Comment Of The Day: “Unethical Times Op-ed Of The Week?”

Timothy Egan’s spectacularly dishonest op-ed for the Times, The Founders Would Gag at Today’s Republicans: The cult of Trump has embraced values and beliefs that Jefferson, Washington and Lincoln abhorred,” was one more conservative- and Trump-bashing exercise disguised as a history lesson, albeit for Americans who know little about history and foolishly assume that they can trust pundits like Egan to enlighten them. Of course, all such exercises in time-traveling appeals to authority are inherently dishonest. 18th century minds, even those as sharp and creative as the Founders possessed, would go into shock at most of what they saw today if somehow provided the opportunity, and would take a while to understand why things have evolved as they have.

Frequent commenter JutGory sat down and treated Ethics Alarms readers with an analysis of developments the Founders would have had trouble with without indulging in the sort of cherry-picking and distortion Egan did to pander to the Times’ progressive readership. The result of what Jut called his “retro-prognostications” is a genuinely educational post, and a distinguished Comment of the Day.

Here it is:

If we are doing retro-prognostications, I bet I could do better:

Disclaimer: the Founders would probably be a bit mystified at the technological advances in general.

They would not be surprised by the abolition of slavery. They would be half-surprised that it took a war to do it (“We put in an amendment process for pretty much this reason, people!”)

They would probably be surprised at how much power the Supreme Court (the weakest branch) wields. Of course it only wields that much power because the other branches have gotten more powerful. To wit:

They would be surprised by the 16th Amendment (income tax), as it is a direct tax of the individual by the Federal Government, but okay (“Yay, Amendment process).

Of course, money is power, so, with more tax money comes more power.

They would be completely baffled by the 17th Amendment (direct election of Senators). That opens the Senate up to national influences, instead of influence from a small group of state legislators. That was kind of the whole point of the Senate: to represent the States, not its citizens.

But, you can’t pass a farm subsidy bill if Senators answer to their legislatures.

Can’t get universal healthcare if Senators stand in the way.

But, you change the Senate selection process, you get popular candidates, supported by national appeal and no specific understanding of the needs of the State (Hello, Al Franken!)

The power grab of the Commerce Clause would puzzle them. Continue reading

Instagram Shows Us Once Again That Social Media Is Dedicated To Rigging Public Debate And Discourse To Ensure Progressive Policies

But conservatives are the autocrats and fascists.

This thoughtful and provocative cartoon by Adam Ford, the founder of the  conservative satire site, The Babylon Bee, was banned as “hate speech” by Instagram:

Observations:

1. Blaming this on a flawed algorithm won’t wash. Yes, it is difficult to write programs to identify genuine non-substantive speech designed only to insult denigrate or defend, and this means that a fair and competent social media platform must lean toward being over-permissive rather than unjustly and illogically censorious.

2. Obviously, the cartoon doesn’t qualify as hate speech even under the vaguest and most sweeping definition of a term that is too flexible anyway. The comparison between slavery and abortion isn’t new, and it keeps arising because abortion advocates have yet to rebut it. Both issues involve what one side believes is a human rights violation that is defended by denying the humanity of the victims, or arguing that the abuse of the victims is justified by the benefits to those abusing them. The analogy has been raised in films (such as “The Island”) and television (as on a memorable episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” The cartoon could be and should be used in classroom discussions on the question of abortion.

3. For that to happen, however, people have to see it, and be allowed to think. Social media, when it censors speech and opinion that offend the sensibilities of the “woke” simply because such speech challenge progressive ideology and cant, isn’t “protecting its users.” It is protecting its allies from having to prevail in policy debates with facts, logic and ethics by bluntly silencing dissent. This is becoming a bad and frightening habit. In his new book “”A Thousand Small Sanities,” liberal commentator David Gropnik writes, “The contemporary left can sometimes seem to have an insufficient respect for the fragility of the very same liberal institutions that allow its views to be broadcast without impediments.” Ya think??

