How Cognitive Dissonance Works: A Case Study

Cognitive DissonanceJust last fall, the percentage of Americans identifying as Republicans and Democrats was essentially the same. Now, after months of the party being represented in the media by ugly, boorish, violent, dumb, name-calling Donald Trump, and the necessarily messy GOP debates that were the direct result of a major participant whose modus operandi consisted of mockery, lies and ad hominem attacks, this is the current split:

Party affiliation

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Here’s What Was REALLY Wrong With Bill Cosby’s Sweater…

Cosby sweater

Washington Post fashion editor Robin Givhan set off a lively controversy by alleging that the “grandpa” sweater Bill Cosby wore to court was a calculated and manipulative ploy to gain public sympathy. “Bill Cosby’s perp walk was striking for its overwhelming lack of grace and power. It was an exploitation of our assumptions of fragile old age,” she wrote.  “It was the explicit manipulation of a studiously unattractive sweater.”

Was it? Lawyers often micro-manage a clients’ appearance in court; when it amounts to deception, I have written that it is unethical. Cosby’s attire seems hardly deceptive; after all, he is famous for his sweaters. There is even a pop song called Cosby’s Sweater. Ann Althouse agrees with Givhan that it was “a con,” but suggests that it’s an ethical con because “everybody does it.”

I don’t understand either Givhan’s logic or Althouse’s, and if Cosby’s lawyers talked him into this costume, they did him no favors. Cosby’s best armor against the verdict of public opinion is that Cliff Huxtable would never do the horrible things he’s being accused of.  There is no better, more benign, more appealing image of Bill Cosby than “TV Bill Cosby” as we fondly remember him. In court, he looked like a dirty old man, which is what he apparently is. Cliff Huxtable wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a sweater like that to court. (Bill would have also been well-advised to shave.) Continue reading

Possible Tools Of Ethical Analysis: Strange Emotions


I’m always on the lookout for concepts and tools that can help us negotiate the difficulties humans have determining right from wrong without pollution from emotions, non-ethical considerations, logical fallacies and rationalizations. Somewhere in this list of strange emotions there may be some.

I’m thinking about them while I recuperate from my last week of exhausting travel and daily seminars—I feel like I’ve been run over by water buffalo—and invite you to think about them along with me. I’m interested in your reactions.

Strange emotions

UPDATE: I was just schooled that the origin of this list, not mentioned where I say it, is “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows,” the invention of artist and blogger John Koenig.

For Your Labor Day Ethics Edification: “The Science of Persuasion”


Making better decisions is essential to making ethical decisions, and a lot of what we discuss here relates to overcoming impediments to unethical thinking and decision-making. This 2012 video is germane to Ethics Alarms; it also includes some of the ideas in Dr. Z’s Rules, which I presented here.

This animated video describes Dr. Robert Cialdini ‘s “six universal principles of persuasion” that people and organizations tend to use to influence the thinking, values and opinions of those of us who are not willing or able to reason in an orderly and unbiased fashion. (Dr. Zimbardo las a somewhat different six). It reflects the research in Dr. Cialdini’s book, “Influence” The Science of Persuasion.”

As those who come here often know, I like to use a variety of approaches and tools. Cialdini’s framework is just one of them, but one worth understanding.

The video is a bit over 11 minutes.


Ethics Musings On The Guy With “MURDER” Tattooed On His Neck….


Hey! Cool tattoo, dude! Just don't get caught actually murdering someo...oh. Bummer.

Hey! Cool tattoo, dude! Just don’t get caught actually murdering someo…oh. Bummer.

Jeffrey Chapman, who is soon to stand trial for first degree murder in Great Bend, Kansas, wants to remove the giant tattoo that spells out the word  MURDER around his neck, believing that it will prejudice the jury against him.

Ya think?

The judge will allow Chapman to have the tattoo removed before the trial, it appears. There is precedent for this: in Florida, in 2010, a neo-Nazi charged with hate crimes was permitted to have the hate-related tattoos on his face and neck, including a swastika, covered up by a professional make-up artist. It was paid for by the state, naturally.


  • I suppose this is the necessary and fair decision by the judge. Lawyer-pundit Alan Dershowitz made some interesting points regarding the Florida case, however, suggesting that the swastika and other tattoos were an extension of tattooed defendant John Allan Ditullio’s character, and covering them could be construed as misleading the jury. “He is alleged to have attacked people on the basis of sex orientation and race. The court has the chance to make its rulings based on whether the tattoos are relevant to the case,” Dershowitz said. “It depends on what the prosecution is trying to prove. If they are saying his Nazi ideology drove him, then you could argue that seeing the tattoos is relevant.” Dershowitz noted that his tattoos were obviously the way he chooses to present himself publicly. “It’s not like the swastika was on his rear end,” he said.

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An Unethical Website, Golden Rule Malpractice And The Worst Anti-Bullying Program Ever


bully2buddy logo

The Golden Rule is a valuable ethics tool. No question about it. Its best feature is that it compels an ethical point of view, causing us to think about the impact of one’s conduct on others. This simple shift of perspective—that’s the other virtue of the Golden Rule: it’s simple; a child can understand it—-distances us from the powerful ethics alarms-muffling effects of non-ethical considerations, which are primarily our subjective wants and needs, and forces us to look past them to more ethical objectives.

