Tag Archives: ethical analysis

The Return Of Louis C.K. For Ethics Dummies

Ick.

Reading the news media and entertainment websites, one would think that Louis C.K.’s return to stand-up comedy after nearly a year in exile or rehab or something raises ethics conundrums that would stump Plato, Kant and Mill. It’s not that hard. The fact that everyone, especially those in the entertainment field, are displaying such confusion and angst just tells us something useful about them. They don’t know how to figure out what’s right and wrong.

In case you have forgotten, cult comedy star  Louis C.K. admitted last November at the peak of the #MeToo rush that he had masturbed in front of  at least five women without their consent. Ick. His cable show and other projects were cancelled, and he disappeared from the public eye. Then, last weekend, he returned to the stage at the Comedy Cellar in New York, performed for about 15 minutes, and received a standing ovation.  This apparently alternately shocked or confused people. I’ll make it simple.

Does the comedian have a right to practice his art after the revelation of his disgusting conduct?

Of course he does. He wasn’t sentenced to prison. He has a right to try to make a living at what he does well. In fact, he has a First Amendment right to tell jokes any where others will listen to him.

OK, he technically has a right. But is it right for him to come back like nothing has happened?

What? The man was publicly shamed and humiliated. He can’t come back as if nothing has happened, because everyone knows that something has happened. Nevertheless, his art does not require the public trust. It does not demand good character, or even the absence of a criminal record. Does a great singer sound worse because he was abusive to women? No. Is there a law that says men who are abusive to women should never be able to work again? No, and there shouldn’t be. I wouldn’t hire C.K. to work in an office, because I see no reason to trust him around others. But he’s not a worker, he’s an artist. He never engaged in inappropriate conduct on stage. He can be trusted as an artist,at least when he’s performing solo.

Comedian Michael Ian Black tweeted regarding Louis C.K.that “Will take heat for this, but people have to be allowed to serve their time and move on with their lives.I don’t know if it’s been long enough, or his career will recover, or if people will have him back, but I’m happy to see him try.” For this he apologized,  saying this position was “ultimately, not defensible.” after he was broiled on social media. Should he have apologized? Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Ethics Train Wrecks, Gender and Sex, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, Popular Culture, Professions, Rights, U.S. Society, Workplace

Ethics, Motives, Killing With Kindness, “Amadeus” And Related Matters

On a thread about the hysterical doom-sayers in response to the US’s exit from the Paris accords on climate change, one dedicated defender of progressive orthodoxy, lacking a genuine rebuttal for the proposition that the social media and pundit panic was nonsense (for there is none), defaulted to the argument that the withdrawal was unethical because the President’s stated motives for it were untrue. This raised two issues, one centuries old, and the other, an irritating one, of more recent vintage.

In order to sanctify many of the Obama administration’s policy botches, many people have adapted  aggressive versions of three prime rationalizations on the Ethics Alarms List: #13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”; #13A  The Road To Hell, or “I meant well” (“I didn’t mean any harm!”) and #14. Self-validating Virtue. To refresh your memory:

13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”

This rationalization has probably caused more death and human suffering than any other. The words “it’s for a good cause” have been used to justify all sorts of lies, scams and mayhem. It is the downfall of the zealot, the true believer, and the passionate advocate that almost any action that supports “the Cause,’ whether it be liberty, religion, charity, or curing a plague, is seen as being justified by the inherent rightness of the ultimate goal. Thus Catholic Bishops protected child-molesting priests to protect the Church, and the American Red Cross used deceptive promotions to swell its blood supplies after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The Saint’s Excuse  allows charities to strong-arm contributors, and advocacy groups to use lies and innuendo to savage ideological opponents. The Saint’s Excuse is that the ends justify the means, because the “saint” has decided that the ends are worth any price—especially when that price will have to be paid by someone else.

13A  The Road To Hell, or “I meant well” (“I didn’t mean any harm!”)

This sub-rationalization to the Saint’s Excuse is related to its parent but arguably worse. Rationalization 13 is one of the really deadly rationalizations, the closest on the list to “The ends justified the means”:

 The Saint’s Excuse is that the ends justify the means, because the “saint” has decided that the ends are worth any price—especially when that price will have to be paid by someone else. 

