Tag Archives: hubris

Comment Of The Day: “Megyn Kelly, William Saroyan, Ethics, Me, And Us: A Rueful Essay” (#1)

My post over the weekend, one long in germination, regarding the personal and societal dilemma of balancing one’s duty to oneself, one’s duty to be useful  and the infuriating hard-wired human tendency to always seek something different and better, received a gratifying response and at least two Comments of the Day.

This is the first, by frequent COTD auteur Extradimensional Cephalopod, is a marvelous supplement to my post, and I wish I had written it myself, except I couldn’t have.

Here is EC’s Comment of the Day on the post, Megyn Kelly, William Saroyan, Ethics, Me, And Us: A Rueful Essay:

One of the central principles of Buddhism is “life is suffering”. Clarified, it means that conscious beings inherently have some concept of how they want the world to be that is different from how it actually is. Alternatively, if the world is already how they want it to be, either the chaos in the world will bring it out of alignment with their desires, or they will eventually become dissatisfied as their minds develop further. This is what the bartender in Saroyan’s story is referring to. It’s the existential condition; “condemned to be free”, as Sartre put it.

Having studied desire and motivation from an existential point of view, I’ve codified eight motivations that lead people to form goals. They are based on three dichotomies: experience versus control, greater and lesser quantity, and order versus chaos.

Greed/ambition: the desire for more control or more accomplishment (acquiring more possessions or becoming more important).
Gluttony/celebration: the desire for more of an experience (greater intensities or more constant access).
Wrath/boldness: the desire to break through limits by exerting control (disregarding rules or doing the impossible).
Lust/curiosity: the desire to remove limits on one’s experiences (experiencing the unknown).
Hubris/scrupulousness: the desire to impose limits through one’s control (absolute, perfect control over something).
Envy/dedication: the desire to impose limits on one’s experiences (obsession or tunnel vision).
Sloth/contentment: the desire to have less control (having responsibility or having to pay less attention).
Cowardice/prudence: the desire to have less of an experience (avoiding pain or discomfort). Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Comment of the Day, Daily Life, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Religion and Philosophy

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/9/17

GOOD MORNING!

1. The Pope gave an interview saying, in Italian of course, that the United States of America, which he offensively grouped with Russia, China, North Korea and Syria, have “a distorted vision of the world.”

The Pope, who has spent the bulk of his adult life seeing the world through the narrowly focused lense of the Catholic Church, and who hails from a South American leftist state, thinks that the United States has a distorted view of the world. Wow. Besides the stunning hubris of this pronouncement, the Pope is engaging in an abuse of position and influence, and a remarkably short-sighted one. If he wants to exercise any influence at all over citizens of the world who have not been indoctrinate since childhood to regard him as a godly sage by virtue of a secret political vote by a bunch of superannuated Cardinals, he has to earn credibility by the evident quality of the statements he makes. Later on, in the same interview, the Pope made it clear that his  undistorted vision of the world involves endorsing open borders.

I think the Pope has a distorted view of the trustworthiness of celibate men who have access to young boys, so I really couldn’t care less what he thinks about U.S. policies when he can’t objectively and responsibly process the terrible realities in his own organization.

2. I’ve been reading and  listening to sportswriters since I was ten, and I have to say that I have little respect for the critical thinking skills of most of them. I was gobsmacked by an example of why this morning, as Steve Buckley, a long-time baseball reporter for the Hub’s #2 paper The Boston Herald, opined in a virtue-signaling mess of a column that “War heroes, not David Ortiz, deserve streets named after them.” David Ortiz, in case you live in a fallout shelter, is the recently retired iconic slugger of the Boston Red Sox. The team recently retired his number, and in a related honor, the city of Boston re-named a small street near the park after him. It had earlier named one of the many bridges in the city after him.

“We should reserve the streets, the corners, the squares, the playgrounds, to remember the men and women who died serving our country.” Buckley writes. Why? He never really gives a reason, he just tells us that this is the way it should be.  Why are the veterans who die in military service more honor-worthy than those who risked their lives but survived? Since when are society’s only real heroes military heroes? Is he a time-traveler from Ancient Sparta? Do contributions to society during peacetime or on the home front matter less to a community than what happens on a foreign battlefield?

