Ethics Observations On A Massacre Averted

Another day, another psycho tries to mow down strangers! In Springfield, Missouri, a man appearing to be in his 20s  pulled up to a Walmart, and put on body armor. He walked into the store and began pushing a cart around the store, recording himself on his cell phone.  An alert store manager saw a threat and triggered a fire alarm; the Springfield police  responded within three minutes of the call. Police say that the man had tactical weapons  and more than 100 rounds of ammunition When the would-be shooter left through an emergency exit an off-duty firefighter carrying a legally concealed weapon held the man at gunpoint until police arrived. Observations:

  • It won’t be, but this should be regarded as another mass shooting. Only moral luck made it different from El Paso or Dayton. Sometimes the store managers won’t react quickly enough. Sometimes there won’t be a bystander with a gun and the guts and skill to use it.

The important fact is that a crazy individual entered a public place with the intent to commit murder and the means to so it. Whether a particular attempt was or was not successful is irrelevant from a policy perspective.

  • The lesson of this near-miss is not that everyone should have guns. Resorting to the culture of the Old West is not in anyone’s best interests.

Second Amendment advocates make themselves look foolish by constantly falling back on this”solution.”

  • The hysteria-driven blanket coverage of the latest shootings makes mass shootings more likely.

Censoring the facts and basic reporting, as they did in New Zealand, is not an option here, nor should it be, Some basic restraint from cable news, talking heads and politicians, however, is both reasonable and necessary.

  • This isn’t a video-game driven phenomenon, nor a political divide-driven phenomenon, nor even a “too many guns” problem. It is a problem driven by a culture that now elevates mere attention to the equivalent of self-worth, in a nation that holds—and correctly and importantly so— that each individual, in the end, is responsible for his or her own success or failure.

We have discussed this phenomenon in many contexts on Ethics Alarms, ranging from the movie “Fame’s” warped message that the goal of young lives should be to “live forever” through becoming famous, to the reality-show driven delusion that merely being famous signifies anything but luck, and certainly not societal worth. The Sondheim musical “Assassins” posited that Presidential assassins were desperate, shadowy failures in a success-obsessed culture, who not unreasonably determined that murdering a President was the perfect way to rescue their lives from powerlessness and obscurity. The problem with thesis, though it spawned some good songs and thought-provoking drama, is that history doesn’t back it up at all, and the number of assassins and attempted assassins is too small a sample to make any valid generalizations.

  • In today’s hyped  media and information-glutted society, however, the theory makes more sense, except that it is infinitely easier to shoot up a church than kill a President, and social media makes a killer’s manifesto easy to disseminate for maximum news fodder. The Unabomber had to bargain to get his declaration published in the press.

Today a single social media post will do the trick, with fame (infamy, fame, what’s the difference?) to follow,

Unethical Quote Of The Week: An Ice Cream-Licking, Fame-Seeking Moron

“All I wanted to do was be famous.”

—Accused ice-cream carton-licker, Lenise Lloyd Martin III, a 36-year-old unemployed man who has been arrested in Louisianan for making a video of himself licking a carton of ice cream in the Big B’s Supermarket in  Belle Rose.

“It’s a shame,” commented Matt Walters, who works at the store. “A grown man doing something like that.” Yes, that’s a shame, but a greater shame is a grown man thinking like that, and a culture that raises its children to believe that fame itself is an accomplishment, regardless of what one is famous for.

The internet and social media have spread this disease of ethics and the mind, but it began long before the web took over our lives. Andy Warhol’s prescient quote, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”, first appeared in the program for a 1968 exhibition of his work at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden. We saw the hints of the cultural malady with the advent of television, as we saw ordinary Americans getting a thrill from acting like giddy fools behind announcers and TV journalists when they saw a TV camera.

This compulsion spawned such pop culture freaks as “Rocken Rollen” also known as Rainbow Man, who somehow managed to get himself and his rainbow-hued Afro on camera at dozens of live sporting events. At least he stayed in the stands; another example of the phenomenon was fans who ran out on the field mid-game hoping that a TV camera would capture their moment of “fame.”

