From “The Ethics Incompleteness Principle” Files: Memphis, Tennessee’s Confederate Statues

A better application of the Ethics Incompleteness Principle would be difficult to find than the decision by Memphis, Tennessee to remove a huge monument to Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, and an even larger heroic equestrian statue (above) of Nathan Bedford Forrest, swashbuckling Confederate general and (allegedly) the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan,  from two public parks.

As we have discussed here in great detail, I am unalterably opposed to the current mania among our Left-leaning friends and neighbors  of tearing down statues, monuments and memorials honoring  past historical figures because their lives, beliefs and character do not comport with current day standards or political norms.  This primitive exercise in historical censorship has been especially focused on famous and notable figures from the Confederacy, although recent efforts have targeted George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and even Theodore Roosevelt. Of the attacks on memorials to Confederate figures, I wrote,

[ Union veterans]  didn’t think of the former Confederates as traitors, or racists, or slavery advocates. They, like the Union veterans, were just men of their times, caught up in a great political and human rights conflict that came too fast and too furiously for any of them to manage. They were caught in the same, violent maelstrom, and knew it even 50 years earlier. Soldiers on both side wrote how they admired the courage of the enemy combatants they were killing, because they knew they were, in all the ways that mattered, just like them. It was the Golden Rule.  After the war, these soldiers who had faced death at the hands of these same generals, officers and troops, did not begrudge them the honor of their statues and memorials, nor their families pride in the bravery of their loved ones.

Yet now,  self-righteous social justice censors who never took up arms for any cause and in many cases never would, employ their pitifully inadequate knowledge of history to proclaim all the Civil War’s combatants on the losing side as racists and traitors, and decree that they should be hidden from future generations in shame. We have honored men and women for the good that they represent, not the mistakes, sins and misconduct that are usually the product of the times and values in which they lived. In doing so, we leave clues, memories, controversies, differing views, and stories for new generations to consider and better understand their own culture and society, and how it came to be what it is.

Those who want to tear down monuments to the imperfect, whether they know it or not, are impeding knowledge, perspective, wisdom, and understanding. They want only one view of history, because they will only tolerate one that advances their ideology and values—just as the Americans of the past believed in their values. Foolishly, I suppose, they trusted future generations to act on their own ethical enlightenment without corrupting the historical record.

I feel strongly about this, as the tone of that post, far from my first on the subject, shows.

But… Continue reading

Desperately Seeking A Justification For The Unjustifiable Mizzou Meltdown, And Failing

protest-mizzou

Yesterday, the Washington Post’s Janelle Moss, an African American issues columnist, presented an aggressive, dishonest and insulting justification for the destructive black student protests at the University of Missouri. In an earlier essay, I described them as an “I’m mad at the world and somebody has to pay for it” tantrum. I’m sticking by that description, despite the ennobling spin being put on it by apologists, many of whom are trying to blunt the damage being done to civil rights advocacy by the events of the last several days.

[N]owhere in this still-young week has there been a better example of the tension between the conservative and liberal views of race and the politics around it than behind the podium where University of Missouri President Timothy M. Wolfe stood and resigned Monday,” she wrote.  This is setting up Wolfe’s speech as a straw man. He was forced to resign, and ordered to do it without making matters worse. He was also protecting himself, and, I believe, was a weak and inept leader. How nice to be able to take a hastily written statement by such a dubious representative of any group and declare it the exemplar of “conservative views on race.”

Moss’s introduction was smoking gun proof that this was an example of an advocate picking out evidence to support what she already was committed to supporting, and atrocious evidence at that.

“The Fix is aware that some Americans are inclined to reject, outright, the idea that some words — those that we choose to express our ideas, what we say at critical moments and that which we do not mention — have deeper, often multi-layered meaning, ” she writes.  I don’t know what she thinks she is saying. “Many Americans” reject the idea that words have meaning? “Multi-layered” meanings? Who? Who believes that? What she is trying to do is to justify her next “proof,” which is junk science.

She consulted two minority social scientists, who have clear biases of their own (but coincidentally aligned with hers)  to psychoanalyze what Wolfe said in resigning, and allowing her to use their self-serving diagnosis (one has a book out about “dog-whistle” racism; the other makes his living writing and teaching about how racist the U.S. is) of a short and quickly composed speech to read not just Wolfe’s thoughts but to attribute them to all “conservatives.” The result is, or should be embarrassing. Continue reading

The Destructive, Useful, Unethical Presumption of Bigotry, Part 2: The Oscar “Snub”

selma-4

For the second time in nearly two decades, and for the first time since 1998, the Oscars will be awarded to only white acting nominees. This, then, if you listen to the caterwauling race-baiters, is because Hollywood is racist. The Academy’s voters just hid it well since 1998, that’s all. Does that make any sense to you?

