Tag Archives: ethics

It’s Thanksgiving, And Time For The Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide [Updated And With A New Introduction For 2017 ]

 

Last year (to the day) when I posted the Ethics Alarms ethics guide to Frank Capra’s 1946 masterpiece “It’s A Wonderful Life,” one of the great ethics movies of all time, as this blog’s official welcome to the holiday season, I wrote, “I suspect we need it more in 2016 than usual.”  As it turned out, we need it even more in 2017.

Multiple forces have been hard at work for a full year now, roiling the nation, painting the future as dire and the present as unbearable, trying to divide us and even to encourage discord and conflict during this special time when we are supposed to remember what is most important in life. In case you have been infected, it’s not politics and not partisan agendas, but love, family, community, kindness, and friends. The simple message of Frank Capra’s masterpiece—it has aged far better than his other films, including, and maybe especially, “Mister Smith Goes To Washington”—that no one is a failure who has friends, is vital to recall when so many are rejecting friends because they don’t conform to some ideological talking point. This is madness, and watching and heeding “It’s A Wonderful Life” is a better remedy than Thorazine.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer actually told his Twitter followers this week to bring a chart prepared by a  think tank to attack the Republican tax plan during Thanksgiving dinner. This is part of the effort to politicize everything in our lives, by zealots who value power over humanity, country, and spirituality. They belong with Mr. Potter, not George and Clarence.

I need this movie more in 2017 than usual for other reasons. It has been a year in which I have lost many peers and cherished friends, and listened to too many of the living bemoan the passage of time and looming mortality.  I don’t think like that—a lifetime gift from my brave and fatalist father—but I can’t pretend that the game clock isn’t running out, or not face the fact that I have not sunk anywhere near the baskets I could have and should have. Fortunately, what I wrote in an earlier year introducing this post still resonates…

Everyone’s life does touch many others, and everyone has played a part in the chaotic ordering of random occurrences for good. Think about the children who have been born because you somehow were involved in the chain of events that linked their parents. And if you can’t think of something in your life that has a positive impact on someone–although there has to have been one, and probably many—then do something now. It doesn’t take much; sometimes a smile and a kind word is enough. Remembering the lessons of “It’s a Wonderful Life” really can make life more wonderful, and not just for you.

Have a terrific Thanksgiving, everyone.

And here we go:

1. “If It’s About Ethics, God Must Be Involved”

The movie begins in heaven, represented by twinkling stars. There is no way around this, as divine intervention is at the core of the fantasy. Heaven and angels were big in Hollywood in the Forties. The framing of the tale seems to advance the anti-ethical idea, central to many religions, that good behavior on earth will be rewarded in the hereafter, bolstering the theory that without God and eternal rewards, doing good is pointless.

Yet in the end, it is an ethics movie, not a religious one. George lives an ethical live, not out of any religious conviction, but because step by step, crisis after crisis, he chooses to place the welfare of others, especially his community and family, above his own needs and desires. No reward is promised to him, and he momentarily forgets why we act ethically, until he is reminded. Living ethically is its own reward.

We are introduced to George Bailey, who, we are told, is in trouble and has prayed for help. One has to wonder about people like George, who resort to prayer as a last resort, but they don’t seem to hold it against him in Heaven. The heavenly authorities assign an Angel 2nd Class, Clarence Oddbody, to handle the case..He is, we learn later, something of a second rate angel as well as a 2nd Class one, so it is interesting that whether or not George is in fact saved will be entrusted to less than Heaven’s best. Some lack of commitment, there— perhaps because George has not been “a praying man.” This will teach him—sub-par service!

2. Extra Credit for Moral Luck

George’s first ethical act is saving his brother, Harry, from drowning, an early exhibition of courage, caring and sacrifice. The sacrifice part is that the childhood episode costs George the hearing in one ear. He doesn’t really deserve extra credit for this, as it was not a conscious trade of his hearing for Harry’s young life, but he gets it anyway, just as soldiers who are wounded in battle receive more admiration and accolades than those who are not. Yet this is only moral luck. A wounded hero is no more heroic than a unwounded one, and may be less competent as well as less lucky.

3.  The Confusing Drug Store Incident

George Bailey’s next ethical act is when he saves the life of another child by not delivering a bottle of pills that had been inadvertently poisoned by his boss, the druggist, Mr. Gower. This is nothing to get too excited over, really—if George had knowingly delivered poisoned pills, he would have been more guilty than the druggist, who was only careless. What do we call someone who intentionally delivers poison that he knows will be mistaken for medication? A murderer, that’s what.  We’re supposed to admire George for not committing murder.

