The All-Consuming Mad Hate For President Trump Is Now Signature Significance

Signature significance on Ethics Alarms means a single aspect of an individual’s conduct that all by itself is proof positive of an untrustworthy character because an ethical individual will not behave that way ever, not even once. Trump hatred and the unquenchable desire to punish him for his very existence (and daring to be elected President, thus foiling Hillary Clinton’s dreams) was mostly the result of people living in an echo chamber and trusting a corrupt media: decent ethical people fell victim to Trump Derangement. But the determination to persecute him now cannot be excused. It is the mark of someone who has allowed, as Richard Nixon observed on the way into the helicopter, hate to destroy him. Such people are untrustworthy, and they show us the ugliness of irrational anger and bitterness.

Too many such people have power and influence right now.

A friend sent me this article in the Washington Post, my home-town paper whose unethical bias became so extreme that I switched to the New York Times, which is a bit like choosing a heart attack over brain cancer. It is quite amazing: in it, the art and architecture critic for the paper insists that Donald Trump should be blocked by law from having a Presidential library. Why? Oh, the critic says, Trump incited an “insurrection”! Besides, “even a privately funded and operated Trump presidential library, which would be devoted to whitewashing his record and rewriting history, is a terrible and even dangerous idea…. given Trump’s alleged misuse of charitable funds, including self-dealing, waste and other illegal activities, at his now dissolved New York-based foundation….” And “any intention to start another public entity can only be considered a crime scene waiting to happen.” Plus, “…the danger of Trump using a presidential library to burnish his image is far more serious, with the ex-president and his surrogates still promoting the idea that his electoral loss was somehow fraudulent. That creates an ongoing uncertainty in American public life, which Trump and even more unscrupulous actors will use to further division, inflame tension, exacerbate racism and delegitimize the American democratic system.”

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When Absolutism Must Prevail: “Choice Of Evils”

“Choice of Evils,” taken from the utilitarian philospher Jeremy Bentham’s (1748-1832)  famous quote above, is an ethically rich “Law and Order” episode from 2006 that I recent watched again. Assistant DA Jack McCoy decides to prosecute a mother for murder after she admits to shooting her homeless, psychopath son. Her defense: she did it to protect the community, or, in cruder terms, he needed killing. She had met his girlfriend who was pregnant,  and told her that her son would eventually kill her and the baby if she didn’t get away.

The mother explained that her first husband and the dead man’s father is in prison for murder, and like his son. lacked empathy or a conscience. She related how her son displayed all the traits of a psychopath growing up, such as torturing and killing animals. In sympathy for her plight, McCoy offered the mother a manslaughter plea and short prison time, but she turned the deal down, adamant that she hd done nothing wrong.  She was then charged with second-degree murder (that’s also generous, since the killing was premeditated), and the trial began.

The problem of how to deal with “bad seeds” is a  societal dilemma of long standing, and one without a satisfactory solution. It is easy to sympathize with the mother’s plight, but a society that approves of preemptive executions when an individual  seems likely to harm someone before he or she actually does is on a fast track to chaos; it’s not even a slippery slope. Once again, the seductive appeal of pre-crime measures has to be resisted decisively, or individual rights and justice mean nothing.

Does society have to wait until a loudly ticking time bomb goes off? If it’s a human time bomb, absolutely, and no exceptions. Sometimes, that metaphorical bomb turns out to be a dud, and every human being has the same right to be judged on the harm, if any, he or she actually does rather than the harm some feel they are certain to do.

In the episode, it is discovered mid-trial that the son had in fact murdered a man, which his mother did not know at the time she murdered him. McCoy argued to the judge that this was irrelevant to the case and likely to mislead the jury. He was correct. The mother’s act was exactly as illegal and intolerable whether her son was a likely killer or a proven one. The discovered homicide is an example of moral luck: it changes how the mother’s act is perceived, but doesn’t change the ethical analysis at all.

In the end, the jury votes guilty, and sends the mother to prison for 25 years. This is because she admits on the stand that her current husband had threatened to leave her if her son moved back into their home, which he announced he would soon do. Thus the preemptive murder began to look less like an altruistic act to spare society, and more like one for the mother’s personal benefit.

Again, it shouldn’t have mattered. Killing a human being based on probabilities and presumed future harm to society can never be deemed just or tolerable.

Never.

Are “Pre-Crime” Measures Absolutely Unethical?

Yes.

