Tag Archives: denial

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/20/18: Cheaters And Useful Idiots

Good Morning!

1. A Whistle-blowing dilemma.The Ethicist in the New York Times Magazine is no fun anymore, now that a competent, real ethicist is answering queries rather than the previous motley assortment of Hollywood screenwriters and others of dubious qualifications. Even when I disagree with

  • “Given how little cheating is caught, reporting them would have meant that they paid a penalty that lots of others ought to — but won’t — pay.” Ugh! A Barry Bonds excuse! So because all guilty parties aren’t apprehended, everyone should get away with wrongdoing?
  • “Because many people in your generation don’t take cheating very seriously, your friends would most likely have ended up focusing on the unfairness of being singled out, not on their wrongdoing.” That’s their problem. The attitude the Ethicist identifies is 39. The Pioneer’s Lament, or “Why should I be the first?” He’s correct that this will be the likely attitude of the busted cheaters, but since when did how wrongdoers rationalize their wrongdoing become mitigation?
  • “The intervention you were considering was likely, therefore, to be very costly to you.” Yes, doing the right thing often is.
  • “The burden of dealing with cheating in your school shouldn’t fall on you.” Boy, I really hate this one. It’s #18. Hamm’s Excuse: “It wasn’t my fault.”

This popular rationalization confuses blame with responsibility. Carried to it worst extreme, Hamm’s Excuse would eliminate all charity and much heroism, since it stands for the proposition that human beings are only responsible for alleviating problems that they were personally responsible for. In fact, the opposite is the case: human beings are responsible for each other, and the ethical obligation to help someone, even at personal cost, arises with the opportunity to do so, not with blame for causing the original problem. When those who have caused injustice or calamity either cannot, will not or do not step up to address the wrongs their actions have caused (as is too often the case), the responsibility passes to whichever of us has the opportunity and the means to make things right, or at least better.

This rationalization is named after American gymnast Paul Hamm, who adamantly refused to voluntarily surrender the Olympic gold metal he admittedly had been awarded because of an official scoring error. His justification for this consisted of repeating that it was the erring officials, not him, who were responsible for the fact that the real winner of the competition was relegated to a bronze medal when he really deserved the gold. The ethical rule to counter Hamm’s Excuse is a simple one: if there is a wrong and you are in a position to fix it, fix it.

Appiah doesn’t feel the full force of my fury because the case involves middle-school, and the questioner is a child. This is what makes it a toss-up. If this were college or grad school, I think reporting cheaters is mandatory. Appiah also says that he doesn’t care for honor codes because they are usually not followed.

Maybe I was wrong about him… Continue reading

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Ethics Warm-Up, Valentines Day, 2018: Of Mummies, Mockingbirds, Hunchbacks, And Sperms….

Happy Valentines Day!

1 Jeremy gets a vacation! As some of you may know, philosopher Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill’s mentor and the founder of utilitarianism, has been stuffed and kept in a glass case at the College of London since his death in 1832 as a condition of his will. I’m not kidding! (A photo has appeared periodically in the Ethics Alarms header from the blog’s first day.) Here he is…

That’s Jeremy’s real head on the floor: the one on top of the stuffed body around his skeleton is wax. Jeremy still attends all meetings of the school’s board, wearing his own clothes.  Now he’s visiting the U.S., something he always wanted to do when he was alive.

2. The message is increasingly clear: everything is racist. Got it, thanks! Working from her mummy, scientists from the University of Bristol reconstructed the face of 3,400-year-old queen Nefertiti, King Tut’s mother, using 3D imaging technology. The process required more than 500 hours. Nefertiti was Egypt’s queen alongside Pharaoh Akhenaten from 1353 to 1336 BC. Heeeeeeere’s  NEFI!

Now the project is under attack on social media because the reconstructed Nefertiti face isn’t dark enough, not that anyone has a clue regarding how dark or light anyone who lived over 3000 years ago was.

This is the kind of gratuitous race-baiting that causes well-deserved backlash.  It’s also redolent of an old whitewashing theme, dating back to the “Cleopatra was black” and “Jesus was black” claims of activists in the 1970s.