But while the wielder of the Saint’s Excuse typically at least has a beneficial or valuable result to claim as justification for unethical and inexcusable acts, the desperate employers of 13A only have their alleged good intentions, which may be the product of emotion, misunderstanding, ignorance or stupidity. How a bad actor intended his unethical conduct to turn out is no mitigation at all. The underlying logic is that the wrongdoer isn’t a bad person, so the wrongful act shouldn’t be held against him or her as harshly as if he was. The logic is flawed (it is the same logic as in The King’s Pass, #11, which holds that societal valuable people would be held to lower standards of conduct than everyone else) and dangerous, encouraging the reckless not to consider the substance of a course of action, but only its motivations.

The Saint’s Excuse attempts to justify unethical actions that accomplish worthy goals The Road to Hell attempts to justify unethical conduct even when it does undeniable harm, just because it was undertaken with admirable intent.

14. Self-validating Virtue

A  corollary of the Saint’s Excuse  is “Self-validating Virtue,” in which the act is judged by the perceived goodness the person doing it, rather than the other way around. This is applied by the doer, who reasons, “I am a good and ethical person. I have decided to do this; therefore this must be an ethical thing to do, since I would never do anything unethical.” Effective, seductive, and dangerous, this rationalization short-circuits ethical decision-making, and is among the reasons good people do bad things, and keep doing them, even when the critics point out their obvious unethical nature. Good people sometimes do bad things because they are good people, and because of complacency and self-esteem they begin with a conviction, often well supported by their experience, that they are incapable of doing something terribly wrong. But all of us are capable of that, if our ethics alarms freeze due to our environment, emotions, peer pressure, and corrupting leadership, among many possible causes. At the end of the movie “Falling Down,” the rampaging vigilante played by Michael Douglas, once a submissive, law-abiding citizen, suddenly realizes what he has done. “I’m the bad guy?” he asks incredulously. Indeed he is. Any of us, no matter how virtuous, are capable of becoming “the bad guy”…especially when we are convinced that we are not.

This has led to the seeming absurdity of recent arguments, some accepted in court, that the same conduct can be right or wrong, depending on whether the conduct is based on “good” motives, and who is the actor. Since, to take one random example, Barack Obama is obviously good and means well, even inept, poorly planned and irresponsible policies are ethical. Because President Trump is a villain, the same conduct emanating from his dastardly motives would make the same conduct unethical. I have dealt with this biased approach before and will again, but not today.

It is the second, older question that concerns me at the moment, and that is whether human motives should be used in the analysis of whether conduct is ethical or not. The conundrum come up repeatedly in one of my favorite ethics books,  “The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten.Continue reading

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Incompetent Elected Official Of The Month: President Barack Obama

Yesterday’s U.S.  missile attack on Syria prompted by Assad’s use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians clarifies just how inept and feckless President Obama’s handling of foreign policy was.

In an article today in the reliably progressive and Democratic Party-boosting The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg writes,

“President Obama’s foreign policy doctrine, like many foreign policy doctrines, was contradictory at times, and it sometimes lacked coherence.”

1. At times?

2. Sometimes lacked coherence?

3. Notice the obligatory “like many foreign policy doctrines” to cushion the blow. Journalists are in permanent denial over just how epically awful the first black President’s administration was.

Goldberg eventually gets around to Obama’s “decision, in 2013, to go back on his promise to punish the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons on civilians. Early in the Syrian civil war, Obama publicly drew a red line concerning Assad’s behavior, but later decided to forgo military strikes, even after being presented with near-definitive proof that Assad had crossed the red line in grotesque fashion. “  This inadequate description intentionally leaves out the dispiriting details of that fiasco. Here is what Obama said in August of 2013 when the first “red line” appeared:

“We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people. We have been very clear to the Assad regime — but also to other players on the ground — that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus; that would change my equation….We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that’s a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons.” 

