OK, Facebook Friends, Let’s Pretend It Isn’t Kavanaugh…Let’s Pretend It’s ME.

I’ve had this post composed in my head for some time, and have hesitated to complete it. I really don’t like upsetting people I care about, much as some might think otherwise.

However, there has been such escalating fanaticism on Facebook (and elsewhere, of course), ringing through the echo chamber, about how Dr. Ford must be “believed” and how the judge is a “serial rapist,” I have to ask: would you all treat me this way? Would you react to seeing my career and reputation derailed by the sudden appearance of a high school acquaintance who announces that she has only recently come to realize that I had sexually assaulted her at a party? After hearing my denials, would you decided to determine that her account, with no verification by any witnesses, with the large amount of time past and with absolutely nothing in my record, professional or private life, to suggest any such proclivities, should be sufficient to have me labelled as untrustworthy?

Don’t resort to the “but he’s going to sit on the Supreme Court” trick. I’m a professional ethicist: an accusation that is widely metastasized into doubts about my character, including using it to tar me a liar, would be just as ruinous to me as the late hit on Kavanaugh is disastrous to him. There is no “well, this is wrong UNLESS its a Supreme Court nominee” principle: that’s a pure rationalization. No, if the Ford accusation, with all of its flaws, its basis in fading and rediscovered memories, the fact that it involved juveniles, all of that, and the objective professional observations by Rachel Mitchell that found several reasons why Ford’s testimony was incredible, is still enough to allow you to condemn Judge Kavanaugh, then it must be enough for you to condemn me too.

But I’ll make it easier for you: let’s say its me that is the current Supreme Court nominee, and me that your favorite party has condemned as a threat to civilization. (And lets assume that you haven’t read any of my judicial decisions either.) Continue reading

Review: Ethics Alarms Concepts And Special Terms

Recently updating the Ethics Alarms list of concepts and frequently used terms reminded me that I had been meaning to post them for review and assistance to those relatively new here. Of course, the link has always been right there at the top of the home page, but I have this sneaking suspicion that it isn’t visited very often.  Here, then, is the up-to-date list.

CONCEPTS

Non-Ethical Considerations: Defined above, non-ethical considerations are important because they are often the powerful impediments to ethical conduct, and the cause of many conflicts of interest. Non-ethical considerations are many and diverse, and include:

  • The need and desire for shelter, health, wealth, fame, security, self-esteem, reputation, power, professional advancement, comfort, love, sex, praise, credit, appreciation, affection, or satisfaction
  • The desire for the health, comfort, safety, welfare and happiness for one’s family, loved ones, friends, colleagues, an co-workers
  • The pursuit of vengeance or retribution
  • Hunger, lust, pain, ambition, prejudice, bias, hatred, laziness, fatigue, disgust, anger, fear
  • …and many more

Ethical Dilemma: This is an ethical problem in which the ethical choice involves ignoring a powerful non-ethical consideration. Do the right thing, but lose your job, a friend, a lover, or an opportunity for advancement. A non-ethical consideration can be powerful and important enough to justify choosing it over the strict ethical action.

Ethical Conflict: When two ethical principles demand opposite results in the same situation, this is an ethical conflict. Solving ethical conflicts may require establishing a hierarchy or priority of ethical principles, or examining the situation through another ethical system.

Ethical Gray Area: Gray areas are situations and problems that don’t fit neatly into any existing mode of ethical analysis. In some cases, there may even be a dispute regarding whether ethics is involved.

Reciprocity: The ethical system embodied by The Golden Rule, and given slightly different form in other religions and philosophies. It is a straight-forward way of judging conduct affecting others by putting oneself in the position of those affected. Reciprocity should always be available in any ethical analysis, but it is frequently too simple to be helpful in complex ethical situations with multiple competing interests.

Absolutism: Absolutist systems do not permit any exception to certain ethical principles. The champion of all absolutists, philosopher Immanuel Kant, declared that the ethical act was one that the actor was willing to have stand as a universal principle.

One principle of absolutism is that human beings can never be harmed for any objective, no matter how otherwise worthwhile. Absolutism has the advantage of making tough ethical calls seem easy, and the disadvantage of making debate impossible. One sees absolutism reflected today in the controversies over war, torture, abortion, cloning, and capital punishment.

Utilitarianism: Utilitarianism accepts the existence of ethical conflicts and the legitimacy of some ethical dilemmas, and proposes ethical analysis based on the question, “Which act will result in the greatest good for the greatest number of people?’ It entails the balancing of greater and lesser goods, and is useful for unraveling complex ethical problems. Its drawback, or trap, is that utilitarianism can slide into “The ends justify the means” without some application of absolutist and reciprocity principles.

