I can’t believe I have never written about this diagram before, but apparently I haven’t. That’s my fault, and a major one.
The diagram, the creation of my friend, attorney John May, shows the inter-relationship of the three ethical systems professionals must employ when they face ethics problems. For although we tend to think about making decisions in one context, there are several, and which sphere—these are circles after all—we choose will often determine what balance of values, principles and outcomes dictates the ultimate course.
Here are what the circles represent:
The Big Circle, in yellow, includes the ethics culture that we all live in. It includes our nation, society, community, family, and friends, and is a messy, inconsistent, multi-faceted, often contradictory melange of traditions, religion, customs, literature, history, heroes, fables, family influences, teachers, peers, laws, and more. This the largest system of all, the sun to the planet-sized influence of the other two systems. within it are not only the often competing ethics theories of Reciprocity, Absolutism, and Utilitarianism, but also all the variations in between and beyond–Ayn Rand, Nietzsche, Marx, and many others. In his invaluable book “The Science of Good and Evil,” Michael Shermer posits that despite all the internal inconsistencies, the Big Circle is remarkably functional, agreeing on what is right and wrong perhaps 97% of the time. The disagreements are in the realm Shermer calls provisional ethics, akin to what Ethics Alarms is referring to when it cites The Ethics Incompleteness Principle. These are the troublesome problems where the usual principles don’t always work.
The Core Circle, in green, represents the values, principles, beliefs and the priority of these for an individual–you. It comprises all of those, plus such core qualities as conscience, self-esteem and courage. It’s location in the Big Circle varies with the individual. A section of it even may protrude outside Big Circle, representing the degree to which a person does not embrace the values of his or her community or culture.
Finally, there is the Compliance Circle, in red. That circle defines the special ethics of a profession, and includes ethics codes, traditions, aspirational values and professional obligations and duties.
Notice that part of the Red Circle is outside the Yellow one. These are the values about which a profession is bound to adhere to at all costs, even though the society at large often and even usually does not have the same ethical priorities. Quoting Star Trek, this is Prime Directive territory. In Gene Roddenberry’s fictional Star Fleet, it was forbidden to use the immense power a starship could muster to interfere with a planet’s inhabitants and their conduct, even to prevent what appeared to be a horrible wrong. This principle would be repugnant to the the public at large. For example, if a starship had an opportunity to stop a genocidal race from wiping out another race on its planet, the Prime Directive would make it a crime to do so. The Big Circle would certainly view this as monstrous, but the Prime Directive wisely holds that interference must be avoided. Continue reading
Activists who have neither knowledge nor understanding of the government, the Constitution, civics and basic political realities should be accorded no respect, attention or influence. Since their pronouncements and assertions are based on bad information and misconceptions (and perhaps stupidity), who cares what they think about an issue? The news media should ignore them; politicians should ignore them; everyone should ignore them. Well, except to mock them. They deserved to be mocked.
This brings us to Shaun King, the Black Lives Matter activist and writer—and the fact that someone as ignorant as King can make a living as a writer is disturbing in itself. He is on the staff of The New York Daily News as the “senior justice writer.” I’ll remind you of this later.
King just delivered his signature significance self-exposé via his favorite mode of communication, social media, in this case, Twitter. This means that many thousands of his followers, as well as the news media, now have incontrovertible evidence to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he knows less about the country he lives in and its government than we should expect from a 7th grader.
Yesterday, King announced on Twitter what he called “serious but wild” questions. Sit down for this. I mean it.
1. Can the people of the United States somehow hold a vote now, or next year, to oust Donald Trump? Like a recall of some sort?
In laymen’s terms, what would it take for the USA to pass a Constitutional Amendment for a President Recall like CA has for a Governor?
Uh oh…I was afraid of this…
There goes the head…
As I explained here and here in 2015, the process of judicially determining whether the Defense of Marriage Act was constitutional or not was unethically sabotaged by threats to and improper lobbying of the law firm that had agreed to defend it. The Justice Department and the President had refused to do their sworn duty to uphold the laws of the United States, and same-sex marriage activists pressured the biggest client of the firm that had accepted the case to pass the pressure along. It worked. The firm dropped the case, precipitating a resignation by the partner handling it and this ringing assertion of traditional legal ethics:
“…[D]efending unpopular positions is what lawyers do. The adversary system of justice depends on it, especially in cases where the passions run high. Efforts to delegitimize any representation for one side of a legal controversy are a profound threat to the rule of law.”
This was, we are learning, not an anomaly. On the Volokh Conspiracy, law professor Josh Blackmon relates how the same strategy of applying of unethical political pressure, and the unprofessional capitulation of major law firms to it, nearly made a legitimate challenge to illegal payments to insurers under Obamacare impossible. He explains in part: Continue reading
The gun-banning deceit is revving up again, so to pace the blog on this topic, which already had been discussed in a recent post and a Comment of the Day on it, I held out this excellent post by lively Ethic Alarms regular Steve-O-in-NJ for a few days.
By deceit, I mean statements like White House spokesman Josh Earnest yesterday regarding so-called “smart gun” technology, on which the White House is preparing a legislative push. He said in part:
“I think what is true is that I couldn’t think of another industry off the top of my head that isn’t interested in looking at new technology that could make their product safer. Just about every other industry that I can think of, that’s what people do. That’s what manufacturers do. That is a source of innovation in a variety of fields. I think the best example of this is in the auto industry. Auto manufacturers actually market the degree to which they use new technology to make their products safer, to make cars and trucks safer. It is surprising to me that so many gun manufacturers shirk that responsibility.”
It is amusing that Earnest—is he the worst of the three professional liars the Obama White House has employed to mislead the press, deny the truth and spin misconduct?—prefaced his remarks by dismissing “wild conspiracy theories” that the new initiative was designed to make guns less accessible, then uttered this whopper. Guns aren’t supposed to be safe, or what anti-gun zealots regard as safe, which would mean that they would have to be made out of foam rubber. They are designed to kill things, including, when necessary, people. Cars are not supposed to kill anyone: making safe cars is nothing at all like making safe guns.
You know, Josh, I can’t think of any another industry off the top of my head–which is apparently quite a bit more well-furnished than yours–that makes killing tools and machines and does look for technology to make them “safer” by the anti-gun lobby’s definition. Hunting knives? Baseball bats? Have you ever seen a safe hammer? A safe bomb? Safe poison? Of course “smart gun” requirements would make guns less accessible (meeting regulations costs money and adds to purchase price, “smart” features that don’t work right engender lawsuits, guns that are more cumbersome to use are less desirable to people who want guns…) by making them more expensive and difficult to use. And that’s just what the President, Hillary, Chelsae and the rest want.
You’re a liar who treats the press and public as if they were idiots, Josh. Just off the top of my head. Yes, I know: I don’t care that you are just channeling your boss. The line about gun-makers “shirking responsibility” is a transparent effort to grease the skids for product liability lawsuits that would make it impossible to make guns, which is exactly the agenda being pursued here. Gun rights supporters know it, and are derided as conspiracy nuts. Anti-gun advocates also know it, and think it’s just fine.
Here is Steve-O-in-NJ‘s Comment of the Day on the Ethics Alarms post “Comment of the Day (1): ‘Unethical Quote Of The Week: Chelsea Clinton’”: Continue reading
Ben Carson, of course!
WARNING: the next person who tells me that Ben Carson must be intelligent because he separated conjoined twins is going to get a punch in the mouth, unethical or not.
The award is named for Bachmann because she repeatedly mangled American history on the way to becoming the 2012 Republican Presidential hopeful who most embarrassed her party, her gender, her species, bipeds, and the American educational system. On the way to losing all respect, credibility and the nomination, Bachmann told her cheering, stupid crowds that the “shot heard round the world” was in New Hampshire, and that John Quincy Adams, a little boy in 1776, was a Founding Father. (Bachmann also confused John Wayne with John Wayne Gacy, the serial child killer, and I’m not forgiving that, either.)
Believe it or not, Carson’s award winning statement is worse. Yesterday,on C-SPAN, he said this in his usual inspiring eyes half closed, lips barely moving, droning delivery, when he was asked which of the Founders most impressed him:
“I’m impressed by a lot of them, but particularly impressed with Thomas Jefferson, who seemed to have very deep insight into the way that people would react. And he tried to craft our Constitution in a way that it would control people’s natural tendencies and control the natural growth of the government.”
No, that’s not a slip of the tongue. He specifically mentions Jefferson, and he was not talking about the Declaration but the Constitution, with which Tom had nothing to do—he didn’t write it,he didn’t sign it, and he wasn’t at the Convention.
Dr. Carson’s ignorant, he’s faking it, and he’s an idiot…just like Bachmann, who graduated from law school, remember.
Carson hasn’t bothered to acquire the basic knowledge of his country necessary to become an American citizen, much less to presume to lead it.
When I interviewed for a job, I made sure that I knew the basics about the company or organization I was attempting to join, because that demonstrated that I was serious and responsible, and at least had a threshold understanding of what my job might require. Carson would flunk a basic job interview, even without being scored down for his terrible presentation—you can’t look an interviewer in the eyes with your eyes closed.
Would it be unfair to require as a prerequisite of running for the leadership of a nation to be able to answer 5th grade-level questions about that nation’s history? You know…who was the first President? Which side won the Civil War? Who delivered the Gettysburg Address?
Which founding document did Thomas Jefferson write????
I don’t think that would be unfair at all.
Here Doctor, you arrogant disgrace, watch this (it’s videoed from a TV screen—tough), since you obviously never read a history book:
“The court’s legal analysis in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission was something of a reach. But the ruling’s practical implications are unequivocally positive.”
—–The Washington Post in an editorial praising the Supreme Court’s approval of Arizon’s unconstitutional solution to the persistent problem of gerrymandering abuse.
The Post’s quote means nothing more nor less than “the ends justify the means.” “Something of a reach” is a shameless equivocation: John Roberts’ dissent to the 5-4 majority’s “legal analysis” —there really is none—resembles Mike Tyson slapping around Honey Boo-Boo. The decision’s argument approving the Arizona end-around the Constitution’s Elections Clause that reads, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof” can be fairly summarized as “this will work, so the Constitution be damned.” It’s not a “reach.” It’s obvious defiance of what the document says.
It that so bad? It depends on what you think is more important, integrity or solving a problem. All of the big Supreme Court decisions in the past week have essentially raised this ethics conflict, and it is clear that the liberals on the Court is on the side of solving problems—at least as they see them— even when it means compromising what the Constitution says and what the Founders intended who drafted it, with the libertarian Justice Kennedy, who tends to lean away from laws constraining citizens anyway, often joining the colleagues to his left. This issue is as stark an example as there can be,
Gerrymandering is unethical and anti-democratic. It was not foreseen by the authors of the Constitution, who can’t be expected to have predicted every devious political maneuver their successors would come up with to pollute their ideals. Unfortunately, the Constitution doesn’t provide a way for the public to stop the practice, other than electing less corrupt legislators, and legislators use gerrymandering to make that exceedingly difficult. A tweak of the wording in the Constitution could carve out an exception, but the Founders also made amending the Constitution in any way at all an almost impossible chore, including amending it to allow easier amending.
What’s a country to do? Well, sometimes the ends really do justify the means: that’s what utilitarianism means. If the Court can kill or limit gerrymandering by, as John Roberts felicitously put it in his dissent, gerrymandering the Constitution, it might be a good choice on balance. It benefits democracy. The conservatives argue, however, and legitimately so, that such a decision also creates a dangerous, even sinister precedent despite its good intentions (none of the Justices seem to think that gerrymandering is anything but unhealthy for democracy). What other laws that violate the plain words of the Constitution will the Court approve because its “practical implications are unequivocally positive,” to the cheers of partisans? How many times can the Court do this before the Constitution is a dead letter, and any executive–or despot— can claim that government action, regardless of what Constitutional guarantees oppose it, is to be rubber stamped because it solves a real problem? Continue reading
Sarah Durand, a senior editor at a division of Simon & Schuster, Atria Books, informed the literary agents of one of the U.S. soldiers who had submitted a book proposal about the conduct of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl—the controversial Taliban prisoner who was freed in a costly prisoner exchange and then hailed as a “hero” by the Obama administration— that the publishing house was not interested in pursuing the project. The soldiers, comrades of Bergdahl, allege that he is a traitor.
Maybe the book proposal was poor; maybe it isn’t what Atria Books is looking for at this time. Getting any book published is difficult for first-time authors, and there is no obligation for a publishing company to print anything.
However, this is what Durand wrote to explain the rejection:
“I’m not sure we can publish this book without the Right using it to their ends..the Conservatives are all over Bergdahl and using it against Obama and my concern is that this book will have to become a kind of ‘Swift Boat Veterans for Truth'”
In other words, a professional, supposedly non-partisan conduit for free speech and communication is restricting that speech for political and partisan reasons, and specifically to protect the government currently in power.
I would never argue that refusing to publish the book is unethical. That reason, however, if it is the only reason, is unethical, and also chilling. The only difference between the government censoring political speech