Tag Archives: communication

Comment Of The Day: Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/7/2018: #2: “Williamson No Longer Of The Atlantic’”

This is an epic Comment of the Day using an unusual approach. Michael West explores aspects of public discourse that is at the core of ethical misunderstanding and ethics malpractice by focusing on a multi-party twitter exchange regarding an issue discussed on Ethics Alarms, the firing of former National Review writer Kevin Williamson after he doubled-down on an extreme position regarding abortion: he believes it is murder, and therefore believes that capital punishment is a fair punishment for what should be considered a crime. Moreover, he said that because of the violent and depraved nature of the crime, a violent execution, like hanging, would be appropriate for the women who allowed their fetuses to be aborted.

Michael also used his comment to highlight a concept we have not used on Ethics Alarms, at least by name, “the Overton Window.” That is defined as “The spectrum of ideas on public policy and social issues considered acceptable by the general public at a given time.” Of course, what the “window” is can be tricky to determine. Donald Trump broke the alleged window repeatedly. My preferred approach to this “window” is to challenge it, and to try to expand its boundaries, consequences be damned. I equate the Overton Window with de facto censorship and thought-control.

I am especially glad that this comment again raises the Williamson firing and the related ethics issues. These are rich topics, and yet the matter fled the blogs and commentary sites quickly, paved over by successive outrages of the day.

Here is Michael West’s Comment of the Day on #2 in the post, Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/7/2018: “Ruggles Of Red Gap” And “Williamson No Longer Of The Atlantic’.”  This is a bit challenging to read, but worth the effort. For clarity, Michael’s commentary is in bold italics.

I think this is an informative tweet dialogue on a handful of levels. For one, it reveals some informal fallacies that inevitably ruin any discourse and are especially ruinous tendencies in any summarized forum (which twitter represents the extreme end of the spectrum). It also reveals what I think is the fundamental problem with the discussion [on Ethics Alarms.]. I think we’re operating on two different meanings of “mainstream”. Simultaneously this reveals two different attitudes regarding the Overton Window.

As for the term “mainstream”, Almaqah below seems to mean it as “anything someone is willing to hear another person discuss.” I presume [commenter Chris’s]  friendliness toward Almaqah’s opinions implies [he] generally believe the same. When I use it, and I think when most others use the term, we use it as more of a quantitative assessment, where “mainstream” means “anything that a sufficient percentage of people believe”, to which it might be effective to add “that it holds enough weight to begin to sway policy discussions” …but that’s not essential.

I think Almaqah’s subsequent side-bars reveal a somewhat concerning attitude towards diversity of opinion as well as tolerance of that diversity. He seems to think that acceptable discourse should be extremely narrow and that anything outside of that window should not be tolerated one bit.

Cast of Characters (mostly from their twitter profiles):

@_Almaqah

Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) – “Oklahoman. Attorney. Contributor at @FDRLST, @dcexaminer, and other places. Keep reminding me that I’m supposed to be rising above.”

@Elwampito – “petty bourgeois”

Mollie Hemingway (@MZHemingway) – “Senior Editor, @FDRLST”

Katherine Mangu-Ward – Editor in Chief of Reason Magazine

FyodorPossibly a libertarian & probably anti-Trump… (judging from a quick scan of tweets)

@MsBaileyGurl – “fundamental human rights and fast wifi. So easy to please.”

Mark Hemingway (@Herminator) – “Senior Writer @WeeklyStandard. Husband of @MZHEmingway”

Jacob T. Levy (@jtlevy) – “Tomlinson Prof of Political Theory, McGill. RPF http://amzn.to/1osWYDC Niskanen http://tinyurl.com/gpu3rzw Opinions here are mine not McGill’s.”

Alexandra DeSanctis (@xan_desanctis) – “Buckley Fellow at National Review. Co-host of “Ordered Liberty” with @DavidAFrench. @NotreDame alum. ”

Bre Payton – “the culture and millennial politics reporter for The Federalist”

@JackFromAtlantapossibly a conservative & possibly an Eastern Orthodox Christian (judging from a quick scan of tweets)

@UrbanAchievrprobably a leftist, most probably anti-Trump (judging from a quick scan of tweets)

Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) – “senior media reporter, @CNN. writing at the intersection of media & politics.”

Kirsten Powers – “USA Today Columnist / CNN Political Analyst / Cohost of @thefaithangle podcast”

Here’s the opening salvo, as Almaqah responds to Gabriel Malor (which “El Wampito” rapidly jumps into).

