Comment of the Day: “Ethics Quiz: Is This Question Easy?”

I intensely disagree with some of this comment regarding illegal immigration and the laws surrounding it, but it is still thoughtful and provocative. I’ll be back at the end.

Here is slickwilly’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Ethics Quiz: Is This Question Easy?”

“But sometimes the law itself is evil.

Agreed, and a good observation. Laws are made by men, many times men with hidden agendas who stand to profit from those laws. What I think Glenn is getting at is that ‘illegal’ is seen as equal to ‘immoral,’ which many equate with ‘bad.’ Is it immoral to disobey a law? In the strict sense, by the definitions involved, I think so. In practice, I am not so certain. What if the ‘law’ is written by an un-elected bureaucrat who has no effective over site from lawful entities? When petty rules have the enforcement power of law, democracy falls into tyranny.

Of course, immigration laws are a necessary evil. We have to have them. But we need to get more serious about whether the ones we have now are ethical, sensible, and productive.

Many of the laws we have now benefit those in power, or those who paid them to make the law a certain way. This is generally bad for everybody else, taken as a whole. Immigration laws do not punish those who create the situation for corporate (and private) greed, and even when they do provide punishment for such as these they are not enforced. The first thing that must change is that this class starts suffering for their crimes by lawful enforcement and new laws to address that situation.

I will agree that MOST immigration laws (including ‘how one becomes a legal resident’) are unethical, nonsensible, and unproductive. To those, I will add unfair to all involved but those that crafted them. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Petula Dvorak (And Introducing The New Ethics Alarms Term, “Dvorak”

Congratualtions, Petula! Now you're a word---I mean, in addition to "Idiot"...

Congratulations, Petula! Now you’re a word—I mean, in addition to “Idiot”

Washington Post Metro columnist Petula Dvorak just modeled hypocrisy, stupidity and willful complicity with irresponsible public policy and exploitation. Her sole justification is “everybody’s doing it.” She apparently thinks this is funny. It’s not. It’s typical human conduct, but there’s nothing funny about it. It’s tragic.

In a column yesterday titled, “I despise lotteries, but I bought four Powerball tickets anyway,” Dvorak, who has been justly scorned on Ethics Alarms for ethics idiocy before, goes to great length to describe what is wrong with state lotteries–they are corrupt, they prey on the poor, they are regressive taxes that substitute for real taxes that would require political courage, they promote gambling addictions—even going so far as to call them “evil.” Then she cheerily tells us that she couldn’t help participating in the current lottery craze, because just think of all the things she could buy if she won a gizzillion dollars!

Dvorak apparently believes that by acting irrationally and irresponsibly and thus supporting what she claims to revile, she can make a more powerful point about how seductive lotteries can be. Or she’s an idiot. Wait–the two are not mutually exclusive.

It’s not complicated, Petula, not at all. When you identify a system,  an enterprise or a movement that is harmful and corrupt, don’t support it, participate in it or strengthen it. That’s all. Every ethical system dictates that result. If you think, indeed, as your column proves, you know, that state lotteries are corrupting, cowardly scams, don’t play them. If you know that pro football makes billions by inducing healthy young men to destroy their brains, don’t watch pro football. If you know that illegal drugs ravage the poor, destroy livesm businesses and families don’t use illegal drugs.  If you know that American politics are corrupt, stop supporting corrupt politicians.

There are so many societal evils that could be eradicated or significantly weakened if those who understand what is wrong about them just had the integrity, personal responsibility, courage and determination to reject them unequivocally, and show others with less certitude and resolve that it is possible and right. Continue reading

Weekend Comment of the Day #1: “The VW Scandal: Huge Consequences, Simple Ethics Lessons, Ominous Implications”

VW handWeekend comments at Ethics Alarms are typically down about 20% on weekends, but they often make up in quality what they lack in quantity. There were several comments that materially enhanced the posts that inspired them, and I’m going to begin the week’s ethics safari by featuring a few as Comments of the Day.

The first is from Charlie Green on the VW scandal. This is his wheelhouse, and I was hoping he’d weigh in.

This is his Comment of the Day on the post, “The VW Scandal: Huge Consequences, Simple Ethics Lessons, Ominous Implications”

(I’ll have a brief note at the end.)

