Tag Archives: selfishness

The Brutal Ethics Truth About “7 Brutal Truths That Will Make Your Life Better If You Accept Them”

All looks yellow to the jaundiced eye.

Conservative writer John Hawkins published a post called “7 Brutal Truths That Will Make Your Life Better If You Accept Them.”

If I were as cynical as he is, I might say that a better title would be “How to Rationalize Being a Jerk,” but I’m not.

However, his post does demand some ethical perspective. Most, though not all, of his truths are really constructs to justify unethical conduct. Let’s examine them:

1. The average person cares more about what he eats for lunch than whether you live or die.

Maybe, and so what? That doesn’t mean that you should emulate them.  To begin with, there is no “average person.” There are individual people, good, bad and in-between. Hawkins writes,

“You tell the average person that doesn’t know you very well that you have a fatal disease and he’ll say, “I’m so sorry to hear that.” Then he’ll forget about it in five minutes while he debates with his friends whether they’re going to Chili’s or the Mexican restaurant down the street. What that means is that everything you want out of life, you better prepare to earn without getting a lot of favors on the way. If you fall, you have to be the one to pick yourself up off the ground, brush yourself off and get your life back on track. You care. They don’t. So it’s up to you.”

But the a stranger doesn’t always react that way. Sometimes he gives you his kidney. Hawkins is supplying an excuse to be callous based on a Golden Rule Distortion: “Do Unto Others As They Would Do Unto You.” Don’t listen to him.  Care about other people, and don’t hesitate to ask for help. People are better than you think: they will surprise you. In the meantime, it is your job to be as good as you would like them to be.

2. Life is not and will never be fair

I’ve written about this recently: fairness is a vague and broad concept in ethics. Life isn’t “fair” because life is often random, and nobody is tending the fairness meter. Systems either are fair or are not depending on your point of view. The mainstream conservative view about fairness is that one should play the cards one is dealt and stop complaining about it. It’s facile, though not without some truth: it is better to spend time trying to overcome obstacles than to bitch about them. On the other hand, each of us has an obligation to make the world better for those who follow us. Genuine unfairness, in systems, institutions, the culture and society, should be exposed, attacked, and fixed if possible. Hawkins’ approach would have left the U.S. with slavery, second class citizenship for women, Jim Crow, straight-only marriages, age discrimination, brutal monopolies and unchecked consumer fraud. His #2 is a license to be callous.

3. Most people are shallow

What an elitist and ignorant thing to say. If one has spent any time talking to and getting to know a wide range of people, it becomes clear that the opposite is the case. Again, assuming that most people are shallow provides Hawkins with an excuse to ignore them, or treat them with contempt. Most people will tend to behave as if they are shallow because they are rushed, stressed, distracted and focused on short-term exigencies. Give them time to think, a reason to consider a topic carefully, and the respect they deserve, and frequently unexpected depths will reveal themselves. “Most people are shallow” is a crippling bias for anyone to adopt. Expect the best of people: you will often be disappointed, perhaps, but you will also allow validations of your faith in humanity to bloom.

Writes Hawkins:

“So, use the shallowness of other people to your advantage. Learn to dress like a successful person. Pay attention to how you look. Find ways to give off the appearance that you are doing well. Don’t be a phony—be you, but also take advantage of the fact that a superficial appearance will be the reality to most people.”

Let’s see: pretend to be a successful person, but don’t be a phony; be you, but try to fool people by not revealing who you are. What?

People don’t assume that people who dress well,  speak well,  have manners and behave in a civilized fashion are successful because they are shallow. They assume that because they have learned from experience that certain traits both aid success and result from it.  Hawkins is the one revealing shallowness. Continue reading

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The Emotional Support Peacock And The Tragedy Of The Commons

The Tragedy of the Commons is a term originating in ancient economic theory describing a situation in which a shared-benefit system is destroyed by individual users who selfishly behave contrary to the common good by depleting or spoiling the resource involved. Ignorance or denial of this principle, which is based on centuries of observing the human race, is core to progressive and liberal ideology, unfortunately. Another way of expressing the tendency is the old adage, “Give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile.”

