“A Nation Of Assholes” Update From Peggy Noonan Channeling Edith Wharton

 

Former Ronald Reagan muse Peggy Noonan, now an op-ed columnist regarded as too old (and too conservative) to even turn up as a guest on Sunday Morning TV talk shows any more, has registered an anachronistic column at the Wall Street Journal in the voice of Edith Wharton, (1862-1937), author of the Gilded Age novels “The Age of Innocence,” and others, who was the first American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Her, that is, their, theme is that the nation’s culture has turned rude and uncouth, and that “a great nation cannot continue in this way. Nations run in part on manners; they are the lubricant that allows the great machine to hum.”

Ethics Alarms warned that the nation risked this fate, as many of you remember, if it elected a rude and uncouth leader, Donald Trump to be specific. Noonan is simply documenting that what I said would come to pass way back in 2015, and what was, in my view, the most undeniable reason to avoid electing this President. However, as with everything else, not all of the maladies being laid at Mr. Trump’s metaphorical doorstep are his doing, nor are all of them really maladies just because they would have offended Edith Wharton.

Let’s look at “Peggy Wharton’s” indictment. In the spirit of the mind-numbingly repetitious TV game show that somehow lasted for more than one episode, let’s play “Trump or No Trump”!

Peggy commences, “Among the harassments I see you inflict on each other: Continue reading

“Wait, Say That Again, Please…This Damn Little Girl I’m Walking With Keeps Distracting Me…”

Just because it is becoming an “old man shouts at cloud” cliche to point out that electronic devices are encouraging bad habits that will do unpredictable harm to society and human relations in the future doesn’t mean the observation isn’t true, or that it shouldn’t be heeded.

Yesterday, while walking Rugby in a glorious afternoon sun, I found my attention  diverted by the sound of a tiny child’s shout of glee and wonder.  A little girl, resplendent in a pink dress but not yet capable of coherent speech, had seen my happy Jack Russell from across the street and was pointing to him, laughing, and trying to get the attention of her mother as the two walked along in the opposite direction of where we were headed.  I also tried to get the woman’s notice, since my practice is to take Rugby to kids when they exhibit the reactions the little girl was running through.

The mother, however, was fully occupied talking on her cell phone. She never looked up, never saw me, never saw Rugby, or acknowledged her daughter. She just snatched the girl’s hand—the little girl had been previously hustling to keep up with her—and pulled her past us as the toddler looked longingly behind, and Rugby wagged his tail. Of course, she never interrupted the call, which I’m certain was crucial to world peace.

I see this all the time, more and more frequently: parents spending “quality time” with their children by having the kids walk along side of them (or behind), almost completely ignored, while they give most of their attention to chatting or texting to some distant friend or associate. The behavioreven bothers me when it is a dog rather than a child who being ignored, but dogs recover from neglect, emotional and otherwise, a lot better than children.

That woman, I thought, wouldn’t chat away on a phone call if she were walking with an adult companion, and then I instantly erased the idea: I have seen people doing that, too. Recently, waiting for my wife outside of the 7-11, I witnessed the depressing sight of  four teenagers walking along together, saying nothing, all with their eyed fastened to smartphones. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/22/2018: Blemishes

Goooood Morning!

1. What is so hard to understand about the concept of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly? The Daily Beast negligently covers a story about how some alt-right groups are planning some kind of anniversary/reunion event in Charlottesville. (Funny, I thought we celebrated anniversaries of good things) and how some activists are plotting to block them. I especially like this sentence:

“Activists warned Charlottesville last year that the Unite the Right rally could turn violent. Now they’re determined to keep neo-Nazis out of their city for the anniversary.”

The rally turned violent because the counter-demonstrators turned it violent with help from authorities, who couldn’t, couldn’t, or didn’t want to keep the alt-right and the antifa demonstrations away from each other. This is the Berkeley trick: “Your speech will incite violence from us, so its irresponsible for you to speak. This issue was supposedly settled when the ACLU fought to allow Nazis to march in Skokie, Illinois 40 years ago.  In the end, the Nazis didn’t march but the principle that they couldn’t be blocked because of their message was made clear. I wonder if the self-righteous, speech-restriction fans represented by Black Lives Matter activist Lisa Woolfork even know about that case, given such ignorant quotes as,

“[Charlottesville authorities] seem to have gotten the message that white supremacist ideology is dangerous, but they are not willing to take, I believe, the truly moral step to say Kessler’s rally is a white supremacist Nazi rally, and therefore is inimical to our values and that we can ban that.”

No Lisa, you can’t ban that. You can’t ban ideas, no matter how dangerous you think they are, or how dangerous they in fact may be. The theory that the government should ban speech based on morality is infinitely more dangerous than anything these alt-right jerks say, but you still have the guaranteed right to promote such democracy-rotting garbage. Another Lisa quote:

“We did not ignore the white supremacists and let them proceed to go about their business undisturbed without any censure. These ideas are harmful, and they lead to horrible consequences in the real world.”

