Tag Archives: categorical imperative

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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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Gender and Sex, Popular Culture

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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Filed under Business & Commercial, Comment of the Day, Daily Life, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Etiquette and manners, Religion and Philosophy

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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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Character, Religion and Philosophy

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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Filed under Childhood and children, Education, History, Literature, Religion and Philosophy

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

north-wind-and-the-sun-story-oil-painting

[ I vowed that the next time I got a comment on this post, I would publish it again. It hails from four years ago, when  Ethics Alarms got a quarter of the traffic it gets now. I confess that I wrote it on a whim, having been talking with my wife about how Aesop’s Fables were joining Mother Goose stories,  Edward Lear limericks and American folks song in the Discarded Bin of our culture and then stumbling upon a fable I had either never read before or forgotten about.  To my surprise the post attracted intense criticism from fans of the story—I even had to ban a commenter who got hysterical about it—and the post joined a very eclectic group of early essays here that get considerable and consistent readership every week. Apparently there are a lot of Sun-worshipers out there. Anyway, since you probably missed it the first time, here it is.]

Today, by happenstance, I heard an Aesop’s Fable that I had never encountered before recited on the radio. Like all Aesop’s Fables, at least in its modern re-telling, this one had a moral attached , and is also a statement of ethical values. Unlike most of the fables, however, it doesn’t make its case. It is, in fact, an intellectually dishonest, indeed an unethical, fable.

It is called “The North Wind and the Sun,” and in most sources reads like this:

“The North Wind and the Sun disputed as to which was the most powerful, and agreed that he should be declared the victor who could first strip a wayfaring man of his clothes. The North Wind first tried his power and blew with all his might, but the keener his blasts, the closer the Traveler wrapped his cloak around him, until at last, resigning all hope of victory, the Wind called upon the Sun to see what he could do. The Sun suddenly shone out with all his warmth. The Traveler no sooner felt his genial rays than he took off one garment after another, and at last, fairly overcome with heat, undressed and bathed in a stream that lay in his path.”

The moral of the fable is variously stated as “Persuasion is better than Force” , or “Gentleness and kind persuasion win where force and bluster fail.”

The fable proves neither. In reality, it is a vivid example of dishonest argument, using euphemisms and false characterizations to “prove” a proposition that an advocate is biased toward from the outset. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Childhood and children, Education, Literature, Religion and Philosophy, War and the Military

Ethics Dunce and Unethical Facebook Post of the Month: Elizabeth Lauten, Spokeswoman for Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tennessee)

Elizabeth Lauten, communications director for Republican Congressman Stephen Fincher, decided that she is authorized to give parental advice to First Offspring Sasha (13) and Malia (16) Obama. She was deeply troubled by the young ladies looking bored in photographs she saw online, so she posted this jaw-dropper on Facebook:

Facebook lecture

Wow. What a Thanksgiving feast of unethical features! Let’s see: Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Etiquette and manners, Family, Government & Politics, Literature, Professions, The Internet, Unethical Blog Post

Ethics Dunce: “Girls” Creator/Actress Lena Dunham

Dunham

Lena Dunham, creator and star of the inexplicably critically acclaimed HBO series “Girls,” has written a memoir, “Not That Kind of Girl.” Here are ten inquiries regarding its most controversial passages, like the one above,  and the reaction to them:

1. What does one say about a Hollywood figure who puts a passage like this in her memoirs, writing about her relationship with her sister, who was six years younger…

“As she grew, I took to bribing her for her time and affection: one dollar in quarters if I could do her makeup like a “motorcycle chick.” Three pieces of candy if I could kiss her on the lips for five seconds. Whatever she wanted to watch on TV if she would just “relax on me.” Basically, anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl I was trying.”

2. Or this…

“I shared a bed with my sister, Grace, until I was seventeen years old. She was afraid to sleep alone and would begin asking me around 5:00 P.M. every day whether she could sleep with me. I put on a big show of saying no, taking pleasure in watching her beg and sulk, but eventually I always relented. Her sticky, muscly little body thrashed beside me every night as I read Anne Sexton, watched reruns of SNL, sometimes even as I slipped my hand into my underwear to figure some stuff out.”

3. Or, most famously, this...

“Do we all have uteruses?” I asked my mother when I was seven.

“Yes,” she told me. “We’re born with them, and with all our eggs, but they start out very small. And they aren’t ready to make babies until we’re older.” I look at my sister, now a slim, tough one-year-old, and at her tiny belly. I imagined her eggs inside her, like the sack of spider eggs in Charlotte’s Web, and her uterus, the size of a thimble.

“Does her vagina look like mine?”

“I guess so,” my mother said. “Just smaller.”

One day, as I sat in our driveway in Long Island playing with blocks and buckets, my curiosity got the best of me. Grace was sitting up, babbling and smiling, and I leaned down between her legs and carefully spread open her vagina. She didn’t resist and when I saw what was inside I shrieked.

My mother came running. “Mama, Mama! Grace has something in there!”

My mother didn’t bother asking why I had opened Grace’s vagina. This was within the spectrum of things I did. She just got on her knees and looked for herself. It quickly became apparent that Grace had stuffed six or seven pebbles in there. My mother removed them patiently while Grace cackled, thrilled that her prank had been a success.

?

I say that that the Hollywood darling apparently used her little sister as a sex toy for at least a decade, was never stopped or admonished for doing so by remarkably negligent parents, and has grown to adulthood without recognizing that there is anything wrong with her conduct.

The first passage not only treads on the borders of incest, but also leaves the uncomfortable question of what else she did to her sister that emulated a sexual predator. The second is profoundly creepy, and the third describes what, if true, is abuse of an infant in terms designed to sound erotic. As blogger Ann Althouse points out, does anyone believe that an infant would stuff pebbles in herself “as a prank,”or that a compos mentis parent wouldn’t immediately assume that the older girl had done it to the younger girl? At best, Dunham is lying, and doesn’r realize that her lie puts her and her family in a terrible light.

4. What can we conclude about the character of a celebrity who proposes such conduct as harmless fun, apparently unaware that it violates standards of fairness, respect and caring, to be emulated and embraced by her readers and anyone whom they have influence over, including their own children, as a legitimate cultural norm? I conclude that her values are seriously and perhaps clinically warped. and that the more critics point this out, the safer everyone is, present and future. Lena Dunham is an ethics corrupter. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Childhood and children, Ethics Dunces, Family, Gender and Sex, Journalism & Media, Popular Culture, U.S. Society