Ethics Survey: Ann Althouse’s “Big Question”

Reflecting on an essay in today’s Times, “Future Cringe/One day we’ll look back on this moment and wonder: What were we thinking?” by essayist/novelist Natasha Stagg, my favorite quirky blogger, Ann Althouse writes,

I love the big question, what are we doing now that we are going to be embarrassed/ashamed of in the future? I noticed this question when I was a child and heard things said about people in the past, as if those people were benighted and ridiculous. We are those people to people somewhere out there in the future. How can I avoid being looked at by them the way people today are looking at the people of the past?

One answer is to be more charitable to the people of the past. Realize that some day you’ll be in their position, and don’t you want those future people to be charitable toward you? Embarrassment is over-worried about. Maybe those people in the future are looking back at us and laughing about how prudish and uptight we were to think of them feeling embarrassed about us. That is, one day we’ll look back and be embarrassed that we were embarrassed.

Typical Ann: raising what she calls a “big question,” and almost immediately suggesting it isn’t so big after all, writing, “Embarrassment is over-worried about,” which is also an interesting sentence coming from a writer who is so often a language pedant.

As an ethicist who believes that human understanding of what is right and wrong constantly evolves and usually improves, my initial reaction to Ann’s question is, “What do you mean we?” I’ve been around a while, and I can honestly say that I’m not “embarrassed” by anything I once believed in, or any major reaction to the data life gave me. Individual deeds, words and moments, sure. I have plenty of past moments I wince to think about.

But Stagg is talking about the Wuhan virus freak-out, so don’t look my way. I didn’t freak out, and I did my best to try to keep others from doing so, failing miserably. However, the pandemic is the kind of event one’s response should only be embarrassed about if one knew, or should have known, that one’s response was dishonest, cowardly, or destructive, or if one had a genuine choice and foolishly took the wrong one. The pandemic was a unique challenge, and we were, as Marty Baron ( Liev Schreiber) says in “Spotlight” when a Boston Globe staffer is admitting that he could have blown the whistle on the Catholic Diocese predator priest scandal sooner, just “stumbling around in the dark.”

Yes, I think Dr. Fauci should be embarrassed. Andrew Cuomo should be embarrassed. The New York Times should be embarrassed, and the health “experts” who endorsed the mass George Floyd demonstrations as an exception to their warnings about large gatherings should hide their heads under bags. But for the most part, I think the pandemic is a poor example for Ann’s question. Continue reading

The Return Of Louis C.K. For Ethics Dummies

Ick.

Reading the news media and entertainment websites, one would think that Louis C.K.’s return to stand-up comedy after nearly a year in exile or rehab or something raises ethics conundrums that would stump Plato, Kant and Mill. It’s not that hard. The fact that everyone, especially those in the entertainment field, are displaying such confusion and angst just tells us something useful about them. They don’t know how to figure out what’s right and wrong.

In case you have forgotten, cult comedy star  Louis C.K. admitted last November at the peak of the #MeToo rush that he had masturbed in front of  at least five women without their consent. Ick. His cable show and other projects were cancelled, and he disappeared from the public eye. Then, last weekend, he returned to the stage at the Comedy Cellar in New York, performed for about 15 minutes, and received a standing ovation.  This apparently alternately shocked or confused people. I’ll make it simple.

Does the comedian have a right to practice his art after the revelation of his disgusting conduct?

Of course he does. He wasn’t sentenced to prison. He has a right to try to make a living at what he does well. In fact, he has a First Amendment right to tell jokes any where others will listen to him.

OK, he technically has a right. But is it right for him to come back like nothing has happened?

What? The man was publicly shamed and humiliated. He can’t come back as if nothing has happened, because everyone knows that something has happened. Nevertheless, his art does not require the public trust. It does not demand good character, or even the absence of a criminal record. Does a great singer sound worse because he was abusive to women? No. Is there a law that says men who are abusive to women should never be able to work again? No, and there shouldn’t be. I wouldn’t hire C.K. to work in an office, because I see no reason to trust him around others. But he’s not a worker, he’s an artist. He never engaged in inappropriate conduct on stage. He can be trusted as an artist,at least when he’s performing solo.

Comedian Michael Ian Black tweeted regarding Louis C.K.that “Will take heat for this, but people have to be allowed to serve their time and move on with their lives.I don’t know if it’s been long enough, or his career will recover, or if people will have him back, but I’m happy to see him try.” For this he apologized,  saying this position was “ultimately, not defensible.” after he was broiled on social media. Should he have apologized? Continue reading

Suicide And Ethics

Just as we learned about the suicides of two niche celebrities, Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade, the news media is reporting a massive increase is self-homicide since 1999, over 25%. “Social isolation, lack of mental health treatment, drug and alcohol abuse and gun ownership are among the factors that contribute to suicide,” says the Times. All of that hasn’t increased 25% in less than two decades, however. What has changed?

