The Three Circles, Prime Directives, And President Trump [With Addendum]

I can’t believe I have never written about this diagram before, but apparently I haven’t. That’s my fault, and a major one.

The diagram, the creation of my friend, attorney John May, shows the inter-relationship of the three ethical systems professionals must employ when they face ethics problems. For although we tend to think about making decisions in one context, there are several, and which sphere—these are circles after all—we choose will often determine what balance of values, principles and outcomes dictates the ultimate course.

Here are what the circles represent:

The Big Circle, in yellow, includes the ethics culture that we all live in. It includes our nation, society, community, family, and friends, and is a messy, inconsistent, multi-faceted, often contradictory melange of traditions, religion, customs, literature, history, heroes, fables, family influences, teachers, peers, laws, and more. This the largest system of all, the sun to the planet-sized influence of the other two systems. within it are not only the often competing ethics theories of Reciprocity, Absolutism, and Utilitarianism, but also all the variations in between and beyond–Ayn Rand, Nietzsche, Marx, and many others. In his invaluable book “The Science of Good and Evil,” Michael Shermer posits that despite all the internal inconsistencies, the Big Circle is remarkably functional, agreeing on what is right and wrong perhaps 97% of the time. The disagreements are in the realm Shermer calls provisional ethics,  akin to what Ethics Alarms is referring to when it cites The Ethics Incompleteness Principle. These are the troublesome problems where the usual principles don’t always work.

 

The Core Circle, in green, represents the values, principles, beliefs and the priority of these for an individual–you. It comprises all of those, plus such core qualities as conscience, self-esteem and courage. It’s location in the Big Circle varies with the individual. A section of it even may protrude outside Big Circle, representing the degree to which a person does not embrace the values of his or her community or culture.

Finally, there is the Compliance Circle, in red. That circle defines the special ethics of a profession, and includes ethics codes, traditions, aspirational values and professional obligations and duties.

Notice that part of the Red Circle is outside the Yellow one. These are the values about which a profession is bound to adhere to at all costs, even though the society at large often and even usually does not have the same ethical priorities. Quoting Star Trek, this is Prime Directive territory. In Gene Roddenberry’s fictional Star Fleet, it was forbidden to use the immense power a starship could muster to interfere with a planet’s inhabitants and their conduct, even to prevent what appeared to be a horrible wrong.  This principle would be repugnant to the the public at large. For example, if a starship had an opportunity to stop a genocidal race from wiping out another race on its planet, the Prime Directive would make it a crime to do so. The Big Circle would certainly view this as monstrous, but the Prime Directive wisely holds that interference must be avoided. Continue reading

From The “How Often Can Something Like This Happen In An Ethical Profession?” Files: The Art Teacher’s Meltdown

I know a lot of teachers get angry with me for my increasing certitude that they are in an unethical profession with some ethical members (like them), rather than an ethical profession with isolated unethical exceptions. This incident supports my critical views. Unless mental illness is involved, an adult doesn’t belong to a profession with well-defined standards and ethics rules and act like this.

At W.H. Adamson High School in Dallas, Texas, art students were treated to an epic meltdown by their teacher, Payal Modi, who screamed “Die!” and shot President Trump’s image on the screen with a water gun as students watched his inauguration on TV.  A student caught this on video, and Modi, who was proud of the planned display, posted it to her Instagram account.

This is more political indoctrination the classroom, which educators not today only tolerate but nurture. A teacher modelling violence toward any individual, but especially the President of The United States, in front of students, is such a stunning breach of professional ethics that no teacher should  have the idea even flicker across her mind. Payal Modi planned it.  A teacher who behaves like this cannot be trusted with students. A teacher like Modi calls into question everyone and every institution connected with her.

Adamson High School assistant principal Bobby Nevels confirmed that Modi shot the squirt gun at the TV, during class and in front of students. It is six days later. Why does she have a job? Why has the school not made a public apology? Why hasn’t the teachers’ union condemned her actions?

In eight years, no teacher did anything displaying close to this level of hostility and disrespect to President Obama. What do you think the reaction would have been by a school district if one had? Would the official position be, as Nevels’ was, “The district will not comment on personnel issues.” How about reassuring parents and the public that the district recognizes that this isn’t just a personnel issue, but an incident that calls into question the integrity of the education system and the  teaching profession? Modi is the product of an unethical culture that is rotting public education from within.

