Yet Another Comment Of The Day On “Comment of the Day: ‘Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/14/17’”

Steve-O-in NJ continues the very topical discussion of hate and partyism in our society. This story from yesterday is on point: increasingly Americans regard those supporting different parties as unfit for friendship, marriage, and other forms of association. I have been writing about this trend for almost two decades; it has accelerated greatly due to social media, the increasing bias and incompetence of the news media, divisive political leaders and bad luck. Democracy cannot thrive or even survive in an atmosphere of such distrust. This should be obvious, and as I have observed elsewhere on Ethics Alarms, those who are feeding the hate and distrust appear to bee doing so deliberately for some imagined political gain. This is madness.

More stories surface every day showing members of the political class embracing the madness. Like this one, about a Democratic strategist who has started promoting the hastags #HuntRepublicans and #HuntRepublicanCongressmen. on Twitter. “We are in a war with selfish, foolish & narcissistic rich people,” wrote James Devine on Twitter. “Why is it a shock when things turn violent? #HuntRepublicanCongressmen.” A Democrat who has has run for office, consulted for numerous New Jersey candidates, and worked for New Jersey lawmakers, Devine said in an interview, “If you want to invite a class war, then you have to expect people to fight back at some point.”

Wait….Bernie Sanders is a Republican? All those people cluttering up Wall Street vilifying the “1%” were conservatives? Republican Congressmen called citizens who wouldn’t fall into line “deplorables’? 

This is the latest rationalization I have been seeing on Facebook: Donald Trump has made Democrats act like spoiled street gang members. How? Why, by having the audacity and bad manners to win the election, of course. Here was Peggy Noonan correctly diagnosing the phenomenon:

Here I want to note the words spoken by Kathy Griffin, the holder of the severed head. In a tearful news conference she said of the president, “He broke me.” She was roundly mocked for this. Oh, the big bad president’s supporters were mean to you after you held up his bloody effigy. But she was exactly right. He did break her. He robbed her of her sense of restraint and limits, of her judgment. He broke her, but not in the way she thinks, and he is breaking more than her.

We have been seeing a generation of media figures cratering under the historical pressure of Donald Trump. He really is powerful.

They’re losing their heads. Now would be a good time to regain them.

They have been making the whole political scene lower, grubbier. They are showing the young what otherwise estimable adults do under pressure, which is lose their equilibrium, their knowledge of themselves as public figures, as therefore examples—tone setters. They’re paid a lot of money and have famous faces and get the best seat, and the big thing they’re supposed to do in return is not be a slob. Not make it worse.

By indulging their and their audience’s rage, they spread the rage. They celebrate themselves as brave for this. They stood up to the man, they spoke truth to power. But what courage, really, does that take? Their audiences love it. Their base loves it, their demo loves it, their bosses love it. Their numbers go up. They get a better contract. This isn’t brave.

Today, on Facebook, my wife intervened in a liberal echo chamber exchange among women saying they were going to boycott a local department store because it sold Ivanka Trump’s merchandise.  She pointed out that this was unfair and made now sense, and kept batting away various rationalizations offered by the women, who were lawyers. Finally one wrote, “Ok, I admit it. I just hate Donald Trump.” That was the best and only argument she had.

This is both admitting bigotry and being so comfortable with it that you accept it.

Here is Steve-O-in NJ’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Comment of the Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/14/17”: Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/14/17”

Some of Ethics Alarms’ most adept and provocative commenters have not authored official Comments of the Day. This is mostly due to the randomness of the selection process, as well as the fact that masters of the long-form have an inherent advantage over those who are more succinct.

I failed to get the Best of Ethics 2016 posted this year, but one of its items is always Commenter of the Year. That honor was going to go to Chris, who not only has been one of the most prolific commenters here since he first dropped by, but also one of the most resilient, forming the bedrock foundation of the Ethics Alarms liberal contingent, which still needs some recruits to balance the teams. Chris’s recognition in the Comment of the Day category does not accurately reflect his value here.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “Morning Ethics Round-Up: 6/14/17, taking off from one of my numbered observations therein. I’ll be back briefly at the end.

