Ethics Alarms Mail Bag: The Cologne Allergy

Perfume allergyEvery now and then readers think I’m Ann Landers. Today I got a “Dear Ethics Alarms: What’s right?” e-mail from a friend, and I thought I’d answer it on the blog because it raises a classic ethics conundrum.

The inquirer belongs to a social group that meets weekly. It is a weekly joy, I am told; the writer has been attending for years. Everyone convenes, on the given day, right after work. Attendance varies, and membership is informal, though individuals have been told, on rare occasions, to come no more.

Of late an infrequent attendee, but a member of long standing, has begun to attend meetings with some regularity. My friend says this is not the happiest of developments, because the two do not get along. It is a breach of long-standing, I am told and is not going to be healed. “She is an asshole,” is how the letter delicately puts it.

Last week, shortly before the end of the 90 minute gathering, the recent interloper stood up and declared that she had developed a serious allergy to colognes, perfumes, aftershave, and all chemical scents. Looking right at my friend, she declared that this allergy made exposure to any sort of commercial scent unbearable, and she asked that in the future no members should wear perfume of any kind.

“I have worn a favorite brand of cologne every day for over thirty years,” the from my acquaintance letter says. “I always get complimented on it; the scent is subtle and nobody would notice it unless they were right next to me. The asshole and I have been separated by the length of the room since she started coming. Personally, I think she made the demand just to make me miserable. She knows, from our previous relationship [NOTE: I think it was more than just a friendship], that I wear the cologne.”

The question: Is she ethically obligated to stop wearing cologne on the day of the meeting (she goes right from work) to accommodate this member’s special problem?

Add to this the broader ethics question that comes up often: Does a group member with special sensitivity have the ethical upper hand allowing such a member to demand that all other members avoid conduct that only bothers that member? Continue reading

The Assumption Church in Barnesville, Minn: Wrong On Belief, Right On Integrity

“Oh, what the hell. Sign him up.”

In Barnesville, Minnesota, the Catholic Church has denied the religious sacrament of confirmation to two students who posted their support for gay marriage on Facebook.


The Catholic Church has been barely holding on to a dwindling membership by adopting the strategy of becoming an organized religion for hypocrites. Being a member of any church should mean the full acceptance of its core teachings. The students involved publicly expressed their disagreement with the Catholic Church’s opposition to gay marriage, and the Church was right to deny them confirmation.

Is the Catholic Church dead wrong to oppose same sex marriage as a sin? Of course. The way to make the Church enter the 21st Century is for double-talkers like John Kerry, Joe Biden and Mario Cuomo to show some backbone and integrity, and reject the Church or their upbringing because it doesn’t accept same sex marriage and abortion, while they obviously do. Instead, these and other faux-Catholics absurdly claim in public that they support diametrically opposed positions simultaneously. All three have piously stated that as Catholics they believe that life begins at conception (ergo, abortion is the sinful taking of innocent human life), but that as elected officials they feel it is inappropriate to “impose their beliefs” on the public. Of course, what elected leaders do is to impose their beliefs on the public, wherever those beliefs come from. What Cuomo, Biden and Kerry, as well as many others, have done, is to aggressively and pro-actively support policies, like abortion-on-demand, that they and their Church say they believe are wrong. Liars or hypocrites, take your pick. Continue reading

Eliot Spitzer, the Harvard Club, and Blackball Ethics

Eliot Spitzer, we have learned, has been blackballed by the New York City Harvard Club. Although over 11,000 graduates of the august institution are members, and the club, which is always seeking funds and rejects an application about as frequently as its alma mater plays a decent football game, nonetheless found Spitzer wanting.

Is this a surprise to anyone? There are only a few reasons to join the Harvard Club or even tolerate it, unless one has an unhealthy affection for the stuffed heads of things Theodore Roosevelt shot, many of which are hanging on the wall. The main reason is prestige (and to let visitors know that you graduated from Harvard without having to say so). A club, by its very nature, suggests some degree of exclusivity; one’s cache from belonging to a club derives from its members. I can imagine a rational person feeling some sense of pride in belonging to a club of Harvard graduates. I cannot imagine a rational person feeling any special sense of exclusivity emanating from membership in a club that includes Eliot Spitzer. Continue reading