I guess that would be a too-short essay on an important topic with special contemporary relevance, so I am bound to say more. Nonetheless, I would be more comfortable with my fellow society members and more confident of the future of the the nation if the answer to the title query was universally accepted in absolute terms. For the acceptance of the principle of pre-crime is dangerous. It places less than a spiked mountain-climber’s boot on a slippery slope to totalitarianism, which is the real-life equivalent of the Devil in the scene above from “A Man For All Seasons,” both the play and the movie, based on the writings of Sir Thomas More, in which  More emotionally refuses to arrest a man because of the evil  he might do, before he has actually broken any laws:

More’s Wife: Arrest him!

Sir Thomas More: For what?

Wife: He’s dangerous!

William Roper (More’s Son in Law): He’s a spy.

Margaret (More’s daughter): Father, that man’s bad.

More: There’s no law against that.

Roper: There is – God’s law.

More: Then God can arrest him.

Wife: While you talk, he’s gone.

More: And go he should, were he the Devil himself, until he broke the law.

Roper: So, now you’d give the Devil the benefit of law?

More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s. And if you cut them down – and you’re just the man to do it – do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

Few more profound and important thoughts have been so eloquently and powerfully  presented in a motion picture as this scene from “A Man For All Seasons,” to which I will note (again) in passing, “Rotten Tomatoes” gives a lower score than “Birdman,”a fact that provides a disturbing snapshot of the state of our education, culture and priorities in 2019.

Both political parties have placed their feet on this slippery slope in the past. The essence of pre-crime is punishing a citizen for what he or she is, rather than for what he or she has done, on the theory that what an individual is makes that person “dangerous,” in the words of Mrs. More, for what they might do. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (and the Supreme Court that backed him) was responsible for probably the worst example of pre-crime in our history, when the United States, in full panic mode after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, imprisoned loyal Japanese-American citizens as a precautionary measure. Another panic, also not entirely groundless, led to a pre-crime mentality during the Red Scare and McCarthy episodes, seeking to punish Americans who belonged to the dreaded Communist Party, a nonetheless legal organization.

To be abundantly clear, I will define pre-crime as when the government removes a civil right, a Constitutional right, from a citizen, not as punishment for breaking a law, but based on what that individual believes, says, is or is understood to be. Continue reading

A Visit To “The Ethicist”

I haven’t opined on posts by the current holder of The New York Times Magazine “The Ethicist” title as often as I used to, in part because Kwame Anthony Appiah, unlike his predecessors, is a real ethicist, and usually answers the questions to his ethics advice column competently. The February 18 column was especially interesting, however, because Appiah seemed to be ducking some issues. I don’t blame him; two of the three questions he received have no clearly right ethical answer.

The one out of the three that was relatively easy was the anonymous inquirer who discovered that his company was willfully violating labor wage laws and under-reporting wages for workers’ compensation purposes. “Should I report this company to the authorities?” The Ethicist was asked. My answer? YES. 1) Get a lawyer. 2) Document what you know and how you found out about it. 3) Quit. 4) Blow the whistle. “I hope you proceed. Obligations of confidentiality to your employer don’t include the duty to conceal fraud,” was Appiah’s conclusion.

The other two questions are more problematical, especially the first: A correspondent asks what she should do with relatives in desperate financial straits who are begging for her money to bail them out. “I love my family, and it is extremely painful to see them suffer, but at the same time it is difficult for me to fund their lifestyles when they seem like a bottomless pit. I feel guilty and uncomfortable, but also angry and annoyed. Yet how can I watch my sister be thrown out of her house and potentially end up homeless if I have the resources to help her?”

The Ethicist ducks. First he says that the woman should try to train her relatives in financial management, even to the extent of actively managing their budgets. Right: THAT’s going to work. His conclusion: “So the most important thing you and your brother can do is to be clear with her about what you are and are not willing to do if her grasshopper behavior brings her into financial difficulties. And that means first being clear about this matter yourself. Bear in mind that you owe more to family members than you do to strangers, but you don’t owe it to them to abandon all your hard-earned plans in order to pay for their mistakes.”

But that wasn’t the question. Of course family members can’t demand that you fix their financial mistakes. It isn’t a matter of “owing” them, either. The Ethicist also cheats by resorting to a straw man: she didn’t ask if she should “abandon all her hard-earned plans.” She asked how she could sit back and watch them suffer when she had the resources to alleviate some of that suffering. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Comment Of The Day: ‘Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/7/17: Election Day Edition”’

“Well, sir, your background check came up fine! What kind of gun would you like to purchase?

