Bias Check

Confirmation bias

Detecting and overcoming one’s own biases is one of the most important features of being ethical. “Bias makes you stupid,” after all, and stupidity can make you unethical. As the author of an ethics blog, this is of special concern to me, as I am constantly making choices that bias could seriously affect. Some of those choices include what issues and events have ethics components, which are most important to publicize, how should the ethical issues be analyzed, what conclusions are fair and reasonable, even how long a particular post should be, what authorities and references should be included, and what style—scholarly? humorous? bemused? indignant? outraged?—will best illustrate a point.

As regular readers here know, I can be harsh, often too harsh, when a commenter dismisses my commentary as partisan or ideologically motivated. First of all, it isn’t, and I resent the accusation. Second, it’s a cheap shot, essentially attacking my motives, objectivity and integrity rather than presenting substantive arguments. Third, it is a simpleminded approach to the world in general, and democracy in particular, and life, presuming that “there are two kinds of people,” and one type is always wrong, while the other type is always right. There is nobody I agree with all the time, and I am far from alone in that trait. People who agree with the same people all the time are not really thinking. They are just taking the easy route of picking sides, and letting others think for them.

Obviously, my approach to controversies, problems and ethical analysis are influenced by thousands of factors, including my parents,  my upbringing,  where I have lived,  teachers, friends, and family members, experiences, books, plays, movies and popular culture, interests  and passions (like leadership, American history, and baseball), what I’m good or successful at and I’m not, and so much else. These are not biases: once such influences mold your way of looking at the world and passing through life, they are, in fact, who you are. I’m comfortable with who I am. I just don’t want biases making me me stupider than I am.

Thus I am always interested in trying to identify where I stand on a the ideological scale. Some of my conservative friends think I’m liberal; all of my liberal friends think I’m conservative. Two sides again: I am confident that it is their place on the scale that leads to those perceptions. Today I encountered another test that supposedly divides liberals and conservatives sharply.  It comes from political scientist and philosopher James Burnham’s  1964 book “The Suicide of the West.” Burnham was one of those radical leftists who did a complete reversal in middle age and became an influential conservative theorist. You are asked to agree or disagree with these 39 statements, and the result reveals your ideological bent.

Here are the questions: Continue reading

Note To Ethics Dunce Norman Lear: That’s Not “Reverse Racism,” Norman. That’s Just Racism.

Norman Lear, Ethics Meathead..

Norman Lear, Ethics Meathead…

On what has become racism Friday for some reason, I read with annoyance excerpts from Norman Lear‘s new autobiography. The relentlessly liberal ( and smugly so) TV writer, producer/director and liberal activist who created “All in the Family,” “Maude,” Sanford and Son,” and People for the American Way, tells this tale:

“Mike Evans, the actor who played Lionel, the son of George Jefferson on All in the Family, wanted to write as well as act, and I suggested he take a crack at the Good Times pilot script. He brought in Eric Monte, a black writer he wished to team up with. Eric (who later sued me, Jerry Perenchio, Tandem and CBS for something like $185 million) came from the Cabrini-Green housing project in Chicago, so we settled the James and Florida Evans family there. [Editor’s note: The suit was settled for $1 million.] I was charmed by Eric Monte and, having worked for years with Mike, liked him a lot, too. A number of black writers worked with us through the years, but thus far none had created a show. Mike and Eric now had the opportunity to be the first.

They blew it creatively with a poor copycat of a script. But even though what they wrote was a far cry from what we shot, we did not seek to change their credit as the sole co-creators. I could be confessing to a bit of inverse racism here when I admit that it even pleased me to see them credited and paid. That would not have happened, at least not gratuitously, if they were white.”