3. Segue Alert! And speaking of stupid whitewashing controversies, the cancellation of that high school production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” because the student cast as the gypsy ingenue Esmeralda was “too white” provoked a backlash….from Nazis.

Naturally, this means that the race-based attack on the innocent student cast because she was the most qualified to play the part was justified, thanks to the trampoline effect when a bad idea is attacked by even worse extremists.  (Don’t make me put the cognitive dissonance scale up twice in one day.) The New York Times reports that the students who intimidated school administrators into cancelling the show “are now besieged by an online mob targeting them with threats and racial epithets after the incident was reported in right-wing publications like Breitbart News, then spread to the neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer. Via Facebook, the students received pictures of themselves with swastikas plastered on their faces. One parent had what was thought to be her home address (it wasn’t) posted online with a comment seeming to encourage harassment: “Do your thing social media.” Another parent received a profane email, assailing her for embracing “anti-white racism,” adding: “I feel sorry for your brainwashed child.” The way this phenomenon works is that now, when someone legitimately objects to the unethical handling of this episode by the school, they can be portrayed as agreeing with white supremacists.

We saw this effect in full bloom in Charlottesville. Tearing down statues of Robert E. Lee is a form of historical airbrushing and censorship, and principled, objective critics (like me) condemned the statue-toppling mania. Then the alt-right and the white nationalists marched against the removal of a Lee statue, and suddenly if you objected to a memorial to a major figure in American history and a bona fide military hero whose life is a wealth of lessons for all of us, it meant you were siding with racists.  President Trump was effectively trapped by this Catch-22. Continue reading

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Sex! Denial! Confirmation Bias! Media Obama Protection! Betrayal! Assholes! Hannity! It’s “Spermgate,” The Ethics Controversy That Has Everything!

Is this a stupid story? It is worthy of Ethics Alarms’ time and attention? That’s a legitimate question well down the list of issues raised by “Spermgate”—my name for it, and I hope nobody else’s, because it is intentionally silly—regarding whether President Obama’s official portrait contains an intentional representation of a sperm cell, a trademark of the artist, Kehinde Wiley.

But to prematurely answer that question, yes, story is worthy of Ethics Alarms’ time and attention, because the related issues it cracks open for examination are more important than the specific story itself.

I was going to title this story “Stop making me defend Sean Hannity.” Hannity, whom I regard as a blight on multiple landscapes, including national ethics standards, was among the first to assert that the portrait of Obama included a sperm on his face. I heard about this third hand, and immediately concluded that this was just one more anti-Obama Hannity fantasy. And there we have it: bias, one of the themes of this whole episode. I don’t trust Sean Hannity, I don’t respect him, and I question his integrity and motives. As with all bias, the Cognitive Dissonance Scale immediately took over. Here it is again…

Hannity is down around  -10. For me, if he declared that chocolate wonderful, and chocolate was at +7 on my scale, his endorse ment would yank it down into negative territory. So I didn’t even bother to check out Hannity’s claims—after all, he’ll claim anything to embarrass Democrats.

Then I stumbled across a mocking piece in the Daily Kos, full of mockery regarding Hannity’s crazy claim and launching the (pretty funny) gag, “Oh the #spermhannity.” The article began with the assumption that Hannity’s claim was res ipsa loquitur ridiculous, and signature significance for an right wing idiot. I accepted this analysis, even though I have about tyhe same level of bias reagrding the Daily Kos that I do regarding Hannity. It seemed as if Hannity himself had doubts, because after the barrage of abuse and ridicule, he deleted his tweet and the article on his website about the  “inappropriate sexual innuendo” and the hidden image of sperm in the portrait. I was prepared to leave it at that, but decided to follow up this link on the Kos post:

“If you’re hoping for more explanation than that, you will not find it in the article, which is still available to read via cache. It moves on from there to note that the artist once sardonically used the phrase “kill whitey” in New York magazine profile, which at least has the virtue of being true, unlike the claim that he put sperm in his painting of Barack Obama, which is objectively not true.”

