Fish Bone Ethics: A Poll

My tuna sandwich had an unwelcome bonus: a 3/4 inch, two-pronged bone. It stuck me in the gums. No blood drawn, but I expect better from my usual brand of white albacore in water.

Now what? I have encountered negligently included matter in foodstuffs before, nothing large or horrible, like the famous human toe in the plug  of chewing tobacco often cited as a perfect illustration of “res ipsa loquitur”. (The Mississippi Supreme Court: we can “imagine no reason why, with ordinary care human toes could not be left out of chewing tobacco, and if toes are found in chewing tobacco, it seems to us that somebody has been very careless.”) In such cases I have just let it go, taking a Golden Rule approach. After all, some stuff is bound to slip through now and then. Yes, I made a big deal when I found a bug in my salad, but the occasional small hair, or bit of bone, I let pass.

This one was different, though. It was  bigger, and the damn thing stuck me.

So should I send the tuna fish company the bone and complain? If I do, what’s the objective? Is it to extort a lucky haul by getting the company to send a life supply of tuna fish? I know people that send in such complaints several times a year, often with spectacular results. They specialize in writing indignant, angry letters full of implied threats. These people like finding bones in their tuna fish. The problem is, I don’t like them.

Is it a matter of good citizenship to tell the company that some of their cans have bones along with the fish? Can I save another consumer from a stuck gum and a spoiled sandwich experience by alerting the company to a problem in their processing? It probably is good citizenship, except that I’m pretty sure that renegade fish bones are a well-known inevitability in the tuna fish business.

The question, then: what’s the ethical course?

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/17/18: Dead Singers, Honorable Magicians, Untrustworthy Ex-Employees, Volunteer Pitchers, And Little Horses

Goooood Morning, Pennsylvania!

(That’s where I going for the next four days, on a rural Pennsylvania ethics CLE speaking tour!)

1. Aretha Franklin Ethics If I can say right now without question that I will never voluntarily listen to an Aretha Franklin record, does that make me a racist? Her death triggers the “recognition but not admiration” impulse I reserve for artists whose skill and importance to the culture I acknowledge and honor, but whose art I never enjoyed and won’t miss. ( Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Barbra Streisand and Joni Mitchell are in the same category for me, restricting the list to pop female singers.) However…

  • It certainly is incompetent for Fox News to mix up Aretha and Patti Labelle, walking right into the “all black folks look the same to them” canard.
  • Since the news media/resistance collective has decreed that anything the President does of says is proof of a depraved soul, we had this yesterday: a White House press pool member for Buzzfeed told another reporter—she didn’t even tweet it!— that the President’s reaction to Franklin’s death was that he”Described her as a person he knew well and who worked for him.” This became more proof that President Trump is a racist: his immediate reaction to the death of a black woman was to think of her as a subordinate.

Will the sane and fair members of the public, which I assume is, if not a majority, a large group, ever turn on such people? A. The statement was hearsay, and not even a quote. B. Franklin did work for him, signing a contract to sing at at a Trump casino. C. What does “knew well” even mean in this context? He didn’t say that he knew her personally, or that they were pals, though who knows? I know her well too: she’s that famous soul singer I couldn’t stand listening to.

2. A spontaneous outburst of integrity...from the unlikely source of professional magician/loudmouth Penn Jillette. Jillette is an asshole, an assessment that I doubt he would dispute himself, but when the vocally-progressive entertainer (aren’t they all?) was asked in a recent Vulture interview to weigh in on Omarosa’s claims about the kind of language Donald Trump used behind closed doors, he responded,

“If Donald Trump had not become president, I would tell you all the stories. But the stakes are now high and I am an unreliable narrator. What I do, as much as anything, is I’m a storyteller. And storytellers are liars. So I can emotionally tell you things that happened racially, sexually, and that showed stupidity and lack of compassion when I was in the room with Donald Trump and I guarantee you that I will get details wrong. I would not feel comfortable talking about what I felt I saw in that room….

I will tell you things, but I will very conscientiously not give you quotations because I believe that would be morally wrong. I’m not trying to protect myself. This really is a moral thing.”

Good for Penn. He’s also a very creative and entertaining magician, as is his mute sidekick, Teller. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Proposition: An Illegal Immigrant Is Entitled To Receive A Life-Saving Organ Transplant That Otherwise Would Go To A U.S. Citizen In Similar Need”

I am backed up on Comments of the Day again, especially embarrassing after I announced that I would be posting one a day if possible. Getting one of the comments in the queue last night required trying to use my netbook while watching the Westminster Dog Show with my old Jack Russell feeling insecure and cuddling in my lap. The Update will be late today.

