Comment of the Day: “Rationalization List Update: 29 (a). The Gruber Variation and 47. Contrived Consent, or ‘The Rapist’s Defense'”

Magician, hoax-exposer, historian, truth-seeker James Randi

Magician, hoax-exposer, historian, truth-seeker James Randi

Alexander Cheezem weighed in with a wonderful expansion on The Gruber Variation (and its parent, Rationalization #29,  The Altruistic Switcheroo). It speaks for itself: the gist involves the situations when deception really does have  beneficial results for the deceived,  intended by the deceiver—in which case, the claim that an otherwise unethical act was “for his own good” mean that the act not have been unethical, and thus the claim is not rationalization, but truth.

One immediate result of Alexander’s comment is that I’m editing the text in #29. I wrote:

It is true that misfortune carries many life lessons, that what doesn’t kill us often makes us stronger, and that what hurts today may be the source of valuable wisdom and perspective later, but it really takes a lot of gall to cheat, lie to, steal from or otherwise harm someone and claim it will be a good thing in the long term. Yet an amazingly large number of people possess this much gall, because the Altruistic Switcheroo is very common, especially among parents who want to convince themselves that bad parenting is really the opposite. A marker for this rationalization is the statement, “You’ll thank me some day”—the specious theory of the sadistic parent who named his son “Sue” in the famous Shel Silverstein song made famous by Johnny Cash. No, he won’t.

“A Boy Named Sue” is a lousy example. It is true that the singer ends the song by saying he isn’t thankful, and I don’t blame him, but the father’s theory was borne out: the name did make his son tougher. There’s nothing in the lyrics to suggest that he name choice was sadistic, and if the only rationale for the song was what the father claimed it was, it’s no rationalization. Oh, it was cruel, irresponsible and unfair—and stupid— but the father did name the boy “Sue” for his own good. (The fact that his cruel tactic worked still doesn’t make it right: that would be 3. Consequentialism, or  “It Worked Out for the Best.”

I’ll end the passage before the dash.

Here is Alexander’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Rationalization List Update: 29 (a). The Gruber Variation and 47. Contrived Consent, or ‘The Rapist’s Defense'”:

Interesting additions, but I think that the Gruber Variation needs a bit of a caveat in nuance regarding its description: it needs to be distinguished from both legitimate teaching techniques which involve parallels and certain grey areas.

To handle the last first, I’ll just give a few examples, starting with Project Alpha ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Alpha ) and the Sokal Hoax (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair ). Both involved presenting people who were supposed to safeguard against deception with a hoax in order to expose the holes in said safeguards. Both involved rationales which closely paralleled the Gruber Variation in several respects, and were criticized for actually following that sort of logic (I disagree, although I do think that both were ethically “grey”). Continue reading

Rationalization List Update: 29 (a). The Gruber Variation and 47. Contrived Consent, or “The Rapist’s Defense”

Remember the TV show fondly...hate the rationalization.

Remember the TV show fondly…hate the rationalization.

In the midst of the disturbing revelation—via Dr. Jonathan Gruber’s many videos— that our government thinks that passing laws that have a large impact on our lives should be accomplished by conning us, as well as the discouraging realization that many of our Democratic and progressive friends and neighbors agree, there are some good things to come out of Gruber’s clarification of how the Affordable Care Act was enacted. We know, for example, that at least one of the major political parties no longer believes in American democracy as it was intended to be practiced, with an informed electorate and a civicly literate citizenry. That’s good to know, just as while it is horrible to have one’s house is infested with scorpions, it is still better to know it than not. We now also know that a substantial part of the news media is in cahoots with these democracy deniers—as of last night, for example, neither NBC nor ABC had broached the topic of the Gruber videos, a full week after they had become public. Again, that’s horrible, but we need to be aware of it, and it is good that we are.

Among the silver linings in this particularly threatening cloud is that it alerted me to two more—well, one and a half more—rationalizations for the Ethics Alarms Rationalization List. They have many applications beyond the Affordable Care Act. Say hello to 29 (a). The Gruber Variation, and 47. Contrived Consent, or “The Rapist’s Defense.”

The Gruber Variation doesn’t warrant its own category, but it is a very specific riff on 29. The Altruistic Switcheroo: “It’s for his own good, which is described on the list thusly:

“This rationalization is a pip, because it allows one to frame self-serving, unethical conduct as an act of good will and generosity. Cheating the young sprout will teach him to be more careful the next time, and it’s just a pleasant coincidence that you benefit from the deception. It is true that misfortune carries many life lessons, that what doesn’t kill us often makes us stronger, and that what hurts today may be the source of valuable wisdom and perspective later, but it really takes a lot of gall to cheat, lie to, steal from or otherwise harm someone and claim it will be a good thing in the long term. Yet an amazingly large number of people possess this much gall, because the Altruistic Switcheroo is very common, especially among parents who want to convince themselves that bad parenting is really the opposite. A marker for this rationalization is the statement, “You’ll thank me some day”—the specious theory of the sadistic parent who named his son “Sue” in the famous Shel Silverstein song made famous by Johnny Cash. No, he won’t.”

The Gruber Variation adds contempt to the mix, as it uses the presumed mental inadequacy of a victim to justify manipulating him: Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Month: Dr. Jonathan Gruber

“We currently have a highly discriminatory system where if you’re sick, if you’ve been sick or [if] you’re going to get sick, you cannot get health insurance. The only way to end that discriminatory system is to bring everyone into the system and pay one fair price. That means that the genetic winners, the lottery winners who’ve been paying an artificially low price because of this discrimination now will have to pay more in return. And that, by my estimate, is about four million people. In return, we’ll have a fixed system where over 30 million people will now for the first time be able to access fairly price and guaranteed health insurance.”

—– Dr. Jonathan Gruber of MIT, an economics professor who is among the designers of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a Obamacare. He was interviewed by NBC’s Chuck Todd regarding the troubled law’s problems.

lottery

Could it be that the act of getting involved with this administration turns even non-politicians into deceivers and liars? For an economist to talk so deceitfully and manipulatively is distressing. He, of all people, certainly knows how insurance works, and has to work. The insurance company accepts, in essence, wagers from its insured, in the form of premiums, that they will “win” by incurring health care costs that require more funds more than the accumulated “wagers.” The insurance company gambles that it will “win” by the insured remaining relatively healthy, so that the premiums (and whatever investment income they generate) exceed what the company has to pay in medical costs for that individual. The only way a company can keep providing insurance is to win more bets than it loses.

Saying that an insurance company is “discriminating” (in the unjust and biased sense) when it refuses to  accept a wager that is virtually certain to win is like saying that a poker player is engaging in discriminatory conduct by refusing to play with a new player who brings a royal flush to the table with him. It is not discrimination to refuse to lose money, and Gruber knows it. But  like an expert liar, as I must presume he is, he plants a false definition of discrimination at the beginning of his discussion and then treats it as an agreed-upon description of what is occurring. Not selling something to a customer who can’t afford a fair price is not discrimination, and refusing to gamble with someone who is assured of winning is also not discrimination. But discrimination is something that everyone regards as wrong, unfair, and unlawful, so that is how the lawful operation of insurance companies is framed by this clever, learned, dishonest man.

I no longer trust Dr. Gruber, nor should you.

His statement is of additional interest, however, because it starkly defines the unique Progressive definition of “fairness,” by his repeated use of lottery imagery to describe the fact that some people, through no fault of their own, have fewer advantages than others, while those others, often through no virtue of their own, have more resources and opportunities. Progressives regard this as inherently wrong and unfair, and so unfair that it must be remedied by obtrusive government interference. The rest of America regards this as “life.” Continue reading