Through that link, I eventually found the close-up section of the portrait pictured above. Here is the portion of it at issue:

Anyone who says that it is objectively untrue that the section doesn’t include what might have been an intentional representation of a sperm is either lying or is in the throes of crippling confirmation bias and denial.  Of course that could be a sperm. Here are sperms…

Here’s that vein in Obama’s head again…

Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/27/2018: “If You Want It, Here’s How To Get It” Edition

Good Morning (and I hope you all feel better than I do).

1 Tide Pod Update: If you want more libertarians, here’s how to get them.  At the Fortune site, Harold I. Ziegler writes,

Recently, videos have circulated on social media showing teens deliberately eating Tide Pods laundry detergent packs. All of this is part of what some call the “Tide Pod Challenge.” These pods contain highly concentrated laundry detergent under pressure and explode when bitten into, releasing their toxic contents and causing rapid ingestion and inhalation of dangerous chemicals. In my capacity as a toxic chemical researcher and consultant, I have investigated and seen several instances of the horrendous consequences that result from laundry pack ingestion: permanent burning of the mouth, throat, digestive tract, and lung tissue, and in some cases even death.Procter & Gamble (P&G), the manufacturer of Tide Pods, as well as other companies selling laundry detergent packs, have acted in the past to stem the misuse of their products. But these safety measures have failed.

It’s clear that laundry pods as they currently exist are too dangerous to be sold to the public. If P&G and other manufacturers can’t figure out a way to reduce the more than 10,000 injuries they cause each year, laundry packs need to be taken off the market.

If there is a better example of the thought processes that create nanny states and push society to eliminate personal responsibility, accountability and autonomy from its values, I can’t think of it. If people persist in the “Hit Yourself In The Head With a Hammer Challenge,” ban hammers.  How do intelligent, educated people end up thinking like this? More amazing still is that a consultant can put out an addled argument like this one for public consumption—Wait! Harold’s opinions make people stupid, and we can’t seem to stop people from reading them! Using Harold’s logic, we better ban freedom of expression! Or Harold!—and still be able to persuade clients to pay for his advice.

2. But if it’s more white nationalism you want, here’s how you get THAT…San Francisco Acting Mayor London Breed, an African-American, was voted out at by her colleagues Board of Supervisors in favor of Mark Farrell, who is white. The Horror.  will replace her as interim mayor until voters select a new mayor in June. As soon as it became apparent that the first African-American woman to lead San Francisco, albeit only because the elected mayor died suddenly, was being replaced by a white male, black citizens in the room erupted with rage, with many leaving in protest, and others shouting, “Shame, shame, shame.” “This is war!” some shouted as the meeting ended.

Nice.

In related news, the Congressional Black Caucus announced that it will boycott the State of the Union speech. Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/31/2017: The Too Many Year Ending Ethics Issues To Handle In One Day Edition”

JP’s Comment of the Day actually was sent in today, and so, despite the injustice of allowing him to jump in line (for there still are Comments of the Day from the Holiday Challenge of two days ago awaiting their honors), I’ve decided that this one should be published in close proximity to its target, which was #1 in today’s Warm-up, about Frank Bruni’s column,  “Higher Ed’s Low Moment, in the Times today. You should read Bruni’s column first to be fair to fine JP’s work, which is in the form of an open letter.

Here is JP’s epic Comment of the Day on the post,Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/31/2017: The Too Many Year Ending Ethics Issues To Handle In One Day Edition: 

Dear Mr. Bruni,

Thank you for that colorful article you posted in the NYT. As a college graduate from two universities (almost three), I can appreciate what you said regarding higher learning and its importance on the future of Americans (and in general the world). You see, I agree there is a lot that college has to teach us. Higher education should be focused, involve critical thinking, and provide much-needed life skills that are just not acquired at the at the high school level. While these could have been excellent points when defending the role of colleges and universities, you chose to skip right over them altogether. Instead, you chose to write about how people are wrong to not trust the system with not so subtle attacks on Trump, the Republicans, and the recent tax law.

