Ethics Alarms Sheepishly Presents Rationalization #69: John Lyly’s Rationalization, Or “All’s Fair In Love And War”

Why sheepish? Well, for an authority on rationalizations, it’s pretty embarrassing to have one of the most famous and oldest rationalizations of them all not appear until the 91st entry on a list being compiled for ten years.

Most people would guess that the old saying comes from Shakespeare. Nope: household name John Lyly, a poet, included the idea in his novel “Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit,” published in 1579, about ten years before the Bard wrote his first play. The novel recounts the romantic adventures of a wealthy and attractive young man, and includes the quote “the rules of fair play do not apply in love and war.”

As often happens, I stumbled on this prominent hole in the list while on another mission. A reader had questioned my criticism of George Bailey and his mother in the Ethics Alarms guide to “It’s a Wonderful Life,” in which they plot to snatch the lovely Mary (Donna Reed) away from George’s obnoxious  (“Hee haw!!”) old childhood friend and wheeler-dealer, Sam Wainwright. The reader’s argument was that Mary and Sam had made no commitment, and that she was obviously looking for a better match, so she was fair game for George. This sent me back to the movie, which I watched again last night. The key scene is this one: George is talking to his mother party for younger brother Harry and his new bride… Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Do We Really Want To Live In A Society Where Tow-Truck Drivers Refuse To Tow The Cars Of Bernie Sanders Supporters?”

 

I'm sorry. I couldn't resist.

I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist.

Not much introduction is needed for prolific commenter Pennagain‘s eloquent Comment of the Day on the despicable conduct by Trump supporter Ken Shupe. The news media really don’t comprehend what is important here: it almost seems that if the motorist he left stranded because she had a Sanders sticker on her car wasn’t handicapped, this might never have been a news story at all, especially since the conduct is not far removed from what would naturally be expected from most Trump fans, or to use the technical term, idiots.

Pennagain does get it, though. Here is his Comment of the Day  on the post, Do We Really Want To Live In A Society Where Tow-Truck Drivers Refuse To Tow The Cars Of Bernie Sanders Supporters?

In all the years — about forty, I think — during which I wore backpacks whereon buttons could advertise my positive preferences (social, political, philosophical or just amusing, never sports since I wasn’t suicidal), I never thought of removing one unless it was outdated for one reason or another. People often commented (that was part of the pleasure of it unless I was late to work) as either just a passing acknowledgement pro or con, or as an invitation to an argument. If the latter, I turned it to discussion as far as possible and usually succeeded, even if it meant one of us getting off the bus or the elevator with the other, or standing with a group on a street corner or at a park bench, and twice that I can remember adjourning to a nearby eatery for several hours.

Usually, people were satisfied just to state their preferences (“sharing” was big — a few jump in front of me or turn their backs so I could view their statements). More often than not and usually with tourists (or out-of-state, especially in small towns) there was an exchange of views, even if just for a few minutes, with those who were more curious than aggressive. The plus side was gathering acquaintances whom I ran into regularly, exchanging greetings or insults of the friendlier kind. Verbal aggression, yes, nearly always from fringe religious groups; physical threats only from very old people (…never understood that) and those clearly with psychological problems. I don’t know if I changed any minds, but I do know I set several people to thinking, and they did the same for me. [if they hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t be posting here now]

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Do We Really Want To Live In A Society Where Tow-Truck Drivers Refuse To Tow The Cars Of Bernie Sanders Supporters?

Bernie Sticker

In Ashville, North Carolina,  tow truck driver Ken Shupe arrived on the scene to find motorist Cassy McWade standing by her accident-disabled vehicle  on Interstate 26. “He goes around back and comes back and says ‘I can’t tow you,” Wade told a reporter. “My first instinct was there must be something wrong with the car. And he says, ‘No, you’re a Bernie supporter.’ And I was like wait, really? And he says, ‘Yes ma’am,’ and just walks away.”