A similar point was made about the evident contradictions in ENRON’s mission statements. Just as this is an ethics issue, so is it a trust issue, and one I’ve been writing about as well.

The only thing I’d add is to caution against the simplification that these are conscious evil-doers. The truth is always messier.

I’m sure very few employees at VW felt a fully conscious awareness of wrong doing on their parts. That doesn’t mitigate the importance of full on prosecution of leaders, but it does mean we need to recognize the nature of human frailty and group-think, as well as the huge impacts of environment.

Demonization doesn’t work here past a few top people —like [resigned CEO]Winterkorn, who has no excuse for not having known. But this is also a particularly strong case for the proposition that environments pollute moral behavior – it’s not just bad apples.

The best case I’ve seen for this argument is here:
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/25/business/international/problems-at-volkswagen-start-in-the-boardroom.html?_r=0

And a great case for moral outrage not just at individuals but at our overall institutions is today, from the great Henry Mintzberg, here:
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/rob-commentary/volkswagen-corruption-crisis-isnt-a-scandal-its-a-syndrome/article26479332/comments/

To paint this as just a few evil blackhats gone wild is to miss the true nature of evil – it’s endemic in the culture, and that’s much scarier.

I’m back, just to note that Charles’ message is the one that had become the career cause of social scientist Phillip Zimbardo, whose work I have referenced several times.

“I think abortion is evil, but it is a necessary evil.” Discuss.

Foetus-435110

This blog doesn’t discuss evil very often because it is not a term appropriately associated with ethics. Evil is a concept related to morality. In an ethics discussion, I would take evil to mean something extremely, irredeemably unethical by any ethical analysis or system. The statement “I think abortion is evil, but it is a necessary evil” appeared parenthetically in a comment by Beth, a frequent commenter on Ethics Alarms who is a mother and a lawyer, regarding the Planned Parenthood videos. Though the news media appears to have successfully distorted that story by focusing only on whether the videos were evidence of illegal “trafficking in body parts” by Planned Parenthood, that was not the reason I posted the essays, and it is not the reason those videos are significant in the ongoing debate over abortion rights. Two high ranking individuals in the organizations casually discussed the crushing and crunching of the heads and torsos of living and helpless individuals with the sensitivity I would associate with stepping on a roach. If this doesn’t disturb you, it should. If it does disturb you, as it did Beth, what does that mean?

Abortion is one of the most important and difficult ethics issues in the culture, indeed in world culture. It involves millions of lives and millions of deaths, law, bioethics, religion, social policy, science, human rights and feminism, as well as society’s ultimate respect for life itself. I have written about the ethics of the abortion debate frequently (you can find most of the relevant posts here), but to summarize the Ethics Alarms views on the topic:

1. Abortion is an ethics conflict, meaning that there are ethical principles in opposition to each other, requiring society to set priorities.

2. The absolutist position on the anti-abortion side is that abortion involves the taking of innocent human life, which begins from conception, and is thus unethical in all cases. It is a strong position if one accepts the underlying assumption.

3. However, no absolute position is really absolute. Every ethics absolute has an exception, or several: there must be some circumstances when abortion is necessary and right. (This is not true of moral absolutes, since moral absolutes are self defining. If the power dictating a moral precept says it is absolute, it is so.)

4. The absolutist position on the abortion side of the argument holds that a woman’s right to have complete dominion over her body, reproductive activity and health justifies abortion in all cases. This is not a strong position, and in fact is one that cannot be honestly argued or sustained. It supports abortion on demand for any purpose or preference, entirely at the mother’s discretion.

5. To make that argument, extreme pro-abortion advocates have had to deny the humanity and human rights of unborn children, even to the point of arguing that they are not individuals at all, but mere “parasites,” or “tumors.” The removal of a second life from the equation that is at the core of the abortion problem makes the abortion decision easy and guilt-free; it also settles the debate by pretending the central issue doesn’t exist. That issue is that there is another life involved, not just the mother’s.

