From The Ethics Alarms Archives: “Christmas: the Ethical Holiday”

Once again, I am re-posting the first Ethics Alarms Christmas post from way back in 2010, its first full year. (The last time I revived this post was in 2016.) I’m not inclined to change it, though I did fix some typos.

In the 2016 introduction, I wrote, “The ascendant attitude toward Christmas is both anti-religious and non-ethical.” That is still true.  In my extended neighborhood, there are giant penguins, snowmen, Santas, dragons, unicorns, the Grinch and Christmas Storm Troopers on lawns, and exactly one manger or reference to Jesus. There is no mention of peace, good will or love. My wishes of “Merry Christmas!” are returned, I’d estimate, about 20% of the time. Often I get glares, because saying “Merry Christmas!” must mean that I have a MAGA cap in my closet.

Those who might be otherwise tempted to show some signs of faith may be intimidated by  the Diversity Fascists, like this guy:

diversity-tweet

Yes, many people–they call themselves “progressives”— believe that a healthy national culture embracing love, charity, generosity and kindness is disrespectful. The culture seems to be capitulating to the bullying without a fight. The two most prominent Christmas movies on cable this year are the mildly cynical “A Christmas Story” and the wretched “Christmas Vacation,” which isn’t even a good Griswald movie, much less a decent Christmas movie. I have been searching for the original “Miracle on 34th Street”—yes, I know I haven’t finished the ethics review–and keep finding arguably the worst version, the one with Richard Attenborough playing Kris Kringle. “Four Christmases,” another bitter  comedy, has appeared many times. “A Christmas Carol” is now rare fare, but we get many showings of “Scrooged,” with Tiny Tim played by MaryLou Retton.

Some of the Hallmark Christmas stations have been playing a Whitney Houston version of “A Christmas Song” that interjects “Happy Kwanza” in the lyrics. Thanks to John Legend, we now have a Christmastime ditty that endorses abortion.

Think about that a minute.

I don’t know how to reverse the damage already inflicted on our society, but I do know that we have to try.

Here’s the post… Continue reading

Encore: On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide

[As promised, here is the Ethics Alarms Christmas package, lightly revised, last posted three years ago]

I don’t know what perverted instinct it is that has persuaded colleges and schools to make their campuses a Christmas-free experience. Nor can I get into the scrimy and misguided minds of people like Roselle Park New Jersey Councilwoman Charlene Storey, who resigned over the city council’s decision to call its Christmas tree lighting a Christmas Tree Lighting, pouting that this wasn’t “inclusive,” or the  CNN goon who dictated the bizarre policy that the Christmas Party shot up by the husband-wife Muslim terrorists had to be called a “Holiday Party.”  Christmas, as the cultural tradition it evolved to be, is about inclusion, and if someone feels excluded, they are excluding themselves.  Is it the name that is so forbidding? Well, too bad. That’s its name, not “holiday.” Arbor Day is a holiday. Christmas is a state of mind. [The Ethics Alarms Christmas posts are here.]

Many years ago, I lost a friend over a workplace dispute on this topic, when a colleague and fellow executive at a large Washington association threw a fit of indignation over the designation of the headquarters party as a Christmas party, and the gift exchange (yes, it was stupid) as “Christmas Elves.” Marcia was Jewish, and a militant unionist, pro-abortion, feminist, all-liberal all-the-time activist of considerable power and passion. She cowed our pusillanimous, spineless executive to re-name the party a “holiday party” and the gift giving “Holiday Pixies,” whatever the hell they are.

I told Marcia straight out that she was wrong, and that people like her were harming the culture. Christmas practiced in the workplace, streets, schools and the rest is a cultural holiday of immense value to everyone open enough to experience it, and I told her to read “A Christmas Carol” again. Dickens got it, Scrooge got it, and there was no reason that the time of year culturally assigned by tradition to re-establish our best instincts of love, kindness, gratitude, empathy, charity and generosity should be attacked, shunned or avoided as any kind of religious indoctrination or “government endorsement of religion.”  Jews, Muslims, atheists and Mayans who take part in a secular Christmas and all of its traditions—including the Christmas carols and the Christian traditions of the star, the manger and the rest, lose nothing, and gain a great deal.

Christmas is supposed to bring everyone in a society together after the conflicts of the past years have pulled them apart. What could possibly be objectionable to that? What could be more important than that, especially in these especially divisive times? How could it possibly be responsible, sensible or ethical to try to sabotage such a benign, healing, joyful tradition and weaken it in our culture, when we need it most?