I will give you some credit. You were able to point out some reasons why some of that trust is not there. You wrote, “I also hear more college presidents talking with more concern about their campuses’ images as enclaves of a distinctly illiberal liberalism. Especially ugly episodes this year at Middlebury College and The Evergreen State College fed that impression and, I think, increased many presidents’ resolve to do something about it.”

You also pay due attention to the much-noted lack of political diversity on campuses. However, it is clear from your article you believe these examples to be trivial based on your piece’s lack of focus, language used, and quick transitions.

With that in mind, let me ask you a question, Mr. Bruni:

Have you been hiding under a rock these last 10 years, or are you just so hidden in your elitist tower you can’t see Rome burning around you?

There are many good reasons that the public doesn’t trust college campus anymore. Follow me a little bit as I explore reasons.

The Teachers.

Just this past year alone we have witnessed a number of statements made by the professionals whose job it is to shape the minds of these students. These are the people who direct them, but with statements like the following, it is a wonder we haven’t had more students following the actual advice made by them (perhaps I don’t give these students enough credit on their critical thinking skills).

  • One professor at Montclair State University wished someone would shoot President Trump outright. He was later let go.
  • Another professor at Austin Community College said it was ok with him if Betsy DeVos was sexually assaulted. He later quit.
  • A University of Tampa Professor said Hurricane Harvey was “Instant Karma” for Texas because it was a red state. Nevermind that Houston, the heaviest area affected voted Democrat (moral luck) during the previous election, this professor had to get his two cents in. He was fired as well.
  • A Drexel professor said the shooting in Vegas this past year is what happens when white people don’t get what they want. His last day is officially today.

What is notable here is 70% of the staff tried to get his full reinstatement. This is somewhat bewildering because the professor is no stranger to racist tweets. writing last Christmas that the white genocide during the Haitian Revolution was a good thing. But of course if you here him, this was just a joke.

There are many more; this last is just icing on the cake:  A professor at California State University tweeted that Trump must be hanged. He later tweeted that “Justice = The execution of two Republicans for each deported immigrant.” This isn’t even retribution theology, it is just advocating for murder. He will be teaching again in the spring. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/31/2017: The Too Many Year Ending Ethics Issues To Handle In One Day Edition

Happy New Year!

1 Arrgh! In an op-ed called “Higher Ed’s Low Moment, Farnk Bruni bemoans the fact that colleges “found themselves on the defensive.” Citing the Pew Center’s findings that I discussed here, he writes of declining opinions about the value of college,

“That’s not so surprising, given Americans’ intensifying resentment of anything that smacks of elitism and given Republicans’ attacks on science and intellectuals. As Ron Daniels, the president of Johns Hopkins University, recently told me, “Even if we were completely unblemished in the way in which we pursued our mission, it would be hard to imagine that in Trump’s America, we wouldn’t be targets for scorn.”

Incredible. (Or, as my late, schizophrenic cousin Trefon would say, “Umba!“, as in “Umbelieveable!” I always found that funny, and I would love to see his slang word enter the popular lexicon. Trefon was a great kid who had a short, empty life, and ended it by jumping off an overpass into an oncoming truck. It would be nice if he left some enduring contribution to the culture, even if it was a silly one.) No, the reason so many Americans no longer think college is a wonderful thing is that they can see and hear. Students aren’t being educated. Graduates have minimal knowledge of history, literature, government and culture. They can’t write, and they can’t argue. Their professors get on social media and issue things that would destroy trust in any institution that employed them.

The campuses are increasingly hostile to free speech, free thought, democracy, capitalism and the United States of America. None of these factors penetrate Bruni’s biases and conventional wisdom. He keeps repeating the mantra that caused me to resign from an education board many years ago: ” a college degree is one of the surest harbingers of higher earnings and better economic security.” That’s how college has been regarded as a reflex for a century now, and the policies that followed that starting point–a degree,  means jobs and money—have created the sick system in which students who are not qualified to attend college are accepted anyway, and tuition has soared to obscene level., all while the actual content of the curriculum and teaching have become an afterthought. It’s the diploma that matters!