I have news for Lear: that’s straight up racial bias, also known as racism. He is admitting that he gave excessive credit to two writers for a subpar script because they were black. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Ethics Train Wrecks Collide, As The Redskins And Trayvon Martin’s Mother Board The Ferguson Express”

lynch mob

I had just read a nauseating post by self-declared liberal pragmatist Justin Barogona, who authored this despicable sentiment:

“The fact is that the protests would quickly simmer down if a handful of actions were taken, none of which involves SWAT teams, tear gas, riot gear, assault rifles or armored vehicles. The moment Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson gets charged with the murder of Mike Brown, the city of Ferguson won’t find itself overtaken with protests, rallies and marches…Wilson needs to be charged with a crime, and that needs to happen sooner rather than later. Anger and frustration will only continue to build upon itself as long as Wilson isn’t staring down a murder charge.”

This is essentially extortion, bordering on terrorism, I thought. Is this really mainstream liberal thought today in the United States—mob coerced indictments, regardless of truth, due process or fairness? Sacrifice a possibly innocent public servant so Ferguson, Mo. won’t burn? Bragona’s smug insistence that the obvious course of action is to charge a man with murder for political expediency marks him as beneath contempt, an enemy of the rule of law as well as basic fairness and decency. But how close is the position of Eric Holder and the Justice Department, as well as President Obama?

This story, telling us the the Obama Administration is promising civil rights leaders “justice,”  is ominous. “Justice,” to the protesters and those who decided to make the death of Mike Brown another symbolic indictment of white racism, and the facts be damned,means only one thing: tar Darren Wilson as a racist killer. Is Obama playing a dangerous game of deceit with his core supporters, or is he merely promising justice as it is supposed to be, letting the law follow the facts after an objective investigation? The latter is the obvious ethical and responsible course, indeed the only legitimate course. I don’t believe that is what is intended or meant, however. I think the Obama Administration is determined to prosecute Wilson regardless of what the investigation reveals, because it does not have the integrity or courage to oppose the mob, and “liberals” like Bragona.

Then I read about  Isis beheading photo-journalist James Foley, and their threat to kill another American if Obama doesn’t capitulate to their demands. As the two situations began to coalesce as a blog post in my fevered brain, Chris Marchener posted what follows, making my post superfluous.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Train Wrecks Collide, As The Redskins And Trayvon Martin’s Mother Board The Ferguson Express: Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Bill Bigelow

FireworksHistory5

“The pretend war of celebratory fireworks thus becomes part of a propaganda campaign that inures us—especially the children among us—to current and future wars half a world away.”

Former teacher and current Howard Zinn disciple Bill Bigelow, in a jaw-dropping screed titled “Rethinking the Fourth of July”

Revolting and hateful right wing radio host Michale Savage authored an appropriately revolting and hateful book titled “Liberalism is a Mental Disorder.” That kind of marginalization of dissenting opinions apes the tactic of recent totalitarian regimes, which often subjected political enemies to forced hospitalization as “insane.” Extreme ideological zealotry that refuses to acknowledge either the good faith or the possible virtues of opposing views is anathema to a functioning democracy, and the fact that we have a toxic amount of such zealotry right now is one of the reason our government isn’t working very well.  Nonetheless, when I read a statement like the quote above, I cannot help but ponder how any rational individual reaches the point where he would think such a sentiment was worth publicizing. I think it is a form of ideology-sparked derangement. That doesn’t mean that liberalism is a mental disorder. It may mean that intense indoctrination in leftist (or conservative) cant leads to progressive derangement.

How does someone come to see the colorful spectacle of fireworks as “pretend war”? The invention of fireworks predated the use of bombs as weapons. They are an art form, and nothing more nor less. All right, they are also fun. (Can’t have that.) Seeing celebratory firework displays as indoctrination requires a paranoid view of one’s country and the world.  Continue reading

On Liberals, Dignity, Dogs, Signature Significance and Toddlers On Leashes

But they LIKE it!

But they LIKE it!

The damndest essays ignite furious debates here. I raised CNN’s mid-day quiz about parents walking children on a leash-–did I mention it featured a video of one mother dragging her prone harnessed child through a store like the kid was a sack of potatoes? I should have—-primarily because 1) it reminded me of “The Simpsons,” 2) because I was struck by the fact that ethics was never brought into a conversation that I would deem as concerning an ethics issue, and 3) because it was notable that CNN wasn’t talking about sunken Malaysian airplanes.