4. Meanwhile, the controversy isn’t being covered by the mainstream media at all, at least not yet. Thus other institutions are enabling social media’s content-based ideological censorship by not publicizing it. All the better to have the metaphorical frog of the American public boiled slowly in progressive censorship before they know what’s going on. (Yes, you pedants out there, I know that you can’t really boil a frog to death slowly, but that’s the old myth.)

5. One overly kind Christian website tried to come up with ways Instagram might have legitimately concluded that the cartoon was hate speech:

There is another possible reason Instagram flagged Ford’s post in question. Throughout the comic, which equivocates old hypothetical pro-slavery arguments with modern pro-choice rhetoric, Ford refers to black people as “blacks” — a term often flagged as offensive, though some style guides do permit “black” to be used as a noun as well as an adjective. While Instagram does not specifically forbid the use of “black” as a noun in their community guidelines, it does require users to only “post photos and videos that are appropriate for a diverse audience.”

Even accepting this theory, the censorship is unethical and ominous. So if “some people” find a term that is generally accepted elsewhere as “offensive,” that justifies banning a substantive message? It is still oppressive speech policing no matter how one looks at it.

Independence Day Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/4/19: Jefferson, Amash, Snyder [UPDATED]

Happy birthday, USA!

1. Thomas Jefferson’s Day. Since Nike chose this time to announce that it was ashamed of the Revolutionary War flag, and Charlottesville similarly picked this week of all weeks to distance itself from it most famous and accomplished son,  it is appropriate to recall why Thomas Jefferson is the single American who should be most honored on the Fourth of July.

At the Foundation for Economic Education site (excellent site, by the way), the organization’s president, Lawrence W. Reed, offers a cogent rebuttal to those who would metaphorically (or literally) tear down Jefferson’s memorials because he could not find it in himself to stop practicing slave-holding while publicly making the case against it. Reed writes in part,

More than any other man or woman, July 4 belongs to Thomas Jefferson. As the principal author of the charter that proclaimed America’s independence and the reasons that impelled it, his spirit and his words are essentially what we celebrate on this day.

That such praise is not deemed “politically correct” in some quarters and may even evoke hostility in others is not a pleasant commentary on the state of current political dialogue. A kind of intertemporal bigotry is loose in the land. It prompts the virtue-signaling self-righteous to judge people of the past against the conventions of today. Isn’t it strange that evolution is accepted as natural in the biological world but often not in the realm of human thought?

…[H]umans didn’t support slavery one day and then oppose it when they all woke up the next. Some people never saw the light; others were against it from the moment it first entered their minds. Millions in the late 18th and early 19th centuries were somewhere in between, and lots of them evolved on the issue over the course of their lives. In other words, they learned and they changed. That’s how humanity progresses.

Thanks to visionaries like Jefferson, Americans were forced eventually to end the contradiction between the words of the Declaration of Independence and the reality around them. Jefferson’s own words were evoked to accomplish that.

Historian Jim Powell, in his FEE article of July 1, 1995, titled “Thomas Jefferson’s Sophisticated, Radical Vision of Liberty,” addressed the slavery issue thusly.

“Though Jefferson had personal failings—in the case of slavery, a monstrous one—they don’t invalidate the philosophy of liberty he championed, any more than Einstein’s personal failings are evidence against his theory of relativity. Moreover, every one of Jefferson’s adversaries, past and present, had personal failings, which means that if ideas are to be dismissed because of an author’s failings, Jefferson and his adversaries would cancel each other out. When historians finish dumping on Jefferson, they still won’t have cleared the way for Karl Marx or whomever they admire. Jefferson’s accomplishments and philosophy of liberty must be recognized for their monumental importance.”

So yes, Thomas Jefferson wasn’t perfect. And neither are his critics. They should hope that across their entire lives, they might accomplish for liberty what Jefferson achieved in a few weeks of literary genius. He marshaled the English language on behalf of ideas, and they sparked liberty’s loudest thunderclap in human history….