As often happens, one excellent COTD, in this case JP’s examination of possible avenues of gun policy reforms, begat another, this one on a topic that I have been remiss is not posting about myself. John Billingsly writes about so called “mental health reform” in the context of gun control. Deciding that citizens should lose their rights because other judge them as mentally ill is a practice that should start the ethics alarms a-ringing, since this is a favored means of mind, speech and political activity control in totalitarian regimes.  I would think that the  idea would cause chills to run up the spine of any patriotic citizen, rightish or leftish, especiall when “the resistance’ wants to veto a Presidential election by declaring that President Trump’s boorish style and on the wrong side of history policies prove he is mentally disabled. I’m sure they think he shouldn’t be allowed to purchase a gun. Calm, reasonable, rational types like Howard Dean, Maxine Waters and Michael Moore, sure.

I don’t see any dangers to our rights when gun possession is withheld from someone who proclaims he is Shiva the destroer while running naked through the streets waving a dead badger overhead. As we have seen, however, in this area anti-gun zealots are counting on the slippery slope. Taking away rights based on what someone might do begins to edge into pre-crime.

Here is John Billingsly’s Comment of the Day on the post, Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/7/17: Election Day Edition”:

I want to elaborate on one statement, ”I believe for any serious debate to continue on gun control, we have to have mental health reform. “

I agree that there needs to be more access to mental health care, but it appears from current data there is only one area where contact with the mental health system seems to correlate with significantly increased risk of death by firearm and that is suicide. About 60% of deaths involving firearms are suicide and about 50% of successful suicide attempts are by firearm.

The major predictor of future violence is a history of violence not the presence or absence of mental illness. I believe anyone who has been found to be guilty of an act of violence, including any kind of domestic violence, should be denied the right to purchase a firearm. My understanding is that this is pretty much the law although there have been slip ups in administering it.

A group of people who do show a high incidence of violent behavior are substance abusers. Anyone convicted of a drug or alcohol offense should be prohibited from being able to legally acquire a firearm. There should be a mechanism to allow for the restoration of the right to buy a firearm in those cases such as simple possession where no violence was involved, and the conviction did not involve a more serious crime such as trafficking. Just from my anecdotal experience, people under the influence of drugs have been the most dangerous, unpredictable patients I have had to deal with.

The laws requiring reporting of persons with mental illness vary from state to state. Florida follows the Federal Law that prohibits possession of a firearm or ammunition by any person who has been “adjudicated a mental defective” or involuntarily “committed to any mental institution.” Persons who fall into these categories are reported to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement who maintains a database. The FDLE is authorized to report these to the federal government and other states exclusively for the purpose of determining lawfulness of a firearm sale or transfer. The information may also be used to make decisions regarding a concealed carry permit. There is a mechanism in the law for restoration of rights.

In Florida a person who seeks voluntary hospitalization may be determined to meet the same criteria as an involuntarily committed person under certain circumstances. The treating provider must certify that they are imminently dangerous, they must be allowed a chance to challenge the certification as to their dangerousness, and the court must review the certification and order the record to be submitted. Continue reading

Comments Of The Day: “Ethics Quiz: The Low IQ Parents”

This happens some times: I announce a Comment of the Day, I’m delayed in posting it, and because the comment was so provocative, it attracts equally excellent comments. This time I’m going to eschew the awkward “Comment of the Day: Comment of the Day on the Comment of the Day route, and link the comments up in sequence, beginning with the initial COTD by valentine0486.

Here are sequential Comments of the Day on the Ethics Quiz, “The Low IQ Parents.” I’ve learned a lot already. The whole comment thread is excellent and you should read it; I’m starting ats valentine0486’s COTD

I worked for two years with developmentally disabled individuals within the range of these two people. And, as much as it is sad and as much as I generally don’t like it when government makes these decisions, I am absolutely 100% certain that none of the individuals I worked for could properly raise children. As such, the state’s actions here are ethical, if the reasoning is somewhat dubious.

