From The “Bias Makes You Stupid” Files! Ethics Dunce: Legal Ethicist Steven Gillers

A depressing theme throughout the Trump years has been the corruption of various professions as members once justifiably regarded as trustworthy abandoned their ethical obligations to become “resistance” allies. The professions thus tainted include judges, scientists, doctors and health professionals, lawyers, psychiatrists, historians, teachers and professors, university administrators, and of course the worst offenders, politicians and journalists. Maybe I’ve missed a few. One more profession that has to be included on the list, I’m ashamed to say, is legal ethicists.

In a post in 2017, I discussed the disgraceful filing of a frivolous and politically motivated bar complaint against then-Trump aide Kellyanne Conway by a group of law professors, some of whom are ethics specialists, and a few of whom I knew and respected. I wrote in part,

Continue reading

On The Recent Steele Dossier Revelations: An Open Letter To An Un-Named Former Ethics Alarms Commenter, Written In Disappointment And Disgust

Dear You Know Who You Are,

As you remember, well over a year ago you staged a grandstanding, insulting exit from participation on this blog, declaring that I had “drunk the Kool-Aid.”  Your false claim was provoked because I had successfully navigated through  lies, calculated disinformation and lawbreaking—engineered by those within and without the U.S. government—to conclude that a coordinated effort had been and was underway to overthrow the elected President of the United States. At this point, the fact that your accusation was based on your own blindness and bias is not subject to rational denial or debate.

I knew that at the time, of course. I also felt, and feel, that for you to behave that way, in public, here, was a personal as well as a professional betrayal. We had, I thought, a cordial and mutually respectful relationship. We had exchanged details about the high and low points of our lives face to face.  We are in the same field and profession. I trusted you.

I have provided you some slack in my ultimate judgment on your character because I know that, as we say here often, bias makes us stupid, even the best of us. I have seen this particular bias make many people, even some smarter than you, as difficult as it may be for you to conceive of that, both stupid and  destructive, apparently without a glimmer of self-realization. I recognize that it the phenomenon is, at this point, indistinguishable from an illness, one triggered by emotion and group-think. Thus I am, up to a point, sympathetic, just as I am regarding so many of my Facebook friends who figuratively make asses of themselves every single day  because they are addicted to “likes” and peer approval. Some of them are even lawyers, but you know…lawyers. That is a professional group, along with historians, politicians, historians, scholars, psychiatrist, educators and, of course, journalists, that has broken its duty of trust with the public as it joined a dangerous and unconscionable effort to break our democracy. Continue reading

From The Wuhan Virus Ethics Train Wreck Files: What Would We Do Without Ethicists?

Cut it out, you two! A medical ethicist says you’re being unethical!

TIME magazine has a feature up called, “‘Is Ordering Takeout Unethical?’ A Medical Ethicist Answers Some of the Most Common Moral Questions Around Coronavirus.”  Yes, res ipsa loquitur: the article is almost as absurd as the title. Moral questions are not ethics questions, you dolts. How could ordering take-out be unethical?  Why would you ask a medical ethicist about ordering food?  With all the real medical ethics questions facing the country, that’s what TIME thinks is most important question? Why would a medical ethicist agree to be involved in such idiocy? Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 9/8/2019, As Tumbleweeds Roll Through The Deserted Streets Of Ethics Alarms…

Is anybody out there?

1. What’s going on here? The AP deleted a tweet on September 5 tweet attributing the murders of Israeli athletes  to undefined “guerrillas.” Someone complained: it then tweeted, “The AP has deleted a tweet about the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics because it was unclear about who was responsible for the killings and referred to the attackers as guerrillas. A new tweet will be sent shortly.” Finally, this was the tweet decided upon:

“On Sept. 5, 1972, the Palestinian group Black September attacked the Israeli Olympic delegation at the Munich Games, killing 11 Israelis and a police officer. German forces killed five of the gunmen.”

2. Wait: ARE there really “AI ethicists,” or just unethical ethicists grabbing a new niche by claiming that they are any more qualified for this topic than anyone else?

From the Defense Systems website:

After a rash of tech employee protests, the Defense Department wants to hire an artificial intelligence ethicist. “We are going to bring on someone who has a deep background in ethics,” tag-teaming with DOD lawyers to make sure AI can be “baked in,” Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, who leads the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, told reporters during an Aug. 30 media briefing.

The AI ethical advisor would sit under the JAIC, the Pentagon’s strategic nexus for AI projects and plans, to help shape the organization’s approach to incorporating AI capabilities in the future. The announcement follows protests by Google and Microsoft employees concerned about how the technology would be used — particularly in lethal systems — and questioning whether major tech companies should do business with DOD.