2. Yes, Rep. Amash is an Ethics Dunce. One reason the Tea Party movement ran out of gas is that the elected officials who rose to power under its banner were mostly unqualified, doctrinaire, simplistic grandstanders who seemed to think bumper-sticker slogans are a substitute for reasoning. Amash is typical of the breed. He recently gained the praise of the Trump Deranged by declaring that the Mueller Report proves that the President engaged in “high crimes and misdemeanors” (it doesn’t, but any effort to undermine President Trump qualifies as heroic  to “the resistance”).  This predictably attracted a furious backlash in his district and his party, and Amash’s prospects for re-election in 2020 now appear to be about on par with John McCain’s.

His solution? Amash has declared that he is “disenchanted” and “frightened” by party politics, so he is leaving the Republican Party and becoming an Independent.

Party flipping mid-term is per se unethical, as I have pointed out here before.  He has a contract with his voters to serve in the party whose banner under which he presented himself for public service, and the party that helped fund his campaign. One of the few party-switchers in political history who did the deed ethically was former Texas  Senator Phil Gramm. [CORRECTION NOTICE: I had originally written “the late” here, because I was sure Gramm was dead. He’s not. I’m glad.] From my post about West Virginia’s Governor Jim  Justice, who switched from Democrat to Republican in 2017…

Just days after  he had been reelected to a House seat  as a Democrat in 1982, Gramm was thrown off the House Budget Committee in a dispute with party leadership. In response, Gramm resigned as a Representative, changed parties, and ran for his old seat as a Republican in a special election. He won easily, and  was a Republican ever after. That’s the honorable way to do it.

Rep. Amash isn’t honorable. He isn’t ethical. And after Election Day 2020, he won’t be in Congress.

Good. Continue reading

Comments Of The Day: “Open Forum…Again!” (Reparations Thread)

This week’s Open Forum was epic. All four major topics raised—children allowed to attempt dangerous challenges, Southern Democrats, Artificial Intelligence, and reparations for slavery, led to excellent, varied and provocative debates. I feel a bit guilty for co-opting the child exploitation thread with a full post; several of the comments in that thread were COTD quality, especially A.M. Golden’s at 8:12 am on the 20th.

The A.I. thread was one of the very best on any topic in the history of the blog. I started out  trying to choose a Comment of the Day from that discussion, and after realizing that there was one  great comment after another, considered re-publishing the whole sequence, but it is too long. I urge anyone who hasn’t done so already to read it all. The participants were adimagejim (who gets credit for opening  the topic), Michael R, Steve Witherspoon, Alex, johnburger2013, and Bad Bob.

I chose the reparations thread to highlight the comments because the topic was recently the subject of a hearing on the Hill, and because I think the “debate” is and has always been intellectually dishonest on the part of “reparations” advocates, who, I suspect, know exactly how impossible their demands and proposals are. Nonetheless the news media treats the arguments with reverence, and are happy to assist when naysayers are accused of insensitivity and bigotry. The Comments of the Day that follow  effectively show just how absurd—and unethical—the reparations case is.

Steve Witherspoon: Continue reading

Observations On The Bizarre Slavery Photo Lawsuit Against Harvard

It would be nice if this grandstanding lawsuit engineered by professional race-baiting lawyer Benjamin Crump was summarily thrown out of court as the junk it is, but unfortunately, too many judges, when woke sentiment beckons, bend over backwards so far that they can lick their heels.

Here is the gist of it:

Tamara Lanier filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts claiming that she is a direct descendant of Renty and Delia, two slaves who were the subjects of a harsh photo session as part of an anthropological inquiry into the differences between blacks and whites. The images of the father and daughter were commissioned by renowned  Harvard professor Louis Agassiz 170 years ago,  and are now stored in  the ancient Peabody  museum on the Harvard campus. (Full disclosure: I love the place, and spent many afternoons as a kid wandering through the exhibits.)  The lawsuit claims the images are the “spoils of theft,” because as slaves Renty and Delia were unable to give consent to being photographed., and that Harvard is illegally profiting from the images by using them for “advertising and commercial purposes.” By keeping the photos, the lawsuit claims, Harvard has perpetuated the hallmarks of slavery that prevented African-Americans from holding, conveying or inheriting personal property.

