Comment Of The Day: “Megyn Kelly, William Saroyan, Ethics, Me, And Us: A Rueful Essay” (#1)

My post over the weekend, one long in germination, regarding the personal and societal dilemma of balancing one’s duty to oneself, one’s duty to be useful  and the infuriating hard-wired human tendency to always seek something different and better, received a gratifying response and at least two Comments of the Day.

This is the first, by frequent COTD auteur Extradimensional Cephalopod, is a marvelous supplement to my post, and I wish I had written it myself, except I couldn’t have.

Here is EC’s Comment of the Day on the post, Megyn Kelly, William Saroyan, Ethics, Me, And Us: A Rueful Essay:

One of the central principles of Buddhism is “life is suffering”. Clarified, it means that conscious beings inherently have some concept of how they want the world to be that is different from how it actually is. Alternatively, if the world is already how they want it to be, either the chaos in the world will bring it out of alignment with their desires, or they will eventually become dissatisfied as their minds develop further. This is what the bartender in Saroyan’s story is referring to. It’s the existential condition; “condemned to be free”, as Sartre put it.

Having studied desire and motivation from an existential point of view, I’ve codified eight motivations that lead people to form goals. They are based on three dichotomies: experience versus control, greater and lesser quantity, and order versus chaos.

Greed/ambition: the desire for more control or more accomplishment (acquiring more possessions or becoming more important).
Gluttony/celebration: the desire for more of an experience (greater intensities or more constant access).
Wrath/boldness: the desire to break through limits by exerting control (disregarding rules or doing the impossible).
Lust/curiosity: the desire to remove limits on one’s experiences (experiencing the unknown).
Hubris/scrupulousness: the desire to impose limits through one’s control (absolute, perfect control over something).
Envy/dedication: the desire to impose limits on one’s experiences (obsession or tunnel vision).
Sloth/contentment: the desire to have less control (having responsibility or having to pay less attention).
Cowardice/prudence: the desire to have less of an experience (avoiding pain or discomfort). Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/22/2017: Listening To Maxine Waters And Getting Hit In The Face With A Baseball

Good Morning!

(Boy, am I glad this week is almost over…)

 

1 There is an Ethics Alarms category for incompetent elected officials like Maxine Waters, but in general I try not to state the obvious, and Rep. Waters has been an embarrassment to her district, her party, the House of Representatives, her party, the Congressional Black Caucus, her gender, her race and democracy generally for decades. Her latest statement that “Impeachment is about whatever Congress says it is. There is no law that dictates impeachment” is an especially striking example of her ignorance, her defiance of her ethical duties, and her sick partisan extremism, but still: Who that has watched this woman can be shocked at this?

During a Congressional Black Caucus town hall yesterday, Waters called on the black community which, to our pity and its shame, trusts this despicable woman to support impeaching President Donald Trump because “there is no law” restricting the practice.

Waters either is unaware of or chooses to defy the Constitution’s Article II Section 4: 

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

A. That’s law. In fact, it’s the law of the land.

B. “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” is not synonymous with “Anything Congress decides”

One of the worst things about Waters is that she makes citizens who trust her more ignorant about their own country. Her characterization of impeachment is simply false. It is also a prelude to an anti-democratic, ant-Constitutional system in which the Legislative Branch can veto the results of an election as long as one party has a sufficient majority. In this regard, Waters is not alone: this has been a theme of the Democratic “resistance” since the election. That alone is just reason for any rational American to vote against the Democrats, and this would be true if a werewolf were President.

It’s always fun to guess whether Waters is stupid, or lying. I vote stupid. “Bill Clinton got impeached because he lied,” Waters said yesterday. “Here you have a president who I can tell you and guarantee you is in collusion with the Russians, to undermine our democracy. Here you have a president who has obstructed justice, and here you have a president that lies every day.”

Bill Clinton was impeached for lying under oath, which made him unfit to be a lawyer, much less make the laws. He was also impeached for lying to a grand jury, another crime, and obstructing justice for real, not by firing his own subordinate.