The Golden Rule is not, however, a panacea, or even the most useful ethical system. It doesn’t work in complex systems , or when multiple inter-related interests are involved, or when chaos looms. You can’t run a successful business, organization or nation using only the Golden Rule; you can’t have a coherent legal system, or the rule of law, or a banking system. Yet there are a lot of people, many of them with advanced degrees, best-selling books and millions of followers, who continue to practice Golden Rule malpractice and preach that it will solve all society’s ills, despite the fact that the most cursory examination of history and human nature makes it blindingly clear that much as we would wish it otherwise, this just isn’t true. Some of these people are well-meaning, good-hearted chumps. Some are insane. Many are fanatics. Some of them are con-artists. All of them are dangerous.

The latter was illustrated when the fifth-graders in Lincoln, Nebraska’s Zeman Elementary School received flyers on how to deal with bullying. (To get the side issues this blog deals with periodically out of the way at the outset, the incompetent and naive advice the flyer contained is one of an endless number of examples of how the education establishment is inadequately trained, staffed and regulated to be trusted with the welfare of young children, and how any parent who blithely entrusts their offspring to public schools without monitoring them closely is irresponsible, because teachers and school administrators cannot be trusted to exercise good judgment.) The flyer contained some “rules” for bullied children to apply after and during bullying episodes. The flyer was disavowed after the Lincoln, Nebraska school system’s Facebook page melted from the abuse poured on it by shocked and disgusted parents, and so far, at least, nobody has transcribed all of what is barely readable on this photo of it, and I don’t see or type well enough to do it myself: Continue reading

The “Too Handsome To Rape” Defense

Sharper, Mathis, Ted Bundy.

Sharper, Mathis, Ted Bundy.

For whatever reason, there have been a lot of attacks on the legal profession lately—and some from within the legal profession—because of so-called “disgusting” and “frivolous” arguments by lawyers who are zealously representing their clients. These range from outrage over the so-called “affluenza” defense (which, it apparently does no good to point out, was explicitly rejected by the judge in that case), to the law suit against the Glendale, California memorial to women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese in World War II, to the argument that Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy was complicit in his son’s allegedly murdering his girlfriend because Remy hired a lawyer who mounted a vigorous defense in the son’s earlier domestic abuse arrests.

Lawyers are ethically obligated to advance whatever non-frivolous arguments and theories that are most likely to achieve their clients’ objectives, whether it is avoiding prison or rationalizing the crimes of the Japanese army. That is their job and societal function, and it is essential to our avoiding a jack-boot system where any of us could be thrown in jail by popular opinion or government edict. The laws are there to be used by every citizen, even when the citizen’s objectives are unethical, or when the citizen is a cur.

Our rights are all protected well by this principle, and it’s high time we stopped bitching about it.

Undeterred by this, however, yet another defense attorney is being savaged in the news media and blogosphere, as well as by women’s rights advocates, for making an argument in defense of his client that they find offensive. In Georgia, Darriuos Mathis and his legal team are making the argument, among their efforts to show that the evidence against him is not sufficiently conclusive, that Mathis is too attractive--fit, handsome, sexy– to have to resort to kidnapping and raping a 24-year-old woman two years ago, which is what he charged with.

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Ethics Quote of the Month: Ken At Popehat

“Evil exists. Good people should fight evil. But government is often the wrong instrument to fight evil. The people doing sick and contemptible things to children in the name of “curing” homosexuality very likely feel as strongly as I do, and might — if they got their way — use government to achieve their ends. People who love liberty must fight with their heads, not just their hearts.”

—– Ken, the First Amendment besotted lawyer/blogger/libertarian/wit who reigns at Popehat, writing about his doubts regarding California’s ban of so-called “conversion therapy.”

I recommend that you read the whole post, and everything Ken writes, basically.

I’m somewhat less conflicted than Ken in my opposition to this legislation, and wrote about the ban earlier this year, here, and here.

“Progressive” Totalitarianism In California: Legislative Quackery, and Wrong

Well, they did it.

If you think Jerry’s moonbeam has expired, you should see Linda…

The California Sate Legislature,  spurred on by State Senator Ted Lieu and with the approval of erstwhile “Governor Moonbeam” (nobody calls Jerry Brown this anymore since he went bald and gray, but he’ll always be that in my heart! ), has decreed that if you think your son or daughter may be confused about their sexuality, you’re out of luck, or you’d better move to a state that hasn’t made political correctness mandatory—which is to say, to this degree, anyway, any of the rest. It’s a truly sickening law, and the fact that none of the news reporting of it indicates that the reporters are properly nauseous scares the pants off of me.

I wrote about this despicable measure when it was still a twinkle in California’s jaundiced eye, and I’m not going to repeat myself—except to reiterate that my objections have nothing to do with believing that “gay conversion therapy”  is usually anything but a wishful and desperate brainwashing attempt by parents who are homophobic and whose religion teaches them that Satan just chose to give their son the Pervert Virus. Nonetheless, therapists talk, and this is a law that tells them what they can and can’t talk about. Ethics Foul I: abuse of power and violation of  Free Speech.  Continue reading

Incompetent Elected Officials of the Month: The California State Legislature

California knows what’s best for your maybe-gay child, not your child’s therapist. Resistance is futile…

California’s legislature is poised to pass legislation that would ban state doctors, counselors and therapists from offering sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) treatment for minors, and parents from seeking them. The rationale is a tangle of research, opinion, politics, ideology and political correctness that makes distinguishing legitimate reasons from illegitimate ones impossible. The end result, however, is a law that tells counselors and therapists what is appropriate treatment regardless of their expertise and the wishes of parents, because, of course, the typically moderately IQ-endowed legislators know best, or rather the gay rights advocates who dictate to them do. Either way, this is a serious intrusion of government into the counseling profession, free speech, parental authority and individual freedom, and any competent elected official would see that the second such an over-reaching and presumptuous bill reached his or her desk. Continue reading