The Uncommon Common Dilemma

Emily Dickinson, he's not.

It is unusual to encounter a situation where there is no course that doesn’t violate some legitimate ethical principle. The dilemma involving rapper Common’s controversial invitation to the White House is one of them. None of the options are strictly ethical, and this has led advocates both for and against his inclusion in Michelle Obama’s poetry event, “An Evening of  Poetry at the White House,” to behave unethically themselves. Let’s see: what comes closest to being ethical conduct of the possible outcomes?

Option A: Michelle has her poetry event, but doesn’t invite any mainstream rapper. Ethical breaches: Incompetence, bias, censorship, dishonesty.

Rap is the most dynamic and popular form of poetry in America today. Having an event to “showcase the impact of poetry on American culture” at the White House that excludes popular rappers is absurd on its face; it would be like the White House celebrating the influence of sports in American culture and omitting football. Continue reading

Aesop’s Unethical and Misleading Fable: “The North Wind and the Sun”

Today, by happenstance, I heard an Aesop’s Fable that I had never encountered before recited on the radio. Like all Aesop’s Fables, this one had a moral, and it is also a statement of ethical values. Unlike most of the fables, however, it doesn’t make its case; it is, in fact, an intellectually dishonest, indeed an unethical, fable.

It is called “The North Wind and the Sun,” and in most sources reads like this:

“The North Wind and the Sun disputed as to which was the most powerful, and agreed that he should be declared the victor who could first strip a wayfaring man of his clothes. The North Wind first tried his power and blew with all his might, but the keener his blasts, the closer the Traveler wrapped his cloak around him, until at last, resigning all hope of victory, the Wind called upon the Sun to see what he could do. The Sun suddenly shone out with all his warmth. The Traveler no sooner felt his genial rays than he took off one garment after another, and at last, fairly overcome with heat, undressed and bathed in a stream that lay in his path.”

The moral of the fable is variously stated as “Persuasion is better than Force” , or “Gentleness and kind persuasion win where force and bluster fail.”

The fable proves neither. In reality, it is a vivid example of dishonest argument, using euphemisms and false characterizations to “prove” a proposition that an advocate is biased toward from the outset. Continue reading

Gawker’s Unethical Defense Of An Unethical Post

Being slammed left, right and center, the unprincipled gossip site Gawker, which published a slimy kiss-and-tell account by an anonymous creep who shared a night of passion, if not as passionate as he expected, with Christine O’Donnell, issued its official defense. It can be summarized as “she’s a judgmental, hypocritical prude and she deserved it,” which is really a stand-in for the real motive, which does something like, “we’d publish the private secrets of our own grandmothers if it would get us more traffic.”

The hypocrisy argument is nonsense. Continue reading

Chris Plante and the Absurd, Illogical, and Ubiquitous “Favorite Child” Rationalization

I apologize at the outset to Chris Plante, a Washington D.C. market conservative radio talk show host, who is far from the only individual to employ the “Favorite Child” rationalization, or even its most egregious user. Just about everybody uses this logic-free argument these days; you can hear it on TV, read it in the blogosphere, and be assaulted with it by your friends. Plante was unlucky enough to have me listening to his show when he went off into a full-throated “Favorite Child” rant in response to a caller who was troubled by the fact that Christine O’Donnell, the Tea Party Senate candidate from Delaware whom Plante had extolled, has a history of lying, saying strange things, and mishandling funds-–a quite reasonable concern when a candidate is running on a platform of honor, integrity, and fiscal responsibility. Continue reading