Comment Of The Day: “Statue-Toppling, The Ethics Incompleteness Principle, And Calvin Griffith, Part Two”

Having just banned a commenter for a useless and obnoxious comment on this same post, it it is a wonderful tonic to be able to post  JutGory’s masterful Comment of the Day critiquing the Minnesota Twin’s statement explaining their removal of Cal Griffith’s statue. It is a fine fisking of the kind of disingenuous babble we  have been getting from organizations of late.

The poll on Cal’s statue so far:

Here is JutGory’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Statue-Toppling, The Ethics Incompleteness Principle, And Calvin Griffith, Part Two”:

Jack: “Taking all of that together, I believe that the Twins are justified in taking down Griffith’s statue, and that it would have been unethical for the team not to.”

Apart from the whole statue-removing thing, here is my problem with this:

Their statement said:

“When we opened Target Field in 2010 in conjunction wit h our 50th season in Minnesota, we were excited and proud to welcome fans to our ‘forever ballpark.’”

Fair enough. Good start. Then:

As such, we wanted to pay permanent tribute to those figures and moments that helped shape the first half-century of Minnesota Twins baseball.

PERMANENT. That is a strong word. But, that is what they intended. Permanent Tribute.

– including a statue of Calvin Griffith, our former owner and the man responsible for moving the franchise here in 1961.

Including the man who moved them to Minnesota. Seems fitting. But for him, they wouldn’t have moved to Minnesota. And, why did he move the franchise? Because of the same racist attitudes that they condemn.

“We cannot remain silent and continue ignoring the racist comments he made in Waseca in 1978.”

I see. So, the permanent tribute was made while ignoring the racist comments you knew about. Continue reading

Statue-Toppling, The Ethics Incompleteness Principle, And Calvin Griffith, Part Two

Where Cal Griffith’s statue once stood…

Here is what Calvin Griffith said in the 1978 remarks that led the Minnesota Twins to remove his statue in from of the team’s stadium, Target Field.

Griffith was invited to speak to the Lions Club in Waseca, a small city in southern Minnesota. Taking questions from the audience after his planned speech, someone asked Griffith  why he brought the Twins to Minnesota from Washington, D.C., in 1961. Griffith lowered his voice, asked if there were any blacks around, and  looked around the room. Apparently confirming that his audience was all white,  Griffith said,

“I’ll tell you why we came to Minnesota. It was when I found out you only had 15,000 blacks here. Black people don’t go to ball games, but they’ll fill up a ‘rassling ring and put up such a chant it’ll scare you to death. It’s unbelievable. We came here because you’ve got good, hardworking, white people here.”

It’s hard to get more racist than that, at least short of a Klan rally. I’ll poll this at the end of the post, but I believe that this is a case where the Ethics Incompleteness Principle applies, and the usually valid ethical objections to pulling down the statues of problematic, controversial or subsequently disgraced historical figures have to yield to other considerations, which are these: Continue reading

Statue-Toppling, The Ethics Incompleteness Principle, And Calvin Griffith, Part One.

The Ethics Incompleteness Principle, a core concept on Ethics Alarms, holds that even the most convincing ethics rules, moral codes, laws and principles have exceptions. The inspiration for this observation was the work of Czech-born mathematician Kurt Gödel, whose two Incompleteness Theorems, which relate to mathematical proofs, are his most famous contribution to civilization and science. A linguist as well as a scientist,  Gödel unintentionally delivered an essential blow against the ethics absolutism of Kant and rigid morality when he proved that human language is not sufficiently precise to define rules that will work as designed in every instance. The logical extension of Gödel’s theorems, which he applied only to mathematics and, by extension, physics, tells us that there will always be anomalies on the periphery of every normative system, no matter how sound or well articulated it is. If one responds to an anomaly by trying to amend the rule or system to accommodate it, the integrity of the rule or system is disturbed, and perhaps ruined. Yet if one stubbornly applies the rule or system without amendment to the anomaly anyway, one may reach an absurd conclusion or an unjust result. [ Here is an online discussion of the application of Gödel to ethics, which appeared years after the Ethics Incompleteness Theorem was posited on Ethics Alarms.]

The Ethics Incompleteness Principle suggests that when a system or rule doesn’t seem to work well when applied to an unexpected or unusual situation, the wise response is to abandon the system or rule—in that one anomalous case only— and use  basic ethics principles and analysis to find the best solution. Then return to the system and rules as they were, without altering them to make the treatment of the anomalous situation “consistent.”

Much as we would like it to be otherwise, for life would be so much simpler if it were so, no system or rule is going to work equally well with every possible scenario. This is why is why committing to a single ethical system is folly, and why it is important to keep basic ethical values in mind in case a pre-determined formula for determining what is right breaks down.

When a reader and frequent commenter sent me this announcement from the Minnesota Twins a few days ago, my reflex reaction was as you would expect: Continue reading