What about fallen police officers and fire fighters? Not worth a street name? Philanthropists, inventors and innovators who made life better for all, launched businesses, created jobs, helped families and neighborhood thrive—these don’t warrant a little bit of  local immortality?  David Ortiz made millions of people happy. In a racially divided city, Ortiz, a black man, became the face of Boston sports, at least for those who were nauseated by Tom Brady’s smug countenance.  That was as important as his clutch home runs. Trivializing Ortiz’s contributions to Boston (the relationship of Bostonians to their infuriating baseball team is too complex to explain quickly to anyone who hasn’t been part of it) is trivializing the importance of entertainment and popular culture, which is nothing short of ignorant, especially in the United States. In the District of Columbia, a school is named after Duke Ellington. Good. In Los Angeles, for decades until California leftists finally removed it, a major airport was named after John Wayne. Excellent. And in Boston, the largest tunnel is named after Ted Williams, but maybe Buckley thinks that’s OK because Williams was a combat flier in two wars. (Pssst! Ted’s tunnel isn’t bearing his name because he crash-landed that jet, Steve!)

As a society and a species, we have a duty to remember those who have contributed to the culture we enjoy. There aren’t enough streets, schools, bridges and parks to honor them all, but they all deserve to be honored. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Citizenship, Government & Politics, History, Leadership, Religion and Philosophy, Sports, U.S. Society, War and the Military

“The 2016 Election Is a Disaster Without a Moral”? Only If You’re In Denial, Mr. Chait!

That should be "lessons," plural...

That should be “lessons,” plural...

The many outbursts of  liberal anger, resentment, accusations and denial over the election have been revealing, and not in a good way. Few have been as directly and stubbornly misguided and biased, however, as the current New York Magazine article by Jonathan Chait, with the clickbait title, “The 2016 Election Is a Disaster Without a Moral.”

It is, in essence, yet another example of Democrats attempting to argue away any accountability for their own misfortune, making Chait’s piece itself a denial of several moral lessons, such as “I am the architect of my own destiny,” “Take responsibility for your failures,” and “Don’t blame others for your own mistakes.” The post-election progressive freak-out, of which Chait is a part, also has a very important moral lesson in store, the one embodied in the Serenity Prayer authored by theologian and philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971):

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the  courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Clearly, this moral lesson is completely elusive, with pointless recounts underway supported by the Clinton campaign; round the clock complaining about the Electoral College, part of the 225 year-old rules of the game the Democrats accepted when they ran a candidate in the election; unethical and futile attempts intimidate electors or convince them to violate their vows;  embarrassingly infantile laments and near-breakdowns of whining students on college campuses,; and “Not My President!” protests and riots.

The lessons are there to learn, Jonathan, you just don’t want to learn them. He actually writes—and if this isn’t denial, I don’t know what is, “It is hard to think of an election defeat more singularly absent of important lessons.”  What??? To the contrary, it is hard to think of an election that taught more important lessons than this one. Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society

Donald Trump: A Pre-Election Ethics Alarms Character and Trustworthiness Review: 2005-2016 [UPDATED]

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Donald Trump has no character or trustworthiness. Next question?

Oh, all right, in the interests of equity and fairness, I’ll submit The Donald to the same process as I did with Hillary Clinton, though in his case the verdict is res ipsa loquitur. Trump’s lack of ethics and his unfitness to fill the shoes of Washington, Lincoln, Teddy, FDR, or Millard Fillmore is, or should be, self-evident. Those for whom it isn’t self-evident are either ignorant, devoid of values themselves, or intentionally seeking to harm the United States.

I’ve been writing about the awfulness that is Donald Trump since 2005. He was noted for his dishonesty on my Ethics Scoreboard when I called foul on his marketing “various ‘get rich’ products, including tapes, seminars, and “Trump U,” an on-line delivery system for more of the same.” I wrote in part

There are thousands upon thousands of Americans who started with meager resources and made themselves rich through talent, hard work, creativity, inventiveness, and some luck. …Not Trump. The success of his pitch to the desperate wannabes and clueless is based on their erroneous assumption, nurtured by Trump but not explicitly supported by him, that he can teach them to do what they think he did…make himself rich through hard work and a business savvy. But what Trump is best qualified to teach is how to make yourself richer when you inherit an established business and have millions of dollars plunked into your waiting hands after your Dad has sent you to Wharton.

