Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/21/17: Fake Bravery, Mysterious Hate Speech, Vindictive Ex-Presidents, And The Trans Fold-Out

I confess: I miss New England…

Good Morning.

Thank God it’s Saturday.

1 The definition of “courage” being used to describe some of the late-to-the-party revelations of Harvey Weinstein’s victims is more than a bit off.  For example, Academy Award  winner Lupita Nyong’o’s op-ed, in which she talked about her own harassment by Weinstein, was hailed by Kerry Washington, Ellen DeGeneris and others, including singer Janelle Monae, who wrote, “My hero. Thank you for your bravery. Thank you for using your voice.”

Bravery? Nyong’o’s piece could be fairly described as kicking a dead horse when he’s down. There is no danger to Nyong’o now in joining the throng accusing and exposing Weinstein, whose head is on a metaphorical pike in Hollywood. Indeed, claiming victimhood now acquires sympathy and declares that one is joining one’s peers in a virtuous quest. There is nothing wrong with her op-ed or the fact that she wrote it, but it isn’t brave. It would have been brave if she had written it while Weinstein had power…and was still using that power to intimidate and exploit actresses

2.  A recent quiz in the New York Times threw some light, or maybe ice water, on the concept of “hate speech.” The quiz asked Times readers to judge whether a statement was hate speech, and contrasted the results with Facebook’s hate speech policy, and the kind of statement would be removed from the social media platform as violating its standards. Facebook defines hate speech as:

  1. An attack, such as a degrading generalization or slur.
  2. Targeting a “protected category” of people, including one based on sex, race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, and serious disability or disease.

Here were the samples; Times readers were asked to vote yes or no to the question, “Would this statement meet Facebook’s criteria for hate speech?”

A. “Why do Indians always smell like curry?! They stink!”

B. “Poor black people should still sit at the back of the bus.”

C. “White men are assholes.”

D. “Keep ‘trans’ men out of girls bathrooms!”

E. “Female sports reporters need to be hit in the head with hockey pucks.”

F. I’ll never trust a Muslim immigrant… they’re all thieves and robbers.”

The Answers:

A. Facebook: Hate speech. Times readers: 75% yes, 25% no.

B. Facebook: Not hate speech. Times readers: 92% yes, 8% no.

C. Facebook: Hate speech. Times readers: 48% yes, 52% no.

D. Facebook: It depends on the context. Times readers: 57% yes, 43% no.

E. Facebook: Not hate speech. Times readers: 80% yes, 20% no.

F. Facebook: Not hate speech. Times readers: 91% yes, 9% no.

Ethics Alarms: the concept of hate speech is a dangerous, intentionally vague, manufactured category of speech pointing to restrictions of free expression. There is hateful speech, insulting speech, bigoted speech, biased speech, cruel speech, uncivil speech and rude speech, but all of it is still protected speech.

The tell is C. Times readers only voted that one statement wasn’t hate speech, the one that denigrated all white men. Of course they did. By Facebook standards, that vote is hate speech. I think.

Facebook can ban whatever speech it chooses, of course. The fact that it engages in this kind of vague, inconsistent, bias-laden censorship, however, tells us how much we should trust it: Not at all.

3. Speaking of bias, the Trump-haters in the news media—which is to say, the news media—were thrilled that both Barack Obama and George W. Bush delivered, on the same day, statements that were taken as rebukes to President Trump without mentioning him by name. Both Presidents were treading in serious hypocrisy mine fields, and neither were called on it sufficiently. Bush spoke of “fading confidence” in free markets: Gee, who was President when insufficiently regulated capitalists crashed the world economy? Obama, even more cynically, pointed to social, racial and economic schisms after his eight years of aggravating and exploiting them. Both Bush and Obama—and for them, this is a despicable ethics foul—conflated illegal immigration with immigration, to the seal-flipper applause of the open-border crowd.

The significance of these dual attacks is less than it appears. Bothex-POTUSes are motivated by personal animus and as well as personal bias. President Trump is doing an excellent job, as promised, of erasing Obama’s few substantive achievements and policy initiatives from the record, and he has only been at it for less than a year. Are you a a successful President if the primary lasting effect of your administration is reversal of progress in racial reconciliation? Obama’s enmity is predictable, but hardly based on objective consideration. Bush’s attack is even less so.  Candidate Trump’s attacks on President Bush’s brother were nasty and personal; the entire family has made no secret of the fact that it won’t forget, and hates the President’s guts/

The real ethics lesson, as well as a practical policy lesson is that being gratuitously mean to people isn’t just unethical, it is incompetent for a leader. This is one more area where the President shows a self-destructive lack of control and prudence as well as a flat learning curve. At a recent event, Paul Ryan, another target of Trump’s personal insults, mocked the President. John McCain has clearly decided that he will do whatever he can to undermine him until his last breath. Not only do the various public figures Trump needlessly insults and attacks occasionally have the opportunity to strike back in substantive ways, they also have supporters who will side with them even when those strikes are unfair or petty.

Deliberately making enemies is an example of life incompetence. It is so for a librarian or a short-order cook; it is even more so for a leader. It just makes it harder for you to do your job.

Why would you do that?

4. And now that Hugh Heffner is dead, Playboy is trying to make him roll over in his grave by announcing that it will have its first transgender Playmate.

Is this Ick, or ethics? Presumably, if the magazine has any integrity at all, Playboy chooses its Playmates according to their aesthetic qualities, not their medical history. These are women. Stipulated: French model Ines Rau is a woman, now.  Why is her selection focusing on how she got to be one?

Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Rau wasn’t chosen because she is a beautiful woman, though I am not saying that she isn’t. She was chosen because she is transgender, and beautiful enough. This was affirmative action. Reports say she is honored. Why isn’t she insulted? If President Obama told Sonia Sotomayor that she was being nominated as a Supreme Court Justice not because she is especially qualified, but because she is Hispanic, would Sotomayor have been pleased?

Rau is being exploited, as Playboy treats the transgender social issue as a fad, to sell magazines and get publicity. Predictably, many of Playboy’s readers are objecting for the wrong reasons: they are bigots. Playboy’s social media response is telling: “Standing on the right side of history.” This is, as Ethics Alarms has pointed out before, a facile dodge and a rationalization. “We’re on the right side of history” is weak variation of the Number 1 rationalization on the list, “Everybody does it.” It means “Everybody’s going to do it, just you wait and see.”

Color me dubious. Heterosexual men who buy girlie magazines are going to find transgender women more beautiful and sexually arousing because they once were biologically male?

Sure, Playboy. Whatever you say.

“Everybody Beat A Dead Horse Day” Ethics

Cartoonist Jeff Hibbert's conception of Muhammad

I was stunned to discover that “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day,” last year’s mass warped exercise in going out of the way to insult the religious beliefs of fine, upstanding, moral Muslims world-wide,  is supposed to be an annual event. I would have thought that the justifiable abuse heaped on serial Islam-provoker Rev. Terry Jones would have shown the organizers of EDMD the error of their ways (which I correctly pointed out to them here, and here). But no. The self-styled defenders of the undoubted right to use freedom of expression recklessly and badly still claimed to be standing up for the sullied rights of  the “South Park” creators, who last year had their show censored by cowardly and hypocritical “Comedy Central” suits after a threat by some Muslim nut-jobs. For their part, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have happily moved on to the more profitable work of making fun of Mormons on Broadway, because they won’t kill you. Continue reading