@gabrielmalor – “The man just lost his job because of his political beliefs. The people celebrating it, particularly the ones who work in media, are trash human beings, not to mention completely unself-aware morons.”

@_Almaqah (two combined tweets) – “Stop convincing me “executing women who have abortions” is a conservative belief, I’m trying to be generous. Also he’ll be fine, NR will take him back. Most prolifers say they don’t want to punish women who have abortions, so it’s odd to see some of them conflate KW calling for execution with normal conservative beliefs. Which is it?”

@Elwampito – “it’s the latter”

@_Almaqah – “I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt!”

@Elwampito – “i mean, if you believe abortion is murder and support the death penalty, it would seem to fit unless you think women lack moral agency or something”

@_Almaqah – “This is true, most of them get around having to reach this conclusion by just saying women are victims of abortion too. KW was willing to say he takes their agency seriously and thinks they should be held culpable”

Here, Almaqah subtly shifts the accusation. The topic is the specific stance that women who kill their unborn children should be executed. Almaqah expands this to “Punishing women who seek abortion.”.There’s a significant difference here where his latter use of “punish” compels the person he’s arguing with to either agree or disagree to a general assertion which may or may not reveal an actual attitude towards the specific assertion. This isn’t rhetorically responsible dialogue.

@MZHemingway – “In only article pubbed @ Atlantic before being fired for being pro-life, NeverTrumper Kevin Williamson wrote enemy was @VDHanson.Interesting”

@_Almaqah – “Another person who equates ‘prolife’ with ‘wanting women who have abortions to be executed’. I’ll take your word for it!”

Molly Hemingway, is playing the typical journalist role of saying something triggering to her base, “Fired for being pro-life”, when she knows he was fired for having a stance about how to enforce those who have abortions. She isn’t being responsible with her tweet, and Almaqah capitalizes on this. But in reality, we know he wasn’t fired for being pro-life, but standing up *for* him and his right to hold opinions, is not an endorsement of those opinions NOR is it a claim that the opinions are “mainstream” (unless you insist on the Narrow Overton window definition of mainstream).

Here, Almaqah quotes the same Reason article, by Katherine Mangu-Ward, which [Chris] referred to and is linked in Jack’s piece.

@_Almaqah (two combined tweets) – “Kevin’s defenders would’ve been better off just saying ‘yes, punishing abortion w/execution is completely reasonable conservative belief, what of it?” instead of “he was just trolling, of course he doesn’t believe that horrible thing!” I mean, once you concede it’s a terrible thing to believe it, kind of hard to get mad when there are consequences for actually believing in it”

@Fyodor32768 (three combined tweets, bold is what Almaqah responds to) – “I think that conservatives probably believe that say the median viewpoint should be outright illegalization and that Williamson’s execution position is on the right side of the spectrum but not crazy. So by saying that his hanging position puts you outside the spectrum you are saying something about what the “baseline” opinion is that they dislike. Sort of like how a lot of mildly racist conservatives didn’t fully agree with Trump’s more forceful racism but didn’t feel it should be condemned as outside the pale because they though of their own more mild racism as the midpoint for views on minorities.”

@_Almaqah – “Yes, to them punishing abortion by execution is just a policy difference to be debated politely among friends. It’s not like Williamson called for something truly offensive like an 80% estate tax”

Almaqah, relying on the narrow, intolerant view of the Overton Window, again shifts the term from the specific “execution” to the broader term “punishment.” Fyodor does a great summary rebutting him here. Almaqah’s reponse is to belittle the notion of tolerating an individual, who while generally in agreement with most actual mainstream opinions, holds one or two more extreme ideas. This is problematic. If Almaqah’s attitude is to reign, we cannot tolerate individuals having anything other than exactly the same lock step views on every opinion we grant “mainstream” status…we must, upon discovery that one of our “orthodox” fellows, when holding even a single “out of whack” viewpoint, must be shut up and sent out of the camp.

@Herminator – “Kevin Williamson was Never Trump *and* one of the most talented writers of his generation. They still wouldn’t let him work for a a venerable liberal institution. Let that be a lesson.”

@MsBaileyGurl – “The lesson is…don’t advocate for the murder of women. Seems pretty easy for the ‘law and order’ party to get behind.”

@Herminator – “Adovocating for the murder of women who murder others is the issue at hand. This is misdirection.”

