The Ethics Lessons In The Tragic Death Of Harambe The Gorilla

The primary lesson is this: Sometimes bad things happen and nobody deserves to be punished.

The tragedy of Harambe the Gorilla is exactly this kind of incident.

In case you weren’t following zoo news over the long weekend, what happened was this. On Saturday, a mother visiting the Cincinnati zoo with several children in tow took her eyes off of a toddler long enough for him to breach the three foot barricade at the Gorilla World exhibit and fall into its moat. Harambe, a 17-year old Lowland gorilla male, took hold of the child, and zookeepers shot the animal dead.

Then  animal rights zealots held a vigil outside the zoo to mourn the gorilla.  Petitions were placed on line blaming the child’s mother for the gorilla’s death. Other critics said that the zoo-keepers should have tranquilized the beast, a member of an endangered species. The zoo called a news conference to defend its actions.

Lessons:

1. Animal rights activists are shameless, and will exploit any opportunity to advance their agenda, which in its craziest form demands that animals be accorded the same civil rights as humans. Their argument rests equally on sentiment and science, and takes an absolute position in a very complex ethics conflict. This incident is a freak, and cannot fairly be used to reach any conclusions about zoos and keeping wild animals captive.

2. Yes, the mother made a mistake, by definition. This is res ipsa loquitur: “the thing speaks for itself.” If a child under adult supervision gets into a gorilla enclosure, then the adult has not been competent, careful and diligent in his or her oversight.  The truth is, however, that every parent alive has several, probably many, such moments of distraction that could result in disaster, absent moral luck. This wasn’t gross negligence; it was routine, human negligence, for nobody is perfect all the time. You want gross negligence involving animals? How about this, one of the first ethics essays I ever wrote, about the late “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin holding his infant son in one arm while feeding and taunting a 12-foot crocodile? You want gross negligence amounting to child endangerment? Look no further than the 6-month-old waterskiier’s parents. Taking one’s eyes off of a child  for a minute or two, however, if not unavoidable, is certainly minor negligence that is endemic to parenthood. Zoos, moreover, are not supposed to be dangerous. Continue reading

From The Res Ipsa Loquitur Files: The Kids For Sale “Joke”

taped kids

Memphis, Tennessee Facebook user Jaton Justsilly Jaibabi posted this photo of her two small children with duct tape over their mouths and cuffing their wrists, with the legend, “Kids for sale, 45% because they bad.”

Now the Memphis police are investigating. I don’t know why the investigation is necessary; this is signature significance; No responsible parent who can be trusted with the delicate job of raising children would do this to them. It is also an example of what the law calls res ipsa loquitur: “the thing speaks for itself.” This is child abuse, and the woman responsible for it is a child abuser. No other interpretation is possible.

In fact, the poster, who has ended her Facebook account, appears to be part of an entire family that should be considered a societal menace. Jaibabi’s cousin, Derion King, explained that this was just a practical joke, writing in part,

“Basically a joke at the moment that people just went overboard about. People make mistakes and that’s what this situation is, a lesson learned. They are safe, unharmed, and loved. That’s all it is to it.”

There are eight incorrect, idiotic or unethical statements in this 36 word statement: impressive! And frightening. Here they are: Continue reading

Message To An Unethical Teacher: Children Are Not Your Guinea Pigs

No LEGOS for YOU!

No LEGOS for YOU!

Fire this teacher now.

Karen Keller, a kindergarten teacher at Captain Johnston Blakely Elementary on Bainbridge Island, Washington, think it is her role to use 5 year olds for her own social science experiment. She’s wrong. But then, she’s wrong about so much, and so arrogant about it. If she is allowed to continue her abusive manipulation of her young charges without being stopped, reprimanded, or given a pink slip, the negligent parents of her victims must carry the blame. Every now and then a teacher will go power mad and run amuck—I had one of those. There is no excuse for not acting quickly before someone gets hurt.

Keller has decided that it is her mission in life to combat what some studies show to be lower spatial and math skills development among girls as a group, as compared to boys. Thus she has decided to forbid boys from playing with LEGOS during the “unstructured play period” of 40 minutes that the kindergarten day includes. Keller told a local paper that it drove her crazy  that the girls wanted to play with dolls while boys flocked to the plastic building system, so she decided to take action to erase those gender-based proclivities. “Until girls get it into their system that building is cool, building is ‘what I want to do’ — I want to protect that.”

Want to fire her yet?

How about this statement…

“I always tell the boys, ‘You’re going to have a turn’ — and I’m like, ‘Yeah, when hell freezes over’ in my head,” she said. “I tell them, ‘You’ll have a turn’ because I don’t want them to feel bad.”

Now do you want to fire her? Continue reading

Incompetent Elected Official Of The Month: Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.)

What’s the matter with this guy?

