Comment Of The Day: “Comment Of The Day: ‘….Suicide Ethics’”

Head in the oven

Let’s get away from metaphorical national suicide for the nonce and back to more pleasant topics, like actual suicide. Rich in CT posted an excellent comment last week in the discussion, sometimes heated, of the appropriate societal attitude toward suicide and those who indulge in it.

I ended up banning a particularly obnoxious new commenter in the threads on this topic, and this is as good a place as any to point out some things. First, as is almost always the case, I should have seen what kind of participant I was letting into the fray when I let his first comment out of moderation. This is the kind of mistake you make when you are obsessing over getting more diverse commenters, and it was all my fault. Second, it was clear from the beginning that the commenter never bothered to read the comment guidelines. That’s a bad sign. Third, like so many who are moved to comment on a single issue, never to be heard from again, this commenter was ignorant of basic ethical principles and analysis, and, as with the comment guidelines, didn’t feel it necessary to educate himself on the topic of the blog before issuing his opinion in emphatic terms. Finally, his string of comments were all about how the feelings of suicidal people justified their destructive actions. That statement is signature significance for an ethics dolt. Feelings are based on emotions, and emotions don’t factor in to ethical decision-making. In Reciprocity analysis, the feelings of others may need to be considered, but the process of being ethical requires rational and objective reasoning, and this requires recognizes feelings as impediments to the process. Maybe I haven’t been sufficiently clear on this: one of the mains reasons public discourse on so many topics spins away from ethics is that ascendant view that feelings justify conduct.

But I digress! Here is Rich in CT’s Comment of the Day on David C’s Comment of the Day on the post, Sunday Ethics Picnic, 8/15/2021: Afghanistan Accountability And Suicide.

***

“And yes, as far as I know there is research that suggests that if people are fixated for whatever reason on a certain means of suicide, they will not turn to another method if access to that method is removed.”

It took me a few days to get around to addressing this point for the original post. I’ll include the comment here instead.

“Or is the goal to just make sure they give up and go home to swallow sleeping pills?”

Studies have shown this is not the case. Rather, suicide is an impulsive choice at the intersection of desperation and a particular opportunity. The ideation is often linked to a particular method (jump off bridge, pills, etc). Suicidal individuals don’t systematically engage in various methods until they are successful; rather they fixate, as David C says, on a particular method as the solution; they are at most danger when they are at a low point and their preferred method is readily available.

A famous example occurred in England, the trope of sticking one’s head into the oven to suffocate. Prior to the 1970’s, the island used primarily “town gas” for ovens (as opposed to natural gas or propane). Town gas was extracted from coal in a gasworks plant at the edge of town (hence town gas), and piped to each house. As a byproduct of the extraction process, carbon monoxide was produced, and piped directly to each home along with the hydrocarbons.

Carbon monoxide produces a painless death; one loses conscious quickly prior to suffocation. Carbon monoxide is also nearly 100% effective at causing death. Plugging up the vents in the kitchen, blowing out the pilot light, and turning up the gas became an extremely popular method of suicide between the 1800’s and 1970’s, accounting for about half of all successful suicide deaths in England (I believe these statistics hold up elsewhere, too).

Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Exactly How Much Are We ‘All In This Together’? The Golden Rule Vs. ‘Look Out For #1’”

The above image is for “Fallout Shelter-The Board Game”

Last night’s pre-dawn post inspired this one (it’s just after 5 am here) , another thoughtful reflection on the ethics process from enigmatic commenter Extradimensional Cephalopod.

Here’s his (it’s?) Comment of the Day on the post, “Exactly How Much Are We ‘All In This Together’? The Golden Rule Vs. ‘Look Out For #1’”:

Whenever we encounter an ethical conflict, we need to take a look at the bigger picture, figure out what the most ethically effective way to deal with the relevant liabilities is, and then scale that principle back down to the current situation.

If we ever encounter a situation where people really do need to seek shelter, each family should ask itself, who do I most want to offer shelter if they need it? Those people get first choice. If they pass, then the family reaches out to the next group they care about. And so on. People can’t just wait for situations to happen to them; they need to ask themselves the hard questions about who they prioritize and why.

Having done that, everyone should prepare themselves to help in other ways, to offset the help they can’t offer through the space of their home. These ethical situations don’t take place in a vacuum. There are plenty of options for people to help in various ways and coordinate to make sure people get what they need even if it’s from someone they didn’t know. Benefactors can go shopping, donate money or food, organize, offer listening ears, et cetera. It’s amazing what people can do for each other when they put their minds to it. Continue reading

Asshole vs. Asshole, And How To Avoid Starring In It

If you are old enough, you may remember the long-running comic  in Mad Magazine called “Spy vs Spy.” It was kind of a wordless Roadrunner cartoon with a Cold War vibe, and not especially funny, but I just thought of it for the first time in decades. (Incredibly, it is apparently still running in Mad, though the magazine itself is sinking fast.) I was considering this ridiculous story…

…It started small, but disputes over a Kansas man’s alleged violations of his homeowner association’s rules has led to a complex legal battle that is now the most expensive of its kind. Owner Jim Hildenbrand, has been locked in conflict with the HOA of Avignon Villa Homes since he moved there in 2012…

What began with a disagreement over the placement of a satellite dish and a decorative wall has escalated into a legal back-and-forth that has cost both parties at least a combined $1 million. It is the most expensive HOA dispute in the country.