The post about the Oregon hospital being bullied by the local ACLU into placing an illegal immigrant on its transplant list simultaneously raised medical ethics issues and illegal immigration ethics issues, so I am grateful that Zoltar Speaks! resuscitates the topic with his comment. I am particularly greateful for his raising the question, “Is the perception of an action what makes the action ethical, or is it the motives behind the action that makes the action ethical, or does it take both?”

My answer, which I think I have made clear over 80,000 posts, is that it is what an action does or can reasonably be expected to do, within the intention and goal of the actor, that makes conduct ethical or not. Unanticipated and unanticipatable results don’t count, and neither does pollution by non-ethical and unethical motives mixed in with the ethical motives, unless they warp the conduct and the decision to engage in it.

There are exceptions, of course.

Here is Zoltar Speaks’ Comment of the Day on the post, Proposition: An Illegal Immigrant Is Entitled To Receive A Life-Saving Organ Transplant That Otherwise Would Go To A U.S. Citizen In Similar Need:

On one hand there is the Hippocratic Oath that directly implies that medical need trumps things like legal status, so in that regard the policy change is a direct reflection of the core of the Hippocratic Oath and it can be said that they changed their policy to reflect the ethical core of the Hippocratic Oath and present that argument to the public and their actions on the surface can be regarded as ethical. (Yes it’s a run-on sentence)

On the other hand there is the fact that illegal immigrants are literally taking advantage of a near “border-less” country and existing systems in place across the United States that ignore their legal status will allow them to do whatever they want regardless of the fact that they are in the United States illegally and some existing systems in place that actually help them do anything they want because they’re illegal immigrants. The United States has been, and still is, enabling illegal immigrants and this policy change is another system changed that enables illegal immigration.

This leads me directly to a topic that we’ve talked about on Ethics Alarms in the past: is the perception of an action what makes the action ethical, or is it the motives behind the action that makes the action ethical, or does it take both? If I remember correctly, I think the general consensus was that it’s the perception of the action that makes it ethical.

The perception of this action is two fold; first ethically complying with the intent of the Hippocratic Oath and second it’s another policy change enabling illegal immigration. Continue reading

The Michelle Carter Verdict

Michelle Carter’s 18-year-old boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, had told her that he has been considering suicide. First, she told him to seek counseling, then  she changed course, texting him to go through with it. “The time is right and you’re ready, you just need to do it!” she wrote.  “You can’t keep living this way. You just need to do it like you did last time and not think about it and just do it babe.”

Later, she texted to Roy that his family accept his death, and that he would enjoy the afterlife. “Everyone will be sad for a while but they will get over it and move on. They won’t be in depression. I won’t let that happen. They know how sad you are, and they know that you are doing this to be happy and I think they will understand and accept it. They will always carry you in their hearts,” she texted.

“You are my beautiful guardian angel forever and ever. I’ll always smile up at you knowing that you aren’t far away.”

A week before the suicide, encouraging her boyfriend to be more diligent as he searched for the supplies he needed and then going through with his plan in these exchanges:

“Do you have the generator?”

“Not yet LOL,”

“WELL WHEN ARE YOU GETTING IT?”

“Now.”

“You can’t think about it. You just have to do it. You said you were gonna do it. Like I don’t get why you aren’t”

“I don’t get it either. I don’t know”

“So I guess you aren’t gonna do it then All that for nothing. I’m just confused. Like you were so ready and determined.”

“I am gonna eventually. I really don’t know what I’m waiting for but I have everything lined up”

“No, you’re not, Conrad. Last night was it. You keep pushing it off and you say you’ll do it, but you never do. It’s always gonna be that way if you don’t take action”

 “You better not be bullshitting me and saying you gonna do this and then purposely get caught.”

“No, none of that.”

On July 12, 2014, Conrad drove to a Kmart parking lot and connected his truck to a pump that released carbon monoxide. When he lost his nerve and got out of the truck, his girl friend texted him  to “get back in.”  She never alerted any authorities to stop the suicide attempt. The young man was found dead in his truck.

