Any nation that seriously regards the slimy likes of Jimmy Kimmel as its conscience should just commit mass suicide like Jonestown, because it’s a menace to civilization.
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:
It is time—past time, really— for a another entry in the Ethics Alarms Rationalization List.
One of the most seductive and simple-minded of rationalizations, The Hippie’s License flourished in the 1960’s and still haunts us today. The theory is that that up-tight and sanctimonious moralizers drive mankind into misery, stress and insanity by denying basic human urges and instincts, and worse, declaring conduct based upon them wrong. This leads to guilt and the reduction of self-esteem. The Hippie’s License was employed in the Swinging Sixties to justify everything from promiscuity and adultery to petty theft and lawlessness, incivility, vandalism, public defecation and poor hygiene. It was also, as it is today, wildly hypocritical: the hippies derided violence, and little is more human or natural than that.
The sad truth is that ethics are unnatural, civilization is unnatural, and the state of being human demands a greater acceptance of responsibility to others than nature has programmed into us. Ethics evolve faster than we do; while our DNA is telling men to mate with every healthy and attractive female, to fight those who challenge their status in their group and to take what we want and need whenever we want and need it, civilization, traditions, laws, societal standards, experience, knowledge, education and ethical systems instruct us otherwise for our own good Indeed, much of the task of being ethical involves recognizing natural instincts that make us do bad things, and resisting them. Continue reading
I just commented, on the controversial post here about Judge Boyd and the media frenzy regarding the “affluenza” defense offered by Ethan Couch’s lawyers, that the fact that so many of the comments, many of them angry, focused on the fact that a spoiled, rich kid got a break, or, as they used to say in the old days, mercy, that I began thinking about the famous Leopold and Loeb murder trial. In 2011, I posted a shortened version of Clarence Darrow’s famous closing argument in that trial, one of my favorite of all courtroom speeches, and it seems appropriate to do so again. It is far from a perfect parallel, but any excuse to revisit Darrow at his best is a good one.
Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were, like Ethan Couch, young, rich and spoiled; they also were Jewish and gay. Their crime was far worse than Crouch’s: they planned and executed the murder of a child just for the fun or it, and to show that they could outsmart authorities. (Ironically, they were arrested almost immediately). The two teenagers were charged with the premeditated murder of fourteen year-old Bobby Franks. Both defendants were brilliant students (Leopold, the youngest graduate in the history of the University of Chicago; Loeb, the youngest graduate of the University of Michigan), and the sons of wealthy and successful Chicago businessmen. Neither showed any remorse for their terrible crime. There is no question that had they been poor, they would have been sentenced to die, and would have been hanged. Their parents, however, could afford to hire Clarence Darrow, a foe of capital punishment who had never had a single one of his often guilty clients executed. They got their money’s worth.
His summation on August 22, 1924, remains perhaps the most persuasive and eloquent argument against capital punishment ever made in a court or anywhere else. It is also an argument for mercy, and especially mercy for the young. The plea worked: Judge John L. Caverly spared Leopold and Loeb, and he sentenced them to life imprisonment without parole—under the circumstances and in those days of rough justice, a gift. In his sentencing statement, which is posted here after Darrow’s summation, Caverly did not indicate that he was swayed by Darrow’s eloquence or reasoning. Caverly based his sentence on the ages of the defendants. Darrow was counting on this particular vulnerability of Caverly, who had helped establish juvenile justice courts in Chicago. Later, Nathan Leopold suggested that he and Dickie Loeb might have gotten the same result if they had simply submitted their birth certificates into evidence.
I doubt that he would have bet his life on it. The pressure on Caverly to hang these two despicable sociopaths was overwhelming, and having Clarence Darrow put his decision in such heroic terms had to steel his nerve, if it needed steeling. Still, as with Judge Boyd in the Couch case, there is no way to be sure that he would not have spared Leopold and Loeb anyway. Also as in Ethan Couch’s case, critics said this was disparate justice, bought and paid for.