Mr. Gower, at worst, would be guilty of negligent homicide. George saves him from that fate when he saves the child, but if he really wanted to show exemplary ethics, he should have reported the incident to authorities. Mr. Gower is not a trustworthy pharmacist—he was also the beneficiary of moral luck. He poisoned a child’s pills through inattentiveness. If his customers knew that, would they keep getting their drugs from him? Should they? A professional whose errors are potentially deadly must not dare the fates by working when his or her faculties are impaired by illness, sleeplessness or, in Gower’s case, grief and alcohol.

4. The Uncle Billy Problem

As George grows up, we see that he is loyal and respectful to his father. That’s admirable. What is not admirable is that George’s father, who has fiduciary duties as the head of a Building and Loan, has placed his brother Billy in a position of responsibility. As we soon learn, Billy is a souse, a fool and an incompetent. This is a breach of fiscal and business ethics by the elder Bailey, and one that George engages in as well, to his eventual sorrow.

5. George’s Speech

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Daily Life, Family, Government & Politics, Love, Popular Culture, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society

Revised Ethics Alarms Comments Policies

battle-marvel

Ethics Alarms has now been active for seven full years, and there have been more than 160,000 comments on the 7000+ posts here. It is time—past time, really— to revise the Comment Policies based on what I have learned, and based on what the blog has become and what I want it to accomplish.

This site exists to encourage an ongoing, rigorous and engaging inquiry about ethics, from the perspective of events large and small, in the United States and the world. Ethics evolves as societal standards and norms evolve. We accomplish that evolution, usually in enlightened directions, through advocacy, disagreement and debate, using logic, values, principles, systems and facts. The comment section has evolved as moderated colloquy among intelligent, articulate and open-minded readers, and me, as the author/ ethicist/host and moderator. I have learned a great deal from the site’s readers, and hope to continue to do so.

Ethics Alarms offers the following 20 guidelines and rules to advance this mission:

1. Before you comment for the first time, check the terms and concepts page if you can. It will avoid misunderstandings

2. I prefer full names attached to comments.. If you want to use a screen name, I have to know who you are. You can e-mail me your name at jamproethics@verizon.net, and it will not be divulged. You must enter an e-mail address, and it must be real. If you use a fake e-mail address, your comment will be deleted. No comment signed “anonymous” will be posted. Ever. (Well, hardly ever) If you use a URL as your screen name, I will treat the comment as spam no matter how trenchant your observations are.

3. I have to approve every first time commenter, and as with bar associations and Harvard College, the standards used to screen applicants are tougher than the standards applied once you pass. If your initial foray here is gratuitously disrespectful, nasty, snotty, disparaging,  obnoxious, or just plain stupid, your comment won’t make it out of  moderation. Similarly, non-substantive comments expressing approval or disapproval without more are worthless, and I’ll reject them.  Initiating your relationship on Ethics Alarms with snark, sarcasm, nastiness or ridicule is a bad strategy–as I noted above, you have to earn the privilege of talking to me like that. You may not get a second chance.

4. Regular commenters have special privileges. They can engage in tough rhetoric bordering on insult, as well as brief comments that would not pass muster with a first-timer. But always remember that you are a guest here. Guests are obligated to prove their trustworthiness and good will before they are extended special privileges, and even those privileges have their limits.

5. Political rants are not welcome.  In addition, efforts to muddle genuine objective ethical analysis by pressing ideological talking points and bombarding me with links are not appreciated, and won’t be tolerated for long, if at all..

6. Keep comments as civil as possible. Ethics Alarms does, at its discretion, permit vulgarity and profanity for style and emphasis. I will show limited tolerance for rude and abusive comments and commenters, depending on the combatants. At my sole discretion, I may extend special dispensation for regular, substantive commenters here who have accumulated good will and trust, even when they cross lines that I would not permit to be crossed by a less-credentialed visitor [See below]. While a verdict of “you are an idiot,” may occasionally be justified, I may ding comments that include gross personal attacks, subject to the exceptions noted above, unless it has an extremely impressive substantive argument accompanying it. In the heat of debate, Ethics Alarms will tolerate the  occasional insult  If commenters become overly nasty and personal in their exchanges with each other or habitually so, I will intervene.

7. Ethics Alarms discourages text jargon and abbreviations. “LOL”,  in particular, is guaranteed to annoy me. Also disfavored are popular slang words designed to denigrate a belief, an individual or political groups, like “Repugs,” or juvenile name-calling like “The New York Slimes” or “The Washington Compost.”