I’m hoping that the Defense Department isn’t doing this, as the article implies, because some pacifist, anti-national defense techies at Microsoft complained. [Pointer: Tom Fuller]

3. Campus totalitarians gonna totalitary!  University of Michigan students and alumni aare demanding that the University to sever ties with real estate developer Stephen M. Ross , who is the largest donor in the University’s history. This would presumably include removing his name from  Ross School of Business, which he substantially funded. (His name is on other buildings as well) Did Ross rape women willy-nilly? Has he been shown to be racist? No, he held  a re-election fundraiser for the President of the United States. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/26/18: “Baseball Season Begins This Week So Nothing Can Upset Me” Edition

Good morning!

1 A Comment Of The Day. I apologize to Aleksei for not devoting a full post to his excellent commentary, but the posts have been more than a little Parkland Shooting Freak-Out—yes, that is what it is—heavy of late, so I’m highlighting his comment here. I’m also going to torment my temporarily reason-deficient—for that’s what they are—Facebook friends by quoting it.

So I went to the Boston “March for our lives” as an educational thing, because I’ve never been to one of these, and I wanted to talk to people about why they were marching. I am on the pro-gun side. The signs they had definitely were variations on what Jack has provided here. The sign with the kid in the subway car, that’s actually the Boston Red Line.

This march was definitely an emotional thing, because of the 10+/- people I spoke with, nobody was very knowledgeable on guns, gun laws, background checks, what is an assault rifle, the failings of government  in the Texas church shooting, the Parkland shooting, etc. On average, older people were more willing to have a longer conversation. On average, younger people were more irritated with me, once I told them what side of the issue I am on. I was polite and respectful, so there was never a brawl or anything.

I talked with the college girls with one of the more egregious signs ( “2nd amendment = white supremacy”) and they gave me the whole systemic racism shtick. They also had NRA = terrorism. They said the NRA buys politicians. I gave a counter example, that Planned Parenthood donates a lot of money too, where I was cut off immediately and told, that’s different, they’re not murderers, and it’s nowhere near what the NRA gives. [ Ethics Alarms note: This is not accurate.] Another woman I talked with, late 20’s maybe, told me how could I look into the eyes of children that are scared for their lives and not do something. I told her that it saddens me that kids are scared, but it saddens me more that the police failed, the school failed, and the FBI failed in Parkland. She didn’t rebut me and I wished her a good day.

I also was surprised when some young people asked me, if I don’t agree with the march, what am I doing here? I told them that this is a free country, I can be here if I want and that I can speak with other fellow Americans, even if we don’t agree on everything. On a positive note, people told me they appreciated my desire to hear the other side and learn more. It was an interesting experience, but like Jack said earlier, it was a “scream at the sky” fest. Also, the chants were boring. “Hey, Hey, NRA, how many kids have you killed today”, “What do we want? Gun Control! When do we want it? Now!”, “No more guns! No more guns!”, and so on and so forth. I want to say there were more women, there were families with children, which also had signs, people from kindergarten age to old age pensioners.

Observations:

  • Bravo for Aleksei, and anyone else who had the patience to do this. My aversion to protests,demonstrations and rock festivals. along with the brian-numb, herd-like vibe the emit. goes back to my teens.  I just couldn’t do what he did.
  • Can’t somebody write some new protest chants? Do the chanters know that recycling Vietnam peace chants just reinforces the belief that this is all generic generational bitching, and more reflex that thoughtful? If I hear “Hey, Hey” in a demonstration, it only  makes me giggle. A friend in college would react to these chants by raising his arm in a protest fist gesture and shouting “Right arm!”
  • Here is another eye-witness report.

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/30/18: The State Of The Union Stinks Edition

Good Morning, everyone!

1 Well, it’s good to know you have kept an open mind…New York Times Trump-Hater Michelle Goldberg, who has written for just about every left and far left website and publication imaginable,  on today’s Times editorial page:

“No matter how well Trump delivers the lines in his State of the Union — announced theme: “Building a safe, strong and proud America” — he will not become presidential. There will be no turning of corners or uniting the country. At best, Trump will succeed in impersonating a minimally competent leader for roughly the length of an episode of “The Apprentice.”

Has any major newspaper, prior to a President’s first State of the Union message, given prominence to such an unfair and disrespectful bit of hate-punditry? I doubt it very much.

2. ‘Where have you gone, Pres’dent Gerald Ford, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you…woowoowooThe only President to begin his State of the Union negatively was President Gerald Ford, in 1975: I must say to you that the state of the Union is not good.” He was right, and courageous, to do so, and President Trump would be right and courageous to do so now, though for different reasons. Ford was speaking of the economy, but economies get better. The State of the Union is also not good when it is being torn apart by hyper-partisan warfare, and both parties are attempting to increase the divisions among citizens while exploiting them. Of course, the current President, who has some useful skills Gerald Ford lacked, but not a flea’s nose’s portion of his character, would never dream of using his time in the national spotlight for anything less than an orgy of self-congratulation. Continue reading

Salon Asks: “When Is A Leak Ethical?” NEVER. That’s When.