No, it’s the education. Bruni says, ” [T]he continued competitiveness of the American economy depends on the skills of our work force, the intellectual nimbleness of our citizens, the boldness of our scientific research and the genius of our inventions. Our colleges and universities are central to that.”  If getting as many people diplomas as possible is the mission, however, seeking “intellectual nimbleness” is obviously an afterthought.

This emperor has no clothes, and hasn’t had for a long time. The disturbing development isn’t that so many conservatives have finally realized that the golden ideal of an American college education no longer comports with reality. It is that so many opinion makers and policy makers hold on to that ideal when it is so evidently false. If college degrees don’t prove that  graduates have core knowledge, writing and critical thinking skills, then they are  just high-priced tickets to be incompetent.

And they don’t. Continue reading

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Ethics Observations On Pew’s “17 Striking Findings From 2017”

#1Partisan divides dwarf demographic differences on key political values. The average gap between the views of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents across 10 political values has increased from 15 percentage points in 1994 to 36 points today. Two decades ago, the average partisan differences on these items were only slightly wider than differences by religious attendance or educational attainment, and about as wide as differences across racial lines. Today, the partisan gaps far exceed differences across other key demographics.

I attribute this ominous development to both parties crossing previously observed lines of appropriate political tactics and rhetoric, picking at the seams that hold our society and democracy together. The GOP-advanced Whitewater investigation of the Clintons’ financial shenanigans began the criminalization of politics. President Clinton’s arrogance and recklessness as a sexual predator placed Democrats in the position of defending unethical conduct especially repugnant to conservatives, and the furious (and dishonest) efforts of both Clinton and Democrats to deny the legitimacy of his impeachment drove the parties further apart.

The essentially tied election of 2000 came at the worst possible time, but Democrats made its wounds to public comity worse that they had to be by using the false claim that the election was “stolen” to energize its base for years. The rise of hyper-partisan leaders in the House and Senate—Gingrich, Pelosi, McConnell, and worst of all, Harry Reid—continued to poison discourse.  The Iraq War fiasco, a Republican mistake, and the false Democratic mantra “Bush lied…” in response to it exacerbated the divide. Then the bi-partisan botches that led to the 2008 crash were widely attributed only to Republicans. Spurred by the prospect of a black President, the news media, always heavily tilted leftward, abandoned large portions of its ethical values to be an unapologetic cheerleader for the Democratic candidate, because having a black President elected would be so darn wonderful for everybody. Thus did the media fully embrace “the ends justifies the means” as an operating principle/

The inevitable racist response of a minority—but a vocal one—in conservative and Republican circles to the prospect of a black President caused further division, and Obama’s alliance with an openly racist Reverend Wright caused more racial polarization. Once elected, President Obama could have healed much of the damage since 1994 (as he promised to do) , but instead he chose to leverage divisions among races, genders, ages, classes, gays and straights, and legal and illegal immigrants for political advantage. His supporters, meanwhile, including those in the news media, began using accusations of racism to smother and inhibit legitimate criticism. Obama broke with Presidential tradition by repeatedly blaming his predecessor for problems he proved unable to solve, keeping partisan resentment hot.

Even with all of this, Obama could have healed much of the accumulated partisan antipathy if he had been an effective leader. He wasn’t. In contrast to his predecessor he was an effective (though over-praised) communicator,and in marked contrast to the current POTUS, he played the part beautifully, and that’s not inconsequential. The rest, however, was an ugly combination of misplaced priorities, incompetence, laziness, racial bias and posturing, with awful results. This hastened the divide, because Obama’s core base, the African American community, was inclined to view him uncritically no matter what he did. As other groups called out the President on his failings, that group’s loyalty and bias drove it, and allied groups, into defensive, knee-jerk ideological opposition, as the growing power of social media exacerbated hostility between the ideological polls.

Obama’s divisive administration, rhetoric and poor governing habits begat Donald Trump.

And here we are. Continue reading

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