8. I’m very likely to respond to your comments. Don’t try hit-and-run tactics here, and don’t think you can get away with an unsupported, badly-reasoned or purely emotional argument and not get called on it. On the other hand, if I don’t respond, don’t take it personally.

9. Re Links: Relevant links are appreciated. Irrelevant links will cause a comment to be deleted as spam.( Remember that if you include more than one link, your comment gets automatically stalled in moderation.)Links to your related blog posts must be supported by a substantive comment on the topic as well: this isn’t your bulletin board. Similarly, the URL of your blog is not going to make it into the comment, and if you persist in trying to slip it through, I will start marking the comments as spam. I am happy to plug, including a link to  your blog, if you write me first and explain why it is relevant and useful to Ethics Alarms readers, and I concur. Your comment, however, is not a vehicle for spreading your blog information around the web…not here, anyway.

10. Typos: I regret that WordPress has yet to install a good editing function for comments. Please proof yours. I will endeavor to fix obvious typos, and if you e-mail me a request to delete or otherwise repair a mis-typed section of a legitimate comment, I will try to reply. I will respect style choices like eccentric punctuation, capitalization, syntax or spelling, but comments that are careless and difficult to read or understand risk being rejected.

11. Me: I reserve the right to sharply express my annoyance with comments that I regard as careless, poorly argued, based on partisan hackery, stupid, unethical  or ignorant. I am prone to be testy at comments that fall into any of the following categories:

1) Those that say I should be writing about “more important things.” I do. But I don’t have to write every post about the earth-shattering, and trivial incidents can still teach important lessons.

2) Comments that include “lighten up,” “calm down,” “get a life,” or anything similar. Please don’t presume to gauge my emotional state or dictate it.

3) Comments that accuse me of ignoring topics or not making arguments when in fact other posts on the site covered those topics and did make those arguments. I don’t require that you read everything, but do not make allegations when a simple key word search on the site would disprove them.

4) Putting words in my mouth, or ascribing  opinions to me that I have not stated. I hate that.

5) Being snotty about typos. I make mistakes, and appreciate being told about them. Nicely.

6) Mockery without substance.

7) Racist, misogynist and otherwise bigoted rants.

12. On occasion my annoyance may cause my reply to seem excessively severe. In such cases, please point this out, and I may well apologize. I may not, too. If a comment is especially ignorant or dumb, I have been known to bluntly describe it as such. I will continue to do so. This is part of my effort to elevate the discussion through negative reinforcement. This is not a site where you can just dash off a barely considered shot and get away with it. Continue reading

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Filed under The Internet

Holiday Encore: “Christmas: the Ethical Holiday”

darth-vader-christmas

I googled “Christmas ethics” yesterday, and guess what came up first. This Ethics Alarms post, from December 25, 2010.

I fix a couple of things, but it is basically the same. If I were writing it anew, I might not use the loaded term “war on Christmas,” which those who are trying to shove Christmas out of the national culture indignantly deny. It isn’t a war, exactly, just a relentless, narrow-minded and destructive effort to take something that has been enduring, healthy, unifying and good, and re-define it as archaic, offensive, divisive, and wrong. Call it the suffocation of Christmas, or perhaps the assassination of Christmas. Whatever one calls it, the process has progressed since 2010.

We’ve discussed on various comment threads quite a bit about how Christmas music has almost vanished from radio. It has also been effectively banned from public schools, who are terrified of law suits in era when parents might sue over their child being warped by learning “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” “Here Comes Santa Claus!”, another one of Gene Autry’s liveliest Christmas hits, one he wrote himself(unlike “Rudolph”), has been declared musica non grata everywhere but on nostalgia satellite radio. It is such an up-beat song; Bing Crosby sings it with the Andrews Sisters on his iconic “Merry Christmas!” album. Why is it unwelcome today? It is unwelcome because the lyrics say we are “all God’s children,” and ends with “Let’s give thanks for the Lord above.” Can’t have that.

The ascendant attitude toward Christmas is both anti-religious and non-ethical. In my neighborhood, there are far more Star Wars Christmas figures, including Yule Darth Vader ( though thankfully not the 18-ft. Hammacher-Schlemmer version pictured above) and Christmas Storm Troopers, than any suggestion of peace, good will or love. Even these non-sectarian displays are too much for the Diversity Fascists, like this guy:

diversity-tweet

Such people believe that a healthy national culture embracing love, charity, generosity and kindness is disrespectful, and their society-rotting ideology is as much of a threat to our nation as terrorism. I don’t know how to reverse the damage already inflicted on our society, but I do know that we have to try. Reinvigorating Christmas and the ethical values it stands for would be a good start.

