The Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List Welcomes The Know-It-All’s Dodge,Or “I Knew This Would Happen”

Obama

The Know-It-All’s Dodge has been hanging around waiting for me to add it to the Rationalizations List for a long time. I should have added it when President Barack Obama exploded my head with this exchange, in 2015, regarding his pathetic and disastrous handling of the Syrian civil war.

In an interview with CBS’s Steve Kroft, who had earlier in Obama’s administration stated outright that his questions to the President would not be confrontational ones, there was this:

KROFT: You have been talking a lot about the moderate opposition in Syria. It seems very hard to identify. And you talked about the frustrations of trying to find some and train them. You had a half-a-billion dollars from congress to train and equip 5,000, and at the end, according to the commander of CENTCOM, you got 50 people, most of whom are, are dead or deserted. He said you’ve got four or five left.

OBAMA: Steve, this is why I’ve been skeptical from the get-go about the notion that we were going to effectively create this proxy army inside of Syria.

KABOOM!

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The Annoying 70th Rationalization: The Idiot’s Proof, or “Some Say…”

moronic-idiot

There I was, half-asleep, drinking my second cup of double caffeine coffee, considering how I had already missed the window for Saturday blog posts (if at least two posts aren’t up by 12:30 pm., the day’s traffic will be pathetic), and watching the Smithsonian’s educational and attractive “Aerial America” series, where a staid narrator waxes on abut various locales as a we see them from a lying camera above. (Did YOU know that “penitentiary” is a word devised by William Penn, who designed Pennsylvania prisons to cause criminals to be penitent (by making them spend their sentences in solitary confinement? I didn’t, and now I feel really stupid.)

Suddenly, as the airplane flew low over Central Park in Manhattan, I heard the narrator proclaim, “Some say that more gunpowder was used to make the ponds and landscapes in Central Park than was used during the Battle of Gettysburg.”

ARRGH! THAT again!

And there it was.

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Ethics Warm-Up, 11/15/2019: Idiots, “Friends,” Rationalizations And Doing Things The Hard Way

The Korean War memorial on the Washington Mall….moving and ghostly.

Greetings!

1. The media, doing its best to make the public stupid. Yesterday the collected dolts  of “The View” managed to mangle the concept of hearsay, following a Democrat rep’s absurd contention that hearsay evidence cold be “better” than  direct testimony.  The panel show also misrepresented how the Clinton impeachment proceeded.

Sunny Hostin, the alleged conservative on the panel,  said that  President Clinton’s impeachment  was the result of Linda Tripp’s  testimony, saying , “Clinton was impeached because of Linda Tripp’s testimony, which was complete hearsay!”

How wrong can a statement be? Clinton was impeached because he lied under oath in a hearing involving the civil law suit against him by Paula Jones (as well as for lying to a grand jury and obstruction of justice.) Tripp had made an illegal tape recording of Lewinsky, which was not hearsay. Tripp’s tape was used to get Lewinsky to admit the affair, which was clearly not hearsay. Then there was that stained dress. Had not direct testimony and physical evidence backed up Tripp’s account, Clinton almost certainly   not have been impeached

2. This is why we can’t have nice things. It was inevitable, with all the recent resurgence in interest in the 90s sitcom “Friends,” that the long-running and still-popular show would finally be subjected to one of those depressing reunion specials. This was especially likely because the aging cast isn’t much in demand these days, and mots of them could use a boost.

But Beware, “Friends,” the woke posse is watching. The show about six white hetero singles living in New York was not diverse, and has been criticized in the 15 years since it ended for being implicitly racist, sexist, and anti-LGBTQ. Thus the Righteous have decreed, “Friends’ reunion is all we have wanted for years, but HBO Max version better have more racial diversity and LGBTQ representation.”

Thus we get this,

[T]he iconic NBC show is not without its problems, and yet it entertained us in real-time for ten years and for years after that, making us laugh on the days we are feeling low and making us believe that they will be there for us. It is only natural that we want to relive those feelings again, but even those of us who grew up on ‘Friends’ have outgrown those insensitive jabs about Chandler’s (Mathew Perry) drag queen father, unwarranted fat-shaming of Monica (Courtney Cox), repeated complicity of Joey’s (Matt LeBlanc) sexism and so on.

When the show does return in – hopefully – 2020 for an HBO Max audience, we should hope that it is rich in diversity without it being about tokenism. It is unfathomable that this group of friends who live in New York, the melting pot of America, hasn’t made friends with more diverse backgrounds. Even more so, it is difficult to believe that they haven’t even interacted with people of different sexualities, sexual identities, and races for them to know better than to make jokes about them. It may have flown in the 90s and 2000s, but it definitely isn’t going to in the current day and age.

