“Moby-Dick” Ethics


Today marks the 170th anniversary of the publication of Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” or “The Whale”(never forget that hyphen!). What does the 19th century novel with the most famous opening line in American literature have to do with ethics? Oh, only everything…and not just ethics, but leadership, values, perspective, chaos, hubris, and the ethics-related fact that you never know how things will work out, so all you can do is the best you can.

“Moby-Dick” was Jack Marshall, Sr.’s favorite novel by far, and he had read almost every classic of his era and going back 200 years before he was in high school. I read the book in a tattered hard-cover edition full of my dad’s notes in the margins. (If only I could have read his handwriting!) “Moby-Dick” is tough sailing; public schools did Melville no favors by making high-schoolers read it, even in the redacted versions. Hollywood did even more damage: the book cannot be filmed. The best and most profound parts of novel are the narrator, Melville/Ishmael’s philosophical musings, like when he asks what a dead whale might be thinking when a harpooner nearly downs in its brains.

Eventually, I was able to honor both Dad, Melville and Orson Welles by mounting a production of Welles’ brilliant (but flop) theatrical version, “Moby-Dick Rehearsed,” which I repaired thanks to my father’s comments and inspiration. It was, by far, the most successful production of the American Century Theater’s two decades, the most successful professional production Orson’s invention has ever had, and my most satisfying experience as a director.

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Discrimination, Diversity, And The Tattooed Teacher

Sylvain Helaine, 35, has, as you can see above, gone to great lengths to cover nearly every centimeter of his body with tattoos, including the whites of his eyes. He is, believe it or not, a kindergarten teacher, and Helaine is complaining that he has been told he cannot teach young children because some of them find his appearance nightmare-inducing. This, he feels, is discrimination.  Nonetheless, he is still teaching older children.

He says that he hopes his tattoos will teach his students about acceptance so that “maybe when they are adults they will be less racist and less homophobic and more open-minded.”

I’m sorry this issue is emerging in France and not in the U.S. It’s an excellent Ethics Incompleteness Principle case. When an individual deliberately mutilates himself like this, a school rejecting him as a teacher of young children, and indeed older children as well, is fair, reasonable and responsible. His “disability” is self-inflicted, his appearance teaches that narcissism and lack of respect for others is admirable, and he is quite possibly mentally ill. Continue reading

From The “Illiteracy And Incompetence Are Unethical” Files: Moby Dick Restaurant Loses Its Lease


I love this story! Just when I was despairing over the widespead ignorance in the U.S., Canada steps up.

In Vancouver, Mengfa International owns  a commercial building, and in May 2015,  agreed to lease it to Moby Dick Restaurant, a fish-and-chip franchise. The building council won’t allow it, though. They feel that the restaurant’s name is offensive, and its offensive sign would lower property values.

Asks Drew Curtis’s Fark: “What’s so offensive about “Moby”?

This is a Niggardly Principle classic.

Mengfa is suing.

James Cameron, Poul Anderson, and Posterity’s Loss

James Cameron, whose ground-breaking film “Avatar” will soon be the top-grossing movie of all time, is currently being bashed in some of the more obscure corners of the blogosphere for plagiarism. This time the criticism is not based on his blatant borrowing from Russian science fiction, but for his lifting of ideas from an American master of the genre, Poul Anderson. Anderson wrote a novella in 1957 entitled “Call Me Joe” that chronicled the adventures of a paraplegic who becomes telepathically merged with a manufactured alien life form created to explore a planet. He is exhilarated by the sensations and power of his artificially-created body, and eventually is seduced into abandoning his humanity completely to become a significant figure in the development of a new civilization. Along the way, he battles vicious alien creatures. Sound familiar? Yes, these are major components of “Avatar” as well. Continue reading