This is a condensed version of Darrow’s closing, edited for The Essential Words and Writings of Clarence Darrow, (2007), that I co-edited with historian Ed Larson. Here is one of the great orators of the 20th Century, one of the great progressive thinkers in our history, and the greatest trial lawyer who ever lived, arguing for the life of two murderers and for the soul of our civilization. I do not share Darrow’s absolute rejection of the death penalty, but I always do for a few hours, at least, after reading this. Continue reading
I know I have previously quoted portions of Clarence Darrow’s famous courtroom plea for mercy in the “thrill killing” murder trial of teenagers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. It can never be read too many times, however, and is an essential backdrop to any discussion of capital punishment. Darrow, who hated the death penalty and defended over a hundred clients facing it, never lost a capital punishment case. This, however, was the only time he articulated why he believed that capital punishment was wrong.
Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were charged with the murder of fourteen year-old Bobby Franks. Both defendants were brilliant students (Leopold, the youngest graduate in the history of the University of Chicago; Loeb, the youngest graduate of the University of Michigan), Jewish and the sons of wealthy and successful Chicago businessmen. Neither showed any remorse for their act, which had been coldly undertaken as a demonstration of their superior intellects. Darrow was hired by the Leopold and Loeb families to keep their sons from dying on the gallows, and he decided to plead their case directly to the judge.
His summation on August 22, 1924, remains perhaps the most persuasive and eloquent argument against capital punishment ever made in court or anywhere else. And it worked: Judge Caverly spared Leopold and Loeb, and they were sentenced to life imprisonment. This is a somewhat shortened version, edited for The Essential Words and Writings of Clarence Darrow, a 2007 paperback compiled by historian Ed Larson with some help from me. Here is one of the great orators of the 20th Century, one of the great progressive thinkers in our history, and the greatest trial lawyer who ever lived, arguing for the life of two murderers and for the soul of our civilization. I do not share Darrow’s absolute rejection of the death penalty, but I wouldn’t want to have to argue against him either. Continue reading
In a recent post, Ethics Alarms discussed that demands of a group of former Major League baseball who receive inferior retirement benefits, because the changes made to the game’s pension and health insurance qualifications in 1980 were not made retroactive. The group has argued that it was unfair for the baseball clubs and players union to have voluntarily extended benefits to pre-1947 players—players who played before there were any retirement benefits at all—and not them. The post argued…
“…The inclusion of the older players, from before 1947, was not the same: the group included many of the game’s greatest players, who could legitimately say that they were essential in building the industry that had made the current players so wealthy. Leaving all the older players without any pensions or medical plans from Major League Baseball looked like ingratitude toward the men who, quite literally, helped make the teams and players rich. The sport owed them, and it was right for them to help the veteran group…[The 1948-1979 group], by definition, were not stars; for the most part, they were…journeyman spare-part players who barely held on to their jobs…The fact that players with one day of service in the big leagues today qualify for a health insurance no more entitles the Moonlight Grahams of the Seventies to the same than the million dollar salaries of today’s second-string catchers entitles retired catchers who made $30,000 a year to insist on retroactive pay at today’s pay scales. Baseball players are paid what their rarified talents are worth, and those who create today’s multi-billion dollar industry are worth much more than the players who toiled before the big cable contracts and merchandising kicked in…The fair thing is for people to live with the deals they freely agreed to as conditions of their employment, and when a future employee negotiates a better deal for the work you once did, the fair thing is to say to him, “Good for you!” It would be generous and kind for the Major League teams and players to close some of the disparity in benefits; I hope they do it. Nevertheless, they have no obligation to do it, and it is not a breach of fairness if they don’t.” [You can read the entire essay here.]
The post attracted a strong comment from Craig Skok, one of the players in the 1948-1979 group. He is an excellent representative of the plight of this group, because he just barely missed the cut-off for full benefits. He wrote… Continue reading
We all know Vice President Biden’s mouth is only loosely connected to his brain. To some this is charming; to others it is irritating or scary. His tendency in unguarded moments to slip into vernacular hitherto regarded as undignified and inappropriate for high elected officials and unsuitable for family newspapers is part of a national crisis in civility. It is a symptom of it, but when our leaders give in to destructive cultural trends, they reinforce them. Continue reading
In today’s Sunday New York Times, the City Room column is devoted to the increasingly common topic of public grooming, specifically flossing one’s teeth in public. Lion Calandra recounts an exchange with a young woman doing her dental hygeine on the subway, who finished by throwing her used floss to the subway car floor.
“Maybe you should do that at home,” Calandra suggested. “Maybe you should mind your own business,” the woman sneered. Continue reading