Consequentialism: In formal ethics, utilitarian schools of philosophy are sometimes lumped together as “consequentialism,” in that the ethical decision-making is based on seeking the best result. Here we just uses the above term, utilitarianism.  Consequentialsm, in contrast, is the flawed belief that the rightness or wrongness, or even wisdom, of chosen conduct is measures by its actual results rather than its intended results. If “if all worked out for the best,” in other words, the conduct that created the desirable result most have been ethical, whatever its intent or however the conduct was determined to be necessary or desirable. This is a fallacy.

Cognitive Dissonance:
Cognitive dissonance is a psychological phenomenon first identified by Leon Festinger. It occurs when there is a discrepancy between what a person believes, knows and values, and persuasive information that calls these into question. The discrepancy causes psychological discomfort, and the mind adjusts to reduce the discrepancy. In ethics, cognitive dissonance is important in its ability to alter values, such as when an admired celebrity embraces behavior that his or her admirers deplore. Their dissonance will often result in changing their attitudes toward the behavior. Dissonance also leads to rationalizations of unethical conduct, as when the appeal and potential benefits of a large amount of money makes unethical actions to acquire it seem less objectionable than if they were applied to smaller amounts.

Moral Luck: The common situation where an unethical act is only discovered, noticed, or deemed worthy of condemnation due to unpredictable occurrences that come as a result of the act or that affect its consequences. Moral luck is the difference, for example, between two mildly intoxicated drivers, one of whom arrives home without incident, while the other has an unwary child dash in front of his automobile, leading to a fatal accident that he couldn’t have avoided if completely sober. Yet the unlucky driver will be a pariah in the community, while the more fortunate driver goes on with his life.

SPECIAL TERMS USED ON ETHICS ALARMS

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Trump’s Critics And The “Julie Principle” Follow-Up: And If You Don’t Pounce On Every Silly Trump Tweet Like It Was A Threat To The Constitution, You Won’t Be As Likely To Have THIS Happen…

doh-dohFrom PHILADELPHIA (CBS/CNN)

“President-elect Donald Trump is coming under fire that there should be “consequences” for flag burners, but in 2005, Hillary Clinton backed a bill that would have criminalized burning the American flag.

While she was senator of New York, Clinton co-sponsored the Flag Protection Act of 2005, which would have outlawed “destroying or damaging a U.S. flag with the primary purpose and intent to incite or produce imminent violence or a breach of the peace.”

You see, another benefit of practicing”The Julie Principle” is that it provides some protection from confirmation bias, which, as Ethics Alarms keeps telling you, makes you stupid, and cognitive dissonance, which warps your perception. Let me return to another section of the original “Julie Principle” post: Continue reading

Trump, His Critics, And The Julie Principle

We return now to “The Julie Principle,” an ethics concept I introduced three and a half  years ago. “The Julie Principle lies at the center of tolerance in its most productive sense. It also will keep you from going crazy “ was how the post was introduced. Here is the guts of it.

When a characteristic or a behavior pattern appears to be hard-wired into someone, it makes no sense to keep complaining about it. You either resolve to tolerate it ( and accept responsibility for the consequences of doing so), or decide that it is too much to endure, meaning that the relationship has to end.  “Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly…” [ Note: this is the most famous lyric in the second most famous song in “Showboat,” “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man o’ Mine,” sung by the tragic, abused mulatto Julie.]

The Julie Principle comes in handy in resolving many ethical dilemmas. In making an ethical analysis requiring balancing, the illusion, when it is an illusion, that a major part of the equation can be removed by just a little more advocacy, education or pressure permanently warps the process. We have been debating same-sex marriage here in several threads, and the illusion that gays can change their orientation, that it is a choice rather than part of their essence, is a massive impediment to reaching a rational accord. The Julie Principle applies. Do we want gay Americans to be part, and feel like a part, of the American fabric, or do we want to make what is essential to their being a deal-breaker? We’re the ones with the choice, not them.

I think the Julie Principle makes the choice obvious. It makes the choice obvious in the immigration debate as well. All those illegals are here. They have ties to family, the economy and the community: they aren’t leaving. “Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly…” Does it make sense to keep punishing million of people for what they can’t change, or do we accept them for the good they can do from this point on? Sure, it would be preferable if we hadn’t allowed so many to walk across our boarders…But it’s too late to do anything about that. 

Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly…”

The challenge in executing the Julie Principle is how you accept your bird or fish without letting that act corrupt your own values, or stop you from continuing to advocate and fight for them.

