Social Q’s Ethics: The Good, The Bad, And The Stupid

I mentioned earlier that I had stopped checking New York Times  Sunday advice column “Social Q’s” because its author, Phillip Gallanes, had apparently received the memo from Times brass so his advice and choice of queries were now primarily “woke” propaganda. However, reading material in our bathroom was recently in short supply, forcing me to peruse two recent Gallanes columns in which there was one interesting ethics issue raised, and two others that were a perfect examples of where Gallanes’ biases make him an untrustworthy advice columnist.

1. The photograph: The interesting issue regarded a daughter whose parents had recently died, and who was shocked that a valuable photograph was not directed her way in the distribution of the estate. It was, she said, second only to the parents’ home in value, and had appreciated in value greatly in the decades since it was given. Didn’t she have a right to get the photo, since she had given it in the first place? Wasn’t it unethical for the parents to treat it like the rest of their estate?

Gallanes properly pointed out that there was no basis for her assumptions in law or ethics. There are no strings attached to transfers of property unless they are made explicit at the time of the gift. What a cumbersome societal norm that would be: an estate is obligated to figure out the original source of every object of value and make sure they return to the original giver! What Gallanes didn’t say, and I would have, is “Who are you kidding? You want the valuable item, and have concocted a phony justification for claiming it.”

2. The vote. Another Social Q’s questioner wrote,

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Dead Wrong: The Withdrawn Bequest Share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