No, we should hope that it is funny, but if awkward virtue signalling and making sure that all the EEOC boxes are checked while making up for ten years of insensitively showing a group of friends who hung out primarily with people like themselves (like most of us), are going to be the priorities, and you know they will be, it would be kinder and more responsible to leave Ross, Chandler, Joey, Phoebe, Rachel and Monica where they belong—in the past, on re-runs.

Incidentally, one of the two funniest jokes I ever heard on “Friends” involved “fat-shaming.” The groups was watching an old home movie taken when Monica was a grossly over-weight teen. The now svelte woman, embarrassed, said, “They say that the camera makes you look 15 pounds heavier,” to which Chandler replied, “Just how many cameras were on you?”

3. Upon reflection, I don’t think I need to add this new rationalization. The Rationalization List is stuck at 99, and I have been wondering what #100 would be. When I was writing about the now-fired Canadian hockey pundit Don Cherry bringing himself down with his big mouth, I was annoyed by how many of his defenders argued that Don was just being Don, and since he was always Don, and “didn’t mean anything” by being Don, and was popular because he was Don, being Don shouldn’t be held against him. I suspect this bothered me so much because it appears to be the only thing keeping Joe Biden from being ripped to pieces by #MeToo Furies, as he richly deserves to be. So briefly I considered the need for a “It’s just who he is” rationalization.

Upon reflection, I demurred. This is cutting the rationalizations too thin. We already have Rationalization 41 A. Popeye’s Excuse, or “I am what I am”:

Sure, let’s stipulate that the jerk is exactly who and what he presents himself as being. This doesn’t excuse his conduct in any way. He is what he is, and what he is is an irresponsible, narcissistic, rude, boorish, uncivil, nasty, destructive, ignorant, impulsive untrustworthy and despicable creep. Being a real  irresponsible, narcissistic, rude, boorish, uncivil, nasty, destructive, ignorant, impulsive untrustworthy and despicable creep is no more ethical than being a phony one. In this case, transparency is not a virtue.

..and Joe Biden even has his own rationalization springing from Cherry-like excuses, Rationalization 38B, Joe Biden’s Inoculation or “I don’t deny that I do this!”

A sub-rationalization to #38. The Miscreant’s Mulligan or “Give him/her/them/me a break!,” Joe Biden’s Inoculation argues that habitual bad conduct is mitigated by one’s open admission and acknowledgment that one’s engaging in it is an ongoing problem.

I think this base is well covered. The search for #100 goes on…

4. Why didn’t she just take the bar exam one more time?  I don’t understand this story at all.

Roberta Guedes graduated from Stetson University College of Law in 2014, but she  failed to pass the Florida Bar exam twice. The traditional remedy for this is boning up and taking the exam again, and again if necessary, but noooooo. 

Instead, federal prosecutors say, she used the name of a classmate  to register two new law firms with the state Division of Corporations. Agnieszka Piasecka attended law school with Roberta, and the friends  talked about starting a law firm together, When Guedes flunked the bar exam, Piasecka who did not flunk,   opened her own firm in Clearwater,  specializing in wills and trusts, immigration, and divorce cases.

The plot began when Guedes offered Piasecka the free use of her  office in downtown Tampa to meet with clients a few times.

In September 2014, Guedes incorporated a firm she called Ferguson and McKenzie LLC, listing Piasecka as its registered agent. In November, she started a second legal services business called Immigration and Litigation Law Office, Inc., listing another woman, Arlete Chouinard, as a vice president and manager.  Neither Piasecka nor Chouinard knew about this. She created websites for both companies, including claims of  national and international offices that didn’t exist, and faked partners and associates using stock photos. She also represented clients, accepting fees while never telling them that she had no license.

Now Guedes, 40, faces prison time after pleading guilty to federal charges of mail fraud and aggravated identity theft. It is fair to say that it is now too late to pass the bar exam.

Introducing Rationalizations #25B, and #25C: “I’m Just Doing My Job,” and “It’s Policy!”

Here are two  more rationalizations for the list, bringing the grand total to 89.

#25B  The Nuremberg Rationalization, or “I’m Just Doing My Job!”

Amazing: 87 previous rationalizations described, and the word “Nuremberg” did not appear once.

