The Fifth Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Best of Ethics 2013

Ethics Story 2013

I decided to start with the Best in Ethics this year, in contrast to other years, on the theory that it would get things off to a positive start in 2014. What it did, instead, was make me realize how negative Ethics Alarms was in 2013. Either there wasn’t much positive going on in ethics, or I wasn’t seeing it. My thanks to those of you who send me nominations for Ethics Heroes (and other stories); even when I don’t write about them, they are valuable. Please keep them coming. In the meantime, I pledge to try to keep the jaundice out of my eye in 2014. Things just can’t be as dire as they seemed last year.

Could they?

Here are the 2013 Ethics Alarms Awards for the Best in Ethics:

Most Important Ethical Act of the Year:

The U.S. Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, paving the way for the universal legalization of gay marriage. Yes, it was a legal decision, but it was also based, as all such culturally important decisions are, on a societal recognition that what was once thought to be wrong and immoral was, in fact, not. This is ethics, an ongoing process of enlightenment and wisdom about what is right and wrong, and the U.S. Supreme Court did its part. Continue reading

Cher’s Ethics Tweets

Lan 159

Earlier this week, Cher used her interview with USA to take some well-aimed pot-shots at Miley Cyrus’s universally loathed “twerking” antics on the MTV Awards show. She said of Cyrus

“”I’m not old fashioned. She could have come out naked, and if she’d just rocked the house, I would have said, ‘You go, girl.’ She could have come out naked, and if she’d just rocked the house, I would have said, ‘You go, girl.’ It just wasn’t done well. She can’t dance, her body looked like hell, the song wasn’t great, one cheek was hanging out. And, chick, don’t stick out your tongue if it’s coated. If you’re going to go that far, then think about it before you do it.

These are wise words from a veteran and proven performing star to a young one on the way up, or heading for a crash. Essentially, Cher is stating the principles of professionalism: whatever you do, do it right, do it well, and respect your constituency. Cher has the bona fides to offer such an opinion since she has stretched the lines of sexual propriety on stage more than once, but it was always used as an additional enhancement on the way to her “rocking the house.”

The legendary pop diva was apparently surprised that her comments became a one-day sensation on the gossip websites and cable entertainment shows, and  had second thoughts about them, which she communicated in a couple of tweets to the Twitterverse. In Cher-ese, they are all about ethics:

Chers Tweets

Translation: Continue reading

Don Lemon For President

Ethics Hero.

Ethics Hero.

Bear with me: I’ll get to Don Lemon eventually.

In a mature, rational, respectful democracy with an objective and competent news media, difficult and contentious issues would be thoughtfully debated with open minds and fearless honesty, without the toxic influence of rigid ideologies, partisan loyalties, group identification, or biases. The objectives: reach the truth, identify problems, begin solving them.

This process is difficult under the best of circumstances, and in the United States, circa 2013, it is nearly impossible on any issue, and dangerous on the issue of race, with both the media and elected officials actively seeking to exacerbate racial divisions and misconceptions. A recent poll suggests that the perception of racial divisions in America has worsened by 25% since Barack Obama was elected President, following decades of steady improvement. Why is this? There are many reasons, but the cynical pandering to misconceptions in the black community is one major suspect.

President Obama, had he been fair and responsible, might have used his remarks about the George Zimmerman trial to point out that neither the incident itself nor the verdict of the jury were relevant to race issues, or created by a “stand your ground” law that has been a lightning rod for accusations of racism in the justice system. Instead, he talked about how he “understood,” and apparently agreed with, an interpretation of the events based on past African-American experiences with racism. This was irresponsible and wrong. It was as much an endorsement of irrationality, ignorance and bias as it would be to explain that current day racists see blacks through the prism, “those sets of experiences” in Obama’s words, of their region’s history of culturally acceptable slavery, and we have to respect their views as a result. The President has not, as would be a far more justifiable statement, explained that opponents of same-sex marriage are not bigots, but see the issue through the ” sets of experiences” of their religious upbringing. Serial rapists may also see women through the prism of their childhood abuse—those are rather damaging “sets of experiences”— at the hands of their mothers.

There are always powerful reasons why people have hatreds and biases, and reasons why hatreds and biases cripple their ability to interpret reality and act responsibly. We can all understand that, but it doesn’t justify distorting the facts. Blacks are not inferior to any other race, no matter what the “prism” says. Gay marriage poses no harm to society, and gays deserve the same rights as anyone else, and the Bible doesn’t change those facts. Rape victims are not responsible for the misogyny of rapists, no matter how their distorted thinking came to be.

And the acquittal of George Zimmerman was not evidence of rampant white racism, regardless of the African-American experience. The President had a duty to say that. He had a duty to say, “I understand, but you are wrong on the facts.” He did not. Instead, he encouraged and supported a distorted and biased narrative that is harming race relations and respect for the justice system, and far too many in the news media—which is to say, anyone in the media who is stooping to this—are trying to continue the process. For example, Abbe Smith, in the Washington Post this weekend, had an article on a topic I have discussed here more than once: the challenge of a defense attorney representing a guilty and heinous client. It was an excellent piece, but the Post headline writers and editors unconscionably and unethically decided to pander to the city’s  predominantly black population’s bias by publishing it under this:

“What motivates a lawyer to defend

a Tsarnaev, a Castro or a Zimmerman?” Continue reading