Tag Archives: categorical imperative

A Kevin Spacey Update, The Sexual Harassment Feeding Frenzy, And A Guide To Sexual Harassers In The Workplace

This photo seemed appropriate somehow…

Kevin Spacey, it is now fair to say, has been a habitual sexual harasser.

We did not know that when Anthony Rapp made his accusation against the actor in a Buzzfeed interview. I would be very interested in knowing whether Rapp knew that. The posts here (this, and this) began with the assumption that Rapp’s motivations were as he stated them, and he did not say or suggest that Spacey was, like Harvey Weinstein, an active predator.

But in the ensuing days,  the pattern typical of accused harassers who really are harassers has emerged regarding Spacey. Other alleged victims came forward with their accounts.  Next  the employees on Spacey’s hit Netflix series “House of Cards” expanded the narrative…from CNNMoney:

Spacey made the set of Netflix’s “House of Cards” into a “toxic” work environment through a pattern of sexual harassment, eight people who currently work on the show or worked on it in the past tell CNN. One former employee told CNN that Spacey sexually assaulted him.

That, as they say, is the ball game for Spacey. He has even followed the hackneyed script for so many celebrities caught in misconduct: he’s getting “treatment.” Well, he doesn’t have many options. His show has been cancelled; his agency has dropped him. Spacey is very talented, but it will take him a long, long time to even partially recover from this, if he can.

I am going to write this anyway even though it won’t register on most people: the fact that Spacey turned out to be a lot more than a guy who got drunk and treated a 14-year old actor inappropriately at a party three decades ago doesn’t retroactively make the way Rapp’s ambush accusation fair or right. If he knew that Spacey was a present day harasser and made the accusation to break the dam, that’s something else, but again, he didn’t suggest that.

I’d guess that he’ll say that now, whether it is true or not.

Since Spacey was accused, several other celebrities, including Dustin Hoffman, have been fingered. The latest development is that several female members of Congress have said that they have been sexually harassed by their male colleagues, and of that I have no doubts whatsoever. Nonetheless, we are still in the witch hunt yellow zone, creeping into the red.

Here is part of a cautionary LA Times op-ed  by Cathy Young:

The fallout from the Harvey Weinstein scandals and the ripples from the “#MeToo” movement are having indubitably positive effects — above all, exposing and bringing to account predators who have enjoyed impunity due to their power and status. But there are some pitfalls. Many people — not just men with skeletons in the closet — fear that careers may be destroyed over minor misconduct and ambiguous transgressions. Troubling rhetoric abounds, condemning all sexually tinged dynamics in the workplace, stereotyping men as abusers and women as perpetual victims in need of quasi-Victorian protections.…Concerns that the post-Weinstein climate may lead to witch hunts against any man who flirts with a female colleague have been met with angry comments along the lines of “flirting in the workplace IS HARASSMENT.” A tweet by singer/songwriter Marian Call that got more than 2,000 retweets and nearly 6,500 “likes” asked, “dudes are you aware how happy women would be if strangers & coworkers never ‘flirted’ with us again … this is the world we want.”

But is it? It’s certainly not the world I want: Except in college, nearly every man I have ever dated was either a co-worker or, once I switched entirely to free-lancing, someone I met through work. This is not unusual, even in the age of dating websites and apps.

This has always been the aspect of sexual harassment law that renders it inherently unfair and to many, incomprehensible. In many cases the exact same conduct is harassment if unwelcome, and successful mating strategy if welcome.  Don’t bite my head off, but this was what Donal Trump was alluding to in his repulsive conversation with Billy Bush. He was claiming  that women like being sexually assaulted by the rich and powerful. In many cases, he may be right. Legally, when he’s right, it may not be sexual harassment. Ethically, it is still wrong. If the women feels compelled not to object to the sexual overtures because of an inequality of power, it is very wrong, and illegal. Continue reading

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Further Ethics Observations On The Kevin Spacey Scandal [Part 2]

[Continuing the reflections on the accusation against Kevin Spacey and its aftermath…Part One is here.]