I liked and respected Marcia, but I deplore the negative and corrosive effect people like her have had on Christmas, and as a result, the strength of American community. I told her so too, and that was the end of that friendship. Killing America’s strong embrace of Christmas is a terrible, damaging, self-destructive activity, but it is well underway. I wrote about how the process was advancing here, and re-reading what I wrote, I can only see the phenomenon deepening, and hardening like Scrooge’s pre-ghost heart. Then I said… Continue reading

Ethics Review: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

I watched last year’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” twice, just to make sure it was the profound ethics movie I thought it was. It is. None of the reviews described it that way, of course. Here is the New York Times:

“The movie opens on low boil with Mildred behind the wheel of her station wagon near three derelict billboards…she uses the billboards to announce her crusade … a way to get things jumping (the investigators, the tale) and splash some foreboding on an outwardly pacific scene. Much of the story involves the ripples of outrage, confusion and buffoonery that the billboards inspire and that soon envelop almost everyone Mildred knows. Months after her daughter’s death, grief has walled her in; isolating and seemingly impenetrable, it is inscribed in the hardness of her gaze and in her grim new identity as a mother of a dead girl. The billboards turn that grief into a weapon, a means of taking on the law and assorted men — a threatening stranger, a vigilante dentist and an abusive ex (John Hawkes) — who collectively suggest another wall that has closed Mildred in….”

None of which addresses what is remarkable about the film, which is that it shows what causes our ethics alarms not to ring—Frances McDormand as Mildred and Sam Rockwell as Dixon, a racist and vicious deputy, in particular demonstrate  what it is like to be driven by non-ethical considerations of the darkest and most passionate sort—and more important, what causes them to start ringing again. Most reviewers described this as a dark and depressing film. The ethics alarms are mostly off again as the film ends, and that is ominous, but its main ethics message is uplifting in many ways. “Three Billboards” teaches us that even broken, ignorant, alienated human beings have the capacity to access their innate instincts for compassion, justice, forgiveness, selflessness and kindness, and even when our ethical selves seem permanently overcome and decisively defeated, they can burst out again, in control, salvaging what’s best about the species.

There is a moment early in “Three Billboards” that signals that it is not only going to show us what monsters anger and grief can transform us into, but also that what George Washington’s list of 110 Rules called “that little spark of celestial fire called conscience” is remarkably resilient.  A sheriff—the ethics compass of the story, played by Woody Harrelson— visits Mildred after her billboard messages embarrass him and roil the town. She is hard and cold as marble as he tries to explain his failure to find her daughter’s rapist/killer, even after he reminds her that he is dying of cancer. Suddenly the sheriff has a violent  spasm: he coughs up blood on himself and Mildred. And we see her fury evaporate in an instant. The compassionate and caring mother she once was emerges, if only for a few moments. ( McDormand is such a superb actress that she pulls off the sudden transition convincingly and movingly: you believe it, though it is like watching Mr. Hyde turn into Dr. Jekyll in the snap of a finger.) Later, when again her fury has been aroused, we see the same woman firebomb the police station and watch implacably as her nemesis deputy burns. A warning: just because the ethics alarms can ring doesn’t mean they are working well enough.

Sam Rockwell’s character also reveals surprisingly that his ethics spark has not been entirely extinguished, again thanks to a catalyst supplied by the sheriff. This transformation caused considerable  criticism of the film among critics and artists in Hollywood, and some attribute the film’s failure to win the Best Picture Oscar to the fact that a racist is redeemed and revealed to have an ethical core. But except for the sociopaths and psychopaths among us, admittedly a disturbingly large group, we all have that ethical core. We have the ethics alarms too, ready to be re-activated, even if they aren’t in perfect working order. Yes, this is  even true of racists. So much of our current political discourse is driven by the false construct that a single belief or a single lapse of reason marks an individual as irredeemable. Its easier to marginalize and demonize them that way. But it isn’t true.

Indeed Ethics Alarms often declares certain conduct and words as signature significance, proving that an individual is unethical because such actions and thoughts are alien to ethical human beings. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” reminded me that people may be unethical–Mildred and Dixon, the deputy, could never be called ethical, for ethical people don’t set police stations on fire or throw young men out of second story windows, as Dixon does—but that even unethical individuals can find their ethics if you give them a chance.

And if they can find their ethics, so can all of us, and so can society. There is hope.

________________________

Addendum: I cannot leave “Three Billboards” without a salute to one of its most powerful scenes, when Mildred tells a priest why she doesn’t care what he has to say when he comes to her home to admonish her for the messages on the billboards:

Bingo.