Merry Christmas, everyone—and I do mean everyone.

Finally, here’s the post..

Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Character, Literature, Love, U.S. Society

Holiday Ethics Assigment: Quick! Watch These 25 Great Old Ethics Movies Again Before You Go Bonkers Too!

movie-theater

I am compiling a new list of great ethics movies to help those troubled by the recently completed Presidential campaign, the election and its aftermath. I haven’t decided whether to reveal it piecemeal, or collectively as I have before, but I do need to begin by presenting the previous list of 25, actually the combination of several previous posts. Ethics films I have covered individually since those lists debuted, like Spotlight and Bridge of Spies, will eventually be added.

For now, here’s the top 25. Don’t pay attention to the order.

1Spartacus (196o)

The raw history is inspiring enough: an escaped gladiator led an army of slaves to multiple victories over the Roman legions in one of the greatest underdog triumphs ever recorded. Stanley Kubrick’s sword-and-sandal classic has many inspiring sequences, none more so than the moment when Spartacus’s defeated army chooses death rather than to allow him to identify himself to their Roman captors (“I am Spartacus!”)

Ethical issues highlighted: Liberty, slavery, sacrifice, trust, politics, courage, determination, the duty to resist abusive power, revolution, love, loyalty.

Favorite quote: “When a free man dies, he loses the pleasure of life. A slave loses his pain. Death is the only freedom a slave knows. That’s why he’s not afraid of it. That’s why we’ll win.” [Spartacus (Kirk Douglas)]

2.  Hoosiers (1986)

“Hoosiers” is loosely based on true story, but its strength is the way it combines classic sports movie clichés—the win-at-all-costs coach down on his luck, the remote superstar, over-achieving team—into a powerful lesson: it isn’t the final victory that matters most, but the journey to achieving it.

Ethical issues highlighted: Forgiveness, generosity, leadership, kindness, courage, loyalty, diligence, redemption.

Favorite quote: “If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can be, I don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we’re gonna be winners.” [ Coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman)]

3. Babe (1995)

A wonderful movie about the virtues of being nice, the greatest civility film of all time. Second place: “Harvey.”

Ethical issues highlighted: Civility, kindness, reciprocity, loyalty, courage, love, friendship, bigotry, bias.

Favorite quote: “Fly decided to speak very slowly, for it was a cold fact of nature that sheep were stupid, and there was nothing that could convince her otherwise…The sheep decided to speak very slowly, for it was a cold fact of nature that wolves were ignorant, and there was nothing that could convince them otherwise”  The Narrator (Roscoe Lee Browne) Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Character, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, History, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Popular Culture, Professions, U.S. Society, War and the Military

The Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide [UPDATED AGAIN! ]

 Once again, Ethics Alarms re-posts its ethics guide to Frank Capra’s 1946 masterpiece “It’s A Wonderful Life,”one of the great ethics movies of all time. It was written in 2011, and revised regularly since, including for this year’s version. I suspect we need it more in 2016 than usual.

It is fashionable now, and was even when the film was released, to mock its sentiment and optimism. On one crucial point Capra was correct, however, and it is worth watching the film regularly to recall it. Everyone’s life does touch many others, and everyone has played a part in the chaotic ordering of random occurrences for good. Think about the children who have been born because you somehow were involved in the chain of events that linked their parents. And if you can’t think of something in your life that has a positive impact on someone–although there has to have been one, and probably many—then do something now. It doesn’t take much; sometimes a smile and a kind word is enough. Remembering the lessons of “It’s a Wonderful Life” really can make life more wonderful, and not just for you.

Here we go:

1. “If It’s About Ethics, God Must Be Involved”

The movie begins in heaven, represented by twinkling stars. There is no way around this, as divine intervention is at the core of the fantasy. Heaven and angels were big in Hollywood in the Forties. Nevertheless, the framing of the tale advances the anti-ethical idea, central to many religions, that good behavior on earth will be rewarded in the hereafter, bolstering the theory that without God and eternal rewards, doing good is pointless.

We are introduced to George Bailey, who, we are told, is in trouble and has prayed for help. He’s going to get it, too, or at least the heavenly authorities will make the effort. They are assigning an Angel 2nd Class, Clarence Oddbody, to the job. He is, we learn later, something of a second rate angel as well as a 2nd Class one, so it is interesting that whether or not George is in fact saved will be entrusted to less than Heaven’s best. Some lack of commitment, there—then again, George says he’s “not a praying man.” This will teach him—sub-par service!

