On Liberals, Dignity, Dogs, Signature Significance and Toddlers On Leashes

But they LIKE it!

But they LIKE it!

The damndest essays ignite furious debates here. I raised CNN’s mid-day quiz about parents walking children on a leash-–did I mention it featured a video of one mother dragging her prone harnessed child through a store like the kid was a sack of potatoes? I should have—-primarily because 1) it reminded me of “The Simpsons,” 2) because I was struck by the fact that ethics was never brought into a conversation that I would deem as concerning an ethics issue, and 3) because it was notable that CNN wasn’t talking about sunken Malaysian airplanes.

Still, I have been enlightened by the unexpectedly lively discussion, if not encouraged. In particular, this never struck me as an ideological issue, but it certainly seems to be one. Upon reflection, I should have predicted it, though this is not flattering to liberals.

I’ll return to this in a bit.

The defenses of the demeaning practice have been mostly pragmatic, which involves a utilitarian argument: “It works, and the ethical violations either don’t exist, or are too small to care about.” The most annoying defense so far has required  intentionally taking a statement in my post literally that also has an important figurative message, as well as misstating even the literal meaning, all to make it easier to dismiss the intended point. That’s some kind of record for straw men. Or would that be straw dogs? No, I think that’s something else.

The phrase in question was “whether it was fair, kind, respectful or right to treat your child like a cocker spaniel…” To make it easier to attack, my critic has changed that to “…to treat your child in a manner associated with the treatment of dogs.” Sneaky. It is true that dogs are typically kept on a leash, but that is only half the message, as fair readers will acknowledge. The term “treated him-her-them like a dogs/dogs” means, and has meant for a very long time, treating a human being in an inhuman, demeaning, humiliating, unkind, unfair fashion showing a lack of respect and making the human being in question miserable. The description has been used to describe both treatment that is seen in the treatment of actual dogs—such as substandard living conditions, lack of autonomy, domineering oversight, feeding of food not fit for human consumption, and in this case, use of a leash in public, as well as used to describe treatment that would never be literally possible with real dogs, such as too many typing assignments, refusal to give credit or bonuses for effective research, not allowing a family member a sufficient allowance, forcing a child to dress in old, outdated or unattractive clothes, etc. In the current case, both meanings apply, and focusing on just one is intentionally misrepresenting the issue.

As to whether the use of leashes on human children is demeaning, try this thought experiment: Would any white nanny dare to walk in public with two black children on a leash? How about the mother in a mixed marriage, in which the mother is blonde and the children are black? Would not the imagery of whites leashing blacks be inherently distasteful, regardless of the age of the African-Americans involved? Continue reading

Child Care Ethics And Leashes For Toddlers: CNN and Its Viewers Flunk An Ethics Alarm Test

Kids on leashes

It is constantly amazing to me that journalists so seldom identify obvious and critical ethics issues in the topics and events they cover. The rest is mixed emotions: this absence of ethics awareness is a serious culture-wide problem; then again, were this not so, I’d probably be in a different, and less stimulating profession.

Today I sat down to lunch as CNN engaged in a breathless discussion of whether using leashes on toddlers and even older children was a good idea, as it is either a growing trend among parents, or CNN was having a slow news day. The phone lines were open, and many viewers weighed in, with the primary camps expressing the following positions:

1. “If it makes children safer, then there is no reason not to do it. Safety is everything. Kids have been killed running into the street.  A leash will prevent that.”

2. “This shows the decline of child-rearing skills in the United States. If you can’t control your kid better than this, you are the problem.”

If the question of whether it was fair, kind, respectful or right to treat  your child like a cocker spaniel occurred to anybody in this discussion (I know the CNN staff never considered it), I saw and heard no evidence of this. Yet that is the central question, and it is an interesting one to consider. The fact that matters of human dignity, responsibility, respect, fairness, autonomy, kindness, proportion and prudence need to be balanced to answer the question at hand never came into the discussion, and those debating the issue demonstrated neither awareness of the competing ethical values, nor the ability to know how to employ them. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Christina Aguilera

In Jessica Simpson’s Weight Watcher’s TV ad, the former “Daisy Duke” appears only as a giant head, as if the spot was directed by Francis Ford Coppola and Jessica was a last minute stand-in for Marlon Brando.

“the horror…the horror…”

It is clear that Jess is not willing to show America her post-pregnancy body, even though she is telling the public to buy what she’s using to slim it. She is ashamed, in other words, and if a beautiful young woman like her believes that not being able to fit into Daisy’s cut-offs makes her hideous, just imagine how that makes the average woman feel.

Then there is Christina Aguilera. The former waifish “pop tart” who sang “Genie in a Bottle” is now an established pop music diva, and posed for photographers as she announced the American Music Awards Nominations in a throbbingly purple form-fitting dress that didn’t hide a single pound or curve, and showed that she has an abundance of both.

“We’re gonna need a bigger bottle…”

Christina’s not ashamed, nor should she be, and her willingness to look happy and confident regardless of her expanding figure is a boon to a culture that has been working overtime to make women of all ages feel unattractive unless they look like super-models. Continue reading

Dan Ariely: Without Ethics, We Are Governed By Psychological Enablers of Cheating and Worse

And it’s nothing to be proud of.