Jack: “2. It is astounding to me that so many Democrats deny that there is a liberal (progressive, really) climate of hate.”

This is because when most liberals use the term “hate,” we are referring to prejudice, bigotry, and other forms of unjustified hatred. The term has become closely associated with people who favor oppression: “Hate groups.” “Hate crimes.” “Hate speech.”

But of course, when we liberals hate someone, it’s because they deserve it.

I am going to be completely honest: I hate the current president. I think he’s a terrible person. I think he is doing damage to our country. And, of course, I think he is hateful of others for illegitimate reasons: xenophobia, misogyny, religious hatred…these are all forms of hatred that we universally condemn. But how to go about fighting this type of hatred without succumbing to hatred ourselves?

Hatred is a natural human emotion. We all hate someone. Your Christian grandmother who says “I love all sinners” probably hates one of the other Christian grandmothers at church who says the exact same thing, because that other woman is a judgmental gossip. Hating someone isn’t unethical…but how we process that hatred can be. Continue reading

Update: Unethical Research, Unethical Headline, Unethical Media Report: “Many Parents Will Say Kids Made Them Happier. They’re Probably Lying”

Yij = β0j + β1jX1ij + β2j Zij + Eij

Yij = β0j + β1jX1ij + β2j Zij + Eij

Reader and commenter Alexander Cheezem issued an energetic objection to my post about another happiness study, which you can read, along with my rebuttal, in the comment threads to the post, here. His main two complaints were that I didn’t read the study itself, and that I unfairly called it  policy advocacy disguised as objective social science research.

I didn’t read the study itself because the only link the Post provided was not accessible without joining a service I didn’t care to join, or take the time trying. Alexander kept referring to a “direct link,” an unfortunate and misleading description of a link that goes to a page with a link to the study that doesn’t respond when you click on it, and are directed to “register.” [ CORRECTION: This is what I thought at the time. It has been pointed out to me that the first time the reporter linked to “research,” it wasn’t the study she was writing about, but another, behind a paywall. The second link on “research” did go to a live link to the actual study. Having been frustrated once, I assumed that the second link would also be to the same  inaccessible link. My error—though I’m furious at the Posts’s incompetence—and I apologize to Alexander.]

Other Bill, who flagged the Washington Post headline and story initially, has provided a free and direct link It is here.

I am relieved to find that reading the entire study revealed nothing that I didn’t discern from what the Post reporter wrote, and checking the accessible links she provided. (Obviously, it would have been preferable to read the whole study initially, and I would have, if a functioning link was provided, as it should have been.). Let me take that back a bit: the study itself was worse than I thought.

Here’s why: Continue reading

Unethical Research, Unethical Headline, Unethical Media Report: “Many Parents Will Say Kids Made Them Happier. They’re Probably Lying”

I think this made me 12% less happy than when I passed the bar exam...

I think this made me 12% less happy than when I passed the bar exam…

[An UPDATE is HERE]

On the Washington Post’s Wonkblog, Ana Swenson breathlessly writes “that research suggests …[p]eople who have kids in the United States and in many countries around the world report being less happy than people who don’t have kids.”

Ah-HA! This must be why DirecTV is certain that promoting a device that it facetiously suggests would make your kid disappear will appeal to its customers!

Except that Swenson’s headline is click-bait, her article is irresponsible and incompetent, and the study is politically motivated junk, as such things usually are.

“Research” doesn’t suggest this politically manufactured finding.  A single dubious study may suggest it to those who already are inclined to be dubious about parenthood, and who could also be persuaded to buy valuable swampland property in Florida. If you aren’t smart enough to bale on both the “study” and Swenson after this statement central to the issue, I have little hope for you:

“On average, an American parent reports being 12 percent unhappier than a non-parent in America – the biggest gap in the 22 countries the researchers looked at, followed distantly by Ireland.”  