This:

1. The decline of religion. In Christianity, for example, suicide is a sin, and if you believe in an after-life, a terribly short term solution. People don’t believe in eternal punishment for suicide any more.

2. The end of shame. Suicide was once considered shameful in this culture. For decades, however, suicide advocates have been promoting it not only as a right, but a reasonable option under certain circumstances. Never mind sin: the culture currently teaches that suicide isn’t even wrong.

3. Reinforced narcissism, selfishness, and cowardice. Suicide is a terrible act of aggression against loved ones and associates.  As a member of a family that has suffered through three suicides, I have seen this up close. Suicides leave horrible emotional carnage in their wake. The essence of ethics, which is thinking about the impact of one’s conduct on others, has been gradually eroded in the culture through the dominance and influence of ethics corrupters.

4. Confused and contradictory cultural signals regarding death. Beginning with abortion, through assisted suicide laws in Oregon, our culture is sending strong messages that some people are better off dead. For the unsophisticated, the young and the gullible especially, this new cultural eddy makes suicide far more attractive than it used to be.

5. Celebrity suicides. In a culture that uses performing celebrities as role models, suicide becomes model conduct. Politicians rarely kill themselves, much as we might wish they would.

I don’t see any mystery at all. Suicide rates are increasing because our culture no longer sends the message that suicide is wrong.

Ethics Dunce: “Above The Law” Creator David Lat

The guy on the right feels happy and safe with everyone knowing he's gay, so the guy on the left is a fool for not wanting a sleazy website to tell the world that HE'S gay. Wait..WHAT?

The guy on the right feels happy and safe with everyone knowing he’s gay, so the guy on the left is a fool for being angry at a sleazy website for telling the world that HE’S gay. Wait..WHAT?

Every now and then, the Washington Post publishes an opinion piece from a guest commentator that crosses the line  distinguishing eccentric from irresponsible. Today’s essay by David Lat, the founder and CEO of the legal industry gossip site Above the Law, is an example of this bad habit. How wrong do one’s logic, values and message have to be before the Post deems them unworthy of promotion and wide consumption? Apparently, there is no limit.

Lat’s essay flagged its obtuseness immediately in its title: “Being Gay Isn’t Shameful, Do Why Does Outing Matter?” (The online version is “Peter Thiel had no reason to be angry at Gawker for writing that he’s gay.“)

The impetus for the article—it is so ethically deranged that I almost think it has to be a joke: who thinks like this?—is the news this week that  wrestler Hulk Hogan’s devastating and perhaps fatal lawsuit against Gawker Media was bankrolled by Peter Thiel,  the billionaire co-founder of PayPal and an  early Facebook investor.  Gawker outed him in a 2007 story, and Theil is using Hogan’ suit over Gawker revealing a sex tape to try to put the ethics-free celebrity-abusing site out of business. Thiel is just being petty and unreasonable, says Lat. Lat is gay and proud of it, so  Thiel should be too!

Writes Lat—whose own gossip site is not above revealing embarrassing facts about well-known figures for its readers’ titillation: Continue reading

The Progressive Corruption Of And Betrayal By The Democratic Party, PART 1: The Return Of Paula Jones

"Psst...remember not to smirk when you lie..."

“Psst…remember not to smirk when you lie…”

Paula Jones is speaking out again after almost 16 years. Good.

I can’t say she is an ethics  hero, for she has vengeance on her mind, and maybe even some desire to cash in…or who knows? Maybe she can get a stipend from the Clinton Foundation to keep quiet. Nonetheless, her reemergence is a good thing.  Too many have forgotten, or indeed never learned, about how she was sexually harassed by Bill Clinton when he was a governor and she worked for Arkansas, and systematically vilified and denigrated by Hillary, the Clinton team, and soulless Clinton enablers in the media before her lawsuit exposed the Monica Mess. I had even forgotten how outrageously she was treated, and I had followed the cases carefully.

I had not forgotten, however, the disgusting Democratic and feminist hypocrisy where she was concerned. Back in 1997, I remember confronting a prominent female trial lawyer, outspoken feminist, and then president of The Association of Trial Lawyers (before they changed their name to the stealth “American Association for Justice” to hide the fact that they were lawyers) whom I overheard trashing Jones as a lying, politically-motivated gold-digger. Recalling that during the Clarence Thomas hearings she had sported an “I believe Anita Hill” button, I asked her, in a room full of people, “Why don’t you believe Paula Jones, if you believed Anita Hill?” She just walked out of the room. She believed Anita Hill, whose accusation of  ClarenceThomas was entirely politically motivated and unprovable, because she wanted to. She didn’t believe Paula Jones, who had a much stronger case, because Jones was a big-haired, working-class woman who dared to try to hold accountable a powerful, liberal, serial sexual predator that her association had contributed millions to elect. She was ashamed of the answer to my question. She should have been.

