From Acceptance To Celebration: An Ethics Conflict (Don’t Bother Trying To Explain This To Bill Maher)

With his uncanny instinct for taking bows for making an obvious observation while missing the point, pseudo-comic Bill Maher once again engaged in his favorite topic of fat-shaming last week, this time with a “Eureka!” to share. The U.S. has inexplicably gone from fat acceptance to “fat celebration,” which the HBO wit <gag!choke!> calls a “disturbing trend.”

This isn’t a “trend,” nor is it disturbing, and it isn’t a phenomenon confined to obesity. Bill could have educated his audience—which, as usual, arfed and clapped like the human seals they are—but instead ignored the real problem, which is partially fueled by people like him.

And it’s an ethical one. Society’s goal is to make the human beings within it safe and happy. This requires setting standards, much of which it accomplishes with law and law enforcement, and the rest it pursues by making values, virtues and positive, societally beneficial conduct clear. Society then encourages and rewards those who meet those standards, and shames, disapproves and rejects those who defy them.

Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Unethical Website Of The Month: Etsy”

Commenter Benjamin has a supple metaphorical pen, and this Comment of the Day, on the previous post regarding the open market platform Etsy selling facemasks as porous as cheesecloth is a blast. I’ll be back at the end to explain why it’s also a crock, but for the nonce, here is Benjamin’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Unethical Website Of The Month: Etsy”:

I oppose that modern compulsion to demand oversight of every man, woman, and child which blames every proximate business or municipality for every loophole it can find not as though a new opportunity has been found but as though this was malfeasance not to have thought to cover every possible route of escape. Etsy likely sees itself as a platform for individual sellers who found a way out of their over-managed corporate bureaucracies, not as an over-managing corporate employers of every seller on its platform. I applaud this model, knowing that other one from the inside with no realistic hope of escape. I could imagine an argument that Etsy must become this wretched, undesirable other thing which creeps throughout the world looking for life and happiness to strangle, but arguments from the presumption that it already is that thing are arguments from an untrue premise. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Comment Of The Day: ‘No, Insurance Companies Treating People With Pre-Existing Conditions Differently From Other Customers Is Not ‘Discrimination’”, (2)

This, the fourth Comment of the Day generated by the post on pre-existing conditions and health care insurance, is a comment on the original COTD on that post, and not on the more recent Comment of the Day on the Comment of the Day on that Comment of the Day, thus sparing Ethics Alarms the most ridiculous headline in its history.

The topic now holds the blog record for most re-published comments, and it could easily be more, since the number of excellent responses from readers on all sides of the issue is well into double figures.

But now it’s texagg04‘s turn. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, Comment Of The Day: “No, Insurance Companies Treating People With Pre-Existing Conditions Differently From Other Customers Is Not ‘Discrimination’.”

… The beauty of being a Federalist, especially a Libertarian Federalist, is that with the nuance of the system, I’m quite content with communitarian solutions to problems — when they are applied at the *appropriate* level and the *higher* they go, the more they need to provide a value, which left to it’s own the devices the market cannot produce the value soon enough to avoid a catastrophic harm to the market. The lower they go the more they can fulfill the various market whims of the locals.

My wife and I run our *family* as a fairly communist regime, though a bit more free than say, Soviet Russia. We really enjoy our *city* Library system. But for the most part, we really love our State keeping out of our business. I think its great that in places like Chicago and other snow-clad northern wastelands, some communities have mandated that each individual be compelled to ensure his section of city sidewalk is clear of snow – I think its great that some communities don’t.

When a problem arises which threatens the balance of the market severely enough but the market itself cannot provide a solution quickly enough that it essentially cannot save itself, I would submit that is within the government’s purview. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Smokeless Tobacco Ban

Chicago recently became the fourth city—Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco—to enact a ban on using smokeless tobacco in sports stadiums. I initially ignored it, in part because I never use the stuff and have never known anyone who did, and in part because I knew that Major League Baseball has been trying, with some success, to discourage its ballplayers from chewing and especially spitting on camera, since it is a) disgusting and b) encourages impressionable tykes to take up an ugly and perilous habit. I’m inspired to make the issue an ethics quiz because of the pronouncements of law professor-blogger Jonathan Turley on the issue and the vociferous debate his comments sparked on his blog.

