Presenting the Ethics Alarms Heroes’ Hall Of Honor


Today, the anniversary of September 11. 2001, American minds should be occupied with thoughts of gratitude for heroes, the often anonymous and unknown people we may pass in the street every day, as well as the justly famous and celebrated, who make our lives and many others better by living their own selflessly and well. They are our salvation, role models and neighbors, and they teach us the lesson that all is never lost, and hope is always thriving, as long as there are good and courageous people who will do the right thing, no matter what the cost, when fate turns to them.

This seems like a propitious time to dedicate the Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Honor, the list of the Ethics Heroes Emeritus whose stories have been told here (and on this site’s predecessor, The Ethics Scoreboard.) Every current member of the Hall is now deceased, like the brave men and women who died this day, 12 years ago. Each of them, in a unique way, teaches how human beings can rise above the vicissitudes of mere survival, self-interest, personal benefits and the base desires of the species  to live  meaningful and virtuous lives. Some accomplished this over decades, some with one brilliant and transforming act of distinction.

There are currently 32 members enshrined in this virtual Hall. Obviously, it is far from complete. They are just symbolic representatives, worthy ones, of millions more who once breathed the same air we do today, and like those who perished twelve years ago, face the prospect of being forgotten over time, as we all go about the consuming task of getting from one day to another. Each one of us, I believe, is capable of emulating their example.

Here are the thirty-two members and their stories, as of this date,

September 11, 2013... Continue reading

Your Weekend Ethics Update

Sure, it's touching..but is it sincere?

Here’s what you may have missed if your attention was focused on non-ethical considerations over the weekend:

  • A Washington, D.C. Charter school has been using scenarios out of horror movies to teach math—to third graders.
  • Saturday Night Live gave fallen child star Lindsay Lohan a chance to be something other than an addict and scofflaw again. Was it exploitation or was it kindness? Kind exploitation, perhaps?
  • Rush Limbaugh became a victim of his own mouth, attacking a Georgetown Law student’s advocacy of insurance-covered contraceptives not by questioning her logic—which is questionable—but her character, and in crude and degrading terms. Indefensible.
  • At least two NFL team, it was revealed, put bounties on the heads of opposing teams’ stars, offering thousands to players for knocking them off the field and into hospital beds. Unethical, a violation of league rules, cheating, and criminal…and the reaction of players is, “What’s the big deal?” A culture problem perhaps?
  • While conservatives were rending their garments in grief over the sudden death of conservative web warrior Andrew Breitbart (and too many liberals were disgracing themselves by applauding an early demise that left his young children fatherless), a far more influential and infinitely more ethical conservative voice left us: scholar, author, social scientist, philosopher, historian…and Ethics Hero Emeritus… James Q. Wilson.
  • Rush apologized after his sponsors began to flee. With great power comes great responsibility, and Limbaugh has more power than he can possibly be responsible for. He still is accountable.
  • Finally…Is a forced apology a “real” apology? It depends.

Ethics Hero Emeritus: James Q. Wilson (1931-2012)

“Denmark or Luxembourg can afford to exhibit domestic anguish and uncertainty over military policy; the United States cannot. A divided America encourages our enemies, disheartens our allies, and saps our resolve—potentially to fatal effect. What General Giap of North Vietnam once said of us is even truer today: America cannot be defeated on the battlefield, but it can be defeated at home. Polarization is a force that can defeat us.”

James Q. Wilson wrote that, in an essay on America’s polarization. The scholar, author, philosopher and social scientist who died yesterday at the age of 80 was a passionate conservative who believed in winning arguments, influencing policy and changing conduct with the power of ideas, facts, studies and analysis. That the media, especially the conservative media, treated the death of Andrew Breitbart as a thunderclap and the death of Wilson as a footnote tells us as much as we need to know about our culture, values and intellect. I watched GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum respond to the news of Breitbart’s death as if the culture warrior was the equivalent of Martin Luther King. Breitbart died too young, at 43; he had a family, and reputedly was a nice guy. But his contribution to the American scene was to use his various websites to increase the intensity of partisan warfare, and to help banish fairness, compromise, civility and mutual trust from public discourse. One of the last videos of Brietbart showed him screaming insults at Occupy protesters.

I had stopped using Breitbart’s sites for source material: I couldn’t trust them. The editing of James O’Keefe’s ACORN sting was one strike; the misleadingly truncated Shirley Sherrod speech was another. I wasn’t going to wait for a third. It tells me something alarming about conservatives in this country that such an unethical new media figure could be so lionized upon his death, when his methods were so frequently aimed at destruction rather than elightenment.

Wilson, in contrast, got substantive and wide-ranging results.His 1981 essay “Broken Windows” argued that community policing, rather than mere law enforcement, was the secret to changing urban culture. He wrote (with co-author George Kelling): Continue reading