Clearly, the culture is sending a toxic message to our youth. The movie and subsequent TV series “Fame,” following the travails of aspiring teenage performers, both pushed the false concept that being famous itself is an achievement:

Baby, look at me
And tell me what you see
You ain’t seen the best of me yet
Give me time
I’ll make you forget the rest

Don’t you know who I am
Remember my name!
Fame!
I’m gonna live forever
I’m gonna learn how to fly, high
I feel it comin’ together
People will see me and cry,
Fame!
I’m gonna make it to heaven
Light up the sky like a flame,
Fame!
I’m gonna live forever
Baby, remember my name
Remember, remember, remember, remember
Remember, remember, remember, remember…

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/29/19: Sick Room Edition

I hope you’re feeling better than I am.

1. Sick Ethics. Being sick on the job is always an ethical conflict, and riddled with bias. My father’s approach, so characteristic of him as someone who insisted on going into the Battle of the Bulge as an officer with a mangled, recently-repaired foot that was still oozing blood, was to ignore the illness and soldier on. There are two problems with that, however. First, you are working at diminished capacity, and second, you risk infecting others. The problem is a bit easier when you have a home office like I do, but there is still a trade-off issue: if I “soldier on” like my father, do I risk a longer illness and reduced capacity for far longer than if I just took a day or two off to recuperate? In my case, this is always a tough call: I am very vulnerable to bronchitis and pneumonia following chest colds (that’s what I’ve got, big time, starting last night), and when the stuff I cough up starts attacking me through the Kleenex, I’m in big trouble that has sometimes lasted for months. There is also a bias problem when you feel rotten. Right now, I would love to lie down. I can’t think of anything I would like more. I bet I can rationalize air-tight reasons why I should lie down, despite all of the very valid reason not to.

2. And speaking of sick...All 50 states require vaccinations before children to attend school, but 47 of them  (California, Mississippi and West Virginia are the exceptions) allow parents to opt out of vaccines if they have religious beliefs against immunizations. Eighteen states also allow parents to opt out of vaccines if they have personal, moral or philosophical beliefs against immunizations, including beliefs that they can think straight when they are in fact idiots and get their medical advice from Jenny McCarthy and other hysterical anti-vaxxers. Oregon and Washington are among the states that allow for a parent’s personal beliefs to exempt their kids from being immunized, along with Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and Vermont.

You know. Morons. Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Month: Barbara Harris (1935-2018)

“Everyone gets acting mixed up with the desire to be famous, but some of us really just stumbled into the fame part, while we were really just interested in the process of acting.”

—Actress Barbara Harris, who died last month at the age of 83.  The statement was quoted in he New York Times obituary from an interview she gave in 2002.

If you didn’t know Barbara Harris had died—indeed, if you didn’t know who Barbara Harris was—it is a measure of her integrity that she would have been pleased. I knew Harris’s work well (though I found out she had died just recently), but only because I have long been dedicated to show business history. Indeed, she was one of my favorite actresses who was a welcome accent to any movie she deigned to appear in, striking, but not beautiful, versatile, but not flashy, funny when the role required it, powerful when the challenge was dramatic or tragic, always a bit off-center, always surprising, never predictable.

She was an off-center ethics hero too, by rejecting the malady not only of her era but of her chosen profession as well. Barbara Harris rejected celebrity as a career goal or a life value, sneered at fame, and believed that it was what you accomplished in life that mattered, not how well-known or admired you became by accomplishing it. Harris often chose her projects according to how obscure she thought they would be, and actively avoided recognition. What a marvelous obsession! In her case, it was also an ironic one, because the most quirky and unpromising projects often became viable because she elevated them.

Her entire career was proof of the wisdom of Harry Truman’s great observation, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Harris did not care about the credit, but she accomplished a great deal. As a young teenaged actress who loved the process of improvisation, she was a founding member of the Second City improvisational theater in 1959, planting the seeds that gave our culture too many comic geniuses to count, along with Saturday Night Live and everything it spawned as well. Harris was the very first performer to appear on stage for Second City, in fact.  From there it was stardom on Broadway, often with her more famous Second City pals Alan Alda and Alan Arkin. She starred in a the musical  “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” (Harris could sing, too); “Oh Dad Poor Dad Mama’s Hung You In The Closet And I’m Feeling So Sad”; and “The Apple Tree” (and won a Tony Award in 1967). Her movies included a classic Harris turn in A Thousand Clowns (1965), Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? (which got her an Oscar nomination in 1971), Nashville (1975),the first Freaky Friday (1976) opposite Jody Foster, Hitchcock’s last film, Family Plot (1976), the cool, clever nostalgic spoof  Movie Movie (1978) that I bet you have never seen, a seering performance as the betrayed wife of a Senator in The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979), and her final film, Grosse Pointe Blank  in 1997. Then she retired from performing to teach acting.