Here’s Paula on the “most admired living President” and the presumptive standard bearer for the Democratic Party in 2016, who will be running on a pro-women platform and accusing Republicans of waging a “war on women”:

‘There is no way that she did not know what was going on, that women were being abused and accosted by her husband. They have both lied…She should not be running with the terrible history they have.  Who would want Bill Clinton back a second time, doing the same stuff he was doing before, philandering with women?…He does not have a right to be in the White House to serve the people the way he treated women, sexually harassing women. There were many women that came out and spoke out about what he did to them. He does not have a place in the White House to serve the American people.”

Have you forgotten? Here was the key section of Jones’s deposition that the Clinton team, guided by Hillary, claimed was all fabricated: Continue reading

CNN’s Chris Cuomo Gets An Ethics Dunce Hat Trick: Law, Journalism And Civics

dunce capBad day at CNN. First John Berman turns the morning news into frat boy jokes about “big stones” —a testicles reference! HAR!–and then CNN’s AM Big Kahuna Chris Cuomo humiliates himself and everyone associated with him by tweeting,

“Hate speech is excluded from protection. Don’t just say you love the Constitution…read it.”

Wow. Not only is Cuomo spectacularly wrong, but he was smug and arrogant about it. Much as censorious fake liberals who want to impose speech and thought codes on us all would like it to be the case, “hate speech” has no special status in the Constitution at all, other than its status as “speech.” Reason, in a rebuke to Cuomo that drips with appropriate but still somehow inadequate contempt, points out:

Okay, let’s take Cuomo’s challenge. Let’s read the speech part of the Constitution. (I hope this doesn’t take too long; I hate reading.) Oh, good, the speech stuff is right there at the beginning of the “things you can do” section:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. My copy of the Constitution seems to be missing this fabled “except hate speech, none of that” clause.

Well, then, it must be an exception found by the Supreme Court, right? Uh, no…Reason continues its schooling: Continue reading

Unethical Quote Of The Week: Cartoonist Garry Trudeau

The exquisitely rendered artwork of Gary Trudeau, circa 1970.

The exquisitely rendered artwork of Gary Trudeau, circa 1970.

“At some point free expression absolutism becomes childish and unserious. It becomes its own kind of fanaticism.”

—-Doonesbury cartoonist and relentless critic of the Right, Garry Trudeau, in a speech delivered on April 10 at the Long Island University’s George Polk Awards ceremony, where he received the George Polk Career Award.

Trudeau is a Yale grad, so perhaps we should cut him some slack muddled thinking. (Kidding!) However, in making his weak case that legitimate and socially acceptable satire only consists of “punching up,” he appeared to be advocating government prohibition of certain kinds of speech, to be designated by Trudeau and his ideological allies, who, of course, know best.

In doing this, Trudeau came very close to aping the popular theme from activists on the Left, especially on campuses, that “hate speech isn’t protected by the First Amendment.” “Hate speech” is an invention of progressives, and is generally defined as political or social criticism of members in good standing of their club, or groups and individuals they sympathize with or approve of.  Saying that you hope Rush Limbaugh’s kidneys fail is funny and deserved;  saying Mike Brown engineered his own demise by attacking a cop is hate speech. It’s easy when you get the hang of it: just look at the world like Gary Trudeau.

Earlier in his speech, he talked about “red lines” in satire, and blurrily–that is, inarticulately enough that he has plausible deniability, called for restrictions on “hateful” cartoons like those that prompted Islamic assassinations in Paris: Continue reading

Five Ethics Observations On The US’s Paris March Snub

world-leaders-paris-march

In case you didn’t catch it, more than 40 world leaders joined the start of a Paris march for unity against terrorism and for freedom of speech, linking arms in a demonstration of solidarity. Even Netanyahu and Abbas were there! The Paris march may have included more than 1.6 million marchers before it was done, reportedly the largest demonstration ever. More than three million have now marched across France in response to the deaths of 17 resulting from extremist attacks in Paris last week, beginning with the executions of the staff of the satirical newspaper, “Charlie Hebdo.”

You would expect, and I am sure that the world expected, that the United States of America, reputedly the leader of the free world and the nation that most symbolizes the human right of free speech, would have participated in the event with enthusiasm, conviction, and prominence. But no. President Barack Obama did not come to Paris to join with his fellow world leaders. He did not send Vice President Biden either. Though Attorney General Holder was in Paris, he was not directed to attend the march, and did not.  The United States was only represented by its ambassador, who is not a world leader, and whose job it is to attend routine functions large and small.