Federal regulations over the last decade–I’m assuming under Democratic auspices, but I don’t care to check,  it doesn’t matter to the post—have required airlines to accommodate passengers with not just seeing eye dogs but “therapy animals” and “emotional support animals” that supply the passengers who own them with relief from anxiety. These creatures must fly at no cost and uncaged, and so far, no discrimination regarding species have been set.  It’s a nice regulation, don’t you think?  I think its nice.

However, if there ever was a policy that guaranteed the Tragedy of the Commons, this was it. Many passengers exploit the rules by calling their pets “therapy animals”—and really, aren’t they all?—to save money and hassle. The number of animals flying in the cabin with passengers doubled, and doubled again.  Some passengers were bitten by dogs. Some animals defecated in the aisles. Some of the passengers  flew or attempted to accompanied by  comfort turkeys, goats, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, reptiles, spiders, and even more exotic companions. Continue reading

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This Explains A Lot, I Guess…

Here’s another planned post from those lost notes on a Sunday Times I just found from two weeks ago:

In  the New York Times Magazine,  the Times announced the results of an online poll of 2, 903 subscribers by its research-and-analytics  department. 72% Times loyalists would prefer to have done something horrible that only they knew about than to have everyone think they did a horrible thing that they really didn’t do.

Wait…what?

See, if you did a secret horrible thing, there really was someone hurt by your conduct. If people just think you did a horrible thing, you in fact hurt nobody, and did nothing wrong. This was a sneaky way of asking, “Are you a selfish and unethical human being, or not?”  Well, sneaky assuming that Times subscribers are incapable of thought, or that they let their 12-year-old kids answer Times research questions. About 3/4 answered, “Oh, I’m completely unethical!”

For the sake of clarity, let’s assume that both sides of the question involve the same horrible act, agreed? After all, if the real act is setting an orphanage on fire, and the wrongly believed act is farting loudly during a funeral service, or vice versa, the question is ridiculously easy.

So…72% of Times subscribers would rather have murdered a child than have everyone wrongly think they murdered a child? Molested a child? Broiled and eaten a child? Committed adultery? Spousal abuse? Spousal torture? Buried a spouse alive? Keeping a spouse locked in a dungeon? Locking a spouse in a dungeon with rabid wolverines?

What does this poll result tell the Times? What were they trying to learns? What does it tell us?

I guess it might explain the continued presence of the likes of Charles Blow, Thomas Friedman and Paul Krugman on the Times op-ed pages.

Or maybe their presence explains why Times subscribers reason as they do.

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The 87th And 88th Rationalizations: The Reverse 15 And The Psychic Historian

Translation: “I got nuthin’!'”

I haven’t been in tip-top shape the last several days, making new posts more of an ordeal than they should be. Luckily this motivates me to catch up on updating the Rationalizations List, which has several waiting additions, including these:

Rationalization #15 A. The Reverse 15, or “If I don’t do it ( and I don’t want to) somebody else will.”

The Reverse 15 uses exactly the same excuse as #15. The Futility Illusion:  “If I don’t do it, somebody else will,” but for the opposite purpose. In #15, the rationalizer wants to avoid the consequences of doing something unethical by arguing that his or her refusal to follow orders would have no practical effect: someone else would just step in and do what was demanded anyway. How, asks the fictionalized version of Confederate Captain Henry Wirz in “The Andersonville Trial,” can a post-Civil War military tribunal fairly hold him responsible for cruelly mistreating the Union prisoners in the Georgia prison camp as he was ordered to, when if he refused he would have been shot, and his successor would have abused them anyway?

In 15A, the argument is the opposite. The rationalizer refuses to perform a necessary ethical act out of apathy, callousness or fear, but this was reasonable because he or she was certain that someone else would do the right thing instead. The Reverse 15 could also be called “The Kitty Genovese Rationalization,” recalling that the many people who heard the murdered woman’s screams chose not to “get involves” while convincing themselves that someone would come to her aid. All of the Mount Everest climbers who left a stricken colleague behind to die protested later that they were certain the next climber behind them (or the next, perhaps) would stop to help the man. We pass a stopped car in distress on the highway at night, reasoning that someone else will stop to help, sparing us the trouble.

