Tag Archives: China

From The “It’s No Fun Being An Ethicist” Files: I Offend Some Seminar Attendees…

mao

I facilitated a professional ethics seminar a while ago for a scholarly institution, (The locale, names and client have been changed to protect the guilty.) The discussion came around to rationalizations and my favorite on the list, #22:

22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”

If “Everybody does it” is the Golden Rationalization, this is the bottom of the barrel. Yet amazingly, this excuse is popular in high places: witness the “Abu Ghraib was bad, but our soldiers would never cut off Nick Berg’s head” argument that was common during the height of the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal. It is true that for most ethical misconduct, there are indeed “worse things.” Lying to your boss in order to goof off at the golf course isn’t as bad as stealing a ham, and stealing a ham is nothing compared selling military secrets to North Korea. So what? We judge human conduct against ideals of good behavior that we aspire to, not by the bad behavior of others. One’s objective is to be the best human being that we can be, not to just avoid being the worst rotter anyone has ever met.

Behavior has to be assessed on its own terms, not according to some imaginary comparative scale. The fact that someone’s act is more or less ethical than yours has no effect on the ethical nature of your conduct. “There are worse things” is not an argument; it’s the desperate cry of someone who has run out of rationalizations.

In this case I did a sarcastic riff that is usually well received, about the common example of #22, “It’s not like he killed somebody”:

“Well, you can’t argue with that logic, can you? And if he did kill somebody, it’s not like he killed two people. And even then, that’s not as bad as being, say, a serial killer, like Son of Sam, who, when you think about it, isn’t nearly as bad as a mass murderer like Osama bin Laden. But he’s not as bad as Hitler, and even Adolf isn’t as bad as Mao, who killed about ten times more people than Hitler did. And Mao’s no so bad when you compare him to Darth Vader, who blew up Princess Leia’s whole planet…”

It made the point, and the audience laughed. Then, quite a bit later, I received an e-mail from a participant, complaing about this section. Can you guess what the complaint was?

Think about it a bit…

Time’s up!

Do you have an answer? Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Daily Life, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, History, Professions, The Internet

Confirmation Bias And The Taiwan Phone Call

old-lady-poker

I have told the story here before, I think, of the poker hand I once witnessed in Las Vegas that forever serves as a warning about the dangers of confirmation bias. I was considering joining a seven card stud table at a casino, and as is my practice, decided to watch a few hands to see what the competition was like. One player stood out: an elderly, grandmotherly woman who played hesitantly and was prone to say things like “Oh, dear!” and talk to herself. She obviously irritated the  other players, who were all male and the human equivalents of the Dogs Playing Poker.

As it happened the  third hands I watched was a big one, with most of the players showing pairs and flushes. The grandmother dithered and sighed as usual, and when it she was faced, after the last card, with the decision of whether to call a huge bet, she delayed, pushed all her chips into the center to raise, and then pulled them back, saying that she would fold instead. The players protested, and the dealer informed her that once her chips had crossed the line on the table, her bet was complete. She looked horrified, and explained piteously that she had never played by those rules before. It was to no avail, however, and the remaining players eagerly called her wager, happy to take advantage of her gaffe.

The old woman had four jacks! It wasn’t a gaffe, it was an act, all of it. She had been taking advantage of the other players’ eagerness to stereotype her. Once the betting was over, she dropped the mask. “Four of a kind, gentlemen!’ she said authoritatively, revealing her hand. She raked in the gigantic pile of chips, and got up from her chair. “Thanks for the competition. I think I’ll try another table now.” She was heading to a table where they would think she was a clueless old lady, having blown her cover at this one.

I thought about that poker player when I was reading the comments on social media and from various pundits after it was reported that Donald Trump had engaged in a telephone conversation with the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.

Ever since the U.S. officially recognized Red China, Taiwan, formerly Formosa, has been treated diplomatically as if it doesn’t exist. Taiwan, the Chinese island territory where Chinese Nationalists fled after Communists  took over the country, still claims to be the real government of the Chinese mainland.  Under President Jimmy Carter’s “One China” policy, the U.S. officially refuses to recognize it as independent. It is, however, a convenient fiction.  As Slate explained in 2000:

While the U.S. officially adheres to the one-China policy, it practices a de facto two-China policy. Under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. sells Taiwan military weapons, and the language of the act warns the People’s Republic that any coercive unification efforts would be “of grave concern to the United States.”Beginning in the late 1980s, the two Chinas flouted their one-China policies by establishing economic and cultural but not political ties….Taiwan… has continued to pay lip service to independence–two Chinas–but, out of fear of provoking China, has refrained from explicitly repudiating the one-China policy.