Observations:

  • I’m sure—aren’t you?— that Mrs. Laneir came up with this wild Hail Mary lawsuit all by herself. Her lawyer, as I already note, is Benjamin Crump, a legal racial shake-down artist who excels at creating public pressure that forces defendants to pay copious settlement money to his clients who often don’t deserve it. He represented the family of Trayvon Martin, and in so doing poisoned the public narrative so thoroughly that the actual facts of Martin’s death are permanently distorted in the nation’s collective memory. he represented the parents of Michael Brown, ensuring them a big pay-off because their angelic son charged a police officers and got himself shot. Ben Crump helped promote “Hands up! Don’t shoot!,” the lie that is still poisoning race-relations to this day. He’s a mission lawyer, someone who uses the law to pursue an agenda: he is to race relations what Gloria Allred is to feminism. He profits by stirring up discord, whether there’s really an injustice or not.

That doesn’t mean that some of his crusades won’t have merit. I only means that there is just cause for suspicion if he is involved.

  • “It is unprecedented in terms of legal theory and reclaiming property that was wrongfully taken,” Crump says. I guess that’s one way of putting it. It’s unprecedented because no previous lawyer had the gall to try such a stunt, but with Democrats and progressives beating the hollow reparations drum again, he cleverly chose a good time to take a flyer. “I keep thinking, tongue in cheek a little bit, this has been 169 years a slave, and Harvard still won’t free Papa Renty,” said  Crump. Good one, Ben! Except that Renty is long dead, and a photograph isn’t a human being…

Yet give him some credit:  Crump is explaining why this isn’t a technically frivolous law suit. If a litigant and the litigant’s lawyer are arguing for a new legal principle, knowing that under existing law the claim is dead, then the action isn’t frivolous. Horrible and dangerous Crump’s lawsuit is; frivolous it isn’t.

  • Harvard and other universities set themselves up for this by caving to historical airbrushing demands by the students they have helped indoctrinate, such as when Georgetown University established a policy giving an edge  n admissions to descendants of slaves who were sold to fund the school. I would say they have this coming and let them sleep on the bed of nails their laziness and cowardice has made, but therein lies a real danger. Harvard, which of late has been devising and defending one bad progressive idea after another (like discriminating against Asian Americans as Harvard’s own way of helping African Americans get admitted to the college), might just decide to be woke rather than responsible, and let Mrs. Lanier take the photos, thus setting a precedent with endless potential to cause havoc.

I wouldn’t bet against it.

  • Lanier’s (that is, Crump’s) lawsuit is an extension of the Mao/Soviet Union -style historical airbrushing and re-writing tool of social change that  21st Century progressives have adopted as they march inexorably toward beneficent totalitarianism. If we don’t like the laws our ancestors put in place, let’s just declare that  they weren’t laws at all. If applying legal principles that have been in place and effective for hundreds of years doesn’t assist the social change we desire, than suspend those principles. Make the law a subject to “the ends justifies the means” whenever it’s convenient.

I’m sorry to be blunt, but if you don’t comprehend the existential danger inherent in this approach, you’re an idiot.