Sometimes someone does. Sometimes not. This abdication of an ethical duty is accomplished by casting one’s lot, and gambling with the fate of another, while relying on the unpredictable quirks of moral luck. The only ethical decision is to take action. You must do what you know is the ethical act yourself, and not ignore your obligation because you can pass the buck and then argue, disingenuously, “How could I know that everyone else would be as unethical as I am?”

Rationalization #1B. The Psychic Historian, or “I’m On The Right Side Of History”

Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/9/2017: Inadvertent Confessions And Admissions

Good Morning, Columbus!

So glad you came!

1 Yesterday, on “Face the Nation,” Senator Diane Feinstein was continuing the Democratic Party’s latest use of a gun tragedy to see if the American public can be frightened, shamed, deceived or panicked into giving up one of the core individual rights guaranteed by our Constitution. The host asked her whether there were any proposed regulations that would have stopped Stephen Paddock or someone like him from committing mass murder.

Her answer, “No.”

Well there you have it, right? This tragedy has nothing to do with honest, good faith gun reform, and everything to do with the anti-gun left wanting to begin eroding the Second Amendment, until the right of law-abiding citizens to arm themselves to the extent they believe is necessary shrinks to insignificance.

I salute the Senator in one respect: at least she’s honest about the fact that the use of the Vegas Strip shooting by the anti-gun left is entirely cynical and exploitative. Contrast her blunt “no’ with the demagoguery of her fellow Congressional Democrat, civil rights icon John Lewis. (The news media always describes him that way, because “race-baiting, hyper-partisan  hack John Lewis” would offend African-Americans.). As I discussed earlier, Lewis erupted last week with this call to no-arms:

“The American people will not stand to see hundreds and thousands of their fellow citizens mowed down because the lack of action on the part of the Congress…We have to do something…The time is always right to do what is right. We waited too long. How many more people will die? Would it be a few hundred? A few thousand? Several thousand? We have to act. We cannot wait.”

The complete Feinstein-Lewis thought, then: “The American people will not stand to see hundreds and thousands of their fellow citizens mowed down because of the lack of action on the part of the Congress to pass laws that would do nothing to stop their fellow citizens from being mowed down in a massacre like the one we are demanding action in response to!”

In one of the many threads following the Vegas Strip shooting, commenter Charles Green asked me,

“Let me ask my basic question again: are there any constructive suggestions (hopefully a tad beyond outlawing bump stocks) that can be offered by the principled defenders of the Second Amendment to find common ground? Any? I for one am all ears.”

Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/17/17: Boy Scouts, “Will and Grace,” An Actress Whines, Wedding Cakes, And (I’m Sorry!) More Hillary

Good Morning!

1 I’m giving an ethics talk to a Boy Scout troop this afternoon. Figuring out how to use example that are appropriate to ages 11-14 while avoiding hot-button issues like race, sexual orientation, police, guns and politics in general is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. What pop culture reference points will work is also a conundrum. What movies are they likely to have seen? In the Sixties, I could have referred to Westerns, many of which routinely embodied ethics lessons. But they also often involved shooting people, and kids don’t see Westerns now. In the Eighties, I might have sent Boy Scouts to episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” which was virtually all about ethics. But Patrick Stewart is just an old guy doing commercials now, and there have been four TV incarnations of the franchise since Data packed it in, not counting the movies. Pixar movies are usually ethics-rich, but a lot of kids will bristle at being presumed to be cartoon fans. Superhero movies? The ones that raise ethics issues usually do so badly, or the issues are too complex—or too dark– for a Boy Scout Troop. Here we see the serious cultural problem of declining cultural literacy and deteriorating cross-generational communications as a result of the loss of common experience. and interests.

Well, it’s early. I’ll figure out something.