An Ethics Hero Epic: Johnny Bobbitt, Jr, Kate McClure, And Americans

Kate, Johnny, and Kate’s boyfriend. I bet you can tell which is which…

I learned about this story days ago, and got so distracted by all the nauseating ethics news that I neglected to write it up. I apologize. This kind of story should always be the top priority.

Kate McClure of Bordentown, New Jersey, was driving through Philadelphia to visit a friend when her car ran out of gas in a tough section of the city. McClure pulled over, got out of her vehicle and began to walk to the nearest gas station. But Johnny Bobbitt, Jr, an ex-Marine who lives on the streets, saw her plight and immediately took charge. The neighborhood was a dangerous place for a woman to walk alone, he told her, and suggested that she get back in her car, lock the doors, and leave matters to him.

A few minutes later, Bobbitt was back with a full gas can, and gave Kate  20 dollars, the only money he had to his name,  to make sure she could get home safely.

McClure said she did not have money to pay Bobbitt back that night, but she returned several times to the spot where he sits, offering him a few dollars and useful items.. Then McClure started a GoFundMe for her rescuer. She wrote,

I would like to get him first and last month’s rent at an apartment, a reliable vehicle, and 4-6 months worth of expenses. He is very interested in finding a job, and I believe that with a place to be able to clean up every night and get a good night’s rest, his life can get back to being normal.

So far, her campaign has attracted donations totalling almost $380,000 for Bobbitt.

The veteran has been homeless for over a year because of real problems. He has battled drugs, bad choices and probably emotional issues as well. I hope this story has a happy ending. So far so good, though. Johnny demonstrated exemplary ethics, sacrificing his own well-being for a stranger. Kate demonstrated genuine gratitude, empathy and concern, and took affirmative action to try to pay him back. And the American public, as it usually does, showed that when sufficiently alert, it knows how to reward good and selfless deeds.

Comment Of The Day: “Weeping And Screaming At The Sky: Dear Democrats…”

Well, I stand corrected!  The anti-Trump response of  “screaming helplessly at the sky” wasn’t as worthless as I opined. At least the prospect of it inspired this Comment of the Day by Ryan Harkins in which he postulates the infantilization of America.

Here it is, on the post, Weeping And Screaming At The Sky: Dear Democrats, Progressives, And “The Resistance,” Are You Embarrassed Yet? Why Not?:

What came to mind when I read this is the notion of the “infantilization of America”, which actually came up second in the Google search by the time I typed in “infanti”.

When I stop and question, not necessarily the ethics of the “aaargh!!!” resistance, but the motivation and the appeal to such tactics, I admit that my conclusions might be a bit biases. But when my 3-year-old wants something and doesn’t get it, she throws a tantrum. Sometimes she throws the tantrum before I say no, in anticipation of that very event. Other than the profanity, the “aaargh!!!” event very closely resembles my daughter’s tantrums.

I am looking forward to the day, hopefully not far off, when my daughter and I might have a conversation like this:

“Dad, may I have a cookie?”

“No, it is past 4 o’clock, and the rules are no snacks after 4.”

“Yes, Dad, I respect that. However, you admitted that dinner is going to be late, and the reason behind the 4 o’clock rule is so that I don’t spoil my appetite for dinner. I am, admittedly, very hungry, and think one cookie now, with two hours yet until dinner, won’t impact my capacity to eat my entire meal.”

“That is very good reasoning, but spoiling your appetite is not the only reason not to have a snack at this point. Another reason is discipline, and training your capacity to resist indulging every desire the moment it appears. A little hunger is not going to hurt you, and your ability to withstand a little hunger now will help you withstand other temptations as you go through life.”

“Wow, Dad, I hadn’t thought of that. So, can I have a stalk of celery instead, since it isn’t very filling?”

“All right, you can have a stalk of celery. Hey, wait, why are you getting out the peanut butter?!?”

“Dad, you can’t have celery without peanut butter, and you said I could have a stalk of celery.”

“…grumble, grumble…

I think anyone who is a parent will quickly assure me that such a conversation is pure fantasy. However, who wouldn’t want to deal with his children in such a fashion? Who wouldn’t want to deal with other adults in such a reasonable fashion? Why then are we getting the “aaargh!!!” treatment? I think it is because we have, as a culture, infantilized ourselves. Continue reading

Holiday Encore: “Christmas: the Ethical Holiday”

darth-vader-christmas

I googled “Christmas ethics” yesterday, and guess what came up first. This Ethics Alarms post, from December 25, 2010.