  • Legal problems? What legal problems? Well, let’s see: 1) Renty’s lack of consent to the photos is irrelevant, because under the laws of the time, he had no right to consent. That may be unfair, and wrong, and cruel, and horrifying, but the way society works is that laws, even bad ones, are valid until they are repealed and replaced. Without that certainty, no law can function, and the rule of law becomes impossible. 2) The theory that Harvard is profiting from slavery because of the value of its photograph of a slave would mean that the owners would be profiting from war crimes because of the value of a photograph like this…

(And no, I don’t think those half-dead Andersonville prisoners were capable of giving meaningful and valid consent to be photographed either.) The lawsuit is designed to open the door to censorship of history and historical records that “offend” anybody. 3) The distant relatives of the subject of a photograph are the real owners of the photograph, not the photographer, and not the individual who commissioned the photograph, even if the original subject  gave legally valid consent to be photographed or received compensation for such a photograph if a court at any time in the future deems that such consent was invalid under current law, or the compensation is similarly deemed inadequate.

Brilliant.

4) If this theory prevails, then wouldn’t Ken Burns, and PBS, and everyone who profited from showing Burns’ “The Civil War” be required to pay damages for “profiting” from the use of slave photos similarly taken without consent? Would that segment of the documentary, which is crucial to Burn;s narrative, have to be excised?

  • Then there’s this little problem: it is virtually impossible to determine with any certainty that “Renty” really is Tamara’s Lanier’s ancestor.

Yet Harvard may capitulate anyway—to signal its virtue, to be able to publicly condemn slavery, to be “woke, ” and mostly to avoid pickets in Harvard Yard. Ben Crump is no fool…a race-hustler, sure, but he’s no fool.

Ethics Warm-Up, 2/28/2019: No Birthday For Frederick Edition [UPDATED]

Good Morning!

Back last night from a whirlwind day of ethics in NYC, and leaving today on an auto safari to Washington County, Pennsylvania, where I will address bar members to kick off their annual meeting. See Facebook? THEY don’t think I should be muzzled! Meanwhile, I will be celebrating the non-birthday of the pirate apprentice hero of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance,” who was, you recall, indentured to a pirate band until his 2ist birthday, and since he was born on Leap Year, legally committed to a life of crime until he was 84 years old.

1. Nah, Democrats don’t automatically default to race-baiting… Well this was certainly ugly and embarrassing. During  House Oversight Committee hearing with Michael Cohen, the fallen Trump fixer accused the President of making racist comments about African Americans. Let me interject here that this was obvious pandering to Cohen’s new pals in “the resistance.” It would have no probative value as hearsay even if the speaker wasn’t testifying with his pants on fire. Thus there was no need for Rep. Mark Meadows to try to rebut Cohen by asking Housing and Urban Development staffer Lynne Patton, who is black, to silently stand before the committee to (somehow) disprove that Trump is racist. Meadows (R-N.C.) said that Patton had told him there was “no way that she would work for an individual who was racist.”

Then Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) characterized Meadow’s stunt as racist, saying, “Just because someone has a person of color, a black person working for them does not mean they aren’t racist,” Tlaib said. “And it is insensitive that some would even say — the fact that some would actually use a prop, a black woman in this chamber in this committee is alone racist in itself.”

“You’re one of my best friends,” Cummings said to Meadows. “And I can see and I feel your pain, and I don’t think Ms. Tlaib intended to cause you that, that kind of pain.”

Tlaib then apologized to Meadows, saying it wasn’t her intention to call him racist. She just said that what he did was racist.

Oh.

2. Stop making me defend the Northam family! Gotcha! Just as Virginia Governor Northam was beginning to extract himself from the embarrassment of having to confess to being a Michael Jackson imitator via shoe polish, an enterprising black legislative page decided to nab her 15 minutes of fame by accusing Mrs. Northam of the dreaded “racial insensitivity.” It appears that Virginia’s First Lady, while narrating a tour of the Governor, triggered her my alluding to slavery.

“When in the cottage house you were speaking about cotton, and how the slaves had to pick it,” the teenaged page’s letter says. “There are only three Black pages in the page class of 2019. When you went to hand out the cotton you handed it straight to another African American page, then you proceeded to hand it to me, I did not take it. The other page took the cotton, but it made her very uncomfortable. I will give you the benefit of the doubt, because you gave it to some other pages. But you followed this up by asking: ‘Can you imagine being an enslaved person, and having to pick this all day?'”