Rep. Salmon is apparently obsessed with the coming Congressional showdown over the President’s marvelous “Let’s not let the Iranians get nukes until  15 years from now when I’ll be long gone, assuming they don’t cheat and get them earlier which they almost certainly will” treaty with Iran, a jewel in the crown of his proud legacy.  The Congressman is so obsessed that he couldn’t stop himself from fear-mongering about the dangers of the agreement while doing a civics presentation at the San Tan Charter School. He also apparently was so passionate that he thought he was talking to teeny voters rather than  second and third-graders.
Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Once Again, Bystander Ethics, The Duty To Rescue, And The Imperiled Child

clarkkentThe free-range kids debate already raised this issue, and now my colleague and friend Michael Messer, the talented and versatile musician/singer/ actor who teams with me in the ProEthics musical legal ethics programs Ethics Rock, Ethics Rock Extreme, and Ethics Jamboree, just posted about his traumatic experience on Facebook, writing,

“I’m standing in Central Park and witnessed a tourist father grab his (approx 5 year old) child by the arm and shake him… The. open palm smack his child in the head. Hard. Twice. I screamed to him, from about 50 feet, where I witnessed it: “HEY!!! YOU DON’T HIT HIM” he looked up, startled to be called out, and waved me off to mind my business. “YOU DO NOT HIT A CHILD IN THE HEAD”, I repeated, at the top of my lungs, hoping to attract attention. The kid cried and then got himself together and went off to play. No one else in Sheeps Meadow saw or took notice. For about 5 minutes after I kept my eyes on him so he knew he was now being watched. What is the role of a bystander in this situation?”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for the day is…

What is the role of a bystander in this situation?

The answer is simple, really—its that oft-repeated Ethics Alarms mantra, “FIX THE PROBLEM,” at least as much as you can. Do something. Mike did the right thing, from a distance: show the abuser he’s being observed, protest, shame him. If one can, if one has the ability, the skill and the timely reaction and the child looks to be in genuine danger, intervene physically.

The latter course, however, carries risks, and also may be precluded by the natural reflex most humans have when they observe something unexpected and shocking. I discussed this issue when Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary was being pilloried in some publications for not immediately charging into the Penn State showers and stopping sexual predator Jerry Sandusky from sexually abusing a boy: Continue reading

Q: Why Is CNBC Posting Anti-Vaccination Propaganda?

A: Because its staff is lazy, inattentive and irresponsible.

Weston Price (1870-1948), Quack. His work goes on...

Weston Price (1870-1948), Quack. His work goes on…

The cable business news network posted this press release from the natural foods and nutrition huckster group, The Weston A. Price Foundation.

It isn’t news. It is poison.  The press release makes the false claim that vaccinations spread measles, as well as other diseases. This is standard anti-vaxx hysteria, and it gets children killed.  It is false. “Measles live vaccine doesn’t transmit easily at all,” said Dr. Jane Seward of the CDC’s Division of Viral Diseases told NBC, which apparently doesn’t communicate with its subsidiaries. “I don’t think there has ever been a secondary transmission,” she added. “There is no evidence of any transmission of measles virus from a child to household contacts.” As for the Foundation itself:

“The Weston A. Price Foundation is a nonprofit, tax-exempt charity founded in 1999 to disseminate the research of nutrition pioneer Dr. Weston Price, whose studies of isolated nonindustrialized peoples established the parameters of human health and determined the optimum characteristics of human diets. Dr. Price’s research demonstrated that humans achieve perfect physical form and perfect health generation after generation only when they consume nutrient-dense whole foods and the vital fat-soluble activators found exclusively in animal fats….

Yes, it is strange, like Dr. Price’s theories, and not in a benign way. Among the foundation’s other objectives is to show that vaccinations are unnecessary if you eat right, or something: when a  home page prominently displays a link that reads, COD LIVER OIL: Our Most Important Superfood, my eyes tend to gloss over, I file the group under “Nut Balls” and move on.

CNBC posted this promotional piece uncritically and without context, leaving the impression that it was actual news, thus allowing fake news to go to the top of Google searches for gullible readers.  At the bottom of the screen it says “More from CNBC” and not “More from health food hyping anti-science fanatics.Continue reading

KABOOM!* The Most Unethical Anti-Gun PSA Yet

[ If you are new to Ethics Alarms and don’t understand the significance of a Kaboom, go here.]

Should you need any further proof that anti-gun mania turns some people into clinical phobics, melting their ethics alarms and leaving all rationality behind, I give you this, a recent public service video out of San Francisco’s Sleeper 13 Productions:

Could such an ad be more irresponsible? It urges children to

  • Go looking for their parents guns (and why did is the gun in the video where a kid can have access to it?);
  • Pick them  up and handle them (Is the gun loaded?);
  • Steal the guns ( Any gun? Shotguns? Rifles? Semi-automatic weapons?)
  • Take the guns to school, breaking the law in the process;
  • Turn them over to their teachers, who also may have no business handling one.

In the process of this well-intentioned, hysterical brain rot, the PSA also encourages children to be terrified if their parents own a gun, though there is no context at all in the video. Is a parent a cop? An FBA agent? A gun collector? A hunter? A trained marksman? Clint Eastwood? James Bond? Never mind: steal the gun. This attitude is the tell-tale symptom of an anti-gun zealot: it’s the gun itself that is dangerous, and who owns or wields it is irrelevant. Continue reading