Gooood Morning, Ethics Alarms!
1. And the grandstanding goes on. CNN’s HLN repeatedly played the Tonight Show’s Jimmy Fallon’s undoubtedly heartfelt and gratuitous “very special episode” where he condemned racism and bigotry and saluted the victim of the vehicle attack by James Fields, saying that she was standing up for “what was right.” I’m sure she thought she was. She was, however, in a group that stood for the suppression of free speech and political views they have decided don’t deserve First Amendment protection. That is NOT “right.”
Shut up and be funny, Jimmy. You haven’t been given that show to make half-baked and ignorant political pronouncements, That’s Stephen Colbert’s job.
2. The President came out yesterday with an unequivocal condemnation of racism, bigotry, violence and white nationalism. The Times headline today notes this, but that “some say it was too late.” Of course “some” do. And besides, says my allegedly rational liberal former Democratic Congressman staffer Facebook friend, it is obvious what he really believes. And besides, even if his statement hadn’t been too late, there were “dog whistles” in it, and his body language was suspicious.
I have to keep reminding myself that these people are ill, in the grip of a powerful mob mentality and to “hate the sin, never the sinner,” as Clarence Darrow said (but probably didn’t believe).
3. Related: from Investor News Daily, via Instapundit:
“Obama never mentioned the anti-cop sentiment fomented by Black Lives Matter — with an assist from Obama himself — in his brief statement after five police officers were assassinated in Dallas. Obama did find room in those remarks to mention racist cops. Did anyone on the left complain?”
Wait—is it too late for Obama to condemn anti-white racism now? Continue reading
Apparently about a third of the population of Tennessee still doesn’t buy Darwin’s Theory of Evolution (according to a 2015 Pew Research Center study) so it should not be too much of a surprise that in Dayton, Tennessee, site of the famous 1925 Scopes Trial, a newly erected statue of Clarence Darrow in front of the historic red brick courthouse where the trial took place was met with some protests. At a County Commission meeting in the town, resident Ruth Ann Wilson suggested that bronze Darrow might unleash a plague or a curse. “I rise in opposition to this atheist statue, all right?” she said. “This is very serious, folks.”
No, that isn’t serious, but the persistence of ignorance both generally and about the issues battled over in 1925 are. Another resident, Brad Putt, is quoted by the New York Times as saying, “People around here know that if you have a court case, you have to have two sides,” referring to the fact that there has been a Williams Jennings Bryan statue standing in front of the courthouse since 2005. “You can’t have Optimus Prime unless you have Megatron. You’ve got to have a yin to the yang.” Well, that’s not quite right either, depending on what Bryan and Darrow symbolize. If the idea is to have the most famous opposing counsel in U.S. legal history facing off, okay, that’s fair. If he is saying, as I think he is, that science and religion must counter and balance each other, that’s nonsense. Continue reading
I confess: I’m behind in posting Comments of the Day. There are at least two that are on the runway. This one, Steve-O-in-NJ’s discussion of statue-toppling and historical airbrushing in other nations, is the most recent. It also doesn’t involve virulent anti-Trump hysteria, which I am becoming extremely weary of even as I have to chronicle it, since it, and not its target, is one of the major ethical crises of our time. (It also is really, really interesting.)
Here is Steve-O-in-NJ’s Comment of the Day on the post, “New Orleans’ Historical Air-Brushing Orgy”:
There IS some historical precedent for something like this. I don’t know how well-traveled you are, but if you visit Ireland and India you will still see plinths that once held statues of individuals associated with the British Empire that were removed in the aftermath of independence. You will also see relatively new statues of folks associated with the new regime, some of whom, in life, might have been considered criminals or terrorists. Two obvious examples are:
Michael Collins, national hero to the Irish, magnificent bastard to the Brits, and, any way you slice it, terrorist, who achieved his goals by shooting police and soldiers in the back, sniping, and bombing. His bust stands in Dublin and his statue marks the place where he was assassinated after mistakenly thinking he could just turn off the tap of the passions he had stirred up
Tatya Topi, Indian rebel ruler who it is believed gave the order for the massacre of women and children at Cawnpore, later captured and executed by the British. At least three statues in India now honor him as a freedom fighter, and one of them was in fact placed where a memorial to the victims of the massacre once stood.
Some of the monuments that represented the old ways were treated like scrap metal, like a statue of Queen Victoria that once stood in Dublin, dumped in a grass field until a deal was struck to ship it to Sydney, Australia, where it stands now. Five other statues of kings of kings and viceroys were moved to an abandoned area of Coronation Park in New Delhi following independence, where they stand forlorn and poorly maintained, partially because no one wants to pay to have them destroyed or shipped somewhere else in the world that might want them. Ironically, the one of George V, which came from India Gate, was to have been replaced by one of Gandhi, but to this day the canopy is vacant, because the Indian Parliament could not agree on details.
Did you know that animal-loving British families killed an estimated 400,000 household pets—cats and dogs—in the first week after Great Britain declared war on Germany in September, 1939? Neither did I, and now a new book by Hilda Kean, “The Great Dog and Cat Massacre,” sets out to remind us of that ugly episode.