Duke behavioral scientist (or, as he likes to call himself, “behavioral economist”) Dan Ariely, has a new book out. This is a boon for my ethics classes, since I’m sure they are getting a little sick of me quoting the last one, “Predictably Irrational.” His new best seller is “The Honest Truth About Dishonesty,” and Ariely has been making the rounds of NPR and various publications promoting it. Like Malcolm Gladwell (“The Tipping Point”), Ariely writes provocative and easily digested books that seemed to be designed to make you skip the movie on airplane flights; they are not deep, but they are helpful, at promoting self-understanding if nothing else.

I’ve been saving my copy of “The Honest Truth About Dishonesty” for my next trip, but the most valuable thing about it from my perspective is that it validates the importance of developing the skills of ethical analysis. As the author explained in a recent interview, when most human beings ( Ariely pegs the percentage at a depressing 98%—and one of the two missing percentage points are people who cheat no matter what! ) human beings let their gut determine whether they are going to cheat or not, they will make their choice according to a potpourri of rationalizions and quirky psychological factors that have little to do with right and wrong.

Among the useful observations he made in his recent interview with journalist Gary Belsky: Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Hillary Clinton

Those are four words I once would have bet I would never type.

Real. Honest. Brave. Beautiful. Thanks.

The Secretary of State deserves them though, for appearing in public, before the cameras, with no make-up and just a touch of lipstick. Let Fox News and the Matt Drudge mock: Hillary didn’t “forget her make-up.” She just decided “to hell with it.” And, as the Washington Post correctly noted, she looks just fine.

I just spent an event sitting next to the wife of a friend. She must be pushing 70, and her face and hair would not provide a single clue that she was more than 45, except for this: but for the movement of her eyeballs and occasionally her lips, her expression was completely unchanging.It was creepy. Her husband, whom I hadn’t seen in about ten years, was aging normally, but now his marriage of 40-plus years looked like he had robbed the cradle, albeit the cradle of a family afflicted with genetic facial paralysis. What’s the point? Why do American women feel the need to feign youth, even to those who they can’t possibly fool? Hillary looks like a real person to me; my friend’s wife looks like she may crumble into dust when the sunlight hits her. Continue reading

Children’s Book Ethics: “Maggie Goes On A Diet”

Send it to Hell.

In an earlier post, I wrote about Shel Silverstein’s satirical “Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book,” an adult audience parody of children’s books which, in addition to teaching an incorrect alphabet, included segments that encouraged night terrors and fear of castration, endorsed sibling jealousy, extolled violent conduct and theft, and even tried to convince children to eat the pages. The book is hilarious, but only because it is clear that no parent in their right mind would ever let a child near such a publication.  No parents in their right minds should let their daughters near “Maggie Goes on a Diet,” either.

Paul Kramer’s fable about an obese 14-year-old who turns her life around by losing weight is as potentially damaging to children as anything in Shel Silverstein’s spoof; unfortunately, the author doesn’t realize it. Let’s hope parents do. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Day: Ken, of Popehat

“Listen to me: a law school calculated to make students feel good about themselves is as ridiculous as a Marine boot camp designed to make enlistees feel good about themselves. Law students, God help us, will one day be lawyers. When they are, nobody will care about their self-esteem. The prosecutors seeking to jail their clients will not be seeking to foster a sense of community. The opposing civil lawyers seeking to bankrupt their clients will not be promoting a culture of dignity and respect. Most law practice is about conflict. It’s a bloody, ugly street fight. Self-esteem borne of law-should-be-harmony is useless to clients. The only self-esteem useful to clients is self-esteem earned by hard work, determination, command of the subject matter, and the willingness to stand up to adversity. People who object to law professors being wickedly Socratic, and classmates being cutthroat, are missing the point. If you’re put off by a Socratic professor, Mr. Fluffy Bunny, a run-of-the-mill judge is going to make you soil yourself. If nasty, backstabbing classmates upset you, the first time you get into a nasty letter-writing campaign with an opposing counsel you’re going to have a breakdown. Law school is not a fucking spa day. It’s training to stand between your client and whatever the world throws at him.”

—– Ken, the astute lawyer/sage/Don Rickles of the libertarian social commentary website Popehat, excoriating the University of St. Thomas Law School for, among other things, extolling the values of self-esteem, collaboration, harmony and community among their students.

What Ken is really talking about is zealous representation, that once universally accepted bedrock of the  lawyer’s duty that has gradually fallen into disfavor with many academics and lawyers. Continue reading

Hey…Were the Gang Rapists of the 11-Year-Old Girl in Texas Abercrombie and Fitch Executives?


"And to think..our little girl is only eight!"

Well, no.


But since Abercrombie and Fitch is apparently eager to make its profits by turning little girls into 3-D child porn, this isn’t as unfair a question as it seems.

One of America’s largest clothing retail chains, Abercrombie & Fitch is marketing padded bikini tops to eleven-year-old girls…in fact, girls as young as eight.

The current spring line for Abercrombie Kids, a division of the fashion company dedicated to 8-14 year olds, is the “Ashley” Push-Up Triangle – a triangular-shaped bikini top which comes complete with thick padding for breast enhancement. And you thought Wal-Mart marketing cosmetics to twelve-year-olds was ominous. Continue reading

Black Barbie, Walmart, and Pricing Ethics

Social commentators, business analysts and ethicists are tying themselves into logical and philosophical knots trying to explain exactly what is so wrong in 2010 with Walmart cutting the price of its black Barbie doll, which has not been selling well at its current price, while leaving the price of its white Barbie, which has been selling, almost twice as high. Continue reading