Is there a specific Teachers Code of Conduct provision, enforced and universal, that would guide a teacher not to do something this outrageous? The NEA has a Code, but there is no enforcement mechanism. There is also no prohibition against demonstrating hostility and disrespect toward public figures, or engaging in violent displays in class. Here are the provisions relevant to Modi’s meltdown: Continue reading

I Repeat: April Fools Day Is Not For Ethical Professionals

april-fools-day-banner

In a much attacked post here way back in 2010, I offered some ethical guidelines for April Fool’s Day, which was just beginning to get out of hand. I was right, my critics were wrong, and maybe some of the mockers who are now trying to figure out when their favorite news organization is lying to them today for fun, as opposed to the rest of the year when it lies to them out of bias or incompetence, are beginning to appreciate my position.

I just watched three different morning news shows that contained fake news or commentary that the reporters and anchors, at least, seemed to think was hilarious. In one case, on Fox, conservative talk-show host Laura Ingraham dead-panned a remarkably even-handed and fair explanation for HHS Secretary Sibelius’s much-maligned TV silence when asked about the Affordable Care Act’s unpopularity.  April Fool! Laura wasn’t being fair or objective, she was just tricking Fox’s audience into being angry at her for being fair and objective, or, in my case, admiring her integrity for pointing out that the incident had more than one plausible interpretation. Got me, Laura. I just heard an NPR host plead with the audience not to regard the upcoming segment as a hoax because of the date, an especially difficult plea since NPR springs virtual hoaxes on its audience all year.

The first and most important of my April Fools guidelines was this:

1. April Fools’ Day tricks are not for professionals to play on those who depend on them, trust them, or otherwise rely on them for information or services, unless there is a special relationship as well. The risks of harm and abuse are too great.

The succeeding four years have validated my position. Journalism, government and politics are the prime examples. CNN played a video that showed Jay Carney crowing yesterday about the Affordable Care Act’s success even as the Healthcare.gov website had crashed. Wait..is this a joke? Did the Obama White House film this for fun and games? They wouldn’t do this, you say? Government officials don’t use their high office for jokes and hoaxes? Really?

Sen. Ted Cruz, also on Fox, showed his new tattoo, apparently an April Fools’ joke, but also said he was certain that the Affordable Care Act would be repealed. Which is more likely, that the AFA will be repealed, or that wacky Ted Cruz would get a tattoo? Slate has a post up by someone called Rehan Salan, which is, clearly, a clever anagram for “En Anal Rash” or something, arguing that adults without children should be forced to pay extra taxes to support parents. Hah! Good one, Slate! That should turn the “pro choice” crowd on its head: lets; punish the choice not to have children via a penalty—I’m sorry, Chief Justice Roberts, a tax, wink-wink. Wait…that isn’t a joke? Ok, well, I’m sure about this, then: that fake video showing famous tough guy Don Baylor, a record holder for being hit by pitches when he played and now a coach for the Los Angeles Angels, “breaking his leg” catching the ceremonial first pitch of the baseball season. April Fools, right ESPN? No????

Continue reading

Here’s Something A-Rod Is NOT Doing Wrong

The Don had his flaws, but he knew the difference between personal and professional.

The Don had his flaws, but he knew the difference between personal and professional.

Alex Rodriguez has done a lot of bad things, but everything he does isn’t wrong. Kudos to lawyer/baseball pundit Craig Calcaterra for flagging a typical bit of pundit idiocy.

Yesterday, the news was that Rodriguez, rather than accept his season-long suspension as a result of the arbitration panel’s final decision regarding the disciplinary action against him taken by Major League Baseball, is suing MLB, and the players union for not properly defending him. This involves allegations that the union’s late Executive Director, Michael Weiner (who perished last year of an inoperable brain tumor) failed in his duty to A-Rod, a member in good standing, though a slimy one.  This, to various sportswriters, broadcasters and bloggers, was the smoking gun proof that Alex’s heart is as black as a Mamba: how dare he impugn the character of a dead man, a beloved family man who died before his time? For example, here is  Yahoo Sports’ indignant Jeff Passon:

“Alex Rodriguez is a sad, desperate man, and sad, desperate men do sad, desperate things like blame their sad, desperate circumstances on a beloved, deceased man. Of the many layers of pathetic A-Rod has peeled back in trying to excuse his own wretched choices, never had he spoken ill of the dead, not until Monday when his failing defense found a new nadir.”