An ethical party would censor Waters the way Republicans supported censoring Joe McCarthy. At this point in its history, the Democratic Party is closer to following Waters’ unethical conduct than opposing it. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 8/2/17”

From Emily, a marvelous Comment of the Day so full of wisdom and good advice that it stands on its own:

I’m not from flyover country, but I live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, red counties that include the poorest counties in the state (the lower shore has Baltimore City beat.) My family of three hovers around the federal poverty line.

However, my husband and I were both raised middle class. And while there are no major economic differences between us and our friends and neighbors, there are a lot of differences in the choices we make, which allow us to use the same amount of money to give our daughter opportunities that other parents in our economic class are unaware of or neglect.

This, more than money, is what affects the opportunities that my daughter has access to (as well as the ones my husband and I have access to.)

Despite the economic hardship, I’m a stay at home mom, which allows me to be dedicated full time to my daughter’s developmental delays. I could go to work and make *slightly* more money for us, after childcare expenses, but that would be a very different level of care for my daughter, and it turns out she needs it. The expert we’ve consulted is almost certain she’ll catch up, and has indicated me being home with her is an important part of that certainty.

I mentioned above that my daughter does have a tablet, a $30 one from Amazon. I found that tablet because I got a $20 Amazon giftcard for Christmas, and I was saving it for something special. I had to dig in the library’s website to find the link to borrow ebooks, but I figured there must be something like that.

We have internet, despite having no long distance for our phone (and no cellphone service where we live.) My husband and I manage to pick up extra money doing work online, despite neither of us having college degrees. This is part of what allows us to get by while still having plenty of time for our daughter.

These are just examples of things *we’ve* figured out. Everyone’s situation is different, especially among the poor. The thing that most people don’t seem to see is that down here social capital (the network of friends and family you have and what they’re willing to help you with,) knowing how to allocate resources carefully, and understanding how to navigate the various systems — both private and government — are more important to the kind of life you have than income, and those are highly individual things. Continue reading

The Tangled Ethics Of Men, Women, Sexual Harassment,Sexual Discrimination, Romance, Common Sense, And “Vive La différence!”

Mike Pence would not have a business dinner with Debrahlee Lorenzana. What’s wrong with him?

Many years ago I did a sexual harassment seminar for a New York law firm. Afterwards, the partner responsible for handling the firm’s EEOC and workplace matters told me that my ethics-based approach to the topic wasn’t sufficiently rigorous, since he believed that innocent contact between employees in the firm could spawn lawsuits. “I refuse to travel with female associates,” he told me. “I can’t be sure what they will think is harassment.”

“Wait,” I asked. “So because you’re afraid of being accused unjustly of sexual harassment, you engage in sexual discrimination?”

He sputtered something and left to arrange his sock drawer.

I think of this conversation often. I thought of it when Vice-President Mike Pence was reported as saying in 2002  that he never had a meal with a woman who was not his wife, and was promptly savaged for it by feminists and the news media. Because the new rules and practices of the workplace have developed amid contradictions and rigid doctrine rather than with attention to whether they were workable or not, Pence and that hypocritical lawyer years ago are both victims and victimizers. It is often impossible to know what ethical workplace conduct is.

The New York Times was happy to bash Pence for his candor as part of a requirement of membership in “the resistance,” but then, as is often the case for the schizoid paper, later competently and objectively examined the issue away from politics. A Morning Consult poll conducted for the paper  found that there is widespread fear of one-on-one situations, male-female interactions in the workplace.  About 25% think private work meetings with colleagues of the opposite sex are inappropriate. Almost 2/3  say it is prudent to be especially wary and sensitive around members of the opposite sex at work. A majority of women, and nearly half of men, say it’s unacceptable to have dinner or drinks alone with someone of the opposite sex other than their spouse. Continue reading

Ethics Train Wreck Update: Now The Dictionary People Have Boarded The Post-2016 Election Freakout

It’s really depressing. I did not expect to see so many professions and professionals debase themselves and their ethical principles because they couldn’t deal with the results of a presidential election. . Historians. Judges. Scientists. Professors. College presidents and administrators. Performing artists. Intelligence community professionals. Judges. Journ–well, no, that one wasn’t a surprise.