And I repeat: What is so hard to understand about the concept of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly? It sure seems to be especially hard to understand for the Left recently. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, Christmas Eve 2017: I TRIED To Find Upbeat, Inspirational Items Today, Santa, I Really Did…

Goooood MORNING!

1  I believe the correct term is “rude”...Social norms are necessary to maintain ethical standards, and they need to move quickly when conduct begins to resemble the “broken windows” that trigger urban decay. Years ago there was much complaining about solo diners talking on cell phones in restaurants, a gripe based on “ick” and not ethics. A diner’s table is his or her domain, and if one chooses to talk to a friend who is physically present or one who is elsewhere, that’s no other diner’s business unless the conversation breaks the sound barrier. However, walking around a store while having a loud, endless conversation via earpiece and phone is obnoxious in the extreme. That’s a public place, and the market is an important traditional locus for social interaction and community bonding. Technology is creating toxic social habits that are creating isolation and the deterioration in social skills, including basic respect for the human beings with whom we share existence. I almost confronted a young woman at the CVS last night who was cruising the aisles, laughing and dishing with a friend over her phone,  sometimes bumping into other shoppers in the process.

I wish I had. Next time.

2. I hadn’t thought of this, but it’s obviously a problem of longstanding. Local school boards are traditional gateways to public service and politics, but the previously typical citizens who become involved often have no experience or understanding regarding the basic ethics principle of public office. In San Antonio, for example, a jury acquitted San Antonio Independent School District trustee Olga Hernandez of conspiracy to commit honest service wire fraud and conspiracy to solicit and accept bribes, the result was dictated by her utter cluelessness rather than any doubts about what she did. Testimony revealed an inner-city school district where vendors and board members developed relationships that created conflicts of interest and compromised judgment. The vendors knew what was going on, but the school board members may not have.

Hernandez, for example, testified that she considered the plane tickets, complimentary hotel stays, jewelry, meals and campaign contributions she received from those connected with a local insurance brokerage firm doing business with the school district as favors and gifts from friends. Coincidentally, none of them had been her friends before she was in a position to help them make money.

The beginning of careers in public service is when ethics training is most crucial, not later. How many school board members are required to attend a basic ethics seminar regarding government ethics? I would love to know. Continue reading

The Unibomber Had A Point. [UPDATED]

FX has a new limited series about the hunt for the Unabomber, Theodore John Kaczynski. I didn’t pay much attention to the story when it was going on; I just thought it was one more Harvard-grad-turns-serial-killer episode, and that was that. I certainly didn’t pay attention to his “manifesto.” The series, however, enlightened me.  As I understand it, Ted believed that technology was destroying society, making us all slaves to it, and taking the joy out of life. I have yet to see how blowing people up addressed this problem, but then he shouldn’t have to be right about everything. The evidence has been mounting since 1995, when he killed his final victim,that  the Unabomber  wasn’t quite as crazy as we thought.

I could bury you in links, but will not.  We are slaves, for example, to passwords. I teach lawyers that their devices containing client confidences should, to be properly protective of them under ethics standards, have passwords of at least 18 random letters, characters and numbers, with the password for every such device being different, and all of them changed every month. Or you can go the John Podesta route, use “password.” and get hacked, and eventually disciplined by your bar association, once they decide to get serious.

[CORRECTION: In the original post, I relayed a link to a site where you can check your password to see if it’s been compromised. I had been forwarded the link by another tech-interested lawyer. But as I was just alerted by a commenter (Than you, Brian!) It’s apotential trap and an unethical site, making you reveal your password to check it. I apologize for posting it. See how dangerous and tricky this stuff is? See? SEE?.I fell for the trap of depending on technology to protect us from technology! Ted warned us about that, too.]

Then there is this feature in The Atlantic. An excerpt: Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Comment Of The Day: ‘Ethics Observations On The Florida Teens And The Drowning Man'”

Responding to Pennagain’s comment, now a Comment of the Day, on his own Comment of the Day, Mark wrote in appreciation,

“Pennagain – I am a musician, mostly classical, and I tend to think in musical terms. I love it when I encounter something non-musical that is “symphonic” in its scope. Your response to my post is positively Mahlerian and, like a Gustav Mahler symphony, it must be listened to many times with each hearing offering up new ideas, connections to old ideas, or even bringing to life something completely new.”

This is, I think, Ethics Alarms’ all-time best ever comment by a commenter on another commenter’s comment on his Comment of the Day.

This July has an unfortunate record as the first month in the blog’s history to fall so far short of the previous year’s traffic in the same month. (Last year’s July did have the political conventions pumping up interest.) However, it also has seen the most Comments of the Day for a single month ever, with many more of equal distinction.  I’ll take quality over quantity every time.