One approach I considered was to suggest they practice ethical analysis by reading the newspaper, picking out the ethics dilemmas and controversies that appear, thinking about them and arguing about them. Of course, that was foolish: they would probably ask, “What’s a newspaper?” However this morning’s Sunday Times is a perfect example. I could teach a four hour ethics seminar based on the stories in this edition alone. Look…

2. The baker who refused to sell a cake to a gay couple is back on the front page, thanks to the case winding its way to the Supreme Court. This time, the focus isn’t on Freedom of Religion (in this case, freedom to act like a jackass using your religion as an excuse), but Freedom of Speech. The government cannot compel speech, nor will the law compel specific performance of an artistic nature. The baker claims that his cakes are artistic creations, and he doesn’t have to make them for anyone or anything if he doesn’t want to.  The gay couple says that they weren’t asking for him to create an artwork, just to sell them a wedding cake. If the cake is a commodity, then the bake shop should be a public accommodation, and subject to applicable laws. Then the baker has to sell his cakes to anyone. If the cake is an “artistic creation” made specifically for the couple, then the law cannot force the baker to make it, or punish him if he refuses. Art is speech.

I hate these kinds of cases, and I’m sure the SCOTUS justices do too. A cake is sometimes just a cake, and sometimes a work of art. The confrontation should have been handled with ethics rather than law. The baker is a bigoted jerk, that’s all. I think he has a right not to make a cake for a gay couple, but exercising that right is cruel and insulting. Continue reading

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Let Us Not Allow Pity And Compassion To Obscure The Ethics Lesson Of The Otto Wambier Tragedy

Young Otto Warmbier  is back from North Korea, where he had been a prisoner since 2015. The a 22-year-old University of Virginia student was finally returned from the Communist dictatorship in a coma, suffering from “extensive loss of brain tissue in all regions of his brain.” Doctors believe he had sustained his catastrophic brain injury sometime before April 2016.

His heartbroken parents are condemning North Korea and praising the Trump administration, which finally obtained his release. Someone, however, needs to make the crucial point that Otto’s fate was directly due to his own recklessness and bad judgment in engaging in conduct that frequently results in disaster, as well as international tensions and needless cost to U.S. taxpayers.

Otto signed up for a five-day tour of North Korea with  Young Pioneer Tours,  a Chinese company that advertises “budget travel to destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from.” There is a good reason your mother—and your father, and the U.S. State Department—would rather you stayed away from North Korea. The place is a hell-hole run by a power-mad lunatic, and it is not safe. Nobody put a gun to Otto Warmbier’s head and kidnapped him: he decided on his own to defy his government’s warnings, recent history and the sense god gave puppies to deliberately place himself in harm’s way, knowing that many, many similarly misguided citizens have become prisoners, propaganda tools,  pawns or worse because they willfully placed themselves in similar peril as the people who decide to climb into tiger or lion enclosures at zoos.

Warmbier left on his “tour” in December , 2015. He would have had a chance to see “Bridge of Spies” by then: I wonder if he did. You will recall that the history-based plot involved am American student named Fred Pryor, who is one now a renowned comparative economists. Then, however, he was a graduate student in West Berlin who decided it would be a dandy idea to pass through the half-completed Berlin Wall in August, 1961 to attend a lecture and give a copy of his dissertation  to an East Berlin economics professor.  We know he’s a smart guy, but one would think that the fact that the East German government was in the process of sealing in its citizens as prisoners might have alerted him that this was not the time to go visiting.

Sure enough, Pryor was arrested, thrown in jail, and became a bargaining chip in the U-2/Gary Powers/Rudolph Abel negotiations. Had Otto Warmbier seen the film (which Pryor says misrepresents his part of the story), I would think he would  have been a bit more resistant to a sales pitch that said, “This is a great time to visit beautiful North Korea!” Indeed, being 22, presumably literate and of sound mind,  he should have had the knowledge and sense of self-preservation to resist that sales pitch even  if he had never seen any movie in his whole life. Continue reading

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