Yesterday, Judge Lawrence Moniz, of Bristol County Juvenile Court in southeastern Massachusetts, ruled that Ms. Carter, just seventeen at the time of her crime, committed involuntary manslaughter by urging Roy to kill himself. Continue reading

Ethics, Motives, Killing With Kindness, “Amadeus” And Related Matters

On a thread about the hysterical doom-sayers in response to the US’s exit from the Paris accords on climate change, one dedicated defender of progressive orthodoxy, lacking a genuine rebuttal for the proposition that the social media and pundit panic was nonsense (for there is none), defaulted to the argument that the withdrawal was unethical because the President’s stated motives for it were untrue. This raised two issues, one centuries old, and the other, an irritating one, of more recent vintage.

In order to sanctify many of the Obama administration’s policy botches, many people have adapted  aggressive versions of three prime rationalizations on the Ethics Alarms List: #13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”; #13A  The Road To Hell, or “I meant well” (“I didn’t mean any harm!”) and #14. Self-validating Virtue. To refresh your memory:

13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”

This rationalization has probably caused more death and human suffering than any other. The words “it’s for a good cause” have been used to justify all sorts of lies, scams and mayhem. It is the downfall of the zealot, the true believer, and the passionate advocate that almost any action that supports “the Cause,’ whether it be liberty, religion, charity, or curing a plague, is seen as being justified by the inherent rightness of the ultimate goal. Thus Catholic Bishops protected child-molesting priests to protect the Church, and the American Red Cross used deceptive promotions to swell its blood supplies after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The Saint’s Excuse  allows charities to strong-arm contributors, and advocacy groups to use lies and innuendo to savage ideological opponents. The Saint’s Excuse is that the ends justify the means, because the “saint” has decided that the ends are worth any price—especially when that price will have to be paid by someone else.

13A  The Road To Hell, or “I meant well” (“I didn’t mean any harm!”)

This sub-rationalization to the Saint’s Excuse is related to its parent but arguably worse. Rationalization 13 is one of the really deadly rationalizations, the closest on the list to “The ends justified the means”:

 The Saint’s Excuse is that the ends justify the means, because the “saint” has decided that the ends are worth any price—especially when that price will have to be paid by someone else. 

But while the wielder of the Saint’s Excuse typically at least has a beneficial or valuable result to claim as justification for unethical and inexcusable acts, the desperate employers of 13A only have their alleged good intentions, which may be the product of emotion, misunderstanding, ignorance or stupidity. How a bad actor intended his unethical conduct to turn out is no mitigation at all. The underlying logic is that the wrongdoer isn’t a bad person, so the wrongful act shouldn’t be held against him or her as harshly as if he was. The logic is flawed (it is the same logic as in The King’s Pass, #11, which holds that societal valuable people would be held to lower standards of conduct than everyone else) and dangerous, encouraging the reckless not to consider the substance of a course of action, but only its motivations.

The Saint’s Excuse attempts to justify unethical actions that accomplish worthy goals The Road to Hell attempts to justify unethical conduct even when it does undeniable harm, just because it was undertaken with admirable intent.

14. Self-validating Virtue

A  corollary of the Saint’s Excuse  is “Self-validating Virtue,” in which the act is judged by the perceived goodness the person doing it, rather than the other way around. This is applied by the doer, who reasons, “I am a good and ethical person. I have decided to do this; therefore this must be an ethical thing to do, since I would never do anything unethical.” Effective, seductive, and dangerous, this rationalization short-circuits ethical decision-making, and is among the reasons good people do bad things, and keep doing them, even when the critics point out their obvious unethical nature. Good people sometimes do bad things because they are good people, and because of complacency and self-esteem they begin with a conviction, often well supported by their experience, that they are incapable of doing something terribly wrong. But all of us are capable of that, if our ethics alarms freeze due to our environment, emotions, peer pressure, and corrupting leadership, among many possible causes. At the end of the movie “Falling Down,” the rampaging vigilante played by Michael Douglas, once a submissive, law-abiding citizen, suddenly realizes what he has done. “I’m the bad guy?” he asks incredulously. Indeed he is. Any of us, no matter how virtuous, are capable of becoming “the bad guy”…especially when we are convinced that we are not.

This has led to the seeming absurdity of recent arguments, some accepted in court, that the same conduct can be right or wrong, depending on whether the conduct is based on “good” motives, and who is the actor. Since, to take one random example, Barack Obama is obviously good and means well, even inept, poorly planned and irresponsible policies are ethical. Because President Trump is a villain, the same conduct emanating from his dastardly motives would make the same conduct unethical. I have dealt with this biased approach before and will again, but not today.