There are few more infuriating and transparently illogical examples of an unfair slapping down of the race card than looking for bigotry in the notoriously arbitrary, bias-soaked, essentially meaningless choices for “best” in the various Academy Award movie-making categories. Yet the race card sharks were up to the task.  Naturally, the authority on the subject was Al Sharpton, he whose own performance quality on his MSNBC TV show is so amateurish that it would be shut out in any community theater awards.

“In the time of Staten Island and Ferguson, to have one of the most shutout Oscar nights in recent memory is something that is incongruous,” Sharpton told The Daily News. Wait, what??? Incongruous is the assertion that the nominations for film-making excellence should be influenced in any way by how many blacks are killed resisting arrest. Anyone who finds that to be a logical argument for why more black actors should have been nominated for Oscars is useless to any rational discussion of the issue. I want a show of hands. Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Month: Washington Post Film Critic Ann Hornaday on “Selma”

selma-movie

“How to reconcile facts and feelings, art and fealty to the truth? When filmmakers recall with pride about the deep reporting and research they’ve done for their projects, then they deserve to be held accountable for their projects. For fact-based films, accuracy becomes a formal element, along with acting, design and cinematography. It’s up to each viewer to identify the threshold where artistic license compromises the integrity of the entire endeavor. Cinema has more responsibility in this regard precisely because of its heightened realism, its ability to burrow into our collective consciousness and memory, where the myth has a tendency to overpower settled fact. But viewers have responsibilities, too. If accuracy has become a formal element of historical dramas, then the ensuing fact-checks have become just as integral a part of how we view them. That means it’s incumbent on audiences to engage in a mode of spectatorship that, rather than decide who’s right, can listen to and respect expert critiques, and still open themselves up to a piece of filmed entertainment that speaks to less literal, more universal truths.”

—–Ann Hornaday, Washington Post film critic, on the controversy regarding the counter-factual treatment of President Lydon Johnson in the new film, “Selma.”

The question of whether film makers have an ethical obligation to fairly represent history, and particularly individual historical figures, in their movies has been a topic visited frequently at Ethics Alarms, and I’m not going to re-hash conclusions that have been thoroughly discussed before, such as

…here, regarding the casting of “The Impossible” with a gleamingly light-skinned central family and the changing of the real life heroine from Spanish to British

…here,  discussing complaints that a fictional event was not portrayed accurately in “Noah”

…here, exploring the many falsehoods, some quite despicable, in James Cameron’s “Titanic”

…here, regarding unfair criticism of “Argo”

and here, discussing “Lincoln” screenwriter, playwright Tony Kushner’s inexcusable choice to represent a real life former Congressman voting against the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery when in fact he voted for it.

The conclusion of that last one sums up the lessons of the rest, I think. Kushner’s defense against criticism of the collateral damage his invented facts wreaked was to argue that they were legitimate tactics in the pursuit of drama and “greater truths.” He then compared smearing the reputation of a Congressman, to the detriment of his descendants, to misrepresenting the kinds of socks Lincoln wore. (Kushner can be a brilliant writer, but his ideological utilitarianism is repellant.) I wrote:
Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Ethics Quiz: Peeps Ethics”

Peeps Last Supper by Leonardo DiPeepchi

Peeps Last Supper by Leonardo DiPeepchi

Extradimensional Cephalopod’s thoughtful answer to today’s ethics quiz was instantly recognizable as a Comment of the Day, so here it is, EC’s musings on the ethical limits on peeps art, as posed by the post, Ethics Quiz: Peeps Ethics:

Full disclosure: I identify as a freethinker, which in my case means my opinions are informed by this idea: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” –Aristotle (or so the Internet tells me)

With that in mind, offhand I’d say anyone who can’t handle the juxtaposition of a serious scene with a cutesy or comical medium is not emotionally mature enough to be trusted to react appropriately in today’s complex and nuanced culture, and their reverence is likely to be taken to unhealthy levels. I think it is not only ethical, but a requirement for intellectual health to be able to entertain different perspectives and styles of presenting even the most serious subjects. Before someone asks, yes, that includes depictions of the prophet Muhammad, along with all other historical figures on pedestals. I think taboos are unhealthy for a society because they limit critical thinking and creative free thought, both of which are necessary (yet seldom employed) to resolve social issues and differences in perspective.