@_Almaqah – “”he doesn’t want to murder all women, he just wants to murder women who have abortions” might’ve sounded better in your head” Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day: “Trevor Noah’s Critics”

Bravo: a  deft,  quirky and thought-provoking comment about “how difficult writing and reading is and how easy misunderstandings are born”—and my own careless—or not!—phrasing was the writing at issue.

Here is Zanshin’s Comment of the Day on the post, Trevor Noah’s Critics:

Jack,

In the sentence,

version 1. We should respect consistent standards and integrity instead of hypocrisy, not treat them like they are qualifications for sainthood.

I guess you meant expect instead of respect.

version 2: We should expect consistent standards and integrity instead of hypocrisy, not treat them like they are qualifications for sainthood.

And even then, I, with English as a second language, would read ‘ should expect’ firstly as “To consider likely or certain” but given the current climate that is not a given anymore. Therefore, to emphasize the (intended?) meaning of ‘expect’ as “To consider obligatory; require” the following sentence would have been clearer to me,

version 3:We should demand consistent standards and integrity instead of hypocrisy, not treat them like they are qualifications for sainthood.

Flash of insight: By pondering your sentence and rewriting it I realized that your sentence is fine but that I bracketed the sentence in a wrong way; which is made possible given the complexity of two polarities involved in this sentence:

a. consistent standards and integrity versus hypocrisy
b. [treat them with] respect versus treat them like they are qualifications for sainthood

Lets name the different parts of the sentence,

A: [should respect
B: consistent standards and integrity
C: hypocrisy
D: treat them like they are qualifications for sainthood

The bracketing I now think you meant is: { A { B_C } } versus { D }

The bracketing I understood first was: { A { B } versus { C } } versus { D }

But in bracketing the sentence in my way, ‘respect’ felt awkward once reading part D. That’s when I backtracked to A and thought-up ‘expect’. while thinking, “Just another typo by Jack and/or wrongly suggested/inserted word by the word processor.” Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day: “The Viral Google Diversity Memo”

The perspective Ethics Alarms readers often add to topics based on their personal experiences is a often great enhancement to the discussions here. This Comment of the Day by Alex is a perfect example, as he clarifies the context of the Google diversity memo through his own observations as an employee of another large tech company.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “The Viral Google Diversity Memo”:

Rather than rehash the memo or analyze it or say what is right or wrong with its reasoning, I’ll instead add my experience dealing with internal policies and “requests for comment” at a large tech (software) company – this is a direct competitor of Google, based in the Pacific NW and employing ~100,000 people (you can figure out who they are with that). My background is in Electrical Engineering with a strong focus on Computer Science, and I was hired by my previous employer just out of college after spending a summer internship with them. I worked there for 12 years, until the summer of 2016 (actually today is my one year anniversary at my new job). In my time there I can only describe diversity and HR policies around race and gender are schizophrenic, even if well-intentioned. These are my stories [insert Law and Order opening notes].

The official harassment/discrimination policy as stated in the employee handbook (which was updated every year) is incredibly vague, and this is intentional (although no one will come out and accept it publicly). We are in an at-will state, so you can be easily dismissed based on that one vague rule; and it has been used as a negotiation tactic on borderline performance dismissals to settle for a lower severance package. (“Do you really want us to state that you’re leaving for violations of the harassment policy? No? Ok, how about you settle for 2 weeks instead of 4?”) But I also have to state that the cases where I saw this section being arguably misused can be counted with the fingers of one hand. Also, I am certain that there are good intentions behind this policy, but as is the case with many well-intentioned rules, it is when the rubber meets the road that things get messy.

Every year we had to take Standards of Conduct training. Every year we had a new edition, and every year there was at least one case study dealing with gender or racial discrimination. Some years were better than others, but in general the training was terrible. If you had the cognitive abilities of a 7-year-old you could figure out what were the right responses without watching the videos or reading the policies. (The Saturday morning cartoons I watched in the 80s – G.I. Joe, He-Man, Transformers – had more complex moral dilemmas). I remember one year around the middle of my tenure when the videos and cases were actually interesting and engaging. A case that I still remember from that time is about an ambiguous situation between a male manager and a female engineer not in the same chain of command. There was a big internal debate about that one, and the next year we had the blandest possible training to avoid controversies.

The above two points are to set the stage: corporate policies are clear, you should toe the line, do not do anything that might be misconstrued, you can be dismissed for very small transgressions.