As the New York Times review of the book notes and Kean explains, the mass euthanasia was “publicly lamented at the time,” but has since been erased from memory. But why has it been erased from memory, and how? This is a disturbing cultural phenomenon that Ethics Alarms has covered before, notably in the post about dance marathons in the U.S. during the Depression. One of the definitions of culture is what we choose to remember and what we choose to forget. Forgetting, however, while often psychically soothing and an easy way to avoid guilt and accountability, is a pre-unethical condition. That which has been forgotten can no longer teach us, and a society that collectively decides to pretend something cruel, horrible or traumatic didn’t happen risks allowing it to happen again.
This, of course, is one more reason why the recent progressive mania for historical airbrushing is dangerous, irresponsible and unethical. Keep that statue of “Joe Pa” on the Penn State campus. Leave King Andy on the twenty dollar bill. Don’t take down that bust of Bill Cosby in the TV Hall of Fame. All civilizations have fallen heroes, moments of panic, times when they forget their values and betray their aspirations. Of course it is painful and embarrassing to remember these things, but also essential if human ethics are going to progress instead of stagnating, or even going backwards. We associate the elimination of cultural memories with totalitarian regimes, and for good reason, for they are blatant and shameless about it.
No nation is immune from the process’s appeal, however. When I was going to grade school and studying the Presidents of the United States, Jackson and Woodrow Wilson were routinely hailed by (mostly Democratic) historians as among the greatest of the great. The first Jackson biography I read barely mentioned the Trail of Tears. I read four well-regarded biographies of Wilson that ignored his support for Jim Crow, and the degree to which he deliberated reversed advances in civil rights, being an unapologetic white supremacist. The influenza epidemic that killed millions was excised from my school’s history books. Thomas Jefferson’s concubine, Sally Hemmings? Who? Continue reading
The Wall Street art ethics controversy pitting a nearly 30-year-old sculpture of an angry bull against the upstart statue of a defiant little girl has fascinating cultural implications. The ethical solution to the confrontation are simple and undeniable, however, though the legal issues a bit less so. “Fearless Girl” has got to go.
Arturo Di Modica created “Charging Bull” in response to stock market travails during the late 1980s. The three-and-a-half-ton sculpture was placed near Wall Street in the dead of night, and was embraced by the financial ditrict and New Yorkers as iconic public art. The artist copyrighted and trademarked his work, which he has said was meant to symbolize “freedom in the world, peace, strength, power and love.”
I don’t get the love part, but okay: the point is that the bull is a positive metaphor, not a sinister one.
The “Fearless Girl” statue was positioned this year, the night before International Women’s Day, in a direct stand-off with the bull. It had been commissioned by State Street Global Advisors, a financial firm based in Boston, as a public relations and advertising move and classic virtue signalling. State Street Global’s home page trumpets the new statue’s message of “the power of women in leadership” and uses it to urge “greater gender diversity on corporate boards.” The metal girl’s cynical and self-serving origins don’t seem to bother the work’s fans though.
The problem is that the message of “Fearless Girl” requires the participation of the bull to make any sense and to have any power at all. Otherwise, it might as well be Pippi Longstocking. In essence, the new statue appropriates Di Modica’s work, and violently alters it. The artist is a furious as a charging bull that what he intended as a symbol of capitalist power and national vigor has been transformed into a sexist representation of male domination. Di Modica and his lawyers demand that the statue be moved away from its bull-baiting position, arguing that State Street Global commissioned “Fearless Girl” as a site-specific work conceived with “Charging Bull” in mind. It thus illegally commercialized Di Modica’s statue in violation of the artist’s intent and copyright. They also claim that the city violated the artist’s legal rights by issuing permits allowing the four-foot-tall tyke to face off with the bronze bull without the artist’s permission. Letters to the Mayor DiBlasio, Ronald P. O’Hanley, the president and chief executive of State Street Global; and Harris Diamond, the chairman and chief executive of McCann Worldgroup, State Street Global’s marketing agency demand the removal of “Fearless Girl” forthwith.
Ethically, “Fearless Girl” doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Continue reading
“The answer is no. Once a star has been added to the Walk, it is considered a part of the historic fabric of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Because of this, we have never removed a star from the Walk.”
—Leron Gubler, Hollywood Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, answering a question about whether Bill Cosby’s star would be removed from the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Cosby was formally charged with sexual assault today in Pennsylvania, the first time allegations of any of his nearly 50 accusers have resulted in a court appearance. The Cos is out on a million dollar bond.
Variety also quotes the late Johnny Grant, a former chairman of the Hollywood Walk of Fame Committee, who once addressed the status of another fallen star’s place on the walk, saying:
“Stars are awarded for professional achievement to the world of entertainment and contributions to the community. A celebrity’s politics, philosophy, irrational behavior, outrageous remarks or anything like that have never been cause to remove a Walk of Fame star.”
On this matter of ethics, at least, Hollywood gets it, unlike Disney World, Harvard Law School, Princeton, the University of Kentucky, the World Fantasy Award, Connecticut Democrats, the National Park Service, Saltzburg University…and many others.