What (the hell) does it mean to be “12 per cent unhappier,” or “12 per cent happier”? Happiness is not quantifiable like that, nor can it be measured with that kind of precision, or any kind of precision. Gee, what is the margin of error in that 12 %? Is it 12%, +/- 3%? I’m trying to think of two states of happiness I have experienced in which I could say with any certainty that I was 12% happier/ 47% happier or 71% happier  in one more than the other, and if I can’t determine that, how are a bunch or researches going to do it?

Let’s see—did discovering I had to undergo a circumcision at the age of 30 make me 12% more unhappy than I was when the Red Sox lost Game 6 of the 1986 World Series? Did watching the T-Rex beat the Indominus Rex in the dino-showdown in “Jurassic World” make me 12% happier than when bought our home for a bargain, or 12% less? You know, I really can’t answer that. Both made me happy in different ways. Did my happiness that my dad died the way he wanted, with dignity and in his sleep just short of his 90th birthday, exceed by 12% the happiness I felt when my final performance at my theater company got a deserved standing ovation, though I was also saddened that my dad wasn’t there to see it?

Please, O Wise and Researchers, enlighten me! They can’t. Of course they can’t. Nor can they tell me how to quantify the happiness my son has given his mother and me, even though he has driven and almost certainly will continue to drive us out of our minds with worry and worse on a regular basis, and has cost us a lot of money we will surely miss when we are dreaming about finally seeing Paris. Am I 12 % less happy than I would have been with a son more like I was, a non-rebellious, conventionally obedient, healthy and lucky kid who sailed through school and never got in any serious trouble? No, because then my son wouldn’t be the unique, amazing, gutsy and original individual he is.

Swenson’s report is filled with statements that make it clear that this is politically motivated  entitlement and anti-child propaganda (and thus pro-abortion propaganda). The smoking gun comes early: Continue reading

Possible Tools Of Ethical Analysis: Strange Emotions

confusion

I’m always on the lookout for concepts and tools that can help us negotiate the difficulties humans have determining right from wrong without pollution from emotions, non-ethical considerations, logical fallacies and rationalizations. Somewhere in this list of strange emotions there may be some.

I’m thinking about them while I recuperate from my last week of exhausting travel and daily seminars—I feel like I’ve been run over by water buffalo—and invite you to think about them along with me. I’m interested in your reactions.

Strange emotions

UPDATE: I was just schooled that the origin of this list, not mentioned where I say it, is “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows,” the invention of artist and blogger John Koenig.

A Handbook For Manipulation and Deceit, Rationalizations Included

PreventingGunViolence

This wasn’t considered newsworthy by the mainstream media, and that alone is worthy of some pondering: a 70-plus page how-to guide titled “Preventing Gun Violence Through Effective Messaging” has surfaced, produced last year by the Washington, D.C.-based firm of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner.* The guide is a political strategy lesson for anti-gun advocacy, and its favored tactics involve emphasizing emotional hot-buttons over rational discourse and informative debate. The manual was produced, it appears, for the Seattle-based Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility (WAGR) before the Sandy Hook tragedy, but its advice tracks in every way with the approach employed by Democrats, including President Obama, during the disgraceful rush to exploit public horror over the shooting in an effort to pass strong anti-gun measures in the states and nationally.

Of course this is newsworthy. The public is the target of manipulation, deception and persuasion tactics that are designed to provoke half-baked opinions and positions based on emotion rather than rational analysis. If the public recognizes such tactics as the cynical ploys they are, such tactics will not be as effective. Such tactics shouldn’t be effective, and should be employed by honest, ethical advocates on any side of any issue. The mainstream media chose not to publicize the manual because 1) most reporters agree with the manual’s objective, and 2) the mainstream media eagerly facilitated the unethical methods recommended, and will probably continue to do so.