And then… well… tech companies are rebels, they thrive in chaos, and you’re expected to rock the boat. In many (may be even all) groups you can only grow so much by being a technical expert, you are expected to influence larger and larger teams as you get promoted to keep getting good performance reviews. You can be the only expert on a certain software component, but unless other people know about you and have been “influenced” by you, you are not considered good enough. This has the effect of incentivizing “visibility”. Other people and other teams should know you exist and be willing to state that you’ve had a positive impact for the company. Continue reading

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My Breakfast Confrontation At McDonald’s

mcd-checkout

I’ve been mulling this experience for a while, and since it still ticks me off, and since today seems like an especially provocative time to raise it, here it comes.

I was accompanying my wife as she went to a clinic for some early morning outpatient surgery, and as she waited in the one-chair-short reception room, I went next door to a McDonald’s to order breakfast. As usual, my wallet had moths flying out of it, so I knew it was going to be a debit card purchase. My apparently mute clerk took my order —remember when Ray Kroc insisted that every employee say “Hello!” and “Thank-you”? Now you are lucky to get eye contact and a grunt—the modest amount appeared,  and I swiped my card. The machine told me that the card was rejected. I swiped again. Rejected again.

“OK, now what am I supposed to do?” I asked. : This is a good card, and there is plenty on money in the bank.”

My clerk  said only, “Pay!”

“I can’t pay, because of your stupid machines. I want to buy my breakfast. This is my only means of payment. The card readers is  malfunctioning!”

She said again, louder and with irritation, “PAY! PAY!”

“Don’t tell me pay pay, because I just told you, I tried to pay pay, and  your equipment won’t let me pay pay! Find a way for me to pay!” I replied, with the delightful intensity for which I am well-known.

Now she started angrily shaking the receipt at me, shouting PAY three times and nothing else, apparently having reached the zenith of her language skills.

“LOOK!” I said. “This is your store. All I want to do is pay a lousy 7 bucks for a sausage biscuit and a coffee, and this machine is stopping me. I can’t pay if your lousy equipment isn’t maintained. FIND A WAY FOR ME TO PAY! That’s your job!”

You’ll never guess her response.

No, go ahead, guess. Continue reading

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Facebook Manipulation, Ben Rhodes And Hillary’s Tech Minion’s Missing Emails: Seeking A Path To Objective Analysis (PART 2 of 2)

suspicion

In Part I I examined the considerations involved in assessing whether the Ben Rhodes affair, which I also discussed here, is factual and justifies dire conclusions about our government.

Part Two will attempt to objectively assess the two other news stories that seem to compel progressives, in full confirmation bias mode, to deny, ignore, or trivialize, and conservatives, also driven by bias, to take as proof that conspiracies are afoot. Those stories both come down to suspicion and trust:

  • The claims from former Facebook employees that they were directed to suppress news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network’s “trending” news section, while pushing stories with positive implications for progressive readers.
  • The State Department’s revelation that it can’t locate Bryan Pagliano’s emails from the time he served as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s senior information technology staffer during her tenure there.

First, the Facebook charges. From the Gizmodo “scoop”:

“Several former Facebook “news curators,” as they were known internally, also told Gizmodo that they were instructed to artificially “inject” selected stories into the trending news module, even if they weren’t popular enough to warrant inclusion—or in some cases weren’t trending at all. The former curators, all of whom worked as contractors, also said they were directed not to include news about Facebook itself in the trending module.

In other words, Facebook’s news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation. Imposing human editorial values onto the lists of topics an algorithm spits out is by no means a bad thing—but it is in stark contrast to the company’s claims that the trending module simply lists “topics that have recently become popular on Facebook.”

And, like a typical newsroom, Facebook’s bias is heavily weighted to the left. The Senate has announced that it is investigating news manipulation at Facebook, though I can’t see on what theory.

Facebook unequivocally denied the charges, saying in part,

“Facebook does not allow or advise our reviewers to systematically discriminate against sources of any ideological origin and we’ve designed our tools to make that technically not feasible. At the same time, our reviewers’ actions are logged and reviewed, and violating our guidelines is a fireable offense.”

Leaving aside confirmation bias and eschewing the six reactions to such stories I listed in Part I (I don’t believe it, AHA! I knew it!, So what?, ARGHHHH! We’re doomed!, Good, So how did the Mets do today?), we’re left with a “he said/they said” controversy that is either a stalemate, with the default judgment having to go to the side that actually has the guts to reveal its name, or a case of “Who do you trust?”

