Tag Archives: Mao Zedong

From The “It’s No Fun Being An Ethicist” Files: I Offend Some Seminar Attendees…

mao

I facilitated a professional ethics seminar a while ago for a scholarly institution, (The locale, names and client have been changed to protect the guilty.) The discussion came around to rationalizations and my favorite on the list, #22:

22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”

If “Everybody does it” is the Golden Rationalization, this is the bottom of the barrel. Yet amazingly, this excuse is popular in high places: witness the “Abu Ghraib was bad, but our soldiers would never cut off Nick Berg’s head” argument that was common during the height of the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal. It is true that for most ethical misconduct, there are indeed “worse things.” Lying to your boss in order to goof off at the golf course isn’t as bad as stealing a ham, and stealing a ham is nothing compared selling military secrets to North Korea. So what? We judge human conduct against ideals of good behavior that we aspire to, not by the bad behavior of others. One’s objective is to be the best human being that we can be, not to just avoid being the worst rotter anyone has ever met.

Behavior has to be assessed on its own terms, not according to some imaginary comparative scale. The fact that someone’s act is more or less ethical than yours has no effect on the ethical nature of your conduct. “There are worse things” is not an argument; it’s the desperate cry of someone who has run out of rationalizations.

In this case I did a sarcastic riff that is usually well received, about the common example of #22, “It’s not like he killed somebody”:

“Well, you can’t argue with that logic, can you? And if he did kill somebody, it’s not like he killed two people. And even then, that’s not as bad as being, say, a serial killer, like Son of Sam, who, when you think about it, isn’t nearly as bad as a mass murderer like Osama bin Laden. But he’s not as bad as Hitler, and even Adolf isn’t as bad as Mao, who killed about ten times more people than Hitler did. And Mao’s no so bad when you compare him to Darth Vader, who blew up Princess Leia’s whole planet…”

It made the point, and the audience laughed. Then, quite a bit later, I received an e-mail from a participant, complaing about this section. Can you guess what the complaint was?

Think about it a bit…

Time’s up!

Do you have an answer? Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Daily Life, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, History, Professions, The Internet

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

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Filed under Around the World, Citizenship, Environment, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology

Tell-Tale Signs Of An Incompetent Government: Rationalization # 32, Star Trek and Chairman Who?

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One of the common rationalizations that leads to both unethical conduct and an unethical organizational culture is “The Management Shrug,” often verbalized as “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”  (It is #32 on the Ethics Alarms ever-lengthening Rationalizations List; it really should have been in the top ten.) This is a favorite excuse of self-anointed big thinkers of the arrogant and incompetent breed, and is an attitude at the core of a much more sinister ethical fallacy, “the ends justify the means.” The Obama administration has been habitually guilty of the Management Shrug, as has a national news media that largely refuses to hold it accountable, and the U.S. public, which pretty obviously doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.

Here’s a ridiculous example: some idiot paid  with your tax dollars thought it was appropriate to place a quote from Chairman Mao on the Kids’ Zone page at the National Center on Education Statistics website. Continue reading

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Filed under Education, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Leadership, U.S. Society

The Ryan Soup Kitchen Photo: Everybody Does It, But It’s Still Unethical

In the early 1960s, as the Great Leap Forward led China into political, social and economic disasters, the opposition to Mao Zedong’s leadership grew; Chairman Mao’s reaction was to purge the party leadership of intellectuals and officials in what is now termed, “the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.”

Mao Zedong’s hold on the leadership of China was shaky as he passed 70; even slaughtering more of his enemies and rivals wasn’t working. On July 16th 1966, Mao sought to debunk rumors that he was frail and ill by staging photographs of him vigorously swimming in the Yangtze River.  It was called, “The Swim Seen Round the World.” The Chinese press did its job, describing Mao’s cheeks as “glowing” and “ruddy,” his stroke steady and strong. “Our respected and beloved leader Chairman Mao is in such wonderful health!” one press report enthused.

In the West, however, there was more skepticism. Time reported that Mao swam “nearly 15 km in 65 minutes that day–a world-record pace, if true.” The photos of the swim, which showed an oddly solemn group of floating heads, were widely believed to have been doctored. As it turned out, the photos were real; Mao really did take a swim, though the event was staged, and nobody knows how long the swim lasted or how far Mao paddled. What are such photo ops? Are they deceptive? Are they ethical? Continue reading

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Filed under Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media

Memorial Ethics,Part I: Recalling The Martin Luther King Memorial Controversy

  (For Memorial Ethics, Part Two, go here.)

[It is almost forgotten now, but when the design of the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was chosen back in 2007, there was much unhappiness in the black community. A Chinese artist was chosen to design the memorial, and this raised issues both ethical and ironic. Now that the memorial is completed (the planned dedication this week has been postponed due to Hurricane Irene), it seems clear that critics aimed their objections in the wrong direction: the problem wasn’t the designer, but the design, an imposing piece of classic Socialist-Worker art that would look at home in Red Square. But, hey, there’s lots of bad art in Washington, covering an abundance of styles: the large bust of JFK in the Kennedy Center makes it look like President Kennedy was made out of chewing gum. At least some bad Communist statuary is a change of pace.

The debate over the choice of artist was interesting, and is even more so in retrospect. It is worth pondering as the new monument joins the National Mall. Here is my article on the matter, slightly edited from the original published on The Ethics Scoreboard in 2007, followed by a response from the artist selection’s most vocal critic.]

An intense controversy surrounds the choice of a statue’s sculptor, specifically the Chinese artist whose design was selected by the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation to become a major monument to the martyred civil rights leader in Washington, D.C. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, Citizenship, Ethics Scoreboard classics, History, Leadership, Race