in treating fellow citizens with the minimal level of respect inherent in allowing them to buy a standard wedding cake requiring no “Yay Gay!” or “Charlie and David Forever!” messages in pink frosting deserves no sympathy or quarter from the law. Could the couple have just shrugged and found another bakery? Sure, they could have. Linda Brown could also have just shrugged and found an all-black school to attend, too.

The gay couple are not the villains here. Jack Phillips broke the social contract, as well as the law.”

Now that SCOTUS has decided, by agreeing to review the case,  that he has perhaps a scrawny, shaky legal leg to stand on before they kick it out from under him, Phillips and his lawyer are taking a premature victory lap, as if making it quite clear that you think gays are second class citizens is something to be proud of (and, sadly, too many still think it is.) Their publicity campaign took them all the way to The View, a wise choice. After all, nothing can make an unethical position seem more persuasive than when it is being attacked by idiots, and idiots of the left-wing persuasion are pretty much what ABC’s “Six Opinionated Female B and C List Celebrities Sitting Around Slamming Conservatives”  daytime show has to offer. (To be fair, the show usually has one even dumber right-wing idiot on hand to make the left-wing idiots seem astute by comparison.) Continue reading

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Comment of the Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/30/17.”

As he usually does, when he’s feeling frisky,  reader Extradimensional Cephalopod (above right) has dived into the issue of “health care rights” with gusto and perception. As I often do whether I’m feeling frisky or not, I have some cavils about the assumptions being made at the outset.

A right is a moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to be able to do something. Moral and legal rights are two different things. When someone says, as did my friend on Facebook that started this debate. “I believe health care is a right,” he had to be asserting a moral right to healthcare, since a legal right to health care doesn’t exist. If he said, “I believe health acre should be a right,” then he would have clearly meant a legal right. That’s a policy issue. When someone argues that there is a moral right, then they are making the case for a legal right that doesn’t exist. The law in an ethical society ought to protect and advance moral rights, and society must agree what those rights are. Thus when he says, early on, “Note that a right isn’t something we owe Note that a right isn’t something we owe people just because they exist.,” he signals that he is describing legal rights only.   Moral rights are what we owe  people just because they exist. That’s why the Declaration begins with Jefferson saying that “we are endowed by our Creator” with “unalienable rights.”

Here is Extradimensional Cephalopod‘s Comment of the Day on #5 in the post, “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/30/17.”

Let’s start at the beginning. We need to define the phrase “healthcare is a right”.

A “right” is a protection or entitlement we collectively decide to give to people at the expense of our some of our freedoms because we think that society will be more robust, sustainable, able to advance, or generally pleasant to live in as a result. That’s very similar to the basis for ethics, as far as I can tell. A right is a meta-law, a limitation on what laws can be made. Rights may be conditional. Note that a right isn’t something we owe people just because they exist. It’s something we decide we owe them because we want to live in a world where people have that right–because it’s safer for us, or because it means the world will still be there for our descendants, or because it allows civilization to progress to something better, or because we want others to be happy, or all of the above. This will be important later.

Therefore, when we say, “healthcare is a right”, what we mean is “in order to make society more robust, sustainable, able to advance, or generally pleasant, we choose to sacrifice some of our individual freedoms to provide everyone with healthcare.”

We’re half done. Now, what is “healthcare”?

Let’s actually distinguish it from health insurance, because we’re smarter than Congress. Health insurance, like any insurance, is a gamble, in which people periodically pay a small amount of money to an insurance company, which will pay them back a larger amount of money (whatever is necessary, to the limit of what they are insured for) if the person’s health is in danger in a way that neither of them can predict. The idea is that the insurance company can’t predict who needs the money, but they can predict how many will need money and how much, statistically, so they accept enough money from people that they can afford to pay the people who end up needing more money. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/30/17

1. Traffic here is cratering in the run-up to the 4th, guaranteeing that for one of the few months in Ethics Alarms history, June 2017 will have seen significantly less traffic than its previous year’s equivalent. 2017 and 2016 are now in a dead heat.