6. The debate over the ethics of abortion has been handicapped by the tactic of both sides to pretend a legitimate interest championed by the other doesn’t exist. A woman’s ability to control her own life, career and what happens to her body is an important societal issue, yet the term “pro-life” ignores it entirely. It is not the only important interest involved in the abortion decision, however, as the term “pro-choice” suggests.

7. Neither absolute position, whatever its theoretical virtues, is practical from a policy perspective. Desperate women who are pregnant will seek abortions, people will help then (or exploit them, or kill them), and public policy cannot pretend otherwise. Society will not tolerate punishing women for aborting their unborn children, whether they deserve to be punished or not. Yet allowing mothers to have unborn children killed on a whim leads to the callous, ugly, dangerous attitude toward innocent life on display in the Planned Parenthood videos. Callousness toward any human life, history has shown us, is a slippery slope with the potential of doing terrible harm to the culture.

8. Roe v. Wade was a premature Supreme Court decision and a badly reasoned one. Until and unless it is overturned, abortion is a right. That does not mean, and never meant, that abortion necessarily is right.

9. Because absolutism fails here, abortion is a problem that demands utilitarian analysis–balancing of interests and values, in the best interests of society, long and short-term, and everyone in it, according to the facts as we understand them.

10. Balancing requires an honest acknowledgement that there is something to balance. The “pro-choice” and “pro-life” dichotomy doesn’t acknowledge that in their most extreme incarnations, and since abortion is currently a right, the pro-choice lobby detects no reason to yield to logic, science and reality. Continue reading

Unethical Quote Of The Millennium: Senator Harry Reid, Fick

“Romney didn’t win, did he?”

Senator Harry Reid to CNN’s Dana Bash, when she asked him whether he regretted his outright lie during the 2012 Presidential campaign accusing GOP nominee Mitt Romney of not paying any taxes at all for the past 10 years.

As bad as Reid looks, what lies beneath is infinitely worse...

As bad as Reid looks, what lies beneath is infinitely worse…

This is the Unethical Quote of The Millennium because it is literally impossible to say anything that demonstrates more contempt for ethical values. Moreover, Reid announced his ethical void on national TV with evident satisfaction and a complete lack of shame, making him a fick--someone who revels in being unethical.

In the old days, it was called “evil.”

Here, I’ll let Chris Cillizza, a Washington Post political reporter, explain what is so wrong with this despicable quote, the watermark of a totally corrupt political figure and  deplorable human being:

Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Cal.)

Great, John, now you've killed Rep. Lee's brain. Oh, by the way: Shut up.

Great, John, now you’ve killed Rep. Lee’s brain. Oh, by the way: Shut up.

[ I am on my way back from Newport, preparing to drive for heaven knows how long back to Alexandria, VA, and typing in a small room with no desk, my roommie drying her hair and a Jack Russell that keeps jumping on the keyboard.  I am necessarily saving  expanded commentary about the ethics of the Unites States’ abdication of its vital role in the world for a later date, hopefully tomorrow. Until then, I will just touch on one particularly offensive example of the dishonest and pusillanimous attitude of so many of our elected leaders, who essentially are trying to poison U.S. culture with one of the most unethical pathogens of all…pacifism.]

 “I support strictly humanitarian efforts to prevent genocide in Iraq.” 

—-Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the House’s most reliably knee-jerk opponent of any use of U.S. military force, objecting to the President’s air strikes against ISIS

What a nonsensical, deceitful, irresponsible statement, and stupid as well. An elected official who would utter such intellectually and morally bankrupt gibberish in public has disqualified herself for responsible office, as it makes almost everything about her qualifications suspect—her intelligence, her honesty, her judgment, her education, her sanity. Continue reading

Six Questions Raised By A Horror Story I Wish I Had Never Read

I don't ant to live in a culture than could produce these people. Unfortunately, I have no choice.

I don’t want to live in a culture than could produce these monsters. Unfortunately, I have no choice.

Occasionally I read a news item that makes me question my illusions, my optimism, my aspirations, and the rationality of hope. The saga of Jonathan and Sarah Adleta, a couple whose match was made in Hell and whose crimes sound like the rejected plot submission of a Law and Order SVU script writer whose mind has snapped, is just such a story, perhaps the most disturbing I have ever encountered.

If you continue reading, consider yourself warned.