Rationalization # 25. The Coercion Myth, covers the excuse for unethical conduct that the actor “had no choice,” and # 25A. Frederick’s Compulsion or “It’s My Duty!” posits that duty excuses wrongdoing. #25 B follows the theme of denying free will by using the fact of employment to justify or excuse unethical conduct. It embodies the defense of the Nazi officers at the Nuremberg Trials that because they followed the orders of others, they were simply agents, and their horrible crimes against humanity should not bring them punishment…after all, they had no choice. It was their duty to follow orders, because that was their job.

We all need jobs, but we all have a choice whether to remain in a job or not. Sometimes it’s not a very attractive choice, and even a frightening one, in which choosing the ethical course requires personal sacrifice. Nonetheless, when a job requires one to commit unethical acts, the choice is this: quit the job and refuse to perform the unethical act, or commit the unethical act, following orders but accepting the responsibility, accountability and consequences of doing so.

For inspiration, we need look no further than the first admittee to the Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Honor, the amazing Henri Salmide.

From the Ethics Alarms post:

In 1944, Salmide was a German officer in the 159th Infantry Division of the German army occupying the French city of Bordeaux, the largest seaport on the west coast. It was August 19, and Allied Forces were spreading out from the beaches at Normandy and taking control of the war. An order came from Berlin calling on the Division to destroy the entire seven miles of port infrastructure before abandoning the city. The port’s destruction was scheduled to occur within a week.

“It fell to me,” Salmide recounted in an interview, because, as head of the bomb disposal unity, he had expertise with explosives. “I couldn’t do it. I knew the war was lost. What was the point of this, I asked myself. People would die and suffer, and the war would still be lost by Germany.”

On  August 22, he filled a bunker at the docks with detonators, plungers, timers and other hardware needed for the planned demolition. But instead of using them to destroy Bordeaux, Salmide blew them up with dynamite, in a terrifying explosion. “It was all I could do,” he said later.

French historians estimate he saved 3,500 lives by refusing to carry out his orders. About fifty Nazi soldiers died in the blast instead. “I could not accept that the port of Bordeaux be wantonly destroyed when the war was clearly lost,” he explained in an interview. “I acted according to my Christian conscience.”

Salmide deserted, and was hunted by both the Gestapo and the French authorities. He hid with the French Resistance for the remainder of the war. Then Salmide adopted a French name, married a local woman, became citizen of France, and raised his family in the very city his conscience had rescued. The Germans regarded him as a traitor, and even the French were reluctant to give him the recognition he deserved, according to his wife.

“No one wanted to admit that he had done it,” Mrs. Salmide told the New York Times. “If he had been French, it would have been easier for him.”  It was not until 2000 that the French government finally awarded him the French Legion of Honor,* and the Bordeaux City Hall said this week that it wants to erect a memorial to Salmide.

His best and most lasting memorial, however, would be for his story to be known around the world, and taught in every school, of every nation. For when any of us finds ourselves being required to act under authority to accomplish unjust and cruel ends—to blindly do our job, knowing that the results would harm others unjustly, and we wonder if it is fair for us to be accountable for our actions when, in reality, we seem to have no choice, we should recall Henri Salmide. His moment of courage should remind us that we are always accountable, and we always have a choice, provided we also have the ethics and courage to take it.

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The New Rationalization #23: The Dealer’s Excuse, or “I’m just giving them what they want!”

The new Rationalization #23, The Dealer’s Excuse. or “I’m just giving them what they want!” now bumps Woody’s Excuse: “The heart wants what the heart wants” to sub-rationalization status as 23A.

Good. Woody Allen doesn’t deserve a free-standing rationalization.

While narcissist Woody’s contribution to the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations list states that something is ethical if you want it badly enough, as in, “I really, really want to have sex with my adopted daughter,” its recently revealed parent hold that conduct becomes justifiable and benign if there is a market for it. Woody’s excuse is bad, but this is worse. For one thing, it’s usually disingenuous. Those who employ the Dealer’s Excuse aren’t providing a service out of altruistic motives, but out of the profit motive. They want the money they can make by doing unethical things that make society uglier, dysfunctional and dangerous, and they really don’t care if their customers come to a bad end or bring miseries to others.

The most famous exposition of The Dealer’s Excuse is in “The Godfather,” as Don Corleone and the other mafia heads discuss their “business.” The Godfather is balking at adding drugs to the mob’s businesses, and says:

When — when did I ever refuse an accommodation? All of you know me here — when did I ever refuse? — except one time. And why? Because — I believe this drug business — is gonna destroy us in the years to come. I mean, it’s not like gambling or liquor — even women –which is something that most people want nowadays, and is forbidden to them by the pezzonovante of the Church. Even the police departments that’ve helped us in the past with gambling and other things are gonna refuse to help us when in comes to narcotics. And I believed that — then — and I believe that now.