Ethics Alarms:

Now, lawyers and grammarians may argue over what “a red line” means, what constitutes “use” and “a whole bunch,” and what the President considers “enormous consequences.” None of that matters. What matters is what the statement was understood to mean around the world, and it was widely understood to mean this: If chemical weapons are used against the Syrian people by Assad, the United States will act decisively. Last week, reliable evidence indicated that indeed chemical weapons had been used, and that the “red line” had been crossed.

Obama’s response? Double-talk, backtracking and word-parsing:

  • The President to reporters Friday with Jordan’s King Abdullah in the Oval Office:  “What we have right now is an intelligence assessment. And as I said, knowing that potentially chemical weapons have been used inside of Syria doesn’t tell us when they were used, how they were used. Obtaining confirmation and strong evidence, all of those things we have to make sure that we work on with the international community. And we ourselves are going to be putting a lot of resources into focusing on this. And I think that, in many ways, a line has been crossed when we see tens of thousands of innocent people being killed by a regime. But the use of chemical weapons and the dangers that poses to the international community, to neighbors of Syria, the potential for chemical weapons to get into the hands of terrorists — all of those things add increased urgency to what is already a significant security problem and humanitarian problem in the region. So we’re going to be working with countries like Jordan to try to obtain more direct evidence and confirmation of this potential use. In the meantime, I’ve been very clear publicly, but also privately, that for the Syrian government to utilize chemical weapons on its people crosses a line that will change my calculus and how the United States approaches these issues. So this is not an on or off switch.”
  • A White House official to reporters Thursday: “I think what the Assad regime needs to know is that we are watching this incredibly closely. Were he to undertake any additional use [of chemical weapons], he would be doing so under very careful monitoring from us and the international community. There should be no mistaking our determination not just to get to the bottom of these reports, but to send a message … that Bashar al-Assad and his regime will be held accountable for these types of actions. We’re going to be methodical, rigorous and relentless … so we can establish exactly what happened…all options are on the table in terms of our response…If we reach a definitive determination that the red line has been crossed … what we will be doing is consulting closely with out friends and allies … to determine what the best course of action is.”

So those “enormous consequences ” of the “red line” being crossed is that the United States will start consulting with friends and allies?

Well, yes, in a word. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Incompetent Elected Officials, Leadership, This Helps Explain Why Trump Is President, War and the Military

Ethics Quote Of The Month: Philosophy Professor Peter Boghossian

"Hmmm. OK, now THIS seriously undercuts some of my strongly held beliefs..."

“Hmmm. OK, now THIS seriously undercuts some of my strongly held beliefs…”

“We’ve taught, “Formulate your beliefs on the basis of evidence.” But the problem with that is people already believe they’ve formulated their beliefs on evidence — that’s why they believe what they believe. Instead, what we should focus on is teaching people to seek out and identify defeaters.

What is a defeater? A defeater is: If A, then B, unless C. C is the defeater. We should teach people to identify conditions under which their beliefs could be false.”

Peter Boghossian, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Portland State University, who studies critical thinking and moral reasoning, in a wide-ranging interview with  Malhar Mali

He continues, Continue reading

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And The Winner Of The First Ethics Alarms Readers Challenge Is….

First time commenter Aleksei!

atlantic-hillaryThe lateness of this announcement is embarrassing, and I apologize to all. The Challenge was to compose the best analysis, positive or negative, of a mind-melting pro-Hillary puff-piece in the Atlantic called—then, for the title was later changed because it was ridiculous)—“Why is Hillary Clinton So Widely Loved?”

A sample:

A conservative writer labeled her a congenital liar when she was first lady, and the label stuck because it was repeated over and over—and it was a convenient label to harness misogyny. If she was a liar, then the hostility she engendered could not possibly be because she was a first lady who refused to be still and silent. “Liar’ has re-emerged during this election even though Politifact, a respected source of information about politicians, has certified that she is more honest than most politicians—and certainly more honest than her opponent.

Because she is already considered guilty in a vague and hazy way, there is a longing for her to be demonstrably guilty of something. Other words have been repeated over and over, with no context, until they have begun to breathe and thrum with life. Especially “emails.” The press coverage of “emails” has become an unclear morass where “emails” must mean something terrible, if only because of how often it is invoked.