Let me share with you just some brief highlights of my time working with this segment of the population. I will abbreviate their names, so as to protect their identities. Please note that all of these individuals had higher IQs than Amy, and they may have all been tested as higher than Eric Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Low IQ Parents

Eric Ziegler and his partner, Amy Fabbrini, have below-average IQs…well below average. His IQ is 72 and hers is 66.  After Amy delivered their son Christopher in 2013, other family members, especially Amy’s estranged father, alerted Oregon’s child welfare agency that the couple might not be fit parents. The Department of Human Services’ investigation found no signs of abuse or neglect. However,

In reports of concerns about the couple’s parenting skills, a MountainStar [a nonprofit Oregon group devoted to helping prevent child abuse] worker recalled having to prompt them to have Christopher wash his hands after using the toilet and to apply sunscreen to all of his skin rather than just his face. Fabbrini and Ziegler’s attorneys argue these weren’t sufficient reasons to keep them from their son.

Based on this, Christopher (shown above with his parents) was removed from the couple and placed in foster care, where he remains.

The couple’s  second son, Hunter, was removed by the state while Fabbrini was still in the hospital, with Oregon citing the couple’s  “limited cognitive abilities that interfere with [their] ability to safely parent the child.”

Your Ethic Alarms Ethics Quiz Of The Day…

Is Oregon’s removal of this couple’s children based solely on the parents’ low IQ scores ethical?

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Australia Embraces Pre-Crime

It is crucial to understand is that if you are willing to discard ethical values as soon as they become inconvenient, you never really accepted them in the first place.

Thus  Australia’s looming decision to take away the passports of previously convicted pedophiles because officials are sure that some of them are taking child sex “vacations” to Asian nations active in the illegal trade tells us that when it is crunch time down under, ethics is disposable.

Under a proposed new law backed by the Prime Minister and the judiciary that still needs to be approved by the Australian Parliament, registered child sex offenders will lose their Australian passports as a draconian measure aimed at preventing  pedophiles from abusing children in foreign lands. Advocates proudly call the policy a “world first” in the fight against child sex tourism.

They don’t get it, but then, many people don’t. Many American communities continue to oppress registered sex offenders after they have paid their debts to society, restricting their access to public places like libraries and parks. Vigilante groups publish their addresses so they are subject to harassment and worse. The Constitution, however, limits the extent of the abuse, though that still doesn’t make what many registered sex offenders endure just or fair. Australia has no such limitation.

“The Australian” reports that the law would affect an estimated 20,000 registered offenders who have served their sentences but are still under supervision. Last year, approximately 800 Australian registered child sex offenders traveled overseas. Half of them went to Southeast Asia, where child sex-trafficking is epidemic. Nobody knows how many of the 400 or so travelers actually engaged in the criminal activity, but never mind: Think of the children! Undoubtedly some of the past offenders were traveling to do disgusting things to innocents, and if even one child is saved….well, you know the rationalizations.  Here are the ones the Australians appear to be relying upon:

  1. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”
  2. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”
  3. The Coercion Myth: “I have no choice!”
  4. The Revolutionary’s Excuse: “These are not ordinary times.”
  5. The Altruistic Switcheroo: “It’s for his own good” 
  6. The Troublesome Luxury: “Ethics is a luxury we can’t afford right now”
  7. Victim Blindness, or “They/He/She/ You should have seen it coming.”
  8. The Maladroit’s Diversion, or “Nobody said it would be easy!”
  9. The Desperation Dodge or “I’ll do anything!”
  10. TheApathy Defense, or “Nobody Cares.”
  11. The Universal Trump, or “Think of the children!”
  12. The Golden Rule Mutation, or “I’m all right with it!”
  13. The Ironic Rationalization, or “It’s The Right Thing To Do”

The primary theory here, however, is “the ends justify the means.’

“This new legislation represents the toughest crackdown on child sex tourism by any government, anywhere,” Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said, while noting that Australia is “determined to prevent the sexual exploitation of vulnerable young children overseas.” The “crackdown” means that over 20,000 law-abiding Australian citizens will have their right to travel taken away because of what some of 400 travelers to Southeast Asia might have done.

This is pre-crime. The proposed law, and there is little chance that it won’t pass, punishes people who might commit a crime before they do, taking away the basic human right to go where they want to go because they have a particular history or characteristic in common with actual offenders. Maybe some child trafficking will be curtailed.

This end does not justify the means. The fact that the culture in Australia has come to believe it does should constitute a warning that human rights are not sufficiently safe there.