2. Extra Credit for Moral Luck

George’s first ethical act is saving his brother, Harry, from drowning, an early exhibition of courage, caring and sacrifice. The sacrifice part is that the childhood episode costs George the hearing in one ear. He doesn’t really deserve extra credit for this, as it was not a conscious trade of his hearing for Harry’s young life, but he gets it anyway, just as soldiers who are wounded in battle receive more admiration and accolades than those who are not. Yet this is only moral luck. A wounded hero is no more heroic than a unwounded one, and may be less competent as well as less lucky.

3.  The Confusing Drug Store Incident

George Bailey’s next ethical act is when he saves the life of another child by not delivering a bottle of pills that had been inadvertently poisoned by his boss, the druggist, Mr. Gower. This is nothing to get too excited over, really—if George had knowingly delivered poisoned pills, he would have been more guilty than the druggist, who was only careless. What do we call someone who intentionally delivers poison that he knows will be mistaken for medication? A murderer, that’s what.  We’re supposed to admire George for not committing murder.

Mr. Gower, at worst, would be guilty of negligent homicide. George saves him from that fate when he saves the child, but if he really wanted to show exemplary ethics, he should have reported the incident to authorities. Mr. Gower is not a trustworthy pharmacist—he was also the beneficiary of moral luck. He poisoned a child’s pills through inattentiveness. If his customers knew that, would they keep getting their drugs from him? Should they? A professional whose errors are potentially deadly must not dare the fates by working when his or her faculties are impaired by illness, sleeplessness or, in Gower’s case, grief and alcohol.

4. The Uncle Billy Problem

As George grows up, we see that he is loyal and respectful to his father. That’s admirable. What is not admirable is that George’s father, who has fiduciary duties as the head of a Building and Loan, has placed his brother Billy in a position of responsibility. As we soon learn, Billy is a souse, a fool and an incompetent. This is a breach of fiscal and business ethics by the elder Bailey, and one that George engages in as well, to his eventual sorrow. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Character, Childhood and children, Popular Culture, Professions, Romance and Relationships

A Hopeful Ethics Note

rugby2

Here’s at least one example of the culture getting more ethical. It might not seem like much, but ask a Jack Russell Terrier, and you’ll understand.

Gradually, dog owners and breeders are stopping the practice of docking—that is, cutting—the ears and tails of puppies so they conform to arbitrary breed standards. The reason is simple: it is cruel and pointless, and the dogs look just as good, indeed better, the natural way.

I first noticed this trend years ago when I saw this breed at a dog show:

great-dane

I had no idea what it was. I asked, was told it was a natural example of the breed I was used to seeing this way…

dane-clipped

Yes, it’s a Great Dane. In recent years, fewer and fewer owners are opting for the ear operation, allowing the breed to keep the ears that reflect its English Mastiff ancestry.

This beautiful, loving, smart breed dog usually has both its tale and its ears cropped, the tail down to a nub:

Continue reading

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Filed under Animals, U.S. Society

Ethics And The New TV Season, Part 1: “The Good Place”

There are an unusual number of shows this season that should be full of fascinating ethical dilemmas. There is even sitcom, “The Good Place,” with a main character who is an ethicist. He’s a dead ethics, but that’s something. Let’s start with that show as I plan on reviewing the ethics-related TV shows in future posts.

The first episode of  the NBC comedy  began with selfish, habitually unethical  Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) waking up in the afterlife called “the Good Place, I assume to avoid religious controversy. Michael (Ted Danson) welcomes her, and explains that he designed this particular Good Place neighborhood that she will reside in for eternity. As many of us were taught, our lives on Earth are being monitored by higher beings, literally and figuratively. In this show’s cosmology, they calculate our ethical worth using a point system.  Those with the highest positive point totals make it to the Good Place.

The problem is that there has been a glitch: Eleanor was erroneously awarded the point score of a capital punishment-fighting lawyer (naturally the Good Place regards all progressive and liberal positions as “good;” I assume that all conservatives and Republicans are in the Bad Place) when she really was a salesperson for an evil drug company. The situation in this sitcom is whether Eleanor can shape up and justify her points before she is found out and ends up playing strip poker in Hell with Ronald Reagan, William F. Buckley and Phyllis Schlafly.* Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Humor and Satire, Popular Culture