Turley wrote…

This is a lawful product like smoking tobacco. People have a right to make choices about their lifestyle so long as they do not harm others. That is why I always supported the bans on smoking in public areas due to the second-hand smoke research. That is an externalized harm. What is the externalized harm of smokeless tobacco?

…I happen to deeply dislike smoking and I find chewing tobacco disgusting. I also do not question the link to serious health problems like cancer. However, that should be the subject of an educational campaign by the government and MLB. Yet, in the end, people need to be able to make choices in our society rather than go down the path to paternalistic legislation regulating our good and bad choices.

His supporters on the blog were typified by this comment by Beth (not our Beth, I presume)…

“Tobacco, in all forms, is NOT a singular activity that affects no one else. Tobacco use weighs very heavily on the public at large in the form of health care costs, higher insurance premiums, toxic litter, poisoned air and ground spit. To suggest that limiting tobacco, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes should not be controlled substances goes against all manner of policy for the public good. Wrong stance, Mr. Turley.”

This comment, from “wonderer,” is a fair summation of the other side, which mostly came from the libertarian side of the metaphorical aisle:

“The efforts to ban “icky” behaviors are of a piece with the bans or taxes on sugared beverages. What seems to be happening is that some people want to push bans on behaviors of “out of favor” groups. Those “big soda” people are Walmart denizens, so they clearly need to be told what to do. But keep hands off urban bicycling. As risky as that is, it’s one of the things “enlightened” people do. Bans (at least here in California) seem to be all about the condescension.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Is a ban on smokeless tobacco in ballparks an abuse of government power and an unethical breach of personal choice, autonomy and liberty, or is it a responsible use of government power to encourage public health and safety?

I’ll hold my fire on this one until sufficient numbers weigh in. Remember, the issue here isn’t policy, but ethics.

 

 

Let Us All Bow In Gratitude To Colorado For Generously Sacrificing Its Children And The Safety And Welfare of Its Citizens To Prove What Responsible People Knew Already: Pot Should Stay Illegal

Hey, Que pasa! You idiot...

Hey, Que pasa! You idiot…

I’m probably going to stray a bit from strictly professional rhetoric here, but this really makes me angry.

According to a report released this month by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, there has been a 29% increase in marijuana-related emergency room visits and a 38 % increase in pot-related hospitalizations during retail marijuana’s first year in Colorado.

[ NOTE: This is a correction. The original version of the post gave the wrong impression that hospitalizations were up: this was not my intent. Thanks to Humble Talent for being persistent. Ethics Alarms apologizes for the error. We’ll try to do better.]

Now 11% of Colorado’s 12 to 17 year-olds use pot,  56% higher than the national average.There has also been a 40% increase in drug-related suspensions and expulsions in school, primarily from marijuana.

Mercy, what a surprise! Who could have predicted that? Well me, for one, as well as others neither dedicated to getting their periodic recreational buzz nor addled by moldy Sixties cant.

Of course making pot legal and widely available for adults would cause an epidemic of use by kids, who, the evidence increasingly shows, may suffer long term adverse effectsOf course it is causing accidents. Of course adding a third harmful legal drug to the devastating and deadly duo of alcohol and tobacco is going to make society dumber, less safe and less productive. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week: Senator Rand Paul

Senator Paul, forever young.

Senator Paul, forever young.

“I think that’s the real hypocrisy, is that people on our side, which include a lot of people who made mistakes growing up, admit their mistakes but now still want to put people in jail for that. Had he been caught at Andover, he’d have never been governor, he’d probably never have a chance to run for the presidency.”

Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky), in reaction to Jeb Bush’s admission that he smoked marijuana heavily as a student. Bush currently opposes the legalization of medical marijuana.

Oh, great: Rand Paul is 16 years old.

The chip off the old libertarian block Ron Paul (who would legalize heroin, ecstasy, LSD, you name it) now proves that he has no idea what hypocrisy is. It is troubling: Senator Paul is an MD, and can be an articulate and powerful speaker;  he can take bold strategic political steps that his Republican colleagues are too timid to try, like correctly charging Hillary Clinton with complicity in her husband’s sexual predation,  but he repeatedly conveys the impression that he’s just not all that bright. This quote is a sterling example. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “US Priorities: Make War On Cheese, Not On Drugs”

smoking_weedThe articulate squid commenter, Extradimensional Cephalopod, weighed into the contentious discussion over the wisdom of pot use and government approval there-of with this thought-provoking piece.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post: US Priorities: Make War On Cheese, Not On Drugs.