I fix a couple of things, but it is basically the same. If I were writing it anew, I might not use the loaded term “war on Christmas,” which those who are trying to shove Christmas out of the national culture indignantly deny. It isn’t a war, exactly, just a relentless, narrow-minded and destructive effort to take something that has been enduring, healthy, unifying and good, and re-define it as archaic, offensive, divisive, and wrong. Call it the suffocation of Christmas, or perhaps the assassination of Christmas. Whatever one calls it, the process has progressed since 2010.

We’ve discussed on various comment threads quite a bit about how Christmas music has almost vanished from radio. It has also been effectively banned from public schools, who are terrified of law suits in era when parents might sue over their child being warped by learning “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” “Here Comes Santa Claus!”, another one of Gene Autry’s liveliest Christmas hits, one he wrote himself(unlike “Rudolph”), has been declared musica non grata everywhere but on nostalgia satellite radio. It is such an up-beat song; Bing Crosby sings it with the Andrews Sisters on his iconic “Merry Christmas!” album. Why is it unwelcome today? It is unwelcome because the lyrics say we are “all God’s children,” and ends with “Let’s give thanks for the Lord above.” Can’t have that.

The ascendant attitude toward Christmas is both anti-religious and non-ethical. In my neighborhood, there are far more Star Wars Christmas figures, including Yule Darth Vader ( though thankfully not the 18-ft. Hammacher-Schlemmer version pictured above) and Christmas Storm Troopers, than any suggestion of peace, good will or love. Even these non-sectarian displays are too much for the Diversity Fascists, like this guy:

diversity-tweet

Such people believe that a healthy national culture embracing love, charity, generosity and kindness is disrespectful, and their society-rotting ideology is as much of a threat to our nation as terrorism. I don’t know how to reverse the damage already inflicted on our society, but I do know that we have to try. Reinvigorating Christmas and the ethical values it stands for would be a good start.

Merry Christmas, everyone—and I do mean everyone.

Finally, here’s the post..

Continue reading

On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide

christmas-hero-H

I don’t know what perverted instinct it is that has persuaded colleges and schools to make their campuses a Christmas-free experience. Nor can I get into the scrimy and misguided minds of people like Roselle Park New Jersey Councilwoman Charlene Storey, who resigned over the city council’s decision to call its Christmas tree lighting a Christmas Tree Lighting, pouting that this wasn’t “inclusive,” or the  CNN goon who dictated the bizarre policy that the Christmas Party shot up by the husband-wife Muslim terrorists had to be called a “Holiday Party.”  Christmas, as the cultural tradition it evolved to be, is about inclusion, and if someone feels excluded, they are excluding themselves.  Is it the name that is so forbidding? Well, too bad. That’s its name, not “holiday.” Arbor Day is a holiday. Christmas is a state of mind. [The Ethics Alarms Christmas posts are here.]

Many years ago, I lost a friend over a workplace dispute on this topic, when a colleague and fellow executive at a large Washington foundation threw a fit of indignation over the designation of the headquarters party as a Christmas party, and the gift exchange (yes, it was stupid) as “Christmas Elves.” Marcia was Jewish, and a militant unionist, pro-abortion, feminist, all-liberal all-the-time activist of considerable power and passion. She cowed our pusillanimous, spineless executive to re-name the party a “holiday party” and the gift giving “Holiday Pixies,” whatever the hell they are.

I told Marcia straight out that she was wrong, and that people like her were harming the culture. Christmas practiced in the workplace, streets, schools and the rest is a cultural holiday of immense value to everyone open enough to experience it, and I told her to read “A Christmas Carol” again. Dickens got it, Scrooge got it, and there was no reason that the time of year culturally assigned by tradition to re-establish our best instincts of love, kindness, gratitude, empathy, charity and generosity should be attacked, shunned or avoided as any kind of religious indoctrination or “government endorsement of religion.”  Jews, Muslims, atheists and Mayans who take part in a secular Christmas and all of its traditions—including the Christmas carols and the Christian traditions of the star, the manger and the rest, lose nothing, and gain a great deal. Christmas is supposed to bring everyone in a society together after the conflicts of the past years have pulled them apart, What could possibly be objectionable to that? What could be more important than that, especially in these especially divisive times? How could it possibly be responsible, sensible or ethical to try to sabotage such a benign, healing, joyful tradition and weaken it in our culture, when we need it most?

I liked and respected Marcia, but I deplore the negative and corrosive effect people like her have had on Christmas, and as a result, the strength of American community. I told her so too, and that was the end of that friendship. Killing America’s strong embrace of Christmas is a terrible, damaging, self-destructive activity, but it us well underway. I wrote about how the process was advancing here, and re-reading what I wrote, I can only see the phenomenon deepening, and hardening like Scrooge’s pre-ghost heart. Then I said…

Christmas just feels half-hearted, uncertain, unenthusiastic now. Forced. Dying.

