Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/24/2019: Big Brotherism At The Ballet, And How Hillary Sicced Mueller On Trump

Good morning…

Depressed and discouraged today, about many things…time for Jimmy…

1. Another angle on the the topics here...arrives courtesy of Michael West, who pointed me to this article. about the psychology of unethical behavior. Mostly, it frames in slightly different packages familiar themes on Ethics Alarms, beginning with who people often don’t speak up and actively oppose unethical conduct that they witness or are a part of. Ethics Alarms has examined this phenomenon (and will continue to) many ways. One example was a two part post in 2015 on the duty to confront. (Part II is here) Other posts can be found by clicking on the tags below, such as the duty to lead, the duty to oppose evil, the duty to warn, and the duty to fix the problem.

The wonderfully named author Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg identifies several concepts in her essay, including omnipotence, cultural numbness, justified neglect, and looking out for signs of moral capture.

Ethics Alarms uses different approaches: omnipotence is essentially “The King’s Pass” and “The Saint’s Excuse” in the rationalizations list. Cultural numbness describes how “the Big Yellow Circle’s” gravitational pull influences the Green Circle, encompassing personal values and conscience. Justified neglect isn’t really justified: she is talking about how non-ethical consideration freeze ethics alarms. “Looking out for signs of moral capture” is the topic of Philip Zimbardo’s “rules” to avoid being corrupted by peer groups and organizations. I would assume that the author has studied these, since “Dr. Z” is one of the leading writers and researchers in the area.

Inevitably, the article delves into leadership, concluding,

“The reality is that, for many leaders, there is no true straight-and-narrow path to follow. You beat the path as you go. Therefore, ethical leadership relies a lot on your personal judgment. Because of this, the moral or ethical dilemmas you experience may feel solitary or taboo — struggles you don’t want to let your peers know about. It can sometimes feel shameful to admit that you feel torn or unsure about how to proceed. But you have to recognize that this is part of work life and should be addressed in a direct and open way.”

I disagree with that description of leadership technique, and I’m tempted to say that its the claim as someone who has not done much leading. It does seem typical of so-called “female leadership models,” which emphasize consensus and transparency. Traditional leadership theories hold that a leader’s followers don’t want to know how conflicted a leaders, and learning that a leader is “unsure” is the last thing they want to know. Effective leaders learn to keep their doubts and insecurities to themselves—one more reason leadership isn’t for everyone. Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Month: Judge John Boccabella

“[These defendants are] good people who made a terrible mistake…Why no one made a phone call to police is beyond me.”

—-Dauphin County (Pennsylvania) Court of Common Pleas Judge John Boccabella,  as he sentenced three former Pennsylvania State University officials, including  former university president  Graham B. Spanier, to jail terms last week for doing nothing after they were informed that told in 2001 that a former assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, had been seen molesting a boy in a locker room shower. Sandusky was found guilty of subsequently molesting many other children.

Of course he’s good person—just look at the guy!

This is, of course, the last act of the Joe Paterno/Penn State/Jerry Sandusky tragedy, which burgeoned into an Ethics Train Wreck and occupied as much attention on Ethics Alarms as any other event in the blog’s history. You can review all of that here, if you have the interest or the time.

Right now I want to ponder the judge’s statement with a few questions and observations….

1. By what standard can the judge call this “a mistake’? This is like George Costanza in “Seinfeld” asking his boss if having sex on his desl with the office cleaning woman was wrong, as if the option posed a legitimate puzzle at the time he did it. Was it a mistake because Sandusky turned out to be a serial child predator rather than just trying it out that one time? Was it a mistake because for once the justice system held a university president and other administrators criminally responsible when they looked the other way to protect their precious institution while endangering innocent children? Did Spanier et al. make a “mistake” in calculating the odds? Was the  alleged “mistake” not understanding that “I saw Jerry a huge 50-year old man naked in a shower with a little boy” meant that something was amiss? Do you really believe that was how these men were thinking? Did the judge?

2. Why does the judge say these were good people? Because they had responsible, prestigious jobs? Because people trusted them? Because they are white, or wealthy, or have no criminal records? There are millions of prison inmats who have done less damage than Spanier, Peterno and the rest. Are the good too? Better than the Penn State enablers?

3. It your ethics alarm fails when it is most essential that it ring like crazy, what good is it?

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Sources: Washington Post, New York Times

Frivolous Charge of the Month (Runner-Up): Redskins Owner and Ethics Dunce, Dan Snyder

Most NFL fans know that Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder is the most hapless, inept, and narcissistic team owner in the league, spending millions upon millions of dollars on the once successful franchise while meddling in team affairs and ending up with a squad that seems to get worse every season. Few knew how petty and mean he was, however, until he was angered by an alternative media publication that published a reporter’s withering, exhaustive article last year, entitled “The Cranky Redskins Fan’s Guide to Dan Snyder”, cataloging the full range of Snyder’s non-feasance, misfeasance, malfeasance, and plain old bone-headedness over his career. Snyder’s lawsuit, filed this week in New York, claims that the article contained “numerous outrageous, false and defamatory statements of and concerning” Snyder. “Simply put,” it says, “no reasonable person would accept the publication of these types of false, malicious, and/or defamatory statements about them or their spouses. Nor would any reasonable person tolerate an anti-Semitic caricature of himself or herself prominently displayed on the front pages of a newspaper containing false and malicious allegations.”

The lawsuit is ridiculous on many levels, but mostly because it is a classic frivolous action. Continue reading