“The debate over gun violence in America is periodically punctuated by high-profile gun violence incidents including Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, the Trayvon Martin killing, Aurora, and Oak Creek,” the guide points out. “When an incident such as these attracts sustained media attention, it creates a unique climate for our communications efforts.”  Early on, the document it makes it clear that the “communication efforts” must always concentrate on stirring up emotions, not relying on facts or engaging in substantive debate. “A high-profile gun violence incident temporarily draws more people into the conversation about gun violence. We should rely on emotionally powerful language, feelings and images to bring home the terrible impact of gun violence.”

For example,  the guide addresses Stand Your Ground laws and advises substituting pejorative (and misleading) descriptions like  “Shoot First” and “Kill at Will,” asserting that these terms are “more accurate and persuasive.” At every turn, the guide cautions against getting bogged down in potentially nuanced statistics and facts, and urges anti-gun advocates to overwhelm any efforts at balancing or considering pros and cons with talking points based on  emotion salted with one-sided, group-tested statistics and generalities...”The core frame should be personal and emotional—centered on ‘people’ and not on facts, laws, or legislation.”  The top things to remember, cautions the guide,

#1: ALWAYS START WITH THE PAIN AND ANGUISH THAT GUN VIOLENCE BRINGS INTO PEOPLE’S LIVES

#2: USE STATISTICS TO REINFORCE AN EMOTIONAL ARGUMENT, NOT TO REPLACE IT.

Recommended phrases to use in forums and interviews include,

  • “It breaks my heart that every day in our country (state or city) children wake up worried and frightened about getting shot.”
  • “Just imagine the pain that a mother or father feels when their young child is gunned down.”
  • ” The real outrage – the thing that makes this violence so unforgivable – is that we know how to stop it and we’re not getting it done”

To the authors of the guide, effective persuasion “means emphasizing emotion over policy prescriptions, keeping our facts and our case simple and direct, and avoiding arguments that leave people thinking they don’t know enough about the topic to weigh in.”

That’s right, keep them ignorant and thinking that they aren’t. It’s the American way.

The guide is professional and well-thought out. It is certainly a useful document for any advocate to study before going on a talk show, or before drafting remarks at a rally, and it is obvious that this is exactly what such advocates do, if not with this document, then with similar ones. It is creepy to read line after line that is immediately recognizable as an endlessly repeated “talking point” during the Trayvon Martin uproar and the Sandy Hook aftermath. The manual also could grow cynicism on a rock. There is nothing honest or genuine about the political and policy-making process that the guide presupposes and attempts to control. There is nothing productive either. The objective is only to win—to get a desired policy initiative past the stage where public support is important and into the back rooms where the deals can be cut . You know that there was an equivalent document during the Affordable Health Care Act. These are blueprints for rushing policies into law, not for educating the public or fairly exploring complex issues before taking giant leaps of faith. They are, in short, instruction books on how to exploit the ignorance of the American people and distort the democratic process.

This is a bi-partisan practice, of course. The only difference between this guide and those produced by conservative consultants is that if one of those was found, the mainstream media would have reported it, Media Matters would have announced that it was a smoking gun document showing how evil Republicans corrupt America with their lies, and on MSNBC, Lawrence O’Donnell would have smirked over it for a week.

The number of rationalizations at the ready, therefore, begin powerfully with “Everybody does it” (#1 on the Rationalizations list). So is, as a direct result, #2, “They’re just as bad” and #7, “Tit for tat,” Such a document and the politics behind it also invokes #3, Consequentialism, and #4, Marion Barry’s favorite, “If it’s legal, it’s ethical.”  It employs # 11, the Dissonance Drag, since the reason it will be deemed acceptable by anti-gun types is because they happen to like the people using the strategy; if the same document outlined the NRA’s approach, they would sincerely and passionately feel it was despicable.

