Exactly How Much Are We “All In This Together”? The Golden Rule Vs. “Look Out For #1”

Well it’s 4:30 am again, and once more an issue encountered right before bedtime has pushed me into insomnia.

I wish I could blame Philip Galanes, as it was a question in his advice column Social Q’s that got my ethics alarms ringing, but I should have been thinking about this one as soon as the pandemic response entered the social isolation phase. It’s not only a difficult ethics issue but an important and a classic one.

In “The Diary of Anne Frank,” we learned that the four member Frank family hid from the Nazis in a two floor secret annex in  Otto Frank’s office building. Soon after going into hiding, the group almost doubled with the addition of three members of the van Pels family, and still later, a dentist, Fritz Pfeffer, called Albert Dussel in the diary, was admitted to the group. Pfeffer was a stranger to the Franks, but the family dentist of Otto Frank’s employee Miep Gies (the heroic caretaker of the Franks and their secret ally)  and the van Pels. Adding Pfeffer strained the food supply and the living arrangements as well as increasing the risk to all, but nonetheless, the group accepted him.

An inquirer asked Galanes,

A couple of weeks ago, before Covid-19 exploded in New York, a close friend asked if she and her husband could leave Manhattan and stay with us at our home in Bergen County, N.J. It was a tough question to have asked of me, but I decided it was the right thing to do. I told my friend they could come. For other reasons, they didn’t. Now, she’s asked again. They’re really scared! I’m not sure what to do. My husband has asthma, they would have to share a bathroom with my cranky 19-year-old son, and I am helping my elderly mother who lives nearby (contact-free). Any advice?

His advice was to keep her out, and to expect the friends to be hurt by the decision.

There are missing details here, like the size of the house, which could make a huge difference in assessing risk. Some might ask other questions, like “Exactly how good a friend is this?” That would lead inexorably to other questions: “Would the answer be the same if it was a relative? An ex- lover? How about someone to whom the questioner owed a debt of gratitude? What if she offered to pay a lot of money? Would the same answer be as justified if the couple want to send  only their child? Two children? Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: “Rear Window” Ethics At The Ball Game

RearWindow1

The New York Daily News recounts the tale of two sisters attending an Atlanta Braves game who exposed a man’s cheating wife by taking photos of her as she apparently sexted another man with her arm around her husband. Delana and Brynn Hinson posted photos of her texts on Twitter.

The sisters said they slipped a note to the woman’s suspected husband as he was leaving, which read,

“Your wife is cheating on you. Look at the messages under Nancy! It’s really a man named Mark Allen.”

You can read the details—accurate or not—here.

I don’t care if the story is exactly as it was reported. Let’s assume it is.

The Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for the day is this:

Did the sisters behave ethically when they informed the husband about his wife’s secret texting?

Continue reading

Abortion Debate in the Senate: Inconvenient Ethics

It will be major irony if the Senate health care reform bill, an irresponsible, cynical, dishonest piece of legislation (any legislation that is 2000 pages, unreadable, and largely unread by those voting for it is, by definition, irresponsible, cynical and dishonest), fails because of its position on abortion. The bill is an abomination and deserves to fail, but not because of that. Continue reading