It was a season culminating in a day in which a whole culture, or most of it, engaged in loving deeds, celebrated ethical values, thought the best of their neighbors and species, and tried to make each other happy and hopeful, and perhaps reverent and whimsical too.  I think it was a healthy phenomenon, and I think we will be the worse for its demise. All of us…even those who have worked so diligently and self-righteously to bring it to this diminished state.

Resuscitating and revitalizing Christmas in our nation’s heart will take more than three ghosts, and will require overcoming political correctness maniacs, victim-mongers and cultural bullies; a timid and dim-witted media, and spineless management everywhere. It is still worth fighting for.

More than five years ago, Ethics Alarms laid out a battle plan to resist the anti-Christmas crush, which this year is already underway. Nobody was reading the blog then; more are now. Here is the post: Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Washington Nationals Star Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper

The knock on Bryce Harper, the Nationals’ 22 year-old burgeoning superstar who will soon be named the 2015 NL MVP, is that he’s immature, cocky, and self-destructive. But he seems to have proven himself to be far less so than the same sportswriters who have so often leveled such doubts about his character. This is good news for the Nationals and their fans, and also for suckers like me, who believe that baseball stars have an obligation to be good role models.

I wrote here about the late September, mid-game dugout fight between Harper and Jonathan Papelbon, a late season acquisition by the Nats whose arrival as a new bullpen ace coincided with team’s collapse in the National League East race. Post hoc ergo propter hoc being as seductive a logical fallacy as it is, Nats fans and, less excusably, the D.C. sports press blamed much of the Nats failure on the ex-Phillies, ex-Red Sox closer, along with manager Matt Williams, who was fired immediately after the regular season. Papelbon was also blamed for the fight, which is fair: he started it.

I noted in a follow-up post: Continue reading

Ethics Heroes: Adam and Tanya Phillips

tattoos

I’ve been searching for Ethics Heroes of late. They seem to be candidates for the endangered species list. Now a qualified couple, Adam and Tanya Phillips, has surfaced in the town of Grimsby, in Great Britain. Their 18-month old daughter, Honey-Rae, has a port wine birthmark running from her right foot to her lower back. After they noticed shoppers staring at their child at a local supermarket, the parents both got  tattoos the color and shape of the mark on their own right legs. Each took two-and a half hours, and was painful.

 When Honey-Rae  saw them for the first time, she said “match.”

Loving, selfless, kind…and clever.

And one of the best uses for tattoos I’ve heard of yet

.___________________

Pointer: Althouse

Facts and Graphic: BBC

Case Study In Cultural Ethics Rot: “Bin Laden Shooter” Robert O’Neill

Dead, but still helping to corrupt our culture...

Yes, dead, but still helping to corrupt our culture…

Do you remember all those World War II, Korean War and Vietnam veterans who published books and gave interviews taking personal credit for the successes of the United Armed Services? No, neither do I, because there weren’t very many. The ethical culture of military organizations has always been that the unit is what matters, not the individual. For a soldier to seek credit, accolades and celebrity through his own disclosures was regarded as disgraceful conduct, and a betrayal of military honor and tradition.

Those values, and the important larger cultural values that they reinforce, are crumbling rapidly. Former Navy SEAL Robert O’Neill, one of many U.S. special forces members to storm Osama bin Laden’s compound on May 2, 2011, confirmed to The Washington Post that he was the unnamed SEAL who fired the fatal bullet at the terrorist leader. His decision to make himself an instant celebrity and speaker circuit star comes nearly two years after another Seal in the mission, Matt Bissonnette, published his account of the raid, “No Easy Day.” The Post says that O’Neill has endured “an agonizing personal struggle, as he weighed concerns over privacy and safety against a desire to have a least some control over a story that appeared likely to break, with or without his consent.” There is no struggle if O’Neill accepted that fact that his ethical obligation is to shut up, and not dishonor his colleagues, his profession and his country by choosing celebrity over preserving a vital ethical standard.

Will future Seals jeopardize the success of their missions as each tries to deliver the “money shot” that will literally result in millions? Why wouldn’t they, now that soldiers are absorbing the American culture’s obsession with cashing in and becoming famous as the primary objective of human existence? Like all ethical standards, the tradition of soldiers neither seeking individual credit nor wanting it had strong practical reasons for its existence. A military unit is the ultimate team, and no team can function at maximum efficiency if the members regard themselves as competing for glory. Continue reading