Still, I have been enlightened by the unexpectedly lively discussion, if not encouraged. In particular, this never struck me as an ideological issue, but it certainly seems to be one. Upon reflection, I should have predicted it, though this is not flattering to liberals.

I’ll return to this in a bit.

The defenses of the demeaning practice have been mostly pragmatic, which involves a utilitarian argument: “It works, and the ethical violations either don’t exist, or are too small to care about.” The most annoying defense so far has required  intentionally taking a statement in my post literally that also has an important figurative message, as well as misstating even the literal meaning, all to make it easier to dismiss the intended point. That’s some kind of record for straw men. Or would that be straw dogs? No, I think that’s something else.

The phrase in question was “whether it was fair, kind, respectful or right to treat your child like a cocker spaniel…” To make it easier to attack, my critic has changed that to “…to treat your child in a manner associated with the treatment of dogs.” Sneaky. It is true that dogs are typically kept on a leash, but that is only half the message, as fair readers will acknowledge. The term “treated him-her-them like a dogs/dogs” means, and has meant for a very long time, treating a human being in an inhuman, demeaning, humiliating, unkind, unfair fashion showing a lack of respect and making the human being in question miserable. The description has been used to describe both treatment that is seen in the treatment of actual dogs—such as substandard living conditions, lack of autonomy, domineering oversight, feeding of food not fit for human consumption, and in this case, use of a leash in public, as well as used to describe treatment that would never be literally possible with real dogs, such as too many typing assignments, refusal to give credit or bonuses for effective research, not allowing a family member a sufficient allowance, forcing a child to dress in old, outdated or unattractive clothes, etc. In the current case, both meanings apply, and focusing on just one is intentionally misrepresenting the issue.

As to whether the use of leashes on human children is demeaning, try this thought experiment: Would any white nanny dare to walk in public with two black children on a leash? How about the mother in a mixed marriage, in which the mother is blonde and the children are black? Would not the imagery of whites leashing blacks be inherently distasteful, regardless of the age of the African-Americans involved? Continue reading

Let’s Adopt Adam Weinstein’s Values And Arrest Adam Weinstein

For the dangerous crime of not agreeing with Adam Weinstein...

For the dangerous crime of not agreeing with Adam Weinstein…

In a jaw-dropping post on Gawker-–I would suspect link bait if this wasn’t a disturbing trend-— a supposedly (formerly?) reputable journalist argues that anyone who challenges global warming orthodoxy should be prosecuted as a criminal. Here is Adam Weinstein making a fool out of himself (actually, only a fool could write such crap), and doing it by quoting as an authority the absurd Prof Lawrence Torcello, whose earlier advocacy of punishing global warming skeptics I wrote about in this post. Weinstein:

Those denialists should face jail. They should face fines. They should face lawsuits from the classes of people whose lives and livelihoods are most threatened by denialist tactics. Let’s make a clear distinction here: I’m not talking about the man on the street who thinks Rush Limbaugh is right, and climate change is a socialist United Nations conspiracy foisted by a Muslim U.S. president on an unwitting public to erode its civil liberties. You all know that man. That man is an idiot. He is too stupid to do anything other than choke the earth’s atmosphere a little more with his Mr. Pibb burps and his F-150’s gassy exhaust. Few of us believers in climate change can do much more—or less—than he can.

Nor am I talking about simple skeptics, particularly the scientists who must constantly hypo-test our existing assumptions about the world in order to check their accuracy. That is part and parcel of the important public policy discussion about what we do next. But there is scientific skepticism… and there is a malicious, profiteering quietist agenda posturing as skepticism. There is uncertainty about whether man-made climate change can be stopped or reversed… and there is the body of purulent pundits, paid sponsors, and corporate grifters who exploit the smallest uncertainty at the edges of a settled science.

I’m talking about Rush and his multi-million-dollar ilk in the disinformation business. I’m talking about Americans for Prosperity and the businesses and billionaires who back its obfuscatory propaganda. I’m talking about public persons and organizations and corporations for whom denying a fundamental scientific fact is profitable, who encourage the acceleration of an anti-environment course of unregulated consumption and production that, frankly, will screw my son and your children and whatever progeny they manage to have.