I’ll have a few comments at the end.

Full disclosure: I have not used marijuana, but I have had its effects described to me in detail by people who have. My understanding of it is that it has at least two separate and notable effects, which can vary based on the particular strain. One of them is a relaxing effect, although some strains actually increase anxiety at some point after use. However, the relaxing effect makes it suitable for medical purposes such as treating seizures. The other effect I am aware of is an increase in the brain’s divergent thinking patterns; that is, it increases random association, enhancing creativity and making experiences more vivid. A user can increase this effect deliberately by increasing the quantity inhaled or ingested to the point where coherent thought is difficult, but this requires very high levels of intake. I am told that it is not chemically addictive, or toxic except inasmuch as inhaling smoke in general is toxic, but more on the level of incense rather than cigarettes.

In my opinion, people have a right to use the substance provided they do not take actions that put others at risk by doing so, such as driving. I see no reason to ban the substance, but one can certainly ban taking actions that become dangerous under its effects. As a transhumanist, I see nothing inherently wrong with using a form of technology to alter one’s mental state artificially. Marijuana does not seem like a harmful or dangerous way to do so, as long as one is responsible. I agree that people who use marijuana, or alcohol, for that matter, can become very boring and less able to have interesting conversations, although sometimes the opposite happens; it depends on who the person was to begin with and how they react.

On the other hand, the ethics system that I subscribe to and through which I come to the above conclusions is based on promoting consciousness. One of the root problems with this world is that humans get very easily addicted to mindsets, experiences, or control. Addictions are blind spots, limitations that a consciousness has picked up that allow it to be manipulated by the world instead of being its own master. An addiction occurs when a mindset, experience, or form of control automatically becomes a person’s first priority in certain situations even where the person would intellectually judge it to be subordinate to a more important goal. It is possible to get mentally addicted to pretty much anything: alcohol, marijuana, candy, sex, adrenaline, attention, solitude, et cetera. To a certain extent we all have addictions in that when our lives are changed we feel uncomfortable and stressed, but toning addictions down is part of empowering ourselves.

That being said, my ethics system leads me to disapprove of the use of marijuana (or other drugs, for that matter) as a means to induce apathy to escape the stress that would otherwise lead a person to self-improvement. My worldview draws a distinction between joy and well-being. Joy is a positive feeling towards one’s current circumstances. Well-being, however, I define as regularly developing new abilities or improving one’s point of view, or any sort of change that results in a person having a more harmonious relationship with the world and being able to promote harmony for other individuals. Here is where the “it’s the journey, not the destination” cliche comes in. Joy may be the destination that people try to reach because it is associated with a state of increased harmony, but consciousness, the process by which people try to reach asymptotically-increasing states of harmony, is what makes us people in the first place, with all the associated awareness and abilities, and it is consciousness that I prioritize.

Long story short: it’s okay to use drugs to augment one’s ability to improve oneself (especially if one has a disability that requires the use of drugs to bring mental functions within human normal), as a tool (yes, sometimes a crutch) to access mindsets you want to use but can’t invoke at will, or as a neutral form of recreation. Using drugs as a substitute for self-improvement so that one can stagnate without feeling bad about it is pathetic and not empowering at all.

I hope this post has been coherent, but I have an internal vocabulary that has developed in partial isolation, so if there is any confusion that you want resolved, please let me know.

It’s me again. Just a few notes:

  • One thing I always appreciate about EC is that he never makes a typo. I am awash in envy.
  • I have been shocked at how many commenters on the main post never have used pot. Either I am not as strange as I always thought I was, or this blog does not attract anything close to a representative cross-section of America.
  • I should have mentioned in the original post that the Federal government still regards pot as illegal. However, with its first confirmed former pot-head as President ( Clinton didn’t inhale, remember), and the “base” of the Democratic party as well as most reporters clearly in favor of Stoned America, I think the eventual legalization is a certainty.
  • Alcohol is not chemically addictive either, except for the minority of the population that doesn’t metabolize booze properly, those we call alcoholics. However, there are many alcohol addicts who are not alcoholics, and they are psychologically addicted, and seriously so. Psychological addiction to a drug can be and often is both indistinguishable from the physical kind, and just as destructive to them and those who depend on them.
  • I am dubious about the substantive beneficial effects of pot, John Lennon and Timothy Leary notwithstanding. The use of marijuana for genuine palliative purposes is obviously valid; it is also obviously being abused.
  • I endorse the Squid’s penultimate sentence, but I think that this kind of drug use should never be discussed without the adjective “irresponsible” prominently displayed. For this is why discouraging such use is a legitimate, indeed crucial, government function, and a function the government cannot perform while approving the conduct, and, as we all know is coming, profiting by it. The government has to promote responsible conduct from its citizens, because irresponsible conduct does material harm to society.

The Ethics of Cheering Alex Rodriguez

Poor Alex Rodriguez and his wife...

Poor, downtrodden, Alex Rodriguez and his wife…

Baseball’s most embarrassing super-star, the steroid cheat Alex Rodriguez, in playing for the New York Yankees while appealing his long suspension by Major League baseball. As he is unquestionably a repeat liar and a serial violator of the game’s rules against PED’s (performance enhancing drugs), as he signed a contract, in part generated by the results of his cheating, that will both enrich him by millions and handicap his team competitively while conferring few, if any benefits, as he would qualify, by most objective standards, as the antithesis of a sports hero, the fact that Arod, as he is called, still was cheered by a vocal minority in Yankee Stadium when he made his season debut this week is intriguing. What does this mean? Can it be ethical to cheer Rodriquez now?

These are deceptively complex and difficult questions. The threshold  issue is whether cheering or jeering any sports figure, or any public figure at all, is an act with ethical content rather than just a communication of an opinion. Is it conduct, or just “words”? I think, in the context of the Rodriquez situation, a sound argument can be made that it is conduct. Registering group approval or disapproval of prominent conduct by someone of status and influence is a crucial societal function in setting standards, registering disapproval, and prompting shame, regret, apology and reform—none of which, so far at least, seem to register with Arod.

That is pretty clearly what the boos convey, but what about the cheers? If the boos are ethical—they are if the disapproval is proportionate, rational, fair, and just—then are the cheers automatically unethical? Not necessarily. Here are some of the things those cheers could be expressing: Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Sen. Rand Paul

Sen, Rand Paul, protester.

Sen. Rand Paul, libertarian and Republican U.S. Senator from Kentucky, has a choice: he can be a high elected official of the United States government, or he can engage in civil disobedience. He cannot do both.

Sen. Paul was detained today by the Transportation Security Administration in Nashville, Tenn., after refusing a full body pat-down following an image scan that did not clear him through security. I feel his pain. But a United States Senator must obey the law and cooperate with all lawful activities of the U.S. government and its agencies. If he objects to pat-downs so much, he has the power and influence to wield to try to change procedures and policies. Apparently they were not so burdensome while thousand of other citizens endure them every day.  Now that Sen. Paul is facing a feel-up from a gloved stranger, he is suddenly over-come with principle. Easy for him, too, since unlike us mortals, Senators are exempted by the Constitution from being detained while on the way to work.

For a U. S. Senator to defy a TSA agent who is attempting to keep the skies safe in the manner determined to be appropriate by the U.S government encourages and implicitly endorses defiance by everyone else.  That is a breach of Paul’s duty as a high elected official of the United States.

Ethics Dunce: Libertarian Andrew Cohen

The ethical virtue at issue is integrity.

On the other hand, some times you just have to say, "oh, the hell with it" and stomp on the damn snake...

Those who oppose abortion as the taking of innocent human life may not, consistent with integrity (forget about logic) also say that abortion is a personal choice. Those who oppose capital punishment as a matter of principle (rather than as a problem of fair application) may not, consistent with integrity, announce that of course they would make exceptions in the cases of Hitler, Bin Laden, and Ted Bundy. A pacifist who won’t explain why the U.S. shouldn’t have fought World War II isn’t a pacifist at all, but a poseur.

Now Andrew Cohen, a self-declared libertarian blogger, has written a defense of the state determining whether or not potential parents may have children.  He writes: Continue reading