An incoming President publicly treating Taiwan’s leader as a head of state is bound to make China nervous. Sine everyone has already concluded that Donald Trump is an impulsive, reckless idiot, the phone conversation was immediately interpreted by his critics in that context. Similarly on social media: every Angry Left poster who mentioned the incident was contemptuous, as if any of them had superior diplomatic expertise to Trump, who is not exactly unfamiliar with the Chinese, with whom he has had many business dealings. Many were also fearful. This is the apparently agreed-upon strategy of  de-legitimizing Trump: he’s scary. He’s not a real American President ( just as many Republicans claimed Obama was an alien), with American virtues and values. He’s a bull in a china shop! (China, get it?) A beast, not a statesman! He’s Hitler, a criminal, a dictator, the boogeyman. See? See? This is going to start World War III!

This interpretation of Trump’s actions is pure confirmation bias. If a President-Elect with respected foreign policy credentials (not that we’ve had one since in 50 years) had done exactly the same thing, exactly the same way, it would be debated, but many more would see it as wily diplomacy. Again, confirmation bias: nobody really knows what the idea behind the call was, or if there was an idea. The Democratic National Committee responded by saying, “Donald Trump is either too incompetent to understand that his foolish phone call threatens our national security, or he’s doing it deliberately because he reportedly wants to build hotels in Taiwan to pad his own pockets.” Wow…THAT’s fair! Stay classy, Democrats! I’m sure this is the way to win back the trust and support of the electorate. Talk about a parody of partisan rhetoric;  tell us again about how the mean old Republicans wouldn’t give Barack Obama a chance.

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Filed under Around the World, Character, Government & Politics, Leadership

From The “Rules Are Rules” Files: China’s “No Arms, No Loans” Policy

Don't be afraid of Wu, you banks! He's completely armless!.

Don’t be afraid of Wu, you banks! He’s completely armless!.

Just when you are tempted to think the United States leads humanity in outrageous bureaucratic rigidity and the refusal to make sensible exceptions when common sense and decency demand it, a story like this one comes across the wires to restore one’s faith that cruelty and stupidity are universal.* That’s something to be thankful for…isn’t it?

Maybe not.

Wu Jianping, a 25-year-old teacher from Zhengzhou in the Henan province of China, told the news media there that banks have denied his application for a mortgage loan because he had inadequate identification.  Banks in China require fingerprints for loans, and Wu has no fingers. In fact, he has no arms, having lost both of them when he was electrocuted in an accident at the age of five.

Jianping says he typically writes his signature by holding a pen in his mouth, but banks rejected his loan applications on the grounds that his written signature can be easily imitated, presumably by anyone holding a pen in his mouth, and they don’t accept toeprints.

“Fingerprinting is a common practice because signatures can be imitated, but there is no way to copy a fingerprint,” one bank employee was quoted as saying. Ah. And just how does someone impersonate a loan applicant with no arms? How many 25 year-old teachers without arms are there in China, anyway? Are people always coming up to Wu Jianping in the streets of Beijing, where he works, and telling him, “I’m sorry! I mistook you for someone else” ?

The banks are receiving widespread criticism online and in social media, with many writing that demanding fingerprints from an armless man is unreasonable. Gee, ya think? Let’s have a panel discussion about it. Now some of the banks are apparently relenting. That’s generous of them.

I bet George Bailey would have given Wu a loan…

[Ethics Alarms will now open up the thread to all the terrible jokes anyone wants to submit, as my Thanksgiving gift to the readership. I might as well, since I know you will make them anyway. I reserve the one in the caption, one of my all-time favorites, and also “Well, they can’t accuse him of asking for a hand-out!”, because I wanted to write it first, and it’s my blog, so there. But there are a lot more. A lot.]

*One of the very first posts on Ethics Alarms highlighted a similar episode in an American bank. [Thanks to Tex for reminding me!]

_______________________

Pointer: Fark

 

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Filed under Around the World, Business & Commercial, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, The Internet

Let’s Hear No More About Facebook “Values”

china-facebook-1024x576

The New York Times reports that Facebook has developed software that will enable partner Chinese companies to monitor popular stories and topics that Facebook users share across the social network. Facebook’s partner would have power to decide whether those posts should show up in users’ feeds and suppress posts from  in specific geographic areas. The censorship and information-suppressing software  was created to help Facebook get into China, a lucrative market where the social network has been blocked. CEO Mark Zuckerberg is, sources say, full supportive of this effort by Facebook to make the subjugation of Chinese liberty easier.

One of Facebook’s core mission statements is “Make the world more open and connected.” Like so many mission statements, it is public relations deception. If Facebook was devoted to this mission, it would not even consider breaching its intent, letter and spirit by spending time and money to develop censorship software.

Facebook’s real mission is making a fortune by expanding into new markets. Let us not debase the topic of this blog by defaulting to Rationalization # 25. The Coercion Myth: “I have no choice!”