My own profession, legal ethicists, booked a seat on the ethics train wreck, a development that was profoundly disappointing. Wrote one member of the profession who has remained clear -eyed while keeping his integrity, Steve Lubet in Slate,  “As a liberal Democrat, I have no sympathy for Conway’s habitual disregard for truth. As a professor of legal ethics, however, I think this complaint is dangerously misguided and has the potential to set a terrible precedent…The professors no doubt have faith in the professionalism of the District of Columbia Office of Disciplinary Counsel, but the bar authorities in other states may not always be reliably even-handed or apolitical. It is hardly inconceivable that lawyer discipline might somewhere be used as a weapon against disfavored or minority candidates, or as a means to squelch protest movements and insurgent campaigns. In the 1940s and 1950s, suspected Communists and alleged “fellow travelers” found their law licenses in jeopardy in many states. In the 1960s and 1970s, civil rights lawyers were hauled before the bar authorities in the South. The complaint against Conway is an unfortunate step back in the direction of using lawyer discipline against political enemies….”

Bingo.

Now “America’s dictionary,” Merriam-Webster, has decided that it is within its mission and purview to attack and mock the President of the United States..

Almost immediately after his election, the dictionary’s editors began trolling Trump and his administration, defined, by Merriam-Webster, as “to antagonize (others) online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant or offensive comments or other disruptive content.”

The website Acculturated has observed that on social media and its website Merriam-Webster has  ridiculed the President  “for his every spelling mistake, grammatical error, and verbal gaffe. In honor of the election, they changed their header photo to a picture of a German word defined as the “collapse of a society or regime marked by catastrophic violence and disorder.” Then they highlighted what they claimed was the word most frequently looked-up, “fascism.” On Inauguration Day, they tweeted “Welp,” a word that conveys dismay or disappointment. The company also derided Betsy DeVos, Sean Spicer, Steve Bannon, and, of course, Kellyanne Conway.

This, needless to say, is not their job, their mission, or responsible professional conduct. It is, as it is for the other derailed professionals, smug virtue signalling and tribalism. Acculturated again:

[T]he dictionary’s editors are clearly partisan. They didn’t harass Hillary Clinton, and they don’t needle sports stars, celebrities, or, well . . . anyone else like they needle the President and his people.Theoretically, even that could be okay—a good, playful, occasional joke from the dictionary could have the whole country laughing. But if you mock one person too often, you start to reveal a pattern. If that pattern persists, the fun and games lose their light-hearted feel, and begin to betray bias instead.

Ya think???

Continue reading

The Seventh Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Best of Ethics 2015, Part I

Sweet Briar montage

Welcome to the Seventh Annual Ethics Alarms Awards, our blog’s retrospective of the best and worst in ethics over the past year, 2015.

It was a rotten year in ethics again, it’s fair to say, and Ethics Alarms, which by its nature and mission must concentrate on episodes that have lessons to convey and cautionary tales to consider probably made it seem even more rotten that it was. Even with that admission, I didn’t come close to covering the field. My scouts, who I will honor anon, sent me many more wonderfully disturbing news stories than I could post on, and there were many more beyond them. I did not write about the drug company CEO, for example, who suddenly raised the price of an anti-AIDS drug to obscene levels, in part, it seems, to keep an investment fraud scheme afloat. (He’ll get his prize anyway.)

What was really best about 2o15 on Ethics Alarms was the commentary. I always envisioned the site as a cyber-symposium where interested, articulate and analytical readers could discuss current events and issues in an ethics context. Every year since the blog was launched has brought us closer to that goal. Commenters come and go, unfortunately (I take it personally when they go, which is silly), but the quality of commentary continues to be outstanding. It is also gratifying to check posts from 2010 and see such stalwarts who check in still, like Tim Levier, Neil Dorr, Julian Hung, Michael R, and King Kool.  There are a few blogs that have as consistently substantive, passionate and informative commenters as Ethics Alarms, but not many. Very frequently the comments materially enhance and expand on the original post. That was my hope and objective. Thank you.

