Tag Archives: moral luck

Ethics And The New TV Season, Part 1: “The Good Place”

There are an unusual number of shows this season that should be full of fascinating ethical dilemmas. There is even sitcom, “The Good Place,” with a main character who is an ethicist. He’s a dead ethics, but that’s something. Let’s start with that show as I plan on reviewing the ethics-related TV shows in future posts.

The first episode of  the NBC comedy  began with selfish, habitually unethical  Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) waking up in the afterlife called “the Good Place, I assume to avoid religious controversy. Michael (Ted Danson) welcomes her, and explains that he designed this particular Good Place neighborhood that she will reside in for eternity. As many of us were taught, our lives on Earth are being monitored by higher beings, literally and figuratively. In this show’s cosmology, they calculate our ethical worth using a point system.  Those with the highest positive point totals make it to the Good Place.

The problem is that there has been a glitch: Eleanor was erroneously awarded the point score of a capital punishment-fighting lawyer (naturally the Good Place regards all progressive and liberal positions as “good;” I assume that all conservatives and Republicans are in the Bad Place) when she really was a salesperson for an evil drug company. The situation in this sitcom is whether Eleanor can shape up and justify her points before she is found out and ends up playing strip poker in Hell with Ronald Reagan, William F. Buckley and Phyllis Schlafly.* Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Humor and Satire, Popular Culture

A Moral Luck-Riddled Ethics Quiz: The Compassionate, Correct, Fired Police Officer

man-pointing-a-gunI have solicited opinions from some police authorities , and have yet to receive an answer. Maybe that’s cheating, though.

On May 6 of this year,  Weirton, West Virginia police officer Stephen Mader confronted a distraught and armed man after responding to a domestic violence call. “I saw then he had a gun, but it was not pointed at me,”  Mader told reporters. A silver pistol was in 23-year-old Ronald Williams’ right hand, hanging at his side and pointed at the ground.

Officer Mader calmly told Williams to put down the gun. “Just shoot me, ” Williams  responded, and jerked his wrists, suggesting that he was preparing to raise his weapon. “I’m not going to shoot you brother, ” replied Mader.

“I thought I was going to be able to talk to him and de-escalate it. I knew it was a suicide-by-cop,” he said.

Then two other Weirton officers arrived on the scene. Williams walked toward them waving his gun, and one of Mader’s colleagues shot Williams in the head, killing him instantly.

A West Virginia State Police investigation later concluded that the shooting was justified. Mader, in the meantime, faced an investigation of his own. In a meeting with his chief and the city manager,  Mader was told that he was being placed on administrative leave, and that an investigation would determine if he would still be employed.  “You put two other officers in danger,” the police chief told him.

Following the investigation, Mader received a notice of termination stating that by not shooting Williams, Mader“failed to eliminate a threat.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Was it fair and responsible for the department to fire Officer Mader as a result of this incident?

Continue reading

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Health And Survival Rationing Ethics

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Beginning in 2012, Dr. Lee Daugherty Biddison, a critical care physician at Johns Hopkins and some colleagues have held public forums around Maryland to solicit the public’s opinions about how life-saving medical assistance should be distributed when there are too many desperately ill patients and not enough resources. The exercise was part of the preparation  for Biddenson’s participation in preparing official recommendations for state agencies that  might end up  as national guidelines regarding when doctors should remove one patient from a ventilator to save another who might have a better chance of surviving, or whether the young should have priority over the old.

Ethically, this is pure ends justifying the means stuff. The Golden Rule is useless—How would you like to be treated? I’d want to be left on the ventilator, of course!–and Kantian ethics break down, since Immanuel forbade using human life to achieve even the best objectives…like saving a human life. Such trade-offs of life for life (or lives) is the realm of utilitarianism, and an especially brutal variety….so brutal that I doubt that it is ethics at all.

When Dr. Biddenson justifies his public forums by saying that he wants to include current societal values in his life-for-a-life calculations, she is really seeking current biases, because that’s all they are. On the Titanic, it was women and children first, not because it made societal sense to allow some of the most productive and vibrant minds alive to drown simply because they had a Y chromosome, but because that’s just the way it was. Old women and sick children got on lifeboats;  young men, like emerging mystery writer Jacque Futrelle (and brilliant young artist Leonardo DiCaprio), went down with the ship. That’s not utilitarianism. That’s sentimentalism.

The New York Times article mostly demonstrates that human beings are incapable of making ethical guidelines, because Kant was right: when you start trading one life for another, it’s inherently unethical, even if you have no choice but to do it. Does it make societal sense to take away Stephen Hawking’s ventilator to help a drug-addicted, habitual criminal survive? Well, should violating drug laws sentence a kid to death? TILT! There are no ethical answers, just biased decisions. Continue reading

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Filed under Bioethics, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, History, Professions, Rights, U.S. Society

Fourth Of July Ethics: The Signers, Snopes, And Fact-Checking

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I received  this inspiring bit of Americana from an old friend, a Marine and lawyer with a love of history. It’s a screed of unknown origin that has been circulating the internet since the 20th Century. Maybe you’ve seen it too:

The Price They Paid

Have you ever wondered what happened to the 56men who signed the Declaration of Independence?

Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died.

Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.

Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army; another had two sons captured.

Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.

They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

What kind of men were they?

Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists.

Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners; men of means, well-educated, but they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured.

Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.

Thomas McKean was so hounded by British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him – poverty was his reward.

Vandals or soldiers looted properties of Ellery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Rutledge, and Middleton.

At Battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson,Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.

Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months.

John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his  gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished.