I have always assumed that Spacey had endured some kind of serious trauma that explained his aversion to confirming that he was gay, since, really, it was so, so obvious. Many actors become actors because of familial abuse and self-loathing: if you think about it, it makes sense. They don’t like who they are and what real life has been, so they seek the fantasy life of being someone else on stage, films and TV.  Maybe Spacey’s long obsession with performer Bobby Darrin provided a clue. (Spacey eventually played Darrin in his own vanity film project. “Beyond the Sea.”) You have to be really unhappy with yourself to fantasize being in the shoes of Darrin, the talented, troubled heterosexual  actor-singer who died before he turned 40. Thus I was not surprised when Spacey’s brother Randall Fowler, 62, a limo driver and professional Rod Stewart impersonator, described the home in which he, Kevin and their sister were raised as resembling the plot a  horror movie.

  • Fowler says he and his brother were both sexually abused by their father, Thomas Geoffrey Fowler (whom the children called “The Creature”), and that their mother knew about their treatment at his hands. Their older sister, Julie, was also abused before she fled home when she was 18. In a 2004 interview, Spacey’s brother described how their ultra-right-wing father was a member of the American Nazi Party. He was so enamored with Adolf Hitler, Fowler claimed, that he trimmed his mustache to resemble Der Fuehrer’s.

“I grew up in a living hell. There was so much darkness in our home it was beyond belief. It was absolutely miserable,” Spacey’s brother said then. “Years later, our mother actually wrote a letter to all three of us, trying to justify what had gone on by saying she was abused as a child and so was our father. Kevin tried to avoid what was going on by wrapping himself in an emotional bubble….He was so determined to try to avoid the whippings that he just minded his Ps and Qs until there was nothing inside. He had no feelings.”

Fowler described his younger brother was an “empty vessel” who had never been in a real relationship with anyone. “Neither of us had a chance growing up with two such damaged parents, ” he concluded.

No, I don’t know that what a Rod Stewart imitator and publicity-seeking sibling of a famous actor says is completely true, exaggerated, or a fabrication.  But it fits. Spacey should be given the benefit of the doubt, and accorded some compassion. We all deserve that. Continue reading

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Further Ethics Observations On The Kevin Spacey Scandal [Part 1 of 2]

The comments regarding yesterday’s ethics quiz have been varied and vigorous. As to the quiz question itself,

Is [Anthony] Rapp’s public accusation [against actor Kevin Spacey alleging that Spacey sexually assaulted him 30 years ago when Rapp was only 14] fair, responsible, and ethical?

I have arrived at my answer, and am abashed that I didn’t see it immediately.

No, the accusation was not fair, and it was unethical. It fails all ethical systems. It is a Golden Rule breach: What Rapp did to Spacey is not how he, or anyone would want to be treated. The fair and decent thing would have been to confront Spacey privately.  Maybe Rapp has distorted the incident over time; maybe Spacey is as remorseful and embarrassed by the incident as Rapp has been traumatized by it. All of us would want at least a chance to explain or make amends before being exposed…in Buzzfeed(!?).

Other observations, as Spacey is being metaphorically disemboweled by an angry mob…

  • Rapp also stomped on Kantian ethics, which forbids using human beings as a means to an end. Rapp says his goal was “to try to shine another light on the decades of behavior that have been allowed to continue because many people, including myself, being silent.” Wait: is there a shred of evidence that Spacey engaged in such conduct over “decades”? Is there any indication that Rapp is protecting future teens from his assaults? No, he’s just jumping on a train, joining a virtue-signalling mob engaged on what appears to be a scalp-hunting expedition. His late hit on Spacey didn’t stop a predator (as with Weinstein), didn’t report a crime to authorities (the statute of limitations is long past), didn’t accomplish anything postive and productive involing Spacey at all. I was just symbolic, and Kant, correctly, holds that it is unethical to destroy real human beings to make a political, social or culotural point, in this case the point being, “Don’t stay silent for 30 years if you have been abused, harassed or molested!”

This also fails any Millsian or Benthamist test of utilitarianism. The ends accomplished by Rapp’s accusation consist almost entirely of destroying Kevin Spacey. What else? I suppose its a warning too: anything you did that society will regard as worthy of making you a pariah can be revealed by an angry, vindictive or politically motivated alleged victim at any time, and you will have no recourse. Call it the Anita Hill Principle. That’s not enough of a “benefit” to society to destroy someone’s life. We have the Weinstein example, and the Bill Cosby saga. They were–are?—both serial offenders. Taking out Kevin Spacey based on one very old incident is not a means justified by any end.