The Best of Ethics 2015 is going to be a bit more self-congratulatory this year, beginning with the very first category. Among other virtues, this approach has the advantage of closing the gap in volume between the Best and the Worst, which last year was depressing. I’m also going to post the awards in more installments, to help me get them out faster. With that said….

Here are the 2015 Ethics Alarms Awards

For the Best in Ethics:

Most Encouraging Sign That Enough People Pay Attention For Ethics Alarms To Occasionally Have Some Impact…

The Sweet Briar College Rescue. In March, I read the shocking story of how Sweet Briar College, a remarkable and storied all-women’s college in Virginia, had been closed by a craven and duplicitous board that never informed alums or students that such action was imminent. I responded with a tough post titled “The Sweet Briar Betrayal,” and some passionate alumnae determined to fight for the school’s survival used it to inform others about the issues involved and to build support. Through the ensuing months before the school’s ultimate reversal of the closing and the triumph of its supporters, I was honored to exchange many e-mails with Sweet Briar grads, and gratified by their insistence that Ethics Alarms played a significant role in turning the tide. You can follow the saga in my posts, here.

Ethics Heroes Of The Year

Dog Train

Eugene and Corky Bostick, Dog Train Proprietors. OK, maybe this is just my favorite Ethics Hero story of the year, about two retired seniors who decided to adopt old  dogs abandoned on their property to die, and came up with the wacky idea of giving them regular rides on a ‘dog train” of their own design.

Ethical Mayor Of The Year

Thomas F. Williams. When the Ferguson-driven attacks on police as racist killers was at its peak (though it’s not far from that peak now) the mayor of Norwood, Ohio, Thomas F. Williams, did exactly the opposite of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio in response to activist attacks on the integrity of his police department. He released a letter supporting his police department without qualification. At the time, I criticized him for his simultaneously attacking activists as “race-baiters.” In the perspective of the year past, I hereby withdraw that criticism.

Most Ethical Celebrity

Actor Tom Selleck. In a terrible year for this category, Selleck wins for bravely pushing his TV show “Blue Bloods” into politically incorrect territory, examining issues like racial profiling and police shootings with surprising even-handedness. The show also has maintained its openly Catholic, pro-religion perspective. Yes, this is a redundant award, as “Blue Bloods” is also a winner, but the alternative in this horrific year when an unethical celebrity is threatening to be a major party’s nominee for the presidency is not to give the award at all.

Most Ethical Talk Show Host

Stephen Colbert, who, while maintaining most of his progressive bias from his previous Comedy Central show as the successor to David Letterman, set a high standard of fairness and civility, notably when he admonished his knee-jerk liberal audience for booing  Senator Ted Cruz

Sportsman of the Year

CC Sabathia

New York Yankee pitcher C.C. Sabathia, who courageously checked himself into rehab for alcohol abuse just as baseball’s play-offs were beginning, saying in part,

“Being an adult means being accountable. Being a baseball player means that others look up to you. I want my kids — and others who may have become fans of mine over the years — to know that I am not too big of a man to ask for help. I want to hold my head up high, have a full heart and be the type of person again that I can be proud of. And that’s exactly what I am going to do.”

Runner-up: MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who dismissed the ethically-addled arguments of Pete Rose fans to reject his appeal to be have his lifetime ban for gambling lifted.  For those who wonder why football never seems to figure in this category: You’ve got to be kidding.

Ethics Movie of the Year

SpotlightTIFF2015

“Spotlight”

Runner-up: “Concussion”

Most Ethical Corporation

Tesla Motors, the anti-GM, which recalled all of its models with a particular seatbelt because one belt had failed and they couldn’t determine why. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: Tesla’s Seat Belt Recall, Moral Luck, and Ethics Chess

2014-honda-accord-airbags

Rich in CT delivers a Comment of the Day amplifying the issues in the post, Tesla’s Seat Belt Recall, Moral Luck, and Ethics Chess. Here it is:

I owned a Honda up until last year, until a deer took a gamble that it could get across the same stretch of faster than my car could. Mr. Deer ended up taking a short flight further down the road, and my car ended up taking a short tow to the junk yard.