The left-wing media and still-bitter Democrats and progressives really need to learn the Julie Principle regarding Donald Trump, and fast. It might be too late to stop them from going crazy, but if they don’t learn it, they will drive everyone else crazy, and still accomplish nothing. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Boston’s A-Rod Dilemma

newsday-AROD

This is a really, really hard one.

Over the weekend, as reported here, Yankee superstar/pariah/cheating jerk for the ages Alex Rodriguez announced that he would “retire” after next Friday night’s game. He’s not really retiring, of course. Like almost everything involving A-Rod, lies and cover-ups reign. Since the Yankees were going to have to pay the rest of his contract to the tune of 27 million bucks either way, they told Alex that they could release him, thus ending his career on a sour note, or allow him to pretend to make the decision to leave the game himself, which would be better PR for all concerned.

However, the announcement presents a problem for the Boston Red Sox. A-Rod’s next-to-last game is Thursday night in Fenway Park, and a player with Rodriguez’s astounding career on-field achievements would typically warrant an on-field salute, like the Sox gave Yankee icon Derek Jeter when he retired. The problem is that Red Sox fans don’t like or respect A-Rod, and they shouldn’t. No baseball fan should. He disgraced the game with his drug use and lies; was an unsportsmanlike presence for most of his career, and will not reach the Hall of Fame despite one of the best careers ever unless the Hall junks all of its character requirements.

Yet reciprocity raises its ethical head. David Ortiz, the beloved Red Sox slugger, is also retiring after this season, and the Yankees have planned to give him a big send-off when Big Papi plays his last game in Yankee stadium. How can the Red Sox snub A-Rod, and expect the Yankees to honor their hero? If the Red Sox do hold a ceremony for Rodriquez, will Sox fans use it as an opportunity to heap well-deserved abuse on Alex one last time? If Sox fans fill Fenway with boos, will Yankee fans reciprocate by ruining Ortiz’s moment in New York? (I would give my guess on this, but it might expose a long-held bias against Yankee fans.)

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

What is the most ethical way to handle this awful situation?

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From A Proud Abortion Defender, An Inconvenient Truth….

Snake eating its tail

A New York lawyer named Janice Mac Avoy gifted the Washington Post with an op-ed that was supposed to be a powerful brief for abortion. Viewing it as someone who is deeply conflicted about the ethics of abortion, which is to say, someone who is objective and who didn’t make up his mind first and then look for rationalizations to support that position, I recognized it as a perfect example of why abortion advocates still haven’t made a strong enough case for me, and perhaps why they can’t.

I am still surprised, somehow, when lawyers, like Mac Avoy, display poor reasoning skills. I shouldn’t be, I know: I’ve known plenty of dumb lawyers, even rich and successful dumb lawyers. I suppose I am hostage to the mythology of law school, that professors take students whose “minds are much,’ to quote Professor Kingsfield, and transform those minds into whirring computers of emotion- and bias- free rationality. Unfortunately, mush in, mush out tends to be reality.

Mac Avoy places her own mind in the mush column immediately, with her title “I’m a successful lawyer and mother, because I had an abortion.” This shows her adoption of the classic logical fallacy Post hoc ergo propter hoc, or “After this, thus because of this.” The statement is factually nonsense, and her column takes off from there.

Some highlights:

1. She writes…

“In spring 1981, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I was about to become the first person in my family to graduate from high school. I had a scholarship to college, and I planned to go on to law school. I was determined to break a cycle of poverty and teenage pregnancy that had shaped the lives of the previous three generations of women in my family — all mothers by age 18. Then, just before graduation, I learned I was pregnant. Knowing that I wasn’t ready to be a mother, I had a friend drive me to a Planned Parenthood clinic, where I had an abortion.”

Pop quiz: What crucial piece of information is glossed over, indeed strangely omitted, from that account? Mac Avoy “was determined to break a cycle of poverty and teenage pregnancy” —so determined and laser focused on the life goal that she suddenly woke up pregnant! How did that happen? Apparently, despite her representation to the contrary, she was not sufficiently determined that she was willing to refuse  to engage in the exact and only conduct that could foil her intent, and that she knew could foil her intent.

I’m not arguing that a teenage mistake of judgment should derail a life, but I am pointing out that to ignore that personal conduct, as Mac Avoy does, and pretend that pregnancy in every case is some unavoidable random tragedy like a rape or incest, is self-serving and intellectually dishonest, and like most pro-abortion rhetoric, avoids the key issues that make abortion a difficult ethical problem.

2. She writes… Continue reading

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

The-Six-Universal-Truth-of-Influence-Robert-B-Cialdini

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.