Here’s Shupe’s version:

“Something came over me, I think the Lord came to me, and he just said get in the truck and leave. And when I got in my truck, you know, I was so proud, because I felt like I finally drew a line in the sand and stood up for what I believed.”

A few quick points and then I’ll get to the real issue:

1. Shupe is an utter, virulent, IQ-deficient jerk whose conduct and attitude makes a mockery of whatever faith it is cursed to have him belonging to it, and constitute a blight on the society, community,culture and nation so unfortunate as to be stuck with him.

2. News reports make a big deal out of the fact that McWade is confined to a wheelchair. Ah: the theory is that we are only obligated to help our handicapped neighbors in need, is it? It shouldn’t matter if she was an Olympic medalist in the 50 yard dash. You don’t treat other human beings like that in any society that values human rights and common decency.

3. Shupe’s company is Shupee Max Towing in Traveler’s Rest, South Carolina. Nobody in their right mind should patronize this unAmerican creep, including his own family. This was anti-social,  cruel and objectively horrible behavior toward someone in need, and Shupe needs to be shunned, hard. If he can’t co-exist with others any better than this, he needs to live in a cave somewhere, because he’s not fit for human association.

4. To anticipate an objection: you may ask how it is that I can argue that friendship should outweigh political differences and advocacy of unethical conduct, and yet designate Ken for ignominy and rejection. If Ken were a friend of mine, I can see myself standing by him even after this miserable behavior. But, as Samuel L. Jackson tells John Travolta in “Pulp Fiction,” “We’d have to be talkin’ about one charming motherfucking pig.”

In a way, however, we should be grateful to Ken Shupe, who has provided in short order and timely fashion a near perfect example of the society-wrecking virus being actively spread by irresponsible zealots on both ends of the political spectrum who are determined to divide the nation and the culture as never before. Yes, never before. During the American Civil War, generals on opposite sides of some of the most bloody battles ever fought arranged to meet and exchange pleasantries, because they had been, and remained, friends. They understood what the self-righteous tow-truck operator, and, increasingly, our entire society, doesn’t. Continue reading

No, Of Course You Don’t End Friendships Over Support For Donald Trump…

cat and mouse

Donald Trump derangement has induced Slate’s Isaac Chotiner to pen one of the least self-aware and ethically tone deaf pieces within memory. In a post taking issue with New York Times columnist Peter Wehner’s  recent column arguing that political differences should not sever friendships and other  personal relationships, he argued that while Wehner’s principle was usually sound, it should not apply when the source of discourse is Donald Trump. He writes:

“Of course friendships should survive some political differences: I have friends who think differently than I do about everything from proper tax rates to abortion regulations. But having a friend who supports a blatantly (and proudly) bigoted candidate is categorically different. Everyone might have a different line about what issue to take some sort of moral stand on, but Trump has stepped over pretty much all of them.”

If Chotiner wants to choose his friends like that, he is free to do so. This is the attitude that is tearing apart the traditional connective tissue that makes America a unique and productive society, however, and he is promoting it.  It is also the demonization impulse, now being fed by zealots in both political parties and activists in every field, crusade and issue. This is the ultimate slippery slope. Hate your neighbor, if he doesn’t think like you do. Chotiner is embracing partyism, intolerance and, ironically, bigotry, exactly what he says makes Trump supporters unworthy of human companionship. Continue reading

The Benefits of Mutual Respect and Civility vs. Hate and “Partyism”

A New York Times feature from October 3 tells the inspiring tale of a friendship between two scholars, one a Christian, the other an atheist. Their friendship does not thrive in spite of the conflict between their core beliefs, but rather because of it.

Prof. David Skeel, the Christian, recently published  a book, “True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World.”  His atheist friend, Patrick Arsenault,  is  acknowledged in the book and quoted as well, and the Times notes that “True Paradox” “might not have existed at all, or certainly would not exist in its present shape and voice, without the secular scientist as its midwife. And that odd reality is testament to a rare brand of mutual civility in the culture wars, with their countervailing trends of religious fundamentalism and dogmatic atheism.” Says Skeel:

“One of the things we talked about was whether it matters if we persuade each other. I long to have Patrick converted to my perspective. So how can we have a friendship? I see it as toleration in the deepest meaning. We don’t just ‘put up’ with each other’s beliefs. We interrogate them.”