Initially the criticism of the obviously intentional snub was muted, with the toadying mainstream news media, as has been its standard operating procedure since 2008, acting and speaking as if there was nothing amiss. Fox News, also as usual, was the exception, but since that network is isolated and pigeon-holed as a reflexive Obama critic “no matter what he does,” this was initially ignored as more right-wing carping. Then, to his great credit, CNN’s Jake Tapper took to Twitter to say  that he was “a little disappointed personally” at the lack of a strong U.S. presence, and in a later statement, escalating to saying that he “was ashamed.” He then wrote in an opinion piece…

“I find it hard to believe that collectively President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Attorney General Eric Holder — who was actually in France that day for a conference on counterterrorism — just had no time in their schedules on Sunday. Holder had time to do the Sunday shows via satellite but not to show the world that he stood with the people of France?

There was higher-level Obama administration representation on this season’s episodes of “The Good Wife” on CBS.”

Good for Jake Tapper, one of the few relatively objective broadcast journalists who is worthy of public attention and trust. Continue reading

Undermining Addiction Treatment For A Petty News Story: The Ethics Bankruptcy Of CBS and Dean Kendrick

"Here you go, Dean. Now: what did Robin Williams share at your AA meeting?"

“Here you go, Dean. Now: what did Robin Williams share at your AA meeting?”

 Alcoholism is a national scourge that destroys lives, families and businesses, and  often kills both sufferers and those they interact with. It it is incurable. One of the few effective methods of keeping alcoholism under control is the Twelve Step program developed by Bill Wilson in the 1930s, and taught by the organization he founded, Alcoholics Anonymous. Millions of Americans attend AA meetings every day, including many who are very close to me.

Dean Kendrick works for CBS affiliate KPIX-5 in San Francisco, and he’s apparently an Alcoholic Anonymous member. This means that 1) we shouldn’t know he’s a member, and 2) especially that he shouldn’t be revealing, especially on television, that anybody else is a member, and 3) he absolutely should not be revealing what someone said or how they acted at a meeting he attended, and 4) this even applies to Robin Williams, dead celebrity that he is. Continue reading

Is It Possible That The Democratic Party Is As Corrupt As Its Conduct In The I.R.S. Investigation Suggests?

Corleone testifiesThis began as an Ethics Dunce post, but designating Congressional Democrats as ethics dunces for their current, apparently agreed upon and coordinated response to the disgraceful I.R.S. scandal—and it is a scandal—appears far more sinister than that. This appears to be a cover-up, and a particularly blatant, clumsy and desperate one, as well as a sickening display of a major political party abandoning its principals and constituency—meaning the American people and not donors, sycophants or “the base”—to impede an effort to get to the truth.

Here’s Post columnist Michael Gerson’s fair summary of the I.R.S. affair to date:

“To review: After President Obama blamed “two Dilberts in Cincinnati,” an inspector general’s report found that high-level IRS officials in Washington were involved in directing additional scrutiny toward tea party groups seeking tax exemptions. [I.R.S. official Lois]Lerner admitted as much, before taking the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying before the House oversight committee. The House of Representatives held her in contempt. And now the evidence of possible communications between Lerner and other agencies (including the White House) has gone missing under suspicious circumstances. It could be a regrettable series of rogue operations, IRS management failures and technical glitches. Or they could be taking us for fools. If there was any political motivation for this abuse of power, it is a form of corruption — the kind of thing Americans like to criticize in countries they regard as less developed. And the circumstantial evidence is strong. This wave of heightened IRS scrutiny came after Democratic senators, warning of possible abuses spawned by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, demanded additional IRS scrutiny of nonprofit political groups. Because evidence of political influence is both plausible and circumstantial, a special counsel is needed to sort out the truth.”

The summary, in an accurate article titled “An arrogant and lawless I.R.S..” doesn’t include the fact that nobody has been disciplined or held accountable in any way for what occurred, including any of the imaginary scapegoats in the Cincinnati office. It doesn’t note that I.R.S. Commissioner Koskinen delayed informing Congress of the lost e-mails for months, after assuring members, under oath, that they would be provided. Yesterday, Koskinen stooped to Bill Clinton levels of deceitful parsing, arguing that when he swore to Congress that he would deliver all e-mails, he meant only all the e-mails that existed, since he couldn’t deliver those that no longer existed. Why didn’t he mention that those key Lerner e-mails had vanished? He wasn’t asked! Meanwhile, a government archivist testified yesterday that not informing Congress that the e-mails had been lost indeed violated a federal statute. Also yesterday, the I.R.S. admitted that it illegally played politics in 2012, leaking confidential tax information from an anti-gay marriage group to the pro-marriage Human Rights Campaign. Continue reading