During Harris’s career, she did none of the things actors typically do to keep their name before the public—no talk shows, few guest appearances on TV, no celebrity cameos on “Murder She Wrote” or “The Love Boat.” Somehow she instinctively understood that it wasn’t popularity or fame that defined her worth, or any human bieng’s worth, and refused to allow our society’s corrupting elebrity obsession of  warp her values or dictate her needs.

For me, Barbara Harris’s defining moment occurs at the end of the perfect movie for her, Robert Altman’s rambling, improvisational film “Nashville,” which is, among other things, about the sick obsession with fame and fortune that Barbara Harris rejected. Harris has few lines, and plays a runaway middle-aged wife who is determined to be a Country Western star. Her efforts are desperate, pathetic, and darkly comic, but at the film’s climax, when a famous singer is shot at a political rally for a renegade Presidential candidate, she grabs the suddenly open microphone of the fallen star she envies, and begins to sing in the chaos.

Let’s watch it now, and remember a woman and an artist of unshakable integrity and dedication to her art, and only her art.

The Brutal Ethics Truth About “7 Brutal Truths That Will Make Your Life Better If You Accept Them”

All looks yellow to the jaundiced eye.

Conservative writer John Hawkins published a post called “7 Brutal Truths That Will Make Your Life Better If You Accept Them.”

If I were as cynical as he is, I might say that a better title would be “How to Rationalize Being a Jerk,” but I’m not.

However, his post does demand some ethical perspective. Most, though not all, of his truths are really constructs to justify unethical conduct. Let’s examine them:

1. The average person cares more about what he eats for lunch than whether you live or die.

Maybe, and so what? That doesn’t mean that you should emulate them.  To begin with, there is no “average person.” There are individual people, good, bad and in-between. Hawkins writes,

“You tell the average person that doesn’t know you very well that you have a fatal disease and he’ll say, “I’m so sorry to hear that.” Then he’ll forget about it in five minutes while he debates with his friends whether they’re going to Chili’s or the Mexican restaurant down the street. What that means is that everything you want out of life, you better prepare to earn without getting a lot of favors on the way. If you fall, you have to be the one to pick yourself up off the ground, brush yourself off and get your life back on track. You care. They don’t. So it’s up to you.”

But the a stranger doesn’t always react that way. Sometimes he gives you his kidney. Hawkins is supplying an excuse to be callous based on a Golden Rule Distortion: “Do Unto Others As They Would Do Unto You.” Don’t listen to him.  Care about other people, and don’t hesitate to ask for help. People are better than you think: they will surprise you. In the meantime, it is your job to be as good as you would like them to be.

2. Life is not and will never be fair

I’ve written about this recently: fairness is a vague and broad concept in ethics. Life isn’t “fair” because life is often random, and nobody is tending the fairness meter. Systems either are fair or are not depending on your point of view. The mainstream conservative view about fairness is that one should play the cards one is dealt and stop complaining about it. It’s facile, though not without some truth: it is better to spend time trying to overcome obstacles than to bitch about them. On the other hand, each of us has an obligation to make the world better for those who follow us. Genuine unfairness, in systems, institutions, the culture and society, should be exposed, attacked, and fixed if possible. Hawkins’ approach would have left the U.S. with slavery, second class citizenship for women, Jim Crow, straight-only marriages, age discrimination, brutal monopolies and unchecked consumer fraud. His #2 is a license to be callous.

3. Most people are shallow

What an elitist and ignorant thing to say. If one has spent any time talking to and getting to know a wide range of people, it becomes clear that the opposite is the case. Again, assuming that most people are shallow provides Hawkins with an excuse to ignore them, or treat them with contempt. Most people will tend to behave as if they are shallow because they are rushed, stressed, distracted and focused on short-term exigencies. Give them time to think, a reason to consider a topic carefully, and the respect they deserve, and frequently unexpected depths will reveal themselves. “Most people are shallow” is a crippling bias for anyone to adopt. Expect the best of people: you will often be disappointed, perhaps, but you will also allow validations of your faith in humanity to bloom.

Writes Hawkins:

“So, use the shallowness of other people to your advantage. Learn to dress like a successful person. Pay attention to how you look. Find ways to give off the appearance that you are doing well. Don’t be a phony—be you, but also take advantage of the fact that a superficial appearance will be the reality to most people.”

