“Mild Pedophilia” and Richard Dawkins’ Ethical Blind Spot

"Bobby, do you thinkthere's anything wrong with mild pedophilia?"

“Bobby, do you think there’s anything wrong with mild pedophilia?”

When you are a public intellectual and your primary mission is using reason and scholarship to enlighten the public, you have an obligation to guard scrupulously against making careless,  irresponsible or easily misunderstood statements that will be accepted as inspired wisdom by the less analytically able. Or to be more direct, if you are Richard Dawkins and because of some serious neural malfunction you really think that there is such a thing as “mild pedophilia,” you want to ever to be taken seriously again, shut up about it.

Dawkins, for reasons only known to himself, used a wide-ranging  interview to airily wax on about what he regards as his contact with a harmless child-molester.  Reminiscing about his  days at a boarding school,  he recounted how one of his schoolmasters “pulled me on his knee and put his hand inside my shorts.” Noting that other children in his school peer group had been molested by the same teacher, he concluded: “I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm.”
The world’s most famous atheist explained, “I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours. Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today.”

What (in the name of Holy Hell) is “mild pedophilia”? Dawkins went on to say that the most notorious cases of pedophilia involve rape and even murder and should not be bracketed with what he called “just mild touching up.”

“Mild pedophilia”?Just mild touching up’? This from one of the most respected minds in the cosmos? Continue reading

The Ethics of Teacher-Student Facebook Friending

Sometimes what appears harmless and benign at first glance starts looking inappropriate and unethical after we learn more about it. Social networking media has been teaching this lesson with alacrity over the last year, and we now have another example that will be making some friends of mine re-evaluate their Facebook friend list…I hope.

The New York Post has reported that least three educators from New York City  public high schools have been fired in the past six months for having inappropriate exchanges with students on Facebook, including one of which culminated in a sexual relationship. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Evan S. Cohen

The New York Times has a provocative examination of the ways cyber-bullying and abusive social networking sites and posts are challenging schools and courts. It also exposes a particularly cruel Ethics Dunce, Evan S. Cohen.

In 2008, Cohen’s daughter videotaped her friends as they mocked and made vicious comments, some of them sexual about another eighth-grade girl. Then Cohen’s daughter posted the video on YouTube, traumatizing its victim.  The school was alerted by the devastated girl’s parents, and then suspended Cohen’s daughter for two days.

Daddy, however, is an attorney, and he knows overstepping authority when he sees it. He sued the school district, arguing that the school couldn’t reach into his daughter’s off-campus activities and punish her for them. Of course, he was right, and won the lawsuit. He also won $107,150.80 in costs and lawyer fees. Continue reading

Complaint Ethics, With A Dash of Bias

My wife had to deliver some documents to my son’s school, one of those large mega-magnet schools that are locked up tighter than Alcatraz during school hours to keep out drug-dealers, assassins, and street  mimes. After being blocked at “Entrance One” by a big guy in shades and a starter jacket (he looked like a club bouncer), she was sent to “Entrance Two.” There she encountered another security obstacle, a desk commanded by an imposing looking woman. There were four others seeking access. One of them, a suited gentleman, presented identification. One was identified by the woman at the desk as someone “who went to school here last year,” and he was allowed to pass the checkpoint on her recognizance alone. Another woman, who said she was a parent, also said was there to pick up something. She had no I.D., however “I’m not going to make you go back for your purse,” she was told. “Go on in.” My wife, also without her purse, was told she did have to present I.D., and had to hike back to the car and return with her driver’s license.

Should my wife report this arbitrary and obviously flawed execution of security procedures to school administrators? And a harder question..

Should she make an issue of the fact that both the woman at the desk and the parent she allowed to pass without I.D. were African American, and my wife is not? Continue reading

An Idiot’s Guide to the Golden Rule

We usually think of the Golden Rule as a check against wronging others through our actions, but it should be applied to basic consideration and convenience issues as well. As I learned in two separate incidents that may have raised my blood pressure levels permanently, some people don’t understand how to do that.

Especially idiots.

In the first incident, emergency household repairs forced me to make a midnight drive to the local CVS to buy a roll of duct tape. In response to my inquiry, the one clerk in the huge, deserted store directed me to “Aisle 4.” Each aisle had a prominent number over it, from 1 to 26, though the order of the aisles was a bit skewed because some were horizontal and others were vertical. I couldn’t find Aisle 4. Determined to do so without asking for further help, I did a sweep of the entire store, getting more frustrated with myself and the store’s layout with each passing minute. Finally, I surrendered. I walked back to the check-out area and asked the clerk, “OK, I give up! What’s the secret to finding Aisle 4? I can’t see the sign anywhere.” Continue reading

Florida, Facebook, and Teacher Conduct

Two teachers are out of a job. Both share some responsibility for their fates. The question is how much, and whether their school districts over-reacted to their conduct.

The easier of the two tales, and by far the funnier, took place in Prairie Village, a suburb of Kansas City, Kansas.  A Mission Valley middle school teacher (make that ex-teacher) named Ryan Haraughty was drawing a map of the United States on the blackboard and drew Florida out of proportion. The extra-long, engorged Florida drew snickers from his teen age students, which Haraughty acknowledged by quipping, “Florida got excited.” Hilarity ensued. Continue reading