Arsenault tells the Times that “in the culture wars, the rhetoric is acerbic on both sides. On the humanist side, there’s this tendency to view people of faith as not rational. And David is clearly rational. He’s just looked at the same evidence as me and come to a different conclusion.”

Contrast this attitude—rational, respectful, practical, fair, constructive and profoundly ethical, with the “partyism” and bigotry being practiced with increasing intensity as the mid-term elections approach. There is Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank in the video clip above, for example,  not merely accusing Republicans of fear-mongering, but suggesting that their criticism of the Secret Service is insincere: Continue reading

An Unethical Website, Golden Rule Malpractice And The Worst Anti-Bullying Program Ever

 Izzy

bully2buddy logo

The Golden Rule is a valuable ethics tool. No question about it. Its best feature is that it compels an ethical point of view, causing us to think about the impact of one’s conduct on others. This simple shift of perspective—that’s the other virtue of the Golden Rule: it’s simple; a child can understand it—-distances us from the powerful ethics alarms-muffling effects of non-ethical considerations, which are primarily our subjective wants and needs, and forces us to look past them to more ethical objectives.

The Golden Rule is not, however, a panacea, or even the most useful ethical system. It doesn’t work in complex systems , or when multiple inter-related interests are involved, or when chaos looms. You can’t run a successful business, organization or nation using only the Golden Rule; you can’t have a coherent legal system, or the rule of law, or a banking system. Yet there are a lot of people, many of them with advanced degrees, best-selling books and millions of followers, who continue to practice Golden Rule malpractice and preach that it will solve all society’s ills, despite the fact that the most cursory examination of history and human nature makes it blindingly clear that much as we would wish it otherwise, this just isn’t true. Some of these people are well-meaning, good-hearted chumps. Some are insane. Many are fanatics. Some of them are con-artists. All of them are dangerous.

The latter was illustrated when the fifth-graders in Lincoln, Nebraska’s Zeman Elementary School received flyers on how to deal with bullying. (To get the side issues this blog deals with periodically out of the way at the outset, the incompetent and naive advice the flyer contained is one of an endless number of examples of how the education establishment is inadequately trained, staffed and regulated to be trusted with the welfare of young children, and how any parent who blithely entrusts their offspring to public schools without monitoring them closely is irresponsible, because teachers and school administrators cannot be trusted to exercise good judgment.) The flyer contained some “rules” for bullied children to apply after and during bullying episodes. The flyer was disavowed after the Lincoln, Nebraska school system’s Facebook page melted from the abuse poured on it by shocked and disgusted parents, and so far, at least, nobody has transcribed all of what is barely readable on this photo of it, and I don’t see or type well enough to do it myself: Continue reading

Heeeeeeeeeere’s JOHNNY’S BETRAYAL!!!!

henry_bushkin_johnny_carson

Lawyers are forbidden by the ethics rules of their profession in every state from divulging the secrets of their clients, their former clients, or even their dead former clients, except in the rare circumstances when doing so will save a life or prevent a crime, and often not even then. Client confidences include all information a lawyer learns about a client in the course of the representation whether or not it is germane to the representation or not, if the client would be embarrassed by the information or would want it to remain secret.

The duty to maintain client confidences goes to the core of the professional relationship between citizens and their lawyers, and any attorney who breaches it not only harms his or her client but undermines trust in the entire profession as well. So sacrosanct is the duty that a Massachusetts court agreed with the Fall River law firm that represented Lizzy Borden in her famous murder trial, when Lizzy’s heirs tried to force it to reveal whether she did, in fact, “give her mother forty whacks” (and her father forty-one) with an ax, that it could not reveal Borden’s secrets even in the interests of history.  The firm, said the court, was quite correct: Miss Borden hired it based on its lawyers’ assurances that her secrets were safe with the firm forever, and to allow otherwise now, even a century after the crime, would betray her trust and undermine the profession’s integrity. The Massachusetts Bar agrees.

