‘Tis The Morning Before Christmas Ethics Warm-Up, 12/24/18!

Merry Christmas!

1 Christmas gift ethics. What’s your opinion of a relative who says that the only thing she wants for Christmas is for family members to donate to her favorite leftist candidate for City Council? I don’t recall the Christmas tradition being “Make people do whatever you would do” Day, do you? Let’s have a Christmas Eve poll!

2. Change: I now believe “the wall” is necessary and the President’s resolve is ethical. My change of heart comes after watching all Democrats and many Republicans simultaneously say they want secure borders and then continue to encourage illegal immigration with their rhetoric and votes. The wall is necessary to send an unequivocal message, which has been Trump’s message since he announced his candidacy: “Come here legally, or don’t come. If you get here by breaking our laws, you are not welcome and will never be welcome, no matter what you do.”

Correctamundo!

Anti-Trump GOP Senator Bob Corker claims that the showdown over authorization of funding for the Wall is a “made-up fight, so the president can look like he’s fighting, but even if he wins, our borders are going to be insecure.” It’s not a “made-up” fight at all. Republicans have been afraid to upset Hispanic-Americans and Democrats want nice, reliable, left-voting poor folks to swell the voting rolls, so they have sent deliberately mixed messages, particularly regarding the “Dreamers.” If a wall did nothing other than stop “migrant caravans,” it would be worth it.

Trump also promised a wall. Breaking promises is not the same as a lie, unless the promise was a lie when it was made, but Trump, who we have been told lies incessantly, has also been far more determined to fulfill campaign promises than any President within memory. (Obama promised to address the national debt. He promised to have the most transparent administration in history. He promised  that lthe use of chemical weapons by Syria would be the “red line.” He promised to be President of all the people, not just Democratic base demographic groups. He promised that if you like your heath care plan…well, you know the rest.)

It is the Democratic position on the wall that is a sham, because the money involved is a relative pittance. They are grandstanding, and the President is not.

3.  Slot machine ethics. How did I miss this? Three Las Vegas visitors who hit multi-million dollar jackpots playing slot machines are fighting the casinos’ efforts to void the pay-offs on the grounds that the machines “malfunctioned.” The episodes all occurred earlier this year. Unless there is a prominent notice on or around the slots pointing out that there is a limit to the payoff in any single play and specifying what the limit is, I think the casinos are obligated to live with losing whatever one of their evil, manipulative, Skinnerian machines cough up.

This isn’t like a malfunctioning ATM machine. Players are led to believe that whatever comes out when they pull the lever or push the button is theirs. If casinos can say that their machines malfunctioned and they are not responsible for the result, then gamblers should have the same option: “I’m sorry, but my limit on gambling losses was just $500. I shouldn’t be responsible for the additional $10,000 I lost on blackjack, because I malfunctioned.” Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: Elyse Siegel and Craig Kanalley of the Huffington Post

It should go without saying that before you author a post about “unforgettable lies” to a popular website, you should probably know what a lie is. This detail seems to have eluded Elyse Siegel and Craig Kanally, however. Their Glenn Beck-inspired retrospective of lies by prominent Americans acts to further muddle the public’s understanding of a basic concept, degrading communication and spreading misinformation.

A lie is a statement that intentionally misrepresents facts in order to mislead or deceive someone. A mistake is not a lie. When one makes a statement believing it to be true, and subsequent revelations prove that the statement to be false, that is not lying, though those who want to ascribe bad motives to the statement may incorrectly characterize it as one. Such a statement is not a lie even when it is made recklessly, or out of ignorance, stupidity, or misplaced trust.

Nor is a broken promise a lie, if the promise was sincere when it was made. Promise-keeping is a different virtue than honesty.Then there are disagreements over definitions. Some terms have more than one meaning, and using one of them when a listener is thinking of a different definition may be poor communication or sloppy thinking, but it is not a lie unless it is intended to deceive.

The Huffington Post piece blurs these important distinctions, and this is a problem. Lying suggests malice, and it has become increasingly common for civic debate to feature the epithet of “Liar!” being directed at writers, pundits and politicians who are simply stating sincere opinions. In fact, many of the bloggers at the Huntington Post do this routinely, which may be why no editor pointed out that Siegel and Kanalley’s post showed that they didn’t understand what they were writing about. In fact, by their definition of the word, the post contains several lies.

It doesn’t, though. It is just wrong.

You can pick out the non-lies in their honest but incompetent post here. By my count, at least five and maybe six of the “lies” are not lies at all. Of course, the authors would not have had to resort to non-lies if they weren’t so dedicated to featuring conservatives and Republicans on their list. There are plenty of clear-cut lies by Democrats and non-political types that were worthy of the list if their post didn’t have to double as a political hit piece.  Where, for example, are Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s serial claims of Viet Nam combat service? Isn’t Ted Kennedy’s infamous statement about his negligent homicide of Mary Jo Kopechne just a bit more famous and important than Glenn Beck’s fib at his Lincoln Memorial rally? How about former Justice Souter’s claim, under oath before the U.S. Senate, that he had never given any thought to the abortion issue? Or Senator Roland Burris’s statement to the Senate that he had no contact with Rod Blagojevich prior to being appointed to his seat, a statement he recanted as soon as he was confirmed?

These were all real lies, significant, intentional, and infamous.

Richard Bach’s World Without Trust

I recently encountered a quote from Richard Bach, the pop philosopher/author who wrote Jonathan Livingston Seagull, that bothered me. The context isn’t important, but it was cited with approval as enduring wisdom by the quoter. The statement:

“Anybody who’s ever mattered, anybody who’s ever been happy, anybody who’s ever given any gift to the world has been a divinely selfish soul, living for his own best interest, no exceptions.”

I can see why this quote might be popular, unlike his career-making best seller, which I threw against the wall after eight pages. It provides the perfect rationalization for selfishness and unethical conduct for people who don’t have the patience to read Nietzsche or the stomach for Ayn Rand. As a whole, it is nothing but a repackaging of “everybody does it,” but with a devilish seductive twist: everybody who’s smart, talented and successful does it. Wow. Translation: if you are divinely selfish, it means you might be one of the people who “matter.” Continue reading

The Ethics of Voluntary Mortgage Default

Friend and reader Loren Platzman alerted me to the article, “Walk Away From Your Mortgage!” in the Sunday Times Magazine ( the magazine was, in fact, sitting unopened by my desk at the time. Some days, I just know that reading Randy Cohen’s “The Ethicist” column is going to ruin my weekend.) The thrust of the article, an installment in the “The Way We Live Now” series, is that American cultural tradition has reinforced the belief that there is something unethical and shameful about voluntarily letting the bank foreclose on a property when falling property values have placed the mortgage “under water,” meaning that the home is worth less than the amount still owed on it. Continue reading