 

A New Rationalization For A Slow Sunday: #57A The Utilitarian Cheat, or “If It Saves Just One Life”

On another thread, a reader attacked the Rationalization List <GASP!>,, the beating heart of Ethics Alarms, arguing that many of what are labelled rationalizations are valid justifications and cited as such on this very site. A vile canard! Of course many rationalizations can also be valid arguments for or against conduct. Take #59. The Ironic Rationalization, or “It’s The Right Thing To Do.” We do the right things because they are right, but we also have calculated why they are right, which means dealing with and rebutting the counter-arguments that might suggest those decisions are not right.  However, #59 addresses the frequent use of the “It’s the right thing to do” as a argument-ender, employing it as evidence when it really has to be a conclusion based on other evidence and analysis.

The latest addition to the Ethics Alarms Rationalization List does not have this problem. It is almost always a cheap rhetorical device, slyly edging what needs to be a clear-eyed, rational analysis of proposed conduct into the confounding realm of emotion. #57 A, The Utilitarian Cheat or “If its saves just one life” is a sub-rationalization under #57, 57. The Universal Trump, or “Think of the children!”  (It could easily be the other way around.)

#57 A. The Utilitarian Cheat or “If it saves just one life”

Invoking Rationalization #57A is as good a test as there is for identifying an untrustworthy demagogue. The claim that something is worth enacting, eliminating, establishing or doing is ethically and morally validates “if it saves juts one life” is aimed directly at the mushy minds of sentimentalists  and the dangerously compassionate. If the argument is made in good faith, the speaker is an incompetent dolt; usually it is the desperate last resort of a someone who has found that their real arguments are inadequate or unpersuasive.

The insidious trick inherent in the device is that we agree that human life is precious, and that we can not and will not place a dollar sign on a human being. The next step, however, in which a single life, or even many, is deemed justification for any expense or other draconian societal trade-offs, is impractical and irrational. It would save many lives if automobiles were built like tanks and could never exceed five miles an hour. Locking up ever angry husband that threatened the life of an estranged spouse with a menacing phone call would save many lives. So would forcing women to carry their babies to term, eliminating the right to have an abortion. Torture used without restrictions probably would save one life or more. Prohibition was sold using #57A.

All of these policy conundrums and many others are too complex by far to use simple-minded absolutism as their ethical guideline, and about 30 seconds of logical clarity will usually make that clear.  Those who employ The Utilitarian Cheat, however, don’t want clarity. It is an appeal to embrace acts that can do wide-ranging harm to society, civilization, human aspirations and liberty, because un-named lives can be saved. Though it is opposite of the exploitation of human life for other goals that Kantian ethics forbids, it is equally invalid.

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Graphic: gunssavelives.net

“Who Are You Calling A Nut?” And Other Ethics Issues In The Community College Shooting Aftermath (Parts I-VI)

mr__peanut_s_cane_gun_I. A good friend, who is a nice man so I chose not to upset him by explaining why he sounds like an idiot, announced on Facebook that he wasn’t reading any more “gun nut” posts. Hmmmm. I wonder what he thinks a “gun nut” is? Is a gun nut a teacher who punishes a student for pointing his finger like a gun, or who prevents a deaf child from signing his name, Gunner? Or is it someone who believes that the Second Amendment, which wasn’t second by accident, should be followed? Is it someone who keeps saying that laws need to be passed that will stop shootings like the one in Oregon, but who either has no realistic proposals to suggest or who suggest measures that wouldn’t have affected that shooting at all? Isn’t it nutty to engage in magical thinking? I think so.

II. I also think it’s nutty, not to mention hypocritical, to decry the lack of “civil debate” regarding gun policy and then call anyone who doesn’t want guns melted down by government order “nuts.”  Actually it’s worse than that: pundits, politicians and anti-gun advocates are increasingly equating  opposition to gun regulations advanced using false arguments, dubious logic, ad hominem attacks and deceitful statistics with insanity and intractable evil. Frankly, I resent it. I’m not opposed to sensible gun regulations, but my job is to oppose false arguments, dubious logic, ad hominem attacks and deceitful statistics, as well as to make sure that they don’t succeed lest “the ends justify the means” become a social norm.

III. Speaking of hypocritical, Mike Huckabee and others have been quite properly criticized (by me, for example) by claiming that since the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage is “wrong,” it shouldn’t be followed. Yet the most vociferous defenders of that SCOTUS decision simultaneously advocate anti-gun measures that are forbidden by the Court’s decisions interpreting the Second Amendment….because, you see, “it’s wrong.” Continue reading