Rodriguez may well be a sad, desperate man as well as a certified rotter, but his treatment of Weiner is not one of his many transgressions. Continue reading

The “Do You Know Who I Am?” Prosecutor and the Strip Club

"My mistake--that's a POLE, not the Florida BAR! Silly me. I just made a mistake..."

“My mistake–that’s a POLE, not the Florida BAR! Silly me. I just made a mistake. Wrong address…”

Personally, I find few varieties of unethical conduct more nauseating than individuals of fame, position, power or influence who use that status to squeeze special privileges and considerations from ordinary citizens. From the cop who assumes that he won’t be charged for street grocer’s apple, to the judge who talks his way out of a speeding ticket, to the famous actress  who tries “Do you  know who I am?” when she’s stopped while driving drunk, this behavior warps justice, broadcasts unfairness, and saturates the culture with the toxic assumption of class and privilege, the idea that not only are the rich, powerful and famous subject to different and more lenient standards than the rest of us mere mortals, but that they deserve such treatment.

Ari Pregren, a Miami-Dade County prosecutor, was just fired from his job for embracing this tactic, and appropriately so. The fascinating aspect of the incident for me is that I am certain that his miserable conduct does not rise to level that the legal profession would deem professional misconduct. In Pregren’s case, this means that a state prosecutor who uses his position to get special consideration at a strip club is an unethical jerk, but not necessarily an unethical lawyer, at least in the eyes of the legal profession.

Hmmmmm…. Continue reading

Web Hoaxes: Not Funny, Always Unethical

P.T. Barnum’s “Fiji Mermaid:. At least in 1842,. it wasn’t on the web.

Ethics Alarms is swearing off “angry ex-boyfriend/girlfriend takes cruel outrageous revenge” stories, no matter how juicy the ethics lesson may be. First it was the tattoo artist who defaced his ex’s back with a huge and ugly drawing of steaming dog excrement that was fantasy masquerading as news, and now it’s the Polish dentist scorned…remember? The one who pulled out her cheating boyfriend’s teeth? Yes, it seems that horror story was a hoax too.

A lot of people who should know better think that web hoaxes are funny and hoaxers are clever. I regard them as the ethical equivalent of  chefs and waiters who spit in restaurant customers’ food. The web creates—a web!—of information and communication across nations and cultures, and poisoning that web with bogus stories creates a chain of unpredictable harm. At very least, hoaxes make every trusting source that passes along the lie an unwitting accomplice in a despicable act. It harms long-nurtured relationships of mutual trust between those who post on blogs and websites and those who read them. Continue reading

When Routine Deadens Ethics

"Good boy!!!"

A Niagara County, New York coroner just resigned as he faces possible imprisonment after taking a fresh body part from the carnage of a local plane wreck and using it to train his personal cadaver-sniffing dog.

How, you may ask, could anyone, particularly a public coroner, be so callous and ethically numb? “Hey! Here’s a leg! What luck! Now I can train Rex!” How can a professional—or a human being— treat some grieving family’s loved one like a piece of meat?

I think it’s natural, really. Coroners, morticians, medical examiners, rescue workers, military commanders and doctors all have to detach themselves from the human beings whose deaths are a routine part of their daily work, or they risk being unable to do their work at all. Objectivity and independent judgment are crucial elements of professional conduct, and emotion, including sorrow, sympathy, and revulsion, is the enemy of objectivity. The danger is that in order to deaden one’s emotions through repetition and routine, one risks unplugging an ethics alarm. For these emotions are also part of the ethical value of caring.

The coroner might have been excellent at his job, but he lost all human connection to his work. The mangled body part that had once been a living, breathing, loving person seemed like a piece of meat, because to the coroner, like his dog, it was just a piece of meat.

When feeling gets in the way of a professional’s  duties, it is only normal for the professional to try to eliminate them, and even prudent, except that the absence of feelings can cause a deficit in ethics. Building those callouses over normal human emotions are matter of survival in some professions, but doing so creates what I call a “pre-unethical condition” requiring awareness and vigilance.

The Niagara coroner wasn’t sufficiently vigilant, and he fell into a career ending trap.

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Facts: WGRG New York

Graphic: Greenwich Roundup

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of  facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.