So, take a few minutes while enjoying your 4th of July holiday and silently thank these patriots.  It’s not much to ask for the price they paid.

Remember: freedom is never free! We thank these early patriots, as well as those patriots now fighting to KEEP our freedom!

I hope you will show your support by sending this to as many people as you can, please. It’s time we get the word out that patriotism is NOT a sin, and the Fourth of July has more MEANING to it than beer, fireworks, HOT DOGS,  and picnics……

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The purpose and primary message of the post is irrefutably true. Those who signed the Declaration did so at great personal risk and sacrifice. Had the new nation failed in its revolution—and really, it is amazing that it didn’t—all of them would have been hanged as traitors. It was an act of principle and courage, and what happened later is entirely moral luck. The signers would have been no less honorable, remarkable and heroic if every single one of them, by various strokes of good fortune, had become wealthy, powerful, prospered in everything they did and died in advanced years, like Franklin, Adams and Jefferson. Unfortunately, most citizens lack the education, acumen and tools to figure this out, so we get stuff that equates random and uncontrollable misfortune with enhanced virtue. Continue reading

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Ten Observations On The Trump Assassination Attempt

Huey Long assassination

Perhaps you missed it? Someone tried to shoot Donald Trump. From the Associated Press:

“A British man arrested at a weekend Donald Trump rally in Las Vegas tried to grab a police officer’s gun so he could kill the presidential candidate after planning an assassination for about a year, according to authorities. U.S. Secret Service agents said Michael Steven Sandford approached a Las Vegas police officer at the campaign stop to say he wanted Trump’s autograph, but that he then tried to take the weapon.”

Observations:

1. Wow. Talk about being incompetent at your chosen avocation! This guy has been “planning an assassination for about a year” and the big plan was “try to get a police officer’s gun”?

Assassins, like everything else, just aren’t what they used to be.

2. Remember, however, that the only difference between a failed assassination attempt and a successful one is moral luck.

3. The Washington Post asks why the incident didn’t provoke more news coverage. Isn’t that a strange question to come from one of the news organizations responsible for the lack of coverage? Why doesn’t Callum Borchers just ask his own editors at the Post?

The answer seems clear to me: the news media doesn’t want any public sympathy going Trump’s way, or to give him what would amount to positive publicity. This is the double standard we are being told that we need to get used to. Does anyone want to make the case that an assassination attempt on Hillary’s life would be a multi-day story, with a repeat of the U.S. Representative Rep. Gabrielle Giffords shooting mass accusation, now holding  that Republican “hate speech” and anti-Hillary rhetoric nearly resulted in a tragedy?  Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin were being fingered as the reason why a deranged man went on a killing spree in Tucson. Why not blame a Trump assassination attempt on Paul Krugman or Elizabeth Warren? Or me? Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Citizenship, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, U.S. Society

The Ethics Lessons In The Tragic Death Of Harambe The Gorilla

The primary lesson is this: Sometimes bad things happen and nobody deserves to be punished.

The tragedy of Harambe the Gorilla is exactly this kind of incident.

In case you weren’t following zoo news over the long weekend, what happened was this. On Saturday, a mother visiting the Cincinnati zoo with several children in tow took her eyes off of a toddler long enough for him to breach the three foot barricade at the Gorilla World exhibit and fall into its moat. Harambe, a 17-year old Lowland gorilla male, took hold of the child, and zookeepers shot the animal dead.

Then  animal rights zealots held a vigil outside the zoo to mourn the gorilla.  Petitions were placed on line blaming the child’s mother for the gorilla’s death. Other critics said that the zoo-keepers should have tranquilized the beast, a member of an endangered species. The zoo called a news conference to defend its actions.

Lessons:

1. Animal rights activists are shameless, and will exploit any opportunity to advance their agenda, which in its craziest form demands that animals be accorded the same civil rights as humans. Their argument rests equally on sentiment and science, and takes an absolute position in a very complex ethics conflict. This incident is a freak, and cannot fairly be used to reach any conclusions about zoos and keeping wild animals captive.

2. Yes, the mother made a mistake, by definition. This is res ipsa loquitur: “the thing speaks for itself.” If a child under adult supervision gets into a gorilla enclosure, then the adult has not been competent, careful and diligent in his or her oversight.  The truth is, however, that every parent alive has several, probably many, such moments of distraction that could result in disaster, absent moral luck. This wasn’t gross negligence; it was routine, human negligence, for nobody is perfect all the time. You want gross negligence involving animals? How about this, one of the first ethics essays I ever wrote, about the late “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin holding his infant son in one arm while feeding and taunting a 12-foot crocodile? You want gross negligence amounting to child endangerment? Look no further than the 6-month-old waterskiier’s parents. Taking one’s eyes off of a child  for a minute or two, however, if not unavoidable, is certainly minor negligence that is endemic to parenthood. Zoos, moreover, are not supposed to be dangerous. Continue reading

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Filed under Animals, Bioethics, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Law & Law Enforcement

Ethics Hero: Bobbi McCaughey, Mother Of The McCaughey Septuplets

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Kenny, Kelsey, Natalie, Brandon, Alexis, Nathan and Joel McCaughey, the world’s first septuplets to survive infancy, graduated  from Carlisle High School in Iowa over the weekend. Alexis, who has cerebral palsy, was co-captain of the cheer squad and graduated at the top of her class. The miraculous siblings were born nine weeks premature in November 1997, weighing between two and four pounds. Their mother Bobbi rejected calls for the group to be culled by “selective abortion” while they could still be claimed to not possess a right to have a chance at life.
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