No one (human) was hurt in this instance, and for that I am grateful.

Continue reading

Tesla’s Seat Belt Recall, Moral Luck, and Ethics Chess

Jaws victim

Ethics Alarms Chief Ethics Scout Fred found this one. Tesla was alerted to one seat belt failure in its Model S, and  recalled them all. This involved a huge cost, of course, and that cost will be eventually passed on to consumers and investors. Fred asks,

“Abundance of caution” is the phrase they used, one I gather is familiar to lawyers. Could they have justified some other response that was less catastrophically expensive? Would they have had a fiduciary duty to do so? Or would that duty lie in maintaining the brand image of meticulous quality at almost any short-term cost, building a reputation that could command premium prices for decades to come?
The issue was simply this: how much did the company want to bet on moral luck? Tesla was aware of a possible design or manufacturing flaw that could kill passengers. It could have been a fluke, and it could have been widespread. If the cars were not recalled—and I don’t know enough about Teslas to presume that there would be any other way to check every single car or replace the seat belts without the expense of a recall, so I will assume for this discussion that there is not—and one or more passenger was killed, then Tesla management would have suddenly become Sheriff Brodie and Mayor Vaughn in “Jaws,” as articulated, with a slap, by the mother of a little boy who became shark bait while playing on his yellow raft. They knew there was a possible danger, and decided that chancing it was a better call than risking the summer tourist business. They balanced the risks, and did nothing.

Ethics Quote of the Month: Dan Savage

“If being gay is a choice, prove it. Choose it. Choose to be gay yourself. Show America how that’s done, Ben, show us how a man can choose to be gay. Suck my dick. Name the time and the place and I’ll bring my dick and a camera crew and you can suck me off and win the argument.”

—Columnist and gay rights advocate Dan Savage, responding to Dr. Ben Carson’s assertion on CNN that being gay is a choice, and that men choose to become gay as a result of prison experiences.

"Hmmm...I'm straight, but that Dan Savage looks mighty good. Maybe I should choose to gay...."

“Hmmm…I’m straight, but that Dan Savage looks mighty good. Maybe I should choose to be gay….”

Some observations:

1. Savage works in shock rhetoric the way Rodin worked in marble. Yes, the response to Carson is uncivil and vulgar. As such, it is as good an example as one could find of the importance of not banning words, even the obscene, ugly and hurtful ones. They are certainly subject to abuse, like all words. Still, they have legitimate and valuable uses.

2. Unfortunately, because Savage’s own conduct in the gay rights wars has been unyieldingly abusive, contemptuous and hateful, he only amuses his own constituency, and persuades no one who needs persuading. Yet his comment deftly unmasks the absurdity and ignorance of Carson’s. If it had come from a critic who was regarded as objective and not habitually offensive for the sake of being so, Savage’s attack would have impact beyond those who already have made up their minds about Ben Carson.

3. Thus the lesson of Savage’s assault is that incivility’s effectiveness, like its justifiability, is inversely related to its rarity. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Doug Wilkey

Let’s shame this guy but good: he deserves it.

The horror.

The horror.

Dunedin, Florida 12-year-old T.J. Guerrero has received a neighbor’s  permission to set up a lemonade stand in front of his property for the last couple years. This isn’t some kind of mega-stand: it’s exactly like the ones I purchased sweet drinks of varying quality from last weekend. It’s Florida, and T.J. is unusual: he is virtually running the 3 to 7 business all year long.

Another neighbor named Doug Wilkey, 61-years-old going on “Get off my lawn, you lousy kids!,”  has emailed City Hall at least four times in two years demanding that T.J. ‘s traditional foray into junior capitalism be shut down. He says that the kid’s  operation is illegal, and that it causes excessive traffic, noise, trash, illegal parking and other problems that, he says, threaten to reduce his property values.

To its credit,  local government officials appear to have the sense of proportion Wilkey does not. “We’re not in the business of trying to regulate kids like that; nor do we want to do any code enforcement like that,” said Dunedin planning and development director Greg Rice. “We are not out there trying to put lemonade stands out of business.” Continue reading