Those malcontents must be punished and stopped.

Continue reading

Why Are American Liberals Espousing Censorship And Mind-Control?

zipper on mouth

I say “suddenly” because I always thought of censorship and mind-control as Big Brother, “1984” stuff, the tools of fascism and totalitarian dictators. Yet for several years, the primary calls for impeding open debate and limiting the tools that facilitate it have been coming from the left. No labels. No “eliminationist rhetoric.” Ban “retarded.” Ban “nigger.” Now a best-selling feminist, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, has launched a fatuous campaign to ban the word “bossy,’ on the theory that it is wielded against incipient female leaders and crushes their spirits and aspirations. (I would counter that any girl who can’t stand up to a word isn’t a very promising leader to begin with.) Unable to mold human nature to its liking with reason, facts and persuasion, the increasingly popular tactic seems to be removing the ability to engage in the kinds of thinking and conduct that liberals, with varying justification, find repugnant. Linguists have shown that ideas that can’t be expressed are difficult to form, much less argue for. Eliminate bigotry, bias, inequality, and social injustice by making them impossible to articulate, and then even conceive! Brilliant!

Now Lawrence Torcello, an American philosophy professor with a Ph.D. from the University at Buffalo, has published  an essay in the academic website The Conversation arguing that dissent about climate change and the human role in it is so sinister that it “ought to be considered criminally negligent.” Continue reading

Unethical Magazine Cover Of The Year: Time (As Henry Luce Spins In His Grave)

Time Christie

It really is past time for Time to go away.

Once the epitome of sharp, incisive, erudite weekly news reporting and commentary, it long ago morphed into just another left-biased shill for liberal politicians and positions, but with a desperate, tabloid-style habit of using intentionally gross, disturbing or controversial cover graphics to sell more copies than its equally biased and shameless rival, Newsweek. Now Newsweek is mercifully gone, but Time’s rude cover habit remains, culminating in the above disgrace to Time’s traditions and responsible journalism.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is fat, get it? He’s the “elephant in the room.” Continue reading

Why Are The Core American Rights Ethics Alarms Malfunctioning?

The spark for this post is the recent fiasco engineered by Modesto Junior College in California, which told a student that he could not pass out copies of the United States Constitution outside the student center on September 17, 2013, which happens to be Constitution Day. College police and administrators demanded that student Robert Van Tuinen stop passing out Constitution pamphlets and told him that he would only be allowed to pass them out in the college’s tiny free speech zone, and only after scheduling it several days or weeks ahead of time. Fortunately, as is almost always the case in such campus outrages, The Fire, The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (and what does it tell us that this indispensable champion of individual rights is widely regarded as a “conservative” organization?) was at the ready, and ripped off a letter to the school administrators that served the dual purpose of warning it to back off and holding it up to national ridicule. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week: Eliot Cohen

captain-america

“Above all, a president has no business confessing to war-weariness. Sending soldiers to war is a hard business. But President Obama knew he was going to be a war president; if that duty was too trying for him, he should not have run for reelection, because, as he has discovered, he might have to fight new wars and not merely end old ones.

“For a president to confess to war-weariness is to confess weakness.

“It is the business of the commander in chief to inspire, either with tempered optimism or grim determination. He fails in his duty if he tells his subordinates, his people and the world that he is weary of the burden that he assiduously sought. In their dark moments, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who presided over infinitely more consequential and bloodier wars than Barack Obama, were undoubtedly war-weary. Can anyone imagine them proclaiming it to the world? “

—–Eliot Cohen, a teacher at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, concluding a Washington Post op-ed titled (in the paper’s print version), “We have not earned war-weariness.”

If there is a silver lining to the President’s Syrian Ethics Train Wreck, other than convincing those still capable of independent thought that we who saw the weakness of President Obama’s leadership skills were the ones whose eyes were open all along, it is that it has provoked some perceptive writing and debate on the topics of leadership, character, and America’s role in the world. Continue reading