Let’s see: pretend to be a successful person, but don’t be a phony; be you, but try to fool people by not revealing who you are. What?

People don’t assume that people who dress well,  speak well,  have manners and behave in a civilized fashion are successful because they are shallow. They assume that because they have learned from experience that certain traits both aid success and result from it.  Hawkins is the one revealing shallowness. Continue reading

From The Ethics Alarms Harry Truman Files: Applause For “The Wrecking Crew”

 

One of my favorite Presidential quotes of all time is from Harry Truman. He said,

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

Nonetheless, people deserve credit when they do important things, and trying to encourage the culture to not only give credit but also to remember and honor those deserving it across generations is a frequent theme of this blog.  The Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Fame is one expression of this theme. This post is another.

I was reminded of The Wrecking Crew when Glen Campbell died, and recently, when I heard old Monkee Mickey Dolenz in a recent interview.  Cambell was the most famous alumni of the studio band, which had many members over the years. Dolenz was a member of the group that was its most famous beneficiary, although The Byrds were also famously represented by The Wrecking Crew in their first hit record, “Mr. Tambourine Man.”

It has always amazed me how little this loosely organized band of brilliant studio musicians is known outside of the music business and the rock and pop trivia nerds. The Wrecking Crew was significantly involved in much of the greatest pop music recorded from the late 1950s to the mid 1970’s. Their musical contributions are indistinguishable and inseparable from the those of the famous singers and groups they backed, and yet fame and credit, as well as sufficient honors, have been elusive.

If people have heard of them at all, the Wrecking Crew is known for “ghosting” the accompaniments for the Monkees’ first two albums. However, its studio band work was far more extensive than that. They were, for example, the creators of Phil Specter’s “Wall of Sound”: in the early years, they were sometimes credited on Specter discs as occasionally credited as “the Phil Spector Wall of Sound Orchestra.” They played under other names too, or no names at all. The nickname “The Wrecking Crew” became public when it was used by drummer and member drummer and member Hal Blaine in his 1990 memoir, “Hal Blaine and the Wrecking Crew”; they also sometimes called themselves “The Clique.”  Blaine, Campbell and keyboardist Leon Russell are the most famous members; some of the better known studio  musicians that formed the backbone of the Crew’s ranks were drummer Earl Palmer, saxophonist Steve Douglas, guitarist Tommy Tedesco,  and bassist Carol Kaye, as well as versatile Larry Knechtel, later a member of Bread.

I checked Wikipedia for a list of the hits The Wrecking Crew played on and made into the classics they are. Here were some of them. Continue reading

Al Luplow And The Duty To Remember

 

A culture is defined by what it chooses to remember and what it chooses to forget. Ideally, a culture would remember everything, because knowing the past, as Santayana famously observed, was insurance against repeating its mistakes.  But time is a huge eraser, as Shelley told us:

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
This is why historians have such a crucial role to play in preserving our culture, by preserving stories, lives and memories along with the inspiration and wisdom they can provide.Sometimes a lost memory is rescued from neglect. Today we remember Colonel Joshua Chamberlain as one of the central heroes of the Battle of Gettysburg for his desperate stand with the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment at Little Round Top, culminating in his using his knowledge of military history (he was a college professor) to improvise the bayonet charge that held his position and turned defeat into victory. That was not the case for almost a century, however, until the historical novel “The Killer Angels” retold the story so vividly that Chamberlain’s entire career became the object of new scholarship and admiration. This was truth emerging, but it was also justice. Chamberlain deserved to be remembered.

Unfortunately, Chamberlain is an exception. Once a life, a deed, a remarkable moment is forgotten, it is usually gone. That is a tragedy for the culture. The duty to remember, which I have discussed here before, is the duty to protect the culture and its riches. It is also based on the Golden Rule. We all would like our lives to be remembered as long as possible, especially when we accomplished something that future generations could and would appreciate or benefit from recalling.

This brings us to Al Luplow.

Two nights ago, in an outrageously antic and entertaining game between the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox, Indians outfielder Austin Jackson robbed Hanley Ramirez of a home run by leaping in the air at the right centerfield bullpen fence reaching over it mid-air to catch the ball, and tumbling over it. He still held on to the ball—he could have easily broken his neck—and the home run became an out.

Although outfielders have fallen over that fence from time to time, notably in the 2013 play-offs…

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