After college student Sarah Adleta became pregnant with Jonathan Adleta’s child and tests showed that the fetus was female, Jonathan told her of his long-held fantasy about having incestuous sexual intercourse with a daughter. A deal was struck: he would marry Sarah, if she agreed to allow him to have sex with their daughter as soon as it was possible. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week: Eliot Cohen

captain-america

“Above all, a president has no business confessing to war-weariness. Sending soldiers to war is a hard business. But President Obama knew he was going to be a war president; if that duty was too trying for him, he should not have run for reelection, because, as he has discovered, he might have to fight new wars and not merely end old ones.

“For a president to confess to war-weariness is to confess weakness.

“It is the business of the commander in chief to inspire, either with tempered optimism or grim determination. He fails in his duty if he tells his subordinates, his people and the world that he is weary of the burden that he assiduously sought. In their dark moments, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who presided over infinitely more consequential and bloodier wars than Barack Obama, were undoubtedly war-weary. Can anyone imagine them proclaiming it to the world? “

—–Eliot Cohen, a teacher at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, concluding a Washington Post op-ed titled (in the paper’s print version), “We have not earned war-weariness.”

If there is a silver lining to the President’s Syrian Ethics Train Wreck, other than convincing those still capable of independent thought that we who saw the weakness of President Obama’s leadership skills were the ones whose eyes were open all along, it is that it has provoked some perceptive writing and debate on the topics of leadership, character, and America’s role in the world. Continue reading

The Strange, Seldom Told Story of Ethics Hero Emeritus, Albert Göring (1895-1966)

Good brother, Bad brother.

Good brother, Bad brother.

The German and Israeli news media have recounted the exploits of Albert Göring recently , because he is under posthumous consideration for the highest honorary title conferred by the State of Israel, the “Righteous Among the Nations.” These are the heroes of the Holocaust, the brave individuals who risked their lives to foil Hitler’s Ultimate Solution. Since it was created in 1953, the title has been awarded to 24,356 people from 47 countries.

Göring is a strong candidate to join their ranks, for he saved many Jews from extermination during World War II. Honoring him would not be a difficult decision, except for one thing: he was the younger brother of one of Hitler’s vilest henchman, the architect of the death camps and master of the Gestapo, Hermann Göring.

Albert became disillusioned with the Nazis early in their rise to power and moved to Austria, where he frequently spoke out against Hitler and the Third Reich. He would have ended up in prison when the Germans took over Austria, but brother Hermann Goering, Hitler’s designated successor, believed that blood was thicker than genocide: he kept Albert out of the hands of the Gestapo, even though he knew his little brother was an enemy of the state.

Nobody knows exactly how many Jews and non-Jews Albert saved from his brother’s death camps, because Albert Göring himself didn’t know how many the people he helped. Continue reading

A Trivial But Vivid Case Study In Unethical Journalism

“Wait…did we leave out something from that story?”

Yes, I know: it’s another Boston baseball story (“Yoooouk!”), and I’m sure there are similar stories from other cities. And yes, I know that the journalists at issue are sports writers, which have traditionally been to journalism what a Big Mac is to gourmet cuisine. Nonetheless, this is an instance where some members of the Boston media have gone out of their way to misrepresent the facts of a story specifically to impugn the character of an innocent athlete and to rile up people  –in this case, Boston Red Sox fans, who often mutate into something far scarier than “people”—who depend on them for information, and who can be counted upon to over-react to everything.

Red Sox starting pitcher Clay Buchholtz recently ended up in the hospital and on the disabled list with a dangerous episode of internal bleeding. After a few days he was released, weak and medicated, and told that he could resume normal activities immediately. Baseball needed to wait a bit longer, understandably, and anyway, he isn’t eligible to play in a game for two weeks. Last night, he attended an event that he had committed to attend before his medical problem, a charity event to raise money for the Greg Hill Foundation. Lest there be any question, this is a good thing, and noble. Buchholtz could have begged off, for he was just hospitalized and surely doesn’t feel great, but he didn’t, choosing instead to assist a group that raises funds to help local families touched by tragedy.

And here is how this is being covered by some of the Boston sports media: Continue reading