So how can it be that Henry Bushkin, for decades the late Johnny Carson’s personal lawyer and thus charged with keeping the secrets of the famously reticent comic’s personal life, is now publishing a tell-all book filled with juicy stories about his conveniently dead client? Continue reading

Banning the Privacy Bomb

Yes, I think posting this photo is a lousy thing to do to your dog, too.

The stories come out routinely, and the opposing opinions are predictable. A boorish date dumps a woman via arrogant e-mail, which is promptly forwarded to thousands, making him a national laughing stock and pariah. A movie star sends an angry and mean-spirited message to his teenage daughter, who places it in the hands of the celebrity-devouring media…which then use it to savage the star’s reputation.  A Harvard law student takes an e-mail sent by a friend and fellow-student as a follow-up to a contentious discussion about race, and forwards it to minority advocates on campus, who then condemn the “friend” as a racist. A model live-tweets her encounter with the married actor sitting next to her on a flight, as he engages in awkward flirtation. In each case, defenders of the punitive distributor of the embarrassing communication argue that the victim deserved it, while critics of the conduct insist that it is a betrayal of privacy and trust.
We need to decide, as a culture, whether we believe that reasonable expectations of privacy should be respected or not; indeed, whether they should survive or not. Those who endorse, defend and encourage the kind of conduct in these incidents and many more are, whether they realize it or not, fouling the nest of our national culture and community, making not just privacy, but also friendship and intimacy, almost impossible. Continue reading

Carolyn Hax Tackles An Ethics Classic

What do you do when you find out that the husband or boyfriend of one of your friends is cheating on her with another one of your friends?

This perennial advice column ethics teaser has been botched in more columns than I can count, so it was a pleasure to read the response to the dilemma by Carolyn Hax, the syndicated relationship advice columnist whose ethical instincts are invariably superb. Here was the substance of her answer:

“…to the husband or husband-poacher (whoever’s the closer friend), say something akin to: “I’ve heard this is happening, which means others have, too. That’s Issue 1. Issue 2: I want no part of this — I don’t even want to know what I already know. Issue 3: If Wife asks me something, I won’t lie. As someone who stands to lose friends in this mess, I hope you’ll clean it up.” Then butt out, knowing that if someone forces your hand, your next move has been declared in advance — and if your friend finds out that you knew, you can say: “I’m sorry. I did what I felt I could.” Continue reading

My Field of Dreams

Yesterday, an Off-Broadway musical closed that I launched on its remarkable run nearly 12 years ago. The show had productions in four states, D.C. and London; it had over 450 performances; it became the cornerstone of one very talented (and very nice) actor’s career, and an important opportunity for several others. It gave a dear friend immense pleasure, satisfaction and recognition in the final decade of his life, and probably saved my theater company from bankruptcy. Most important of all, perhaps, is that it entertained thousands of people. If I got bopped by a trolley tomorrow, the show would undoubtedly stand as one of the major accomplishments of my entire strange, eclectic, under-achieving life.

And yet…feeling good about the unlikely saga of the show, now that it has finally (probably—it has risen from the dead before) seen its last audience, takes considerable effort for me, and has from the beginning. My satisfaction is more intellectual than emotional, because I know that I personally benefited less from the show in tangible ways in proportion to my contribution to it than anyone else involved. Although I restructured the script, re-wrote, added and cut lines, wrote new lyrics to one song and added two others to the show, including the finale, I’m not credited as a co-auther. I own no part of the property, and never received a dime in compensation. Those closely connected with the original production know all of this, but the extent of my role in the creation and success of the show has been invisible to audiences for over a decade. Continue reading