Ethically challenged left-wing website Salon somehow found an ethically challenged law professor, Cassandra Burke Robertson, to justify the leaks in the Trump Administration. Robertson,  despite being a Distinguished Research Scholar and the Director of the Center for Professional Ethics at Case Western Reserve Law School, advocates unethical and sanctionable conduct in a jaw-dropping post, “When is a leak ethical?

Here, professor, I’ll fix your misleading and dishonest article for you: It’s NEVER ethical to leak.

Never.

She begins by noting “I am a scholar of legal ethics who has studied ethical decision-making in the political sphere.” Wow, that’s amazing….since she apparently is hopelessly confused about both, or just pandering to Salon’s pro-“resistance” readers.

Robertson writes:

“Undoubtedly, leaking classified information violates the law. For some individuals, such as lawyers, leaking unclassified but still confidential information may also violate the rules of professional conduct.”

1. It is always unethical to break the law, unless one is engaging in civil disobedience and willing to accept the consequences of that legal breach. By definition, leakers do not do this, but act anonymously. Thus leakers of classified information, lawyers or not, are always unethical, as well as criminal.

2. Lawyers may not reveal confidences of their clients, except in specified circumstances.  Here is D.C. ‘s rule (my bolding): Continue reading

It’s Sexual Harassment Day!

biden-harassment

Unfortunately, it will be a while before I get to the next ethics topic. Accompanied by the ProEthics acting troupe, The Ethical Arts Players, I’ll be running not just one but two harassment awareness and avoidance trainings today. Avoiding harassing conduct is only applied ethics after all; it should be easy, but it isn’t.

I’ll be talking about some high profile cases that have been discussed here: the Trump-Billy Bush video, naturally; Ellen Degeneris’s cute sexual harassment of Jake Gyllenhaal on television that nobody complained about because…she’s Ellen! ; and the most relevant of all for the group I’ll be talking to, made up of scientists and academics, this story.

Sexual harassers come in many varieties, and this reminds me that I need to write more about the topic. Here are 15 types that have been identified in the wild so far, but hybrids and mutants are also out there:

  1. The Power Player: A “quid pro quo” harasser: the boss.
  2. The Counselor: Exploiting mentor relationships, abusing tryst
  3. The Leader of the Pack: Leading group embarrassment or marginalization
  4. The Serial Harasser: The Intentional and shameless abuser. With all that has gone on in the law and public eye, they are still out there in force.
  5. The Groper: Hands and Eyes. Yes, that’s Joe Biden…
  6. The Opportunist: Awaiting their chances, and ready to pounce on the trusting, vulnerable and needy
  7. The Bully : Sexual harassment as punishment, manipulation or just for sadistic fun
  8. The Confidante: Building trust to abuse it, that Platonic friend who’s not really platonic.
  9. The Pest: Polite, but not taking “no” for an answer
  10. The Sympathetic Harasser – Exploiting a crisis
  11. The Gallant: Misusing compliment and manners to marginalize, the kind of harassment women often don’t notice. (Barack Obama is one.)
  12. The Nerd: Socially inept individuals who desire the attentions of their targets, and who often don’t see that they do not reciprocate these feelings.
  13. The Stalker: Watching, trailing, bothering, tracking. The most dangerous harasser.
  14. The Blunderer : An accidental or clueless harasser
  15. The Star: The open harasser who’s status prevents him from being called one, or called to account.

 

The Unethical Ethicist And Yale: If Bill Cosby Were A Famous Ethicist, He’d Be Prof. Thomas Pogge

The Accuser and the Ethicist

The Accuser and the Ethicist

Here is the short version:

Yale’s Thomas Pogge is a world famous Yale professor of philosophy and ethics who is especially renowned for condemning the terrible human rights effects caused by disparity of resources between rich countries and poor ones. His books, lectures and a well-recieved TED talk argue that the power imbalance between rich countries and poor countries is so great that poor countries cannot reasonably be said to “consent” to agreements between them. Pogge has also accumulated many credible accusations of exploiting, harassing, and taking sexual liberties with his female students in multiple institutions. In the case that has led to this contrast becoming public, Yale offered a female accuser, a Yale graduate named Fernanda Lopez Aguilar, $2000 in exchange for ending the matter and keeping the story out of the news media.

The long version is here. Because the publisher is BuzzFeed, which is not widely regarded as a sterling source of trustworthy journalism (to say the least), the detailed and apparently well-researched report will be easy for Pogge and Yale to ignore and shrug off. However, other publications, including the Yale Daily News, have investigated the work of author Kaitie J.M. Baker, and so far it has held up to scrutiny.