  • Upon examination, Spacey’s response was a mistake and an ethics botch on multiple levels. Here it is again:

First, here we have another example of why Twitter is dangerous. Spacey is a smart guy, yet he foolishly, in his rush to deal with this crisis, authored his own rapid response on social media. In the old days, as my late friend Bob McElwaine, Hollywood publicist for Danny Kaye, Dean Martin, Robert Mitchum and many other stars, told me, he job was to make sure nothing attributed to his Hollywood clients was authored by them. Continue reading

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The “Survivor” Ethics Bomb: Dubious Setting, Interesting Issues

An ethics bomb exploded on  the CBS reality show “Survivor” last week.

Ethics bombs are unforeseen and unforeseeable incidents that suddenly start a chain reaction of ethics problems, dilemmas and conflicts in all directions. This was a lulu. Well, it was a lulu unless one thinks that nothing that happens on a reality show can teach any ethics lessons at all, since they are all, by definition, fake news. If you watch the show, what happens on it matters to you; you have accepted the devil’s bargain of pretending what is manipulated and edited  by writers and directors is “real” in exchange for being diverted and entertained—so the ethics scenarios that periodically break out seem worthy of serious consideration. If you would rather watch paint dry—this is my niche—caring about the pseudo-real crises that actually happened months ago in the most contrived situation imaginable makes as much sense as cheering at a professional wrestling match.

However, just as illuminating ethics issues are raised on “The Walking Dead”—kind of a post-apocalyptic version of “Survivor” with zombies—they can arise on a reality show. In this case, the ethics bomb spread out into unscripted “reality.”

“Survivor” has been on the air for 17 years and 34  seasons—I can’t believe I just wrote that— and is itself an ethics bomb, since it launched the reality TV virus into the culture. Copied from a Japanese show, the idea is that a group of contestants are forced to compete in a remote and harsh location, divided up into teams (tribes) that are guided through daily challenges that yield various prizes, ranging from food to immunity from being ejected.. Each episode sees the losing team gathered around a campfire (“the tribal council”) where they vote on which team member to kick “off the island,” a phrase that has entered our lexicon. Contestants form alliances with each other and often reveal their character, or lack thereof, by engaging in various Machiavellian tactics to survive, all captured on camera. Some contestants lie, cheat and steal. Sometimes it works.

Last week, the tribal council took a sharp turn into real world social tensions when player Jeff Varner, knowing that he was poised to be jettisoned by his tribe and desperately trying to get their ire focused elsewhere, attempted to undermine fellow contestant and tribe member Zack Smith. Varner began by darkly claiming that all was not as it appeared, for there was widespread “deception” afoot.

“There is deception here,” Varner said. “Deception on levels, Jeff, that these guys don’t even understand.” “Continue,” said show host and producer Jeff Probst, who has presided over and moderated each tribal council from the beginning of the franchise.

Varner then turned to  Smith and said: “Why haven’t you told anyone you’re transgender?”

BOOM!

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Comment Of The Day: “CVS Line Ethics”

golden-2

Texaggo4’s Comment of the Day  enriched the surprisingly lively discussion about  the ethical conundrum of how many single-item purchasers a CVS customer in line should let go before him to checkout if he had, as I did last week, a full cart.

 His discussion of applying The Golden Rule to the situation took off from my comment referring to his earlier assertion that it wasn’t strictly a question settled by Reciprocity. The numbered statements on Tex’s post are from me. Here is Tex’s COTD on the post, “CVS Line Ethics”—I added another brief comment he offered in the same thread at the end, as it is germane:

1.“I don’t recall Jesus, Zoroaster, Buddha and the rest ever noting the CVS exception.”

I don’t recall ever noting an exception either…since this isn’t necessarily Golden Rule territory. In this scenario, application of the Golden Rule would arise as the exception.

“2. The GR has nothing to do with an obligation. It is never an obligation. It is based on altruism.”