The challenge was issued on November 3rd, and my intention was to publish the winner on the 6th, two days before the election. There were not many entries, in part because Aleksei’s analysis was so quickly posted and thorough. In the frantic run-up to the election, including my own resolution of the many conflicts the choice represented for me professionally and personally, I just forgot to publish Aleksei’s work, and then moved on to other issues in the election.

I apologize to Aleksei and Ethics Alarms readers.

It  certainly is weird to read the article and the analysis now. It was written only two weeks ago, but it feels like a lifetime ago. The election was the ultimate rebuttal of the essay’s argument—if Hillary really was “so widely loved,” she’d be President today—and the kind of mindless worship and relentless denial the piece displays was a large factor in her defeat. It is bracing to read this in light of the efforts by the Clinton team, Democrats, and various pundits to absolve Clinton and the party from all accountability for the most stunning upset in presidential election history. Hillary blames the loss, predictably, on James Comey, which is like blaming the loss of your license for speeding on traffic cops. On MSNBC on this week, former Clinton campaign communications director Jess McIntosh put the blame on  white women with “internalized misogyny,” who couldn’t bring themselves to vote to elect the first woman president. Then there was the narrative that Trump’s win was based on massive support for “Misogyny, Racism and Xenophobia”—good names for triplets, now that I think about it. Slate’s star race-baiter, Jamelle Bouie, wrote that there is “no such thing as a good Trump voter.” To paraphrase the hysterical woman who gives “The Birds” its funniest moment, Bouie thinks everyone who didn’t vote for this beloved woman is “Evil! Evil!”

I don’t necessarily agree with all the analysis of the winning submission, but he was willing to slog through the Atlantic’s disingenuous mess, and Ethics Alarms is grateful.

Here then, late, is the winner of the first Ethics Alarms Readers Challenge:

Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media

Presenting The First Ethics Alarms Readers’ Challenge!

loved

The Atlantic has published a jaw-dropping puff-piece on Hillary Clinton with the astounding title, “Why is Hillary Clinton so widely loved?”

I read the thing (for a thing it is), and was salivating over the chance to eviscerate it, but I’m feeling a little nauseous, and I’ve been indulging my disgust with Hillary and her apologists and minions a bit much lately. Thus I have decided to offer the task to you, dear readers. This is the first Ethics Alarms Readers’ Challenge, and the challenge is to write the most thorough, fair, well-argued and entertaining analysis. I will publish the best of the submissions in a separate post. Yes, submissions that defend the article and attempt to validate its position are welcome, and I would venture that any piece that successfully explains why it isn’t complete, intellectually and ethically indefensible crap would be a strong candidate for the prize.

Entries will be judged by the quality of their ethical analysis, the number of fallacious arguments identified, the number of rationalizations flagged, and the quality of the rebuttals, if any.

The winner will be published on the morning of November 6.

Good luck, and have fun!

 

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Filed under Character, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media

Carolyn Hax Sides With Bobby Darin, And Dazzles With Her Ethics Advice Again

Syndicated relationship advice columnist Carolyn Hax is as trustworthy an ethicist as I know. She doesn’t call herself an ethicist, and probably doesn’t think of herself as one, but she is far better qualified in the field than many with advanced degrees and tenured teaching positions, not to mention the corporate compliance hacks who write Ethics Codes for the likes of Enron. Carolyn Hax is an ethicist and a superb one because she has an innate, instinctive, nuanced and perceptive understanding of right and wrong, as well as remarkable skill at ethical analysis.

She proves this routinely in her weekly columns, but occasionally special attention should be paid. That was the case last week, when she was asked her blessing by an annoyed fiance on a decision to exit the relationship because her betrothed had decided to reject an offer to enter the world of high finance in favor of pursuing a career as a carpenter, concluding:

I’m seriously considering walking away because I think he is being really selfish given the long-term prospects. I am a professional and have supported us through his two-year master’s program. I am at my end here — what do you think?

In as nice a manner as possible, Hax nails what is wrong with this, saying in part: Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Daily Life, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Journalism & Media, Romance and Relationships