Pogge has responded, less than convincingly, I would say, to the Lopez Aguilar allegations here. I say unconvincingly because he does not address the previous accusations made against him at Columbia University, and if there is one common characteristic of sexual harassers and abusers that stands out above all others, it is that they are habitual and repeat offenders. Anyone who has spent any time in academia (like me) is well aware that the culture permitting professors, especially male professors, to use the student body and bodies as a sexual perk of the job is widespread and only weakly restrained, if at all. Does that prove that Pogge is one of the professors who partakes in the lusty opportunities presented to him as an object of trust and admiration? No. There is, however a lot of smoke surrounding him, and the smoke has been issuing for a long time.

Yale’s institutional conduct is more than smoke. Yale appears to be another example of a trusted institution deciding that it is preferable to cover up the possible, likely or proven misconduct of a valuable employee than to risk damaging the reputation of that institution, or alienating the loyalties of other employees, by addressing it openly and decisively. I’m sure you can name other infamous examples of this phenomenon, broadly covered by the rationalizations “The King’s Pass” and “The Saint’s Excuse” on the Rationalizations List. Among the most infamous of these are the Catholic Church’s decades, perhaps centuries-long enabling of child sexual predators in the priesthood, the Watergate cover-up by the White House, and Penn State’s failure to stop a known child predator from using the school’s football program and its campus as a base of operations. Yale’s particular variety of this unethical choice is an especially unsavory one, closer to the Joe Paterno/ Sandusky and “Spotlight”scandals, because it intentionally  places future innocent victims at risk of harm.

I accept that there is a possibility that Pogee is an impeccable  professional and as pure as the driven snow, and thus himself a victim of a smear, though this seems unlikely. What I am more interested in now is to address the questions asked in the BuzzFeed piece, which relate to how we should regard unethical ethicists as well as other prominent figures who defy, in their actions, the wisdom they are celebrated for dispensing to others—the Bill Cosbys of the world.

I have some additional questions of my own, but for now I will restrict myself now to those posed in the article. Continue reading

The Unlikely Ethics Dunce, And Why Nobody Pays Attention To Ethicists And I Don’t Blame Them

Wait, how can the nation's most famous ethicist be an Ethics Dunce? It's not easy...

Wait, how can the nation’s most famous ethicist be an Ethics Dunce? It’s not easy…

Ethicists have managed to make ethics nearly invisible in our cultural debates, and nearly useless as a decision-making tool, when it ought to be the most useful tool of all. They accomplished this over centuries of work, making the discipline of ethics abstruse, elitist, abstract, and worse of all, boring. Nobody should be bored with ethics, hence my statement, “Ethics isn’t boring, ethicists are.” Once ethics was pigeon-holed in the realm of philosophy, however (it belongs with “crucial life skills” and “critical thinking”) and philosophy became associated with scholarship, advanced degrees and academia, the jig was up.

The problem is that academic ethicists teach and write about abstract ethics, and life is not abstract. Their quest is for one formula to determine right from wrong, and life and human beings are more complicated than any one formula can encompass. When I started this blog, I got a lot of grad students writing me who demanded to know whether I was a Utilitarian,  Kantian Deontologist, a follower of Natural Law Ethics,  a Virtue Ethicist or a devotee of Stakeholder theory. My answer was “all of the above and none of them.” All of these and more are useful tools of analysis, but none work all the time, and the amount of words loaded into jargon to explain and debate the nuances of any of them render them all useless except for  writing scholarly papers.

The ethics that the public learns, as a result, are what pop culture and society teach them, and most of that isn’t ethics at all. For example, in the cable series “The Affair,” a well-educated older man was advising a young woman, the mistress in the affair, about how to think about the illicit relationship that broke up he lover’s marriage. Wise and thoughtful, he described his own adulterous affair, and then said, “What you did wasn’t wrong. You didn’t kill anybody. You didn’t break any laws.  Don’t be so hard on yourself.”  There is no ethics in that statement. Itis just employs two popular and facile rationalizations (#4. Marion Barry’s Misdirection, or “If it isn’t illegal, it’s ethical,” and #22, the worst of all, #22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”) with another lurking but unspoken one, the Cheater’s Special, #23. Woody’s Excuse: “The heart wants what the heart wants,’ underlying the whole scene.

That’s ethics, I would guess, to about 90% of the population. Scary. This is, however, where ethicists have taken us. They could be so important to the culture, if they would get their heads out of their asinine models and explain ethical principles that are relevant to real lives in a manner that doesn’t make normal people become hostile to the subject.

This brings us to Peter Singer, Princeton’s acclaimed professor of bioethics who has been called the most influential ethicist alive. It is admittedly faint praise, but probably correct. Continue reading