Does this seem like something Facebook would do? Well, let’s see, Facebook already admitted that it had performed unwilling experiments on random users to see if it could manipulate their moods. Facebook was credibly accused of restricting users from access to 30,322 emails and email attachments sent and received by Hillary Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State.  Last month, a report found evidence of  Facebook censorship on pro-Trump and negative Hillary news, and a Facebook employee’s question about whether Facebook should actively take measures to impede Donald Trump was discussed here.  Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is a big Democratic donor. Facebook’s fellow social media giant Twitter has been censoring some high-profile conservative users lately.

Gee, are there any reasons not to trust these people? Continue reading

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Ethics Dunce: Guardian Journalist Mona Chalabi

But Mona, doesn't you correcting people who correct people's grammar and calling them purveyors of white privilege make you an ANTI-grammar snob?

But Mona, doesn’t you correcting people who correct people’s grammar and calling them purveyors of white privilege make you an ANTI-grammar snob?

This won’t take long. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

Mona Chalabi, a  journalist for the British tabloid “The Guardian,” has asserted that correcting someone’s grammar (and presumably word use, sentence structure and other aspects of effective communication) is racist.

“Grammar snobs are patronizing, pretentious, and just plain wrong, ” she says. “It doesn’t take much to see the power imbalance when it comes to grammar snobbery. The people pointing out he mistakes are more likely to be older, wealthier, whiter, or just plain academic than the people they’re treating with condescension. All too often, it’s a way to silence people, and that’s particularly offensive when it’s someone who might already be struggling to speak up.”

Of course, correcting anyone to humiliate them, embarrass them, or make them hesitant to speak is cruel and wrong, as would be slapping them in the face and shouting, “Shut up, fool!”  Neither of these, or other examples of bad manners and disrespectful treatment, is the conduct that Chalabi is condemning as a demonstration of white privilege, however. (Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, frequently quips, “White privilege—is there anything it can’t do?”) No, she is saying that the simple act of one human being pointing out to another that they have made a verbal mistake that may embarrass the speaker in the future makes the person offering the correction a “grammar snob,” and is unethical.

To the contrary, correcting anyone’s mistakes in speaking, when done with discretion and proper attention to the speaker’s feelings, is a gift, an act of social kindness and even a social obligation. Expressing oneself in a manner that causes others to conclude, possibly correctly, that you do not know correct meanings, grammar, construction and etiquette is a serious life handicap and an obstacle to success. A listener may conclude that you are badly educated, do not read, do not listen to those who speak to you correctly sufficiently to learn from them, are ignorant, are not very bright, or worse, know how to communicate but don’t have enough respect for the rest of the world to make an effort to do so. Unlike concluding such unflattering things about a stranger or casual acquaintance based on an accent or verbal regionalism, making judgments based on poor communication skills is not prejudice or bias. Communication is a vital life skill and occupational tool. Every individual has an obligation to master these as early as possible, certainly by young adulthood. Believing one has done this and being wrong is a dangerous and potentially tragic situation. Continue reading

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An Urgent And Probably Futile Call For Empathy And Compassion For The Victims Of Cultural Whiplash

north-carolina-protest-transgenderIt is sobering to read  the hateful and contemptuous comments from so many of my Facebook friends about the legislators of Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina, Mississippi and other states that have either passed or have tried to pass laws allowing citizens to opt out of the cultural freight train that gives them the option of boarding or getting crushed. Whether these are “religious freedom” laws or “bathroom laws,” aimed at transgendered interlopers in the once orderly realm of public bathrooms, or whether they are designed to fight for the definition of marriage as “between a man and a woman,” these laws, every one of them unwise and unethical, and probably unconstitutional too, need to be regarded as the inevitable and predictable result when human beings are forced to absorb cultural shifts in a matter of years or less that properly would evolve over generations

Culture–what any society, country, region, religion, business, organization, club, family, secret society or tree house agrees over time as how they do things, think about things, what is right and what is wrong, what is remembered and what is forgotten–is a constantly evolving process. Efforts to freeze it inevitably fail, because human beings as a species can’t stop themselves from learning. Efforts to rush the installment of major changes, however, can be disastrous, even when there seems like no alternative but to rush.

Laws don’t automatically change culture. They are part of the process, both reflecting and facilitating cultural shifts, as well as institutionalizing them. They do not even mark the end of such shifts. Nobody should be surprised, angry or abusively critical when those who have been raised to believe in certain values and practices feel betrayed and mistreated, and see the need to resist when their sense of what is right is suddenly proclaimed as not only wrong but the sign of a character deficiency and a cause for denigration and disrespect. Continue reading

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