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Unethical Website Of The Month: Redbubble [UPDATED]

Just because we have free speech and any company can peddle uncivil, hateful and divisive political stickers, decals and T-shirts doesn’t mean doing so is right, responsible, or good citizenship. [NOTE: In the original post, I represented that Redbubble made or designed this merchandise. That was mistaken (thanks to Alexander Cheezem for the correction.]

Above is a sample of what this site sells to encourage juvenile, inarticulate and boorish Americans to breach manners and standards of appropriate political speech, so they can  make our neighborhoods as ugly, angry and divided as possible. There is a lot more.

People like those running Redbubble (and the creators of the merchandise, of course) are the political equivalent of professional arsonists. They profit from making the country and the culture worse.

Is “I’m just giving people what they want” on the Rationalizations List yet? I don’t think so.

I better fix that.

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Pointer: Zoltar Speaks

A New Rationalization For A Slow Sunday: #57A The Utilitarian Cheat, or “If It Saves Just One Life”

On another thread, a reader attacked the Rationalization List <GASP!>,, the beating heart of Ethics Alarms, arguing that many of what are labelled rationalizations are valid justifications and cited as such on this very site. A vile canard! Of course many rationalizations can also be valid arguments for or against conduct. Take #59. The Ironic Rationalization, or “It’s The Right Thing To Do.” We do the right things because they are right, but we also have calculated why they are right, which means dealing with and rebutting the counter-arguments that might suggest those decisions are not right.  However, #59 addresses the frequent use of the “It’s the right thing to do” as a argument-ender, employing it as evidence when it really has to be a conclusion based on other evidence and analysis.

The latest addition to the Ethics Alarms Rationalization List does not have this problem. It is almost always a cheap rhetorical device, slyly edging what needs to be a clear-eyed, rational analysis of proposed conduct into the confounding realm of emotion. #57 A, The Utilitarian Cheat or “If its saves just one life” is a sub-rationalization under #57, 57. The Universal Trump, or “Think of the children!”  (It could easily be the other way around.)

#57 A. The Utilitarian Cheat or “If it saves just one life”

Invoking Rationalization #57A is as good a test as there is for identifying an untrustworthy demagogue. The claim that something is worth enacting, eliminating, establishing or doing is ethically and morally validates “if it saves juts one life” is aimed directly at the mushy minds of sentimentalists  and the dangerously compassionate. If the argument is made in good faith, the speaker is an incompetent dolt; usually it is the desperate last resort of a someone who has found that their real arguments are inadequate or unpersuasive.

The insidious trick inherent in the device is that we agree that human life is precious, and that we can not and will not place a dollar sign on a human being. The next step, however, in which a single life, or even many, is deemed justification for any expense or other draconian societal trade-offs, is impractical and irrational. It would save many lives if automobiles were built like tanks and could never exceed five miles an hour. Locking up ever angry husband that threatened the life of an estranged spouse with a menacing phone call would save many lives. So would forcing women to carry their babies to term, eliminating the right to have an abortion. Torture used without restrictions probably would save one life or more. Prohibition was sold using #57A.

All of these policy conundrums and many others are too complex by far to use simple-minded absolutism as their ethical guideline, and about 30 seconds of logical clarity will usually make that clear.  Those who employ The Utilitarian Cheat, however, don’t want clarity. It is an appeal to embrace acts that can do wide-ranging harm to society, civilization, human aspirations and liberty, because un-named lives can be saved. Though it is opposite of the exploitation of human life for other goals that Kantian ethics forbids, it is equally invalid.

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Graphic: gunssavelives.net

It’s Sexual Harassment Day!

biden-harassment

Unfortunately, it will be a while before I get to the next ethics topic. Accompanied by the ProEthics acting troupe, The Ethical Arts Players, I’ll be running not just one but two harassment awareness and avoidance trainings today. Avoiding harassing conduct is only applied ethics after all; it should be easy, but it isn’t.

I’ll be talking about some high profile cases that have been discussed here: the Trump-Billy Bush video, naturally; Ellen Degeneris’s cute sexual harassment of Jake Gyllenhaal on television that nobody complained about because…she’s Ellen! ; and the most relevant of all for the group I’ll be talking to, made up of scientists and academics, this story.