It is the very embodiment of The Saint’s Excuse (#12), otherwise known as “It’s for a good cause,” as well as #13, Self-Validating Virtue. #17,  Hamm’s Excuse or “It wasn’t my fault,” is one of the predictable responses to criticism: “Hey, this is how the game is played. We didn’t make these rules; this has been going on for decades. Don’t blame us!”  My least favorite rationalization of all, #22, Comparative Virtue,  “There are worse things,” is also in play; so is “We have no choice” (because the evil NRA keeps buying legislators and rational debate doesn’t work!), # 24#27, “These are not ordinary times!” is a natural, of course.  So is #30, The Troublesome Luxury, usually expressed as “Ethics is a luxury we can’t afford right now!”

Politics being politics, it’s perfect for #31, The Unethical Role Model, as in “Thomas Jefferson/Abe Lincoln/ Jack Kennedy would have done the same thing.” Heck…A new book suggests Jesus might have done the same thing!

Fourteen out of thirty-two possible rationalizations is an impressive arsenal, all right, but they are still rationalizations for what is a Machiavellian, “the ends justifies the means,” “by any means necessary,” unethical strategy that intentionally aims at the weaknesses of democracy and exploits them through the cynical use of psychology, manipulation, and deceit. Yeah, I know, it works, just as so many methods used by governments and interest groups to deceive the public and warp their perceptions have worked and work still.

That’s not really working, though, is it now? Causing a system designed to involve an informed and rational citizenry  to malfunction by exploiting laziness, ignorance and hysteria isn’t working, just because it succeeds. In fact, such tactics result in the kind of politics and government we have right now.

That is called, not working, but failing.

* According to the guide, Quinlan was part of “a team of communicators” with “decades of experience advising organizations on message development and strategic communications.” Other members of this team were Frank O’Brien, creative director and founder of OMP, another Washington, D.C.-based firm, and Jeff Neffinger and Matthew Kohut at KNP Communications, also headquartered in Washington, D.C. Among GQR’s clients are the Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the Joyce Foundation, several state education associations, Defenders of Wildlife, National Public Radio and the Sierra Club. Among OMP’s clients are Planned Parenthood of America and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

_______________________________________

Sources: WSJ, Washington Examiner, Examiner

When Routine Deadens Ethics

"Good boy!!!"

A Niagara County, New York coroner just resigned as he faces possible imprisonment after taking a fresh body part from the carnage of a local plane wreck and using it to train his personal cadaver-sniffing dog.

How, you may ask, could anyone, particularly a public coroner, be so callous and ethically numb? “Hey! Here’s a leg! What luck! Now I can train Rex!” How can a professional—or a human being— treat some grieving family’s loved one like a piece of meat?

I think it’s natural, really. Coroners, morticians, medical examiners, rescue workers, military commanders and doctors all have to detach themselves from the human beings whose deaths are a routine part of their daily work, or they risk being unable to do their work at all. Objectivity and independent judgment are crucial elements of professional conduct, and emotion, including sorrow, sympathy, and revulsion, is the enemy of objectivity. The danger is that in order to deaden one’s emotions through repetition and routine, one risks unplugging an ethics alarm. For these emotions are also part of the ethical value of caring.

The coroner might have been excellent at his job, but he lost all human connection to his work. The mangled body part that had once been a living, breathing, loving person seemed like a piece of meat, because to the coroner, like his dog, it was just a piece of meat.

When feeling gets in the way of a professional’s  duties, it is only normal for the professional to try to eliminate them, and even prudent, except that the absence of feelings can cause a deficit in ethics. Building those callouses over normal human emotions are matter of survival in some professions, but doing so creates what I call a “pre-unethical condition” requiring awareness and vigilance.

The Niagara coroner wasn’t sufficiently vigilant, and he fell into a career ending trap.

______________________________

Facts: WGRG New York

Graphic: Greenwich Roundup

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of  facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.