Facebook has a choice, the ethical one. That choice is to tell China it has a choice: either accept Facebook without censorship, of do without it. Google and Twitter, neither exactly paragons of virtue, have been blocked there for refusing to yield to the government’s  censorship requirements. Boy, when a company isn’t even as ethical as Twitter..wow.

This is the company we are going to trust to decide what is “real news.”  Ridiculous.

Prominent Democratic Party supporter Zuckerberg, like the party itself, is insufficiently allergic to the methods and objectives of totalitarianism.

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Filed under Around the World, Business & Commercial, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Facebook, Government & Politics, Rights, Science & Technology, The Internet

Comment of the Day: “Ethics Dilemma: What Do You Do With Steve King?”

Pennagain, who also acts as the volunteer and indispensable Ethics Alarms proofreader, submitted this Comment of the Day, packed with ethics, and trenchant observations about how diverse cultures have enriched civilization. It begins with a quote from another commenter on Rep. King’s descent into white-supremacistspeak, and heads to wonderful places.

Here is Pennagain’s Comment of the Day on the post,  “Ethics Dilemma: What Do You Do With Steve King?”

Still, most of the really big failings over the ages have been ah, east of Suez.

Rewrite: Still, most of the big failings over the ages have been during the first couple of thousand years of any particular civilization. That’s considering national and natural barriers that don’t go along any particular meridian. If they last beyond a millennia or two, they’ve usually learned a thing or two.

Some of those things might be an understanding of the concept of comparative values and why basic ethical principles have always been in vogue – including under the Shogunates, the Mughal emperors, the dynasties of China (going back to 2100BC, by the way), and other long-lived non-democracies). Or why certain types of governments or power structures work best with certain cultures at certain times, barring catastrophic disasters and military dictatorships (North Korea is still in its 68-year-old infancy and ailing). Or why philosophies of aesthetics differ to an extent that makes comparing art or architecture, or its presence or absence idiotic. Or why a majority of us believe our own way is best (and some of the latter think they need to Disneyfy, Democratize, and Develop everyone everywhere else on the planet).

Example of some basic Asian principles aka Their Ethics: harmony, benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, wisdom, honesty, loyalty, filial piety.

All of the above can be incorporated into the principles of what us non-Asian, non-African folks call universal ethics; our ethics:

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Filed under Around the World, Character, Comment of the Day

Update: “The Kidneys of Orlac”

He will die, not with his boots on, but with his kidneys in...

He will die, not with his boots on, but with his kidneys in…

One of the best threads Ethics Alarms has ever hosted occurred in response to the November 2013 post, “The Kidneys of Orlac,” which discussed the strange case of the Ohio death row resident who wanted to donate his organs to ill relatives. The issue generated an Ethics Quiz, a follow-up poll (“The Amityville Kidney”) involving the related issue of whether the recipient of a murderer’s organs had a right to know their creepy origin, and a terrific Comment of the Day, which was just one of the COTD-worthy submissions.

I had forgotten about the story until Mark Draughn raised it again at Windy Pundit in the context of criticizing bioethicists, one of whom had what Mark considered a particularly misbegotten argument against the transplants (I agree with Mark about that argument, but I also oppose giving condemned prisoners the privilege of donating organs to loved ones, or anyone at all.) This led me to review original post, which led me to re-read the comments.

I also discovered the resolution of the dilemma, which occurred at the end of last month. Ronald Phillips will not be allowed to donate his organs, because he wouldn’t have enough time to recover from the operation before his execution.  Ah, yes, the old “You have to be in tip-top shape before we can kill you, or it isn’t really punishment”  Catch 22! Ethics, you see, had nothing to do with the bureaucratic resolution here, just the letter of the law, rules, and bureacrats refusing to look for the best solution in an anomalous situation, rather than the one they could reach on auto-pilot. As a result, nobody made a reasoned determination about what is right, or what capital punishment really signifies, or apparently even tried. That is how so many government decisions are made, and that, my friends, is far scarier than having the kidneys of a killer.

 

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Filed under Bioethics, Citizenship, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Law & Law Enforcement, Quizzes

The Ethics of Singing For Muammar…No, Wait, I Mean José

Mariah-CareyIt is seldom that an ethics controversy repeats itself so exactly that I am tempted to re-run a previous post word for word with just a couple of names changed, but the flack Mariah Carey is getting from human rights activists and others for accepting a million bucks to perform for Angola’s dictator is just such an instance.

I wrote about this situation in 2011, when Nelly Furtado (and Carey) were under fire for performing for the late Muamar Gaddafi, when he was dictating to Libya.  I officially incorporate said post into this one, in full.  Just read it here, with “Mariah” substituted wherever I wrote “Nelly,” “Carey” for “Furtado,” and the name of Angola’s president, José Eduardo dos Santos, wherever the dead Libyan leader’s name appears.It all still applies. To sum up for the large percentage of people who, surveys say, can’t be bothered to click on links, it’s completely bogus criticism. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, Popular Culture