The fact that Trump doesn’t lie outright about his background but simply allows his marks to jump to the wrong conclusions puts his “get rich like me” marketing efforts in the category of deceit…but deceit is still dishonesty. Trump undoubtedly has useful wisdom to impart about building a successful career; it’s not as easy to stay rich as some people think. Ask most state lottery winners. Still, the most vivid lesson of Donald Trump’s successful campaign to sell himself as a self-made billionaire is the lesson that 19th Century con-man Joe Bessimer pronounced more than a century ago: There’s a sucker born every minute.

So we knew, or should have known, that this was a con artist at least back eleven years. In 2006, I posted on Trump’s misogyny and incivility, writing about the first outbreak of his feud with the equally vile Rosie O’Donnell, and their public name-calling…

Rosie set off the exchange by suggesting on ABC’s “The View” that Trump’s recent assumption of the role of moral exemplar by chastising and threatening to fire the reigning Miss USA for being a party-girl was more than a little ridiculous, given his own well-documented penchant for fast women and extra-marital affairs. Sometimes Rosie’s full of beans, and sometimes she gets it right; this time she was right, but spoiled it by concluding her commentary with some unflattering name-calling. Trump, no girly-man he, immediately said he would sue O’Donnell, and then launched into an extended riff on how unattractive and fat she was, including the charming phrase, “pig-face.” Classy as always, Donald…. Yes, anyone who admires either of these two annoying characters already has a problem, but there is no escaping the fact that both are celebrities, and as celebrities they contribute to establishing cultural norms of civility and conduct. This is especially true of Trump, who despite his low-life proclivities is a successful business executive. Resorting to personal attacks on an adversary’s weight or appearance is disrespectful, unfair, cruel and indefensible. Doing so on national media is like firing a shotgun into a crowd. There are a lot of fat or unattractive women out there, Mr. Trump, who are smart, generous, productive, loving, intelligent people… Golden Rule, anyone? How are we to convince our children not to ridicule the personal traits of others, when those they see as rich, famous and successful do the same openly, shamelessly, and even gleefully?

You can imagine my continued amazement that ten years after writing this rather obvious assessment, without Trump having undergone a complete transformation, and indeed with his conduct and public statements becoming worse rather than better, we are on the eve of a day that may live in infamy as the moment democracy  completely failed the United States of America, inflicting on it, and the world,  as unstable and unqualified a leader of a great power as history has ever witnessed. Continue reading

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The Costs Of Civic Ignorance: We Now Have A Frontrunning Candidate For President Who Wants To Gut Freedom Of The Press

SullivanYesterday, flushed with the fact that polls said he “won’ this week’s debate despite outrageous lying, posturing, and incoherence, Donald Trump said that if elected, he will muzzle journalists with fear of libel suits:

“One of the things I’m going to do if I win… I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.We’re going to open up those libel laws so when The New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace, or when the Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected. We’re going to open up libel laws and we’re going to have people sue you like you’ve never got sued before.”

It’s hard to say what is the dumbest or most alarming thing Trump has said this campaign season, but this is close. To begin with, journalism cannot function under the constant threat of libel suits. This device is already used to bully websites, a form of journalism, and blogs like mine, which don’t have the resources to fight censorious and frivolous suits. Second, the statement proves that Trump is ignorant about the Constitution, ignorant about the law, ignorant about American values—Can you make America great again when you don’t comprehend the culture, traditions or history in the first place? Of course not—and ignorant about the powers of the Presidency, which is fairly shocking for someone running for the office. Luckily for Trump, and unluckily for the country, a lot of Americans are even more ignorant than he is.