“The comments and just the way you carried yourself during this time was beyond inappropriate, especially considering recent events with the Governor. From the time we walked into the mansion to the time in the cottage house, I did not receive a welcoming vibe.”

Ah. Now we see why Bernie Sanders was attacked by Democrats for saying that race shouldn’t matter. Mrs. Northam treated the black pages like she treated the rest, and that made this page feel unwelcome. And if Virginia’s First Lady had only given the cotton to the white pages? That would have been insensitive too, I’m sure.

To her credit, the Governor’s wife has not apologized. She responded that she has given “the same educational tour to Executive Mansion visitors over the last few months and used a variety of artifacts and agricultural crops.” Her intent is to illustrate “a painful period of Virginia history.” She said that she began last year to tell the “full story” of the governor’s mansion, including the Historic Kitchen. “I believe it does a disservice to Virginians to omit the stories of the enslaved people who lived and worked there — that’s why I have been engaged in an effort to thoughtfully and honestly share this important story since I arrived in Richmond. I regret that I have upset anyone,” she wrote, but she reiterated that she is  still committed to chronicling the history of the Historic Kitchen, and “will continue to engage historians and experts on the best way to do so in the future.”

Now, if she had given the tour made up as Janet Jackson, that would have been inappropriate.

3. My own private boycott: I will not buy products that continue the coarsening of our culture by employing juvenile references to gutter language to sell their wares. Now Mr. Clean joins the list, with the ad for “his” Clean Freak Mist. Today’s TV ad screamed out “Big freaking news!” As with Booking.com’s evocation of “fucking” its ads, this is neither clever nor novel. Shrug it off if you like. Continue reading

“The Future Of Personhood” Fallacy: Ethics Done Backwards Isn’t Ethical

Ethics backwards is “scihte.”

Scihte, or whatever you want to call it, is on full and vulnerable display in the recent New York Times special section “A Woman’s Rights,” which we already considered at here. There are many ethics issues raised in the series of eight essays, which are thought-provoking and informative. However, as has always been the case in the pro-abortion camp, the effort crashes on the reef of basic ethical reasoning repeatedly, none more messily than in Part 8,  “The Future of Personhood”:

…What if, as many opponents of abortion hope, the court rules that the fetus has “personhood” rights under the Constitution? In that event, all abortions would be illegal — even in states that overwhelmingly support a woman’s right to choose. Wealthy women might travel to other countries for reproductive health care, but poorer women would be left behind.

And the changes to American life would go deeper than that. A society that embraces a legal concept of fetal personhood would necessarily compromise existing ideals of individual freedom. Americans — even many who oppose abortion — have not considered the startling implications of this idea, even as it has steadily gained strength in the law and in social norms. If a fetus is granted equal rights, women who become pregnant may find their most personal decisions coming under state control….

Would a woman who chooses to smoke cigarettes or drink wine during pregnancy be charged with a crime? What if a judge rules, or a police officer believes, she is risking the life of a fetus by, say, climbing a mountain, or riding a roller coaster, or undertaking a humanitarian mission in a war zone? Who will decide whether a pregnant woman diagnosed with cancer may undergo chemotherapy?…

With this, the Times and the pro-abortion movement reveals the intellectual dishonesty and ethical void in its whole approach to the topic. Forget, for now, about what the Court “might decide,” which is typical fearmongering via “future news.” The real question is this: what if, under sound bioethical criteria and based on valid scientific research, it is objectively determined that a fetus IS a person under legal definitions? Then what is the right and ethical policy? I guarantee that it would not mean that women would be forced to carry children to term in all cases, as the dystopian fiction suggested by the Times would require. Such a definitive determination would require a balancing of the rights of the mother, the fetus, and the needs of society, and determining that balance would be extremely difficult and contentious. However, society and the law engages in that balancing process in many areas, and frequently. It’s called government, and it isn’t easy. Continue reading