I haven’t checked in on The Ethicist column in the New York Time Magazine in a while: the current resident, Kwame Anthony Appiah, is the real McCoy, unlike all of his predecessors, and his analysis of various queries from readers is usually valid and properly reasoned. This week’s featured issue is a strange one, however.
A Peter Hulit of Los Angeles wrote to ask what was the “ethical way” to deal with a belt buckle from a Nazi uniform that was stored in his late father’s box of World War II memorabilia, collected during his service overseas. Hulit explained,
“I have kept it stashed in my desk. I’m now in my 60s and really don’t want it in my house..I have checked resale sites, and it does have some monetary value, but I do not want it to fall into hands that may use it symbolically for what my father fought against.”
I rate this question as more evidence of Nazi hysteria, one of the side-effect of the 2016 post election Ethics Train Wreck that includes the effort by the Left to slander opposition to Democrats, Clinton and Obama as nascent fascism. It is also a continuation of the historical air-brushing that Orwellian progressives seem to think will magically eliminate all evils from modern society.
World War II artifacts are history and are tools of acquiring knowledge. Knowledge is what those seeing German Nazi motivations in President Trump and his supporters sorely lack. There is no such thing as dangerous history. What is dangerous is to forget history, or to try to pretend that what happened did not.
Nor are objects cursed, or evil. People are evil, and history leaves evidence of evil deeds. “I don’t want it in my house” smacks of superstition. It’s a belt buckle.
Hulit’s question seems to suck The Ethicist down some unethical holes that he should avoid, and usually does. For example, he writes, Continue reading
In the comments to the post The Kidneys of Orlac, Texagg04 raises a fascinating angle that I had not considered. I have previously written, regarding state regulations that do not require realtors or sellers to disclose that a grisly murder or six occurred on a property, that a purchaser has the right to know about such conditions that may bother him personally, and that regardless of the laws involved, there is an ethical duty inform a potential purchaser know that he is buying the site of the Amityville Horror (for example). Texagg04 suggests..
“Much like real estate agents ought to reveal that a house had a grisly murder in it, I’d submit that recipients of organ donations of this kind should get to be informed of the donor’s convictions.”
Hmmm. I’m not so sure. One of the reasons for my views about the death houses is that they may be difficult for the uninformed buyer to sell later if the home’s history is known or becomes well known. Also, there are always alternatives to buying a particular house—given a choice between the site of a murder and a similar house with no such history, I might opt for the latter—I’ve seen too many of the “Paranormal Experiences” and “The Grudge” movies, I guess. But with donated organs, the options are more limited. Maybe not telling the recipient that he has the heart of the Green River Killer is the fair and kind thing to do.
We last considered the issue of realtors sneaking murder houses by trusting purchasers nearly two years ago, when Jon Benet Ramsey’s home and place of death came up for sale. We had a knock down, drag out argument about it too. My position: while it might be legal for a seller not to disclose that a home was the site of a murder or worse (and in most places it is), and while many regard sensitivity on such matters mere superstition not worthy of serious respect, the seller and the realtor have an ethical obligation to inform potential buyers when the property for sale is a murder scene As I wrote in the conclusion to the post about the Ramsey home:
“The truth is still this: there is something about the $2,300,000 house that makes it undesirable to a lot of prospects, and that means that even if the law doesn’t require the seller to tell interested house-hunters the story of the little dead girl in the basement, fairness and the Golden Rule do.”
This applies to the case at hand, where Pennsylvania’s Superior Court recently ruled that a murder-suicide occurring in a home is not a “material defect” that requires disclosure in that home’s sale. While a murder-suicide occurring in a house might be “psychological damage” to the property or its reputation, the court said, realtors don’t have to disclose it. Continue reading
The Comment of the Day is an interesting one from Melissa Leath, a psychic who is published on the topic of psychic ethics. She is responding to the recent post here about proposed standards for paranormal investigators.
Her measured response forces me to confront my own ambivalence on this issue. I am, as she says, a skeptic; more than a skeptic, really, as I intellectually am committed to the position that all paranormal, psychic and spiritual phenomenon, including those in the realm of religious believe, are imaginary at best and fraudulent at worst. I would have said “unshakably committed, ” but emotionally, I have to confess am not as sure as I would like to be, or should be. Perhaps I watch too many horror movies. I don’t like Ouija boards, and won’t have the damn things in the house. If my kitchen furniture suddenly rearranged itself like it does in “Poltergeist,” or if my ultra-rational son started telling me that an old man in 1940s clothes kept appearing in his room at night and saying that he was going to hurt him, or if I saw dark, inky shadows crawling up the wall like in “The Grudge,” I can say with conviction that I would not be the one insisting that there must be a rational explanation and hanging around waiting for the bed to start raising off the floor. I would be the one out the door and checking into a motel, and from the safety of which insisting that there was a rational explanation, but also secretly fearing that my house had been built over a Native American burial ground.
I realize that this is inconsistent and silly. But I have a good friend who is as normal and sincere as someone can be who is a serious astrologer. And when I see the late Telly Savalas finally tell his personal ghost story in a YouTube clip, after personally watching him refuse to repeat it on TV talk shows for decades because “it was too scary,” I do wonder, even as I rebuke myself for wondering. Knowing that I wonder, however, it is only fair to give Melissa her say.
Here is her “Comment of the Day” on “‘Who Ya Gonna Call?'” Paranormal Ethics, and the Irony of Same.” Continue reading
I have been remiss in not discussing a recent Ethics Train Wreck that occurred two weeks ago, a fiasco that occurred in Liberty County, about an hour from Houston, Texas.
A self-professed psychic who calls herself Angel called police and told them that she had a vision that a mass grave containing the dismembered bodies of children was on the property where Joe and Gena Bankson lived. She also described some of the features of the property. That was enough for the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, which armed itself with a search warrant and cadaver-sniffing dogs and converged on the home, along with a mob of reporters and two news helicopters. As the police dug holes, somebody jumped the gun, and soon cable news stations flashed alerts that up to 30 bodies had been found.
There were no bodies. Continue reading
Tgt, the Ethics Alarms resident atheist, backs graduating high school senior Damon Fowler, voting for “hero” rather than the jerk-in-training assessment of my original posts on the topic, to be found here and here.
“I think impeding the encroachment of religion into schools is important, especially when it is unpopular to do so. While Damon is not actually hurt from school backed prayer, some of the other listeners will be: anyone who gets the impression that the school and government back Christianity, anyone who feels they must believe to fit in.
“The danger in this prayer isn’t that Damon will be hurt or his rights violated. The danger is to the weaker people unwilling or unable to stand up against this behavior. The danger is to the children not yet graduated, that they will learn in an environment that sees a place for superstition and pandering at a ceremony that should be celebratory.”
Considering absurd hypotheticals can still be valuable. Consider this ridiculous question from a site with the tautological title, “Astrology or Superstition?” :
“Would it be unethical to use astrology to gain advantage over someone in the work environment?”
Obviously not, because astrology is a crock. But if it were not a crock, what would the answer to this question be? Continue reading