Third: this can’t be done unless Trump intends to declare himself Emperor, or something similar. The Supreme Court dealt very emphatically with this issue in the 1964 case of New York Times v. Sullivan, which ruled that win a defamation case against a newspaper (and now, by extension, any journalist), a plaintiff must show four things: 1) a false statement purporting to be fact; 2) publication or communication of that statement to a third person; 3) fault; and 4) some tangible harm  to the person or entity who is the subject of the statement. Public officials and public figures–celebrities, people in the news, reality stars, Bozo the Clown— must show that alleged libelous statements were made with actual malice—that is , they were maliciously intended to harm the subjects and the writer and publisher knew they were false, or were reckless is determining if the were false or not-to recover in an action for defamation.

The standard of proof is also high for libel against the press, and this is to protect the press. A plaintiff must show actual malice by “clear and convincing” evidence rather than the lesser burden of proof in most civil cases, preponderance of the evidence.

Sullivan is a bulwark of First Amendment jurisprudence. It isn’t going anywhere. Conservative justices wouldn’t overturn it; liberal justices wouldn’t touch it. Justice Scalia, brought back from the dead, would declare it untouchable. If there is a single legal scholar who has advocated overturning the case in whole or in part, he or she is an outlier or a crackpot. It was a 9-0 decision. Justice Brennan, writing for the Court, wrote… Continue reading

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Ethics Update: The Frontrunners

the-three-stooges6

There was ample evidence over the past week that all three of the candidates currently leading their respective party’s races for the presidential nomination are unqualified for the office by virtue of their deficiencies of competence, character, and principles. Hillary Clinton had the most spectacularly revealing week, but first, the other two….

Donald Trump: Hubris, incompetence, disrespect and unfairness

1. “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” Trump boasted at a campaign rally yesterday. I know, it’s a joke. It’s also an astoundingly stupid thing to say, even in jest, and reveals massive hubris, the quality that brought down many a Greek king and the worst and most dangerous of all Trump flaws. This is what will get him, sooner or later. 3000 years of history and literature teach us that. The comment also reveals utter contempt for his supporters; he is essentially calling them blind morons. The crowd in Iowa laughed….because they are.

2.“Our great veterans are being treated terribly,” Trump says in a new campaign video. “The corruption in the Veteran’s administration, the incompetence is beyond. We will stop that.” Then critics pointed out that the clips used showed Russian veterans, not Americans, and he pulled the ad.

This is the man whose only claim to legitimacy is his management wizardry. Such an error, however, is proof of sloppy oversight and incompetent delegation. Moreover, this is the second time a Trump campaign ad  included mislabeled material: his illegal immigration ad earlier this month used footage of people crossing the Moroccan border to represent the U.S.-Mexico border. Conclusion: he’s faking it, “it” meaning everything. This is all posturing and bluffing, like a student taking an exam for a course he never studied for. Continue reading

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A Lesson In The Dangers of Wise-assery, Hindsight Bias, And Moral Luck

allan-sherman-2

Once upon a time, a fat, spectacled, pleasant amateur song parodist sold millions of records with what middle-aged college grads thought were witty musical critiques of Sixties life and culture. His name was Allan Sherman, and one of those witty songs was this:

Therein lies some useful lessons which we all should absorb:

1. What seems like a valid opinion today might well seem incredibly stupid to virtually everybody later.

2. Venturing outside your expertise is always risky.

3.  Everything seems obvious in hindsight. In most cases, it was anything but.

4. Yesterday’s wit is tomorrow’s ignorance.

5. Whether your opinion is going to make you look like a prophet or a fool is often nothing but moral luck.

6. Criticizing someone for views proven invalid by subsequent developments no one could have foreseen is consequentialism, and unfair.

7. People will do it anyway.

8. We are all Allan Sherman. We just don’t know how.

It’s hard to imagine now that John, Paul, George and Ringo are icons and deserving ones, but back in 1964 it was considered wise and clever to make fun of their hair, their fans and pronounce them untalented hacks. At the beginning of the British invasion, many sophisticates regarded the Beatles as indistinguishable from the legendary Dave Clark Five, and a passing fancy no more significant that the hula hoop.

Mock them now at your peril. Your time will come…in fact, it probably already has.

 

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Popular Culture