It is the second, older question that concerns me at the moment, and that is whether human motives should be used in the analysis of whether conduct is ethical or not. The conundrum come up repeatedly in one of my favorite ethics books,  “The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten.Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “From The Ethics Alarms ‘Do The Ends Justify The Means?’ Files: The Breast Cancer Survivor’s Inspiring Scam”

Glenn Logan took off from the post about Paulette Leaphart’s self-promoting breast cancer awareness 1,000-mile walk and CNN reporter Jessica Ravitz’s strangely equivocal exposé to muse on the toxic influence of social media. It’s a great post, as usual for Glenn, and I’m especially grateful because I’m behind on posts today but I have an ethical obligation to watch the Red Sox Opening Day game. (Pirates-Red Sox tied 0-0 in the 5th.)

Here is Glenn Logan’s Comment of the Day on the post “From The Ethics Alarms “Do The Ends Justify The Means?” Files: The Breast Cancer Survivor’s Inspiring Scam”:

This is yet another social media-driven disaster. We have proven ourselves unable to handle the medium, either as consumers or producers of content. In the grand scheme of things, social media has probably been the vehicle for more scams, dissociation from the real world, submersion into self-congratulatory alternate reality, fake news, and general mayhem than any innovation in my memory.

I have occasionally referred to Twitter as “the Devil,” and my loathing for Facebook knows no bounds. I still use it once a week or so just to check on friends and family (for which it is at least useful), but 99% of my input to Facebook consists of “Happy birthday, (first name here). Many happy returns” or to message Jack a link. No Luddite I, as I have been using the Internet since the early 1990’s Usenet days, and Linux as my primary operating system since 1997, so technology and I are old, old friends.

But the temptation of social media to generate attention in the name of good causes is, to me, the lesson here besides the obvious ethical wreckage caused by “the ends justify the means.” Many of us see the apparent benefits of fame, and want our 15 minutes of it very badly, usually for entirely selfish reasons. When we can achieve that in the name of a good cause, it becomes all the more insidious as a rationalization for otherwise self-serving and dishonest behavior. Continue reading

From The Ethics Alarms “Do The Ends Justify The Means?” Files: The Breast Cancer Survivor’s Inspiring Scam

At one point, profiling the double-mastectomied Paulette Leaphart’s 1,000-mile walk from  Mississippi to Washington, D.C….topless…CNN reporter Jessica Ravitz writes,

“If even one woman’s life was saved thanks to a conversation Paulette started, wasn’t that enough? So what if our hero was flawed?”

Oh, no: the “just one child/just one life” rationalization again! (Which, I now notice, isn’t on the Rationalizations List, and it should be.)

Ravitz writes this to begin a long, detailed, infuriating narrative about the well-publicized and much-hyped crusade of Leaphart, whose journey, displaying her scarred chest,  was to ostensibly demand more funds for cancer research cure and  better and more affordable health care. She said she was a champion for women without breasts “to believe in their beauty and be proud of their strength.”

“By showcasing and embracing her scars, she hoped to inspire others to do the same,” Ravitz writes. “Her journey was bold, visual, moving. It offered a hero to admire and, given Paulette’s audacious decision to walk shirtless in the face of strangers, a rich spectacle to witness. It spoke to African-American women, who face the highest breast cancer mortality rate. It inspired legions of survivors. And it spoke to many who’d lost someone to the disease.”

Ravitz is conflicted, clearly, as she tells the complicated story of the woman whose official cause is admirable, but whose motives are murky, and whose credibility is non-existent. While explaining the mounds of evidence she uncovered that the woman has a record of deception, venality and financial flim-flam, that she sees the long walk as a ticket to fame and cash, and that she has lied and fabricated aspects of her ‘inspirational story” repeatedly while the efforts of journalists to pin her down. Yet Ravitz still ends up by  being wishy-washy and equivocal:

“There’s no way to measure how much of a difference Paulette Leaphart made in shaping the conversation about cancer in this country. She touched many minds and hearts, but whether she did so in the most honest and transparent way remains questionable.”

What? There is nothing questionable about whether Leaphart has been honest and transparent—she hasn’t. Ravitz documents her deceptions impressively. She lied about her cancer treatment. She lied about her eligibility for Medicaid and financial resources. She lied to a documentary team that had arranged to follow her, leading them to end the relationship. She lied on her Facebook page, representing her health travails by using the experiences of a friend. Her unguarded comments suggest that she began the walk as a way to make money for herself as well as research. She accepted contributions under false pretenses.  Yet the journalist still seems to want to say that all of this doesn’t matter,  if some good resulted from it: Continue reading