It is very much about obligation– and obligation isn’t a dirty word. The real question here is where do you draw the line on whose needs outweigh the others, and if they really do or not. Golden Rule would compel you to allow someone to cut if their cutting *actually* decreases *actual* harm. The Golden Rule doesn’t compel you to allow someone to cut *just because* it increases an already-present level of contentment in their lives. It may strongly suggest such conduct in so much as it doesn’t needlessly impose on you, but it no means compels it, hence this isn’t necessarily a Golden Rule scenario.

You see, “so whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” is a painfully open ended, and as such-much criticized maxim, when taken out of context. So, the Golden Rule IS the Law. Looking at the phrase elsewhere one would glean that ALL the Law, and therefore the Golden Rule, depends on two basic commands:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”

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The 61st Rationalization, #52 Tessio’s Excuse (“It’s Just Business”)

Salvatore_Tessio

I realized, in reading the rationalizations being given by defenders of the decision of the New Jersey aunt of recent controversy to sue her young nephew for accidentally injuring her wrist when the boy was eight all boil down to a familiar rationalization repeated often in a classic film and its sequel. Somehow that rationalization missed inclusion on the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations list. (There are 60 rationalizations now, with some labeled as sub-categories.) After today, that will no longer be the case. Presenting…

#52 Tessio’s Excuse, or “It’s Just Business”

Near the end of “The Godfather,” longtime Don Corleone loyalist Sal Tessio (played by the immortal Abe Vigoda) is caught attempting to ally with a rival family in an attempt to kill the new Don, Michael Corleone. As he is taken to the car for his final ride, Tessio turns to consiglieri Tom Hagen and says…

“Tell Mike it was only business. I always liked him.”

Ah. It wasn’t personal, you see, this attempted assassination. That makes it all right.

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Comment of the Day: “Ethics Alarms Encore: ‘Aesop’s Unethical and Misleading Fable: The North Wind and the Sun”

AESOPSFABLNever let it be said that we aren’t eclectic on Ethics Alarms! Today’s Comment of the Day is a thoughtful response to my objections to Aesop’s “The North Wind and the Sun,” a 2011 post that I republished this week in fascination over how it continues to draw traffic. The thread here and on the original has touched on many diverse topics, including theology; commenter Rich (in CT), however, just submitted the most interesting analysis yet.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Alarms Encore: “Aesop’s Unethical and Misleading Fable: The North Wind and the Sun:

”The comparison of God and Satan in Job to the Sun and Wind is an apt comparison, because the fable relies on “divine privilege”. An exercise of divine privilege should not be taken as an example of behavior that non-divine entities should emulate. Rather, they are external parameters that set up a hypothetical environment to illustrate the lesson of the story.

I specifically say “lesson”, because the objective of the story need not be a superficial “moral”. The “moral” that was selected here was a lazy plot device by an author who attempted to pigeon-hole the fable into his limited definition of a fable. While the particular moral in the version you share is useless, the fable perhaps might better illustrate both the use of strategic thinking and well as illustrate the role of moral luck in one’s success. A more apt “moral”, if any, might be to be clever, but acknowledge the limit of cleverness.

Ethical behavior never takes place in a vacuum, but must balance certain principles with the current circumstances. In the fable, an arbitrary task is selected, and the two actors use the tools at their disposal to attempt to achieve the task. The wind has two tools: blow hard or soft; the sun has analogous tools: beat hard or soft. Given the task, arbitrarily set up as a competition, only one had tools that could creatively solve the task.

The tale here thus illustrates a few important principles that are of value to a child; creative use of ones tools can lead to success, and that not everyone has a every tool available. A non-lazy author might use the fable to teach the value of cooperation, pooling a group’s tools to complete a task.

The particular task is irrelevant, and is set up as an exercise of divine privilege. Mere mortals have no right to manipulate the weather, but the fable’s embodiment of the solar rays and moving air manipulate these elements in an ethically neutral manner. The selection of a mere mortal as a target of task, might be to lead the reader indirectly, through empathy, to the conclusion that some circumstances are arbitrary and beyond one’s control. The objective might be to teach humility, that one is never entirely responsible for one’s success, no matter how clever one might be.

I thus agree that the particular version of the fable shared is unethical. This is, however, the result of a lazy author. The premise, if used wisely, is ethically neutral; Aesop, or some other interpreter, could use the premise of the story to teach a valuable lesson if so desired.

 

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