Here’s is Pennagain’s Comment of the Day on the post, Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Observations On The Florida Teens And The Drowning Man”

I’m not sure the disconnect began with the hand-held devices, Mark. That was Phase III. I think the first part began with the invention of teenagers (as a group) in the early 50s, still “post-war” time — and “post-war” was barely “post-Depression” time, so it had been at least two decades and a full generation gone since the the good times rolled. The early 50s coincided with the installation of “labor-saving” devices which took over a lot of household chores for youngsters, not just for the housewives the companies advertised to. All of a sudden, I could keep what I earned on my paper route (though I did have to replace my own bicycle once, used, of course, after I carelessly left it in a neighbor’s driveway), mowing lawns, delivering groceries, raking (and burning) leaves, shoveling snow, sitting for the rowdy 7-year-old twins down the block. All of a sudden, we had a refrigerator in place of the ice-box, so I didn’t need to help chop ice; meat came ground so I didn’t have to cut the chunks and push them slooowly through the grinder; . . . I keep forgetting some things and remembering others, like ruining the dessert one night we had guests because I got some rock salt in the motor of the ice cream maker . . . having a clothes washing machine which got rid of most of the water so I didn’t have to help hold up the soaking wet sheets to be pinned on the lines above my head. All of a sudden, I had both privacy (my own telephone), my own music, and “free” time, however much my parents tried to fill it with after school lessons-this and lessons-that. Money and time. Time and money. It was time for friends to bump together with other pairs and bond like atoms in a molecule, becoming a “gang,” having our own things and our own things to do. Choosing our own movies, having sleep-overs, cook-outs, camp-outs, or just standin’ on the corner (“Most Happy Fella’) watchin’ all the girls/boys go by …. choices my mother had as a flapper for a very short time but in her young adulthood, not a teenager, already making the transition from one family to another.

Until I was in my 20s and living outside the US, I didn’t realize that growing away from my family (not spending most of my days with them) had not been a natural shift, and not a gradual one either. Nor was it particularly safe – a lot of new habits were acquired (smoking was mandatory, drinking less available, less so; under-exercised/over-eating — unrecognized for another generation!), and a lot of lessons were never learned properly, like working through emotion-based arguments, and almost everything about sex). By the time I left for college I was, though without realizing it, estranged from my parents — my peers and some self-appointed guides knew better than they did! — and stupid enough socially to be a total jerk. There was a missing link. So what? I let go of the past and caught up with the future. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Observations On The Florida Teens And The Drowning Man”

My old friend Mark drops in to comment just a few times a year, but always delivers his trademark optimism, fairness, and perception. When he talks, I learned early on in our relationship, attention should be paid.. His was one of several excellent comments on the horrific episode in Cocoa Beach, where five teens stood by watching a handicapped man drown, and seemed to enjoy the sight mightily as they recorded his death on their cell phones. In response to another commenter’s query, “Are “kids” that are so disconnected that they’d do something of that magnitude rehabilitatable?”, Mark leaped k took the discussion to a related topic that I had found myself thinking about a lot while I was trapped in a lobby and two airports yesterday with nothing to do but wait and silently curse. What are electronic devices and social media obsession doing to our social skills and ability to relate to the world? At what point to we start sounding the ethics alarms…or the societal survival alarms? [ I’m going to include the last part of Mark’s earlier comment on the story, because it is a helpful introduction to the rest.]

Here is Mark’s Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Observations On The Florida Teens And The Drowning Man:

…The natural human reaction to observe has been enhanced by our ability to record, and it now seems to be the first response in almost every situation – the more harrowing the better. I’m sure there is some personal thrill involved in being able to post the result, garnering comments and ego-gratifying oohs and aahs.

The situation in Florida is only the most horrible of them, right up there with the guy who posted pictures of himself with the corpse of his step-father, whom he had just murdered. Like everything else, this is a tiny part of a much bigger picture of who we are becoming as a culture. The 21st century ability to remain safely behind a screen while still feeling a full participant in life (Internet commenting a prime example) frees us of the necessary empathy (or simply humanity) to come from behind that screen to behave in ways that might be heroic or even civil. I have little difficulty seeing that behavior manifesting in children raised viewing life through a cell phone.

The much larger question – at least for me – remains “Am I my brother’s keeper?” It’s a nagging question, versions of which swirl in and around almost all the major political issues of our day and, now, into our personal dealings with one another. It is always there, but we come up with more and novel ways to avoid actually answering or acting on it. Clearly, it never occurred to these boys. Cain didn’t want to answer the question. And, I suspect, neither do we.

***

 I carry two cell phones, absolute wonders of technology, which remain in my briefcase most of the time although I’ll take one of them with me to a picture-taking occasion. My friends grit their teeth at receiving responses to texts that are weeks old. My relationship with my cellphone(s) was cemented when I had the opportunity to whale watch off of Maui. I realized that I was so concerned about my precious iThing getting wet or falling into the water that I wasn’t watching the whales. I put the phone away and decided that watching the real world with both eyes was more interesting and that’s what I try to do. I hope sincerely that that attitude would ensure that I offer whatever aid I can in a dire situation rather than wondering what it will look like on Facebook later on. Continue reading