Bad taste is still a valid concept, but it is context-dependent. It is possible that a subject is not appropriate for most contexts because it leads people to feel bad, but it is imperative that there be some place where it can be discussed, even if it is only under the Jester’s Privilege. My subjective judgment rules that depicting the Civil Rights Movement with marshmallows in this case is not intended with disrespect: the contest stipulated that the medium be marshmallows, and the artist chose a powerful scene without regard for the medium, as is the artist’s prerogative. I personally think the marshmallow scene is quite dignified, but then I am a bit out of sync with humanity as to what I take at face value and what I don’t. I form opinions of peeps by their actions, not by their countenance. It’s unethical for an artist to deliberately spread misconceptions about history, and it may be unethical for an artist to deliberately show disrespect to powerful agents of good. Disrespect is usually unethical because it causes so many problems. However, I’m not sure a sincerely respectful artist can be unethical in their art, unless they simply fail to do the research on the facts they depict and the cultural context for showing respect.

If depicting scenes from the Civil Rights Movement with marshmallows (and putting a good deal of effort into it) is wrong, though, what else is wrong? Crayon drawings by kids? Macaroni? Charcoal? Embroidery? Spray paint? Etch-A-Sketch? Is anything that looks insufficiently grandiose for depicting humanity’s legendary heroes an affront upon their memories? Are scenes of historical importance off-limits to mediocre artists, for fear the general public will lose respect for heroes drawn with funny expressions and ridiculous poses? What if an artist is deliberately depicting a heroic person comically, but without telling lies? Why can’t we be mature, and tell the history with respect while artists do their best in sincerity or spite? Why not simply say, “Well, it’s nice, but it really doesn’t do it justice,” and walk away?

Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Peeps Ethics

peeps winner

I collect sentences that can safely be said to have never been uttered before in the history of mankind, and encountered one this morning in a letter of complaint to the Washington Post. It read…

“To take a sacred and historic event in our nation’s history and depict it using marshmallow candy is highly insulting and offensive to the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and to all those who worked, and continue to work, for racial justice in this country.”

Like all of the sentences in my collection, my favorite being my sister’s immortal, “That fish looks so good, from now on I think I’ll wear my bra on my head,” this one requires some context. The Post holds an annual contest for its readers around Easter, challenging them to submit the best diorama of a scene, using marshmallow peeps. This year’s winner was created by Matthew McFeeley, Mary Clare Peate, and Alex Baker, and involved meticulously painting the colorful bunny stand-ins for King and his throng  at the 1963 March on Washingtonian eight shades of gray to evoke the black-and-white photographs of the event.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz, in the sadly neglected field of peeps ethics, is…

Is it unethical to use marshmallow candy as a medium to portray serious, solemn, or other events that many feel deserve respect and reverence?

I know my answer, but this time, I’ll hold my fire until I hear from readers. I’d also be interested in whether any events—Gettysburg…JFK’s assassination…the Lindbergh baby kidnapping…the Crucifixion…Pearl Harbor…9-11…  are ethically off-limits for peeps creativity as inherently offensive, or if this is just  an unappetizing mixture of “ick,” art, humor, and candy.

When Bloggers Screw Up

Hey, who said that? (It's a trick question!)

Hey, who said that? (It’s a trick question!)

Ann Althouse is a quirky, well-respected blogger, a Wisconsin law professor who is liable to write wittily and perceptively about anything from dogs to politics from her barely right of center political perspective. Recently she banned all comments from her blog, meaning that she now pontificates without the safety net of informed readers being available to tell her when she’s jumped the track of rationality, which, without exception, we all do. This means that on the rare occasions that the erudite and perceptive Ms. Althouse is full of beans, there is no way to let her or anyone else know.

So I’m letting her know.

For some reason, Althouse is indignant over the $800,000 the Interior Department is spending to erase the incorrect quote negligently carved into the Martin Luther King Memorial. She writes with a sneer,

“Martin Luther King said “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness,” which we will remember, even through it’s now off the memorial. It’s off the memorial because, in the “drum major” speech, there were some other words around it — as is always the case with snappy lines in speeches — and Maya Angelou and others felt some shades of subtlety were lost, making the man sound arrogant.Continue reading