It is also yet another example of the increasingly common societal phenomenon of “Asshole vs. Asshole.” These are ethics breakdowns where two parties in disagreement decide that making the other side pay for daring to have an adverse position overwhelms whatever the original objectives of the two parties were. It is reminiscent of the kinds of disputes parents—the good ones, anyway–arbitrate between siblings. “You’re both right,” Mom or Dad will say, “And you’re both wrong. You have reached the point where the escalation of anger and retaliation is the problem, not what you think you are arguing about.. Work it out. Compromise. See it from the other one’s perspective. And if you don’t, we’re going to punish both of you.”

In the case of Mr. Hildebrand and his fascist Home Owner Association, both sides say it’s the principle of the thing. As any reader hear know, I am a believer in and a practitioner of taking stands for principle, but knowing when this is essential (Do NOT apologize for speaking the truth or bucking the mob) and destructive is a critical life skill. The trick is keeping emotion out of it, and engaging in ethics problem solving. Asshole vs Asshole occurs when hate, and anger, and the desire to teach that jerk a lesson blinds both parties to common sense, the Golden Rule, and the human duty to seek peace, not war. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: “Don’t Eat The Daisies” Ethics

I’m trying to take a breather from the Syrian refugees, President Obama, Presidential candidates and rampaging college students, and an ethics issue from a 1960 Doris Day comedy is as far away as I can get.

In “Don’t Eat the Daisies,” a movie loosely (very loosely) based on the humorous mommy anecdote best seller by Jean Kerr, wife of then New York Times  theater critic Walter Kerr, newly appointed prime drama critic Larry McKay (David Niven), his lovely wife Kate (Doris), their four rambunctious kids, their sheep dog and their wise-cracking house-keeper (Patsy Kelly)—yes, this was essentially the “Brady Bunch” without the girls—move to the country. Doris gets roped into the annual musical (for charity, natch) of the very amateur Hooten Holler Players. They ask the Larry for a play they could use, and he isn’t very helpful, so Doris calls up Alfred North, an old friend of the couple and a successful novelist played by Richard Haydn, best known as the sneaky Max in “The Sound of Music,” who has just had his first Broadway play skewered by McKay (Integrity! Integrity!). He is secretly seething and seeking revenge. The betrayed playwright siezes his chance: he sends Doris an obscure, terrible Foriegn Legion melodrama by an unknown author, and the Hooten Holler players turn it into a musical spoof.

Days before its ready to open, after all the tickets have been sold, Doris asks David to watch a rehearsal. He immediately recognizes the plot and some particularly awful lines: he wrote the  play under a pseudonym! “BWAHAHAHAH!” laughs Max, or rather Alfred. Larry’s  onetime friend, now relentless foe, has set the critic up for humiliation and professional doom, for other New York critics have been tipped off that the play getting its world premiere by the Hooten Holler Players is in fact the creation of the hypercritical critic himself. Once this abysmal mess is seen and taken apart by the critic’s rivals, his judgment will never be taken seriously again.

Niven demands that the production be cancelled, and forbids the Players to perform his work. Doris, who stars in the play, begs him to reconsider: the humble theater group will be ruined, and the charity will lose much needed support. The critic explodes: why does she care more about the amateur theater group than her husband’s career? She tells him that his theatrical power and fame has made him petty and mean. Their marriage seems ready to disintegrate.

Your retro-Hollywood Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is..

What’s going on here, and what do you do about it?

Continue reading

The Basics

I know it is asking a lot, but it would save a lot of frustration and aggravation on all sides if newcomers to Ethics Alarms would take the time to read, not only the Ethics Alarms Comments Policies, but also the Concepts and Special Terms (under the masthead above),  the Unethical Rationalizations and Misconceptions, the Virtues, Values and Duties, the Alarm Blockers, and the Ethics Decision-making Tools, all of which have permanent links to the immediate left of the most recent post. Not only do the essays and commentary constantly refer to these terms and topics, they are also based on them. I don’t expect to stop all new commenters from relying on “everybody does it” logic or from stooping to “who are you to judge?” as their sole argument, but if more would just read these sections, I wouldn’t have to keep writing the same thing in response quite so much. That would make me happy, and also get more new relationships here off to a friendlier start. These are the concepts, tools and language that underlie everything that’s written here, and the more we all are speaking the same language, the better the discussion will be.

I have also recently added material to both Concepts and Special Terms and the Rationalizations section, as both were out of date. I encourage regular visitors to re-acquaint themselves with those areas, and feel free to suggest changes, additions and deletions, as well as flagging the inevitable and apparently unavoidable, for me at least, typos.

Tough Ethics Lesson in Oakland: Appearances Count

In Oakland California we have a prime example of why it’s not enough for public officials to avoid actual unethical conduct, and why they have to avoid the appearance of impropriety as well.

Last  summer, Oakland, California decided to address its increasing budgetary problems with a more aggressive parking ticket policy and extended parking meter hours. The City Council rescinded the meter-hour extension after protests from business owners and shop patrons, but the mercilessly enforced parking tickets continued.
Some narrow streets, however, posed special problems. Residents had parked the wrong way or on the sidewalk for years, because it was difficult and even dangerous to try to turn their cars around. If they didn’t park up on the sidewalk, emergency vehicles couldn’t pass. It didn’t seem fair to ticket the cars in these neighborhoods, so with the urging of the City Council, the police began instituting a policy of issuing courtesy warnings instead of tickets on those especially narrow streets. Continue reading