Ethics Quiz: The Deer On The Ice

“The Wisconis State Journal reports,

“Republican Rep. Adam Jarchow… said he would fire the [Department of Natural Rresouces] warden tomorrow if he could for ‘being complicit in putting firefighters at risk, over a stupid deer.’

‘This is a complete embarrassment and a joke,’ tweeted Jarchow…. The DNR posted a glowing statement about the incident on its website Tuesday. The release praised Warden Jesse Ashton for organizing a team of wardens and local firefighters to rescue the deer [The deer had wandered 500 yards out onto the frozen lake], saying, ‘Those little hooves are no match for slick surfaces!… Teamwork strikes again!'”

You can imagine the calumny being heaped on this monster’s head by animal lovers on social media.

But is he right? (Jarchow is himself a volunteer firefighter.)

Your Ethics Alarms Thanksgiving Weekend Ethics Quiz Of The Day is….

Should firefighters be used to rescue animals in peril?

_______________

Pointer: Ann Althouse

Comments Of The Day (3): “An Especially Ugly Ethics Quiz: Cam Betrayed”

There have been many excellent posts on the Ethics Quiz about the couple that executed their apparently loving therapy dog, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier named Cam. Three comments stand out (I could easily have selected twice this many, however) , one by Paul W. Schlecht, another by slickwilly, and a third by Elizabeth II. They cover some common ground, and together show the complexity and breadth of this issue, which goes beyond mere animal cruelty to our society’s emotional connection, confusion and hypocrisy about animals generally. I decided that they complement each other, and am posting them as a set.

First, here is slickwilly’s Comment of the Day on the post, “An Especially Ugly Ethics Quiz: Cam Betrayed”:

Growing up rural, animal management is a way of life. You care for ‘commercial’ animals and you care for ‘pets.’ Confusing the two causes problems with regards to ‘final disposition.’ You never torture the animal (as this was considered a lack of character and a sign of a dangerous person) but attempt to make the act as painless as possible. (Note this is why you never hunt deer with an insufficient caliber, or take low probability shots that may wound but not quickly lower the target’s blood pressure to induce unconsciousness. Not only is is more humane, but also prevents the meat from being tainted or lost.)

A good working definition of a commercial animal versus a pet is driven by what type of profits are earned on the animal. We (generally) keep and pay for pets for emotional reasons (a type of profit), and do not expect monetary profit. Commercial animals are for food and profit. The line can blur, as in the case of military bomb dogs or ‘barn’ cats, but this generally is the case. It is a pet if you cannot bear to think of eating it. Cows can be pets. Dogs can be junk yard guard animals. The owner’s feelings make the difference.

I remember some folks who were unable to kill their show chickens, pigs, sheep, (or whatever) for delivery to the buyer (who did not bid on a live animal, and paid well over market value to support the college aspirations of the seller.) The Ag teacher’s advice was to never name a meat production animal, if you intend to sell it. Reluctance to complete the life cycle of such animals indicated the person was not suited to that sort of rural agricultural activity. Go grow corn if you like, but don’t raise beef. There was no shame in this: find what you like to do and do it. But make no mistake: anyone who has cared for 20 pigs knows they are NOT pets, and they EAT a lot, which has to be paid for.

Continue reading

A New Rationalization For A Slow Sunday: #57A The Utilitarian Cheat, or “If It Saves Just One Life”

On another thread, a reader attacked the Rationalization List <GASP!>,, the beating heart of Ethics Alarms, arguing that many of what are labelled rationalizations are valid justifications and cited as such on this very site. A vile canard! Of course many rationalizations can also be valid arguments for or against conduct. Take #59. The Ironic Rationalization, or “It’s The Right Thing To Do.” We do the right things because they are right, but we also have calculated why they are right, which means dealing with and rebutting the counter-arguments that might suggest those decisions are not right.  However, #59 addresses the frequent use of the “It’s the right thing to do” as a argument-ender, employing it as evidence when it really has to be a conclusion based on other evidence and analysis.