I have some theories: by this point last year the campaign was heating up, and I was being sufficiently critical of both parties and candidates to make everyone happy. Ethics Alarms also started getting a lot of those paid Hillary shills commenting; I banned more commenters in 2016 by far than any other year. Also because of the campaign, there were an unusual number of posts shared by hundreds and even thousands of readers, as well as a record number of the anomalous posts that double or even triple the daily average. Those, I have found, are completely unpredictable. What I consider important or especially astute essays almost never attract readership; the runaway posts are usually about something relatively trivial.

On the other hand, the blog has many more followers in 2017, more consistently high-quality comments, and, as my life partner continues to remind me with dagger glances, revenue is holding steady…

2. There was another Ethics Hero tale to tell yesterday, though the only one I had time for was the group in Texas that bought a car for a young fast-food worker.

Major League Baseball umpire John Tumpane, assigned to a Pittsburgh Pirate home series, was walking from his hotel to the ball park across the Roberto Clemente Bridge when he saw woman climb over the railing to the outside of the bridge. He decided to approach her, and in response to his queries, she told Tumpane she just wanted to get a better view of the Allegheny River below.

The look on her face and the tone of her voice told Tumpane otherwise, so he grabbed her and refused to obey her demands that she let her go…and jump. Another  bystander saw what was going on and joined him, grabbing the woman’s free arm. A third grabbed her legs through the railing as Tumpane implored the gathering crowd to call 911. The three men held on  until emergency responders arrived. Continue reading

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Presenting The First New Rationalization Of 2017: #32A Imaginary Consent, or “He/She Would Have Wanted It This Way”

roxieThe addition of  New Rationalization #32A Imaginary Consent, or “He/She Would Have Wanted It This Way” to the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List became obligatory after it got a work-out over the holidays. Disney turning long dead character actor Peter Cushing into a zombie performer for the new “Star Wars” film was defended with the claim, which was almost surely also used by his heirs who were paid handsomely for the use of Cushing’s CGI avatar.

And that’s always the way this rationalization arrives. Someone wants to profit through some dubious scheme or transaction, and uses the argument that a revered and quite dead family member, personage of importance or icon “would have approved,” or “would have wanted it.” Like its progenitor 32. The Unethical Role Model: “He/She would have done the same thing,” which employs misdeeds of presumably admirable figures of the past as precedent for misdeed in the future, this is an appeal to irrelevant authority. Worse, Imaginary Consent presumes what cannot possibly be determined without prior express statements from the deceased.

This is one reason why DNR (“Do not resuscitate”) orders are essential. Using a fictional consent to absolve a decision-maker from actual responsibility is both a dodge and cowardly, as well as dishonest. I remember the horrible day that my sister and I were called upon to decide whether to terminate my mother, who was unconscious, on life support and beyond recovery. We made the decision quickly, and what my mother “would have wanted” was never a factor. (She had delegated the decision on her own DNR to my sister.) What my mother wanted, we both agreed, was to live forever. She would have been willing to have her comatose body waiting for a miracle or a cure until the hospital crumbled around her….in fact, that’s why she delegated the decision without instructions. Sure, it would have been easier to fool ourselves with #32A. But it would have been a lie.

The other true story this rationalization makes be think of is the time the elderly parents of a friend decided to euthanize their wonderful, bounding, big and joyful dog Roxie, some kind of a felicitous hybrid between a boxer and a freight train. They were moving into a resort where dogs were not allowed.  I was aghast, but they insisted, “We just know Roxie wouldn’t be happy living with anyone else.”

I argued(they did not appreciate it), “You know what? I bet if she could talk, Roxie would say, ‘You know, I really like you guys, really, and I’ll miss you a lot, but on balance I think I’d rather keep living, thanks. I’ll miss you, but I’m pretty sure I’ll get over it. Have a great time in Florida.'”

They killed her anyway.

#32A is a way to pass off responsibility for an ethically  dubious decision on someone who is beyond participation in that decision, and sometimes even the victim of it. It is cowardly, unaccountable, and based on an assertion that may not be true.

___________________

Special Thanks to Reader/Commenter Zoltar Speaks!, who suggested the new entry.

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