Sexual harassers come in many varieties, and this reminds me that I need to write more about the topic. Here are 15 types that have been identified in the wild so far, but hybrids and mutants are also out there:

  1. The Power Player: A “quid pro quo” harasser: the boss.
  2. The Counselor: Exploiting mentor relationships, abusing tryst
  3. The Leader of the Pack: Leading group embarrassment or marginalization
  4. The Serial Harasser: The Intentional and shameless abuser. With all that has gone on in the law and public eye, they are still out there in force.
  5. The Groper: Hands and Eyes. Yes, that’s Joe Biden…
  6. The Opportunist: Awaiting their chances, and ready to pounce on the trusting, vulnerable and needy
  7. The Bully : Sexual harassment as punishment, manipulation or just for sadistic fun
  8. The Confidante: Building trust to abuse it, that Platonic friend who’s not really platonic.
  9. The Pest: Polite, but not taking “no” for an answer
  10. The Sympathetic Harasser – Exploiting a crisis
  11. The Gallant: Misusing compliment and manners to marginalize, the kind of harassment women often don’t notice. (Barack Obama is one.)
  12. The Nerd: Socially inept individuals who desire the attentions of their targets, and who often don’t see that they do not reciprocate these feelings.
  13. The Stalker: Watching, trailing, bothering, tracking. The most dangerous harasser.
  14. The Blunderer : An accidental or clueless harasser
  15. The Star: The open harasser who’s status prevents him from being called one, or called to account.

 

Introducing Rationalization #63. Irrelevant Civility and #64 A. Bluto’s Mistake

The most infuriating comment threads on Ethics Alarms are those in which one or more intelligent readers are desperately tying to dispute the indisputable ethics breach, and finding no substantive ethical argument because there are none, desperately throw one rationalization after another against the metaphorical wall to see if they’ll stick. They don’t of, course.

Occasionally, however, there is a benefit to the exercise: in their furious effort to find an legitimate argument while hunting through the rationalization dumpster, one of the protesters uncovers one that the Ethics Alarms Rationalization List had thus far missed. So it is with one of the most rationalization-choked exchanges ever to break-out on this site, the debate over the cast of “Hamilton” crossing multiple ethics lines, thick red ones, to exploit the  opportunity for political grandstanding occasioned by Vice-President Elect Mike Peck engaging in the benign and supportive act of attending their show. (The posts on this episode are here and here.) Not only was a new rationalization revealed#63, Irrelevant Civility or “But I was nice about it!”—but my thinking about that one revealed that I had also missed another one, distinct but related, #63A, Bluto’s Mistake or “I said I was sorry!”

The total number of rationalizations on the list now stands at 80.

Rationalization 63. Irrelevant Civility or “But I was nice about it!” Continue reading

Presenting Rationalization 21A: The Criminal’s Redemption or “It’s Just A Small Part Of What I Am!”

I have to get this one in before I forget.

"See? The bad part is that little light blue section at the top! What are you making a big deal about it for?"

“See? The bad part is that little light blue section at the top! What are you making a big deal about it for?”

In the interest of non-partisanship and fairness, I resisted the temptation to call 21A “The Planned Parenthood Excuse.” It was a close call, for it was a Planned Parenthood debate that made me realize that this rationalization was missing from the list.

Opponents of Planned Parenthood who want to see the organization defunded believe that abortion is morally and ethically wrong. In 2013-2014, Planned Parenthood performed 327,653 abortions. Arguing that this should not cause even abortion opponents to seek to defund the organization, its defenders inevitably argue: “Abortions are just a small part of what Planned Parenthood does.”

The Washington Post’s factchecker examined various claims about what proportion of Planned Parenthood’s activities involve abortions, which misses the ethical point entirely. If abortion is wrong, indeed unnecessary homicide in most cases, then it doesn’t matter what else an organization does in addition to 327,653 abortions, or what proportion of its total activities taking 327,653 innocent human lives is. “Abortions are just a small part of what Planned Parenthood does” is a ridiculous defense, except to those who believe that abortions are nothing to get upset about, and the equivalent of removing a polyp. That is not, however, the perspective of those who oppose abortion, so the argument isn’t an argument at all.

For someone who accepts that abortion is a legal but unnecessary and therefore unethical taking of life, “Abortions are just a small part of what Planned Parenthood does” is a pure rationalization: a lie that makes people feel better about their own wrongdoing, or the wrongdoing of someone else.

In the interests of not getting social policy mixed up with the rationalization, however, we’ll describe the new entry without reference to abortion.

Rationalization 21A. The Criminal’s Redemption, or “It’s Just A Small Part Of What I Am!”

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