The latest addition to the Ethics Alarms Rationalization List does not have this problem. It is almost always a cheap rhetorical device, slyly edging what needs to be a clear-eyed, rational analysis of proposed conduct into the confounding realm of emotion. #57 A, The Utilitarian Cheat or “If its saves just one life” is a sub-rationalization under #57, 57. The Universal Trump, or “Think of the children!”  (It could easily be the other way around.)

#57 A. The Utilitarian Cheat or “If it saves just one life”

Invoking Rationalization #57A is as good a test as there is for identifying an untrustworthy demagogue. The claim that something is worth enacting, eliminating, establishing or doing is ethically and morally validates “if it saves juts one life” is aimed directly at the mushy minds of sentimentalists  and the dangerously compassionate. If the argument is made in good faith, the speaker is an incompetent dolt; usually it is the desperate last resort of a someone who has found that their real arguments are inadequate or unpersuasive.

The insidious trick inherent in the device is that we agree that human life is precious, and that we can not and will not place a dollar sign on a human being. The next step, however, in which a single life, or even many, is deemed justification for any expense or other draconian societal trade-offs, is impractical and irrational. It would save many lives if automobiles were built like tanks and could never exceed five miles an hour. Locking up ever angry husband that threatened the life of an estranged spouse with a menacing phone call would save many lives. So would forcing women to carry their babies to term, eliminating the right to have an abortion. Torture used without restrictions probably would save one life or more. Prohibition was sold using #57A.

All of these policy conundrums and many others are too complex by far to use simple-minded absolutism as their ethical guideline, and about 30 seconds of logical clarity will usually make that clear.  Those who employ The Utilitarian Cheat, however, don’t want clarity. It is an appeal to embrace acts that can do wide-ranging harm to society, civilization, human aspirations and liberty, because un-named lives can be saved. Though it is opposite of the exploitation of human life for other goals that Kantian ethics forbids, it is equally invalid.

___________________________

Graphic: gunssavelives.net

The Special Needs Student, the Compassionate Teacher and the “Awww!” Factor (UPDATED)

Debra Fisher

Regular readers here are familiar with the “Ick Factor,” the common phenomenon where a situation that causes an emotional response of revulsion, disgust or fear is labelled unethical when there is nothing unethical about it. Many kinds of conduct are icky, but still on the right side of ethics, if only one can put aside the gag reflex. The reverse of the Ick Factor is the less common “Awww!” Factor, where particular conduct seems loving, caring and nice, but is in fact unethical in one or more respects. Such is the case of New York City special needs teacher Debra Fisher.

In October, Fisher was suspended when e-mails were discovered on the school computer system showing that she had been spending school time raising funds for a special project on behalf of Aaron Phillip, a thirteen year old special needs student who is an aspiring animator with his own blog. The project’s goal was to raise $15,000 for a nonprofit devoted to developing Aaron’s talent, an organization called “This Ability Not Disability” founded and administered by Fisher.

Awww!

The problem was that while her efforts on behalf of the student were supported by the school, Fisher, an occupational therapist at Public School 333 with nine years of service, did not have permission to perform them during school hours. Thus she was suspended for six weeks. Now she is suing the school system for back pay, telling reporters, “I’m just trying to fight for what I believe is right.”

If she believes she is right, then she shouldn’t be working at the school at all, because she is in fact dead wrong.

But awfully nice. Continue reading

Flunking Responsibility, Honesty, Common Sense and Ethics: Gov. Deval Patrick, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Daily Kos, and Anyone Else Who Repeats This Idiotic Analogy

Deval Patrick

I thought I might run an ethics quiz asking whether this current and mind-bogglingly stupid argument that keeps popping up from my sentiment-addled Facebook friends is more unethical than the pro-Hamas hashtags being appended to twitter comments by the “Think of the children!” saps led by celebrities like Jon Stewart, Selena Gomez, and John Cusack. Pondering on it, however, I realized that as ethically misguided as Stewart at al. are, the above quote and its ilk are worse….especially since state governors and U.S. Senators have more credibility than comedians and Disney pop tarts. Not that they should, mind you.

If I really have to make a detailed argument explaining why Deval’s quote and  Leahy’s ( “Think of all those Jews that went to the ovens because we forgot our principles. Let’s not turn our backs now.”) are unforgivably irresponsible, we are just as dim-witted as those demagogues (or, more likely, as dim-witted as they hope and think we are.) The statements are no more nor less than an invitation to every parent of every child in every poor, war-torn, politically foul, culturally poisoned, dangerous, corrupt nation in the world to somehow get them to the U.S. border, paying shady and often treacherous agents to do so, because the United States will not “turn its back,” and turn them back. The question isn’t whether this is a legitimate, responsible or sane position worthy of debate and serious consideration: of course it isn’t. The question is how anyone can think it is. Continue reading

Children Make Us Stupid, Or “Why Are U.S. News Networks Assisting Brutal Palestinian Propaganda?”

child victim

“Children make us stupid” is but a corollary to the law often stated here, “Bias makes you stupid.” Our natural bias in favor of caring for, protecting and seeking happiness for children is genetically wired into our being. Thus, in action movie after action movie, when the villain puts a gun to a child’s head, the hero invariably drops his weapon, apparently giving the world over to dictatorship, pestilence or death to save one rosy-cheeked kid. (Well, except for Dirty Harry, who picks off the creep holding the gun to the kid’s head with one well-aimed shot.) The trade-off is really, really stupid, and not ethical either: sacrificing the welfare of the many for a single child is simply illogical and wrong. But to those sentimentalists who don’t strain themselves by thinking, and to cynical politicians who know better but also know that convincing morons is all it takes to win “a majority” ( “…if even one child’s life can be saved…“—President Obama, 2013 State of the Union Message), the human bias that gives irrational priority to children is pure gold.

Obama’s use of the false ethic was  his call for gun control in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, in which an anomalous attack on a grade school was used to make it seem like children were being hunted down like rabbits. We are currently watching another classic demonstration of the “children trump everything” fallacy, and it is both a logical and an ethical fallacy:  the emotional and irresponsible rhetoric over the fate of the unaccompanied South American children being sent to the United States as a predictable response to Democratic promises of a better life, a college education, and eventual citizenship. The fact is that child illegal immigrants are just as illegal and just as undesirable as any other variety: they are just cuter, sadder, less culpable and easier to use to demonize principled opposition.

It is not surprising that the Palestinians, who pioneered using children as suicide bombers, figured out that sacrificing their own kids might be a dandy way to turn public opinion against Israel in its long, mad, apparently endless quest to eliminate the Jewish state. Israel turned over control of Gaza to the Palestinians there, and the Palestinians elected Hamas, which seeks, as written policy, the elimination of Israel. Instead of  using its resources to create a state and a stable infrastructure for society, Hamas spent millions importing and producing rockets, launchers, mortars, small arms, and even drones to do battle with Israel. It built a network of tunnels, and stockpiled the weapons in hospitals, religious sites, and crowded residential areas, using these locales to fire a barrage of rockets into Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Continue reading

Pat Summitt, Failing a Great Leader’s Toughest Test

Be like Lou, Pat...so the next diminished leader can be like you.

Pat Summitt, the legendary University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach who has won more games than any other college coach ever, men’s or women’s, received test results from the Mayo Clinic at the end of May that confirmed early-onset Alzheimer’s type dementia.  The irreversible brain disease is now at work destroying the 59-year-old Summitt’s abilities of recall and cognition, and as it is for the other estimated 5 million Americans with the disabling disease, the prognosis is grim.

Everyone in the Tennessee and sports community as well as the media and all of us who have seen loved ones suffer with the disease are rallying behind Summitt, who is one of the toughest, smartest, most determined figures in sports. But Coach Summitt has decided that her symptoms are not yet severe enough to force her into retirement, and she intends to stay at the helm of the Tennessee women’s basketball team at least three more years.

It is the wrong decision. It is a selfish and unethical decision. The question is whether anyone will have the courage to try to convince Summitt that she has a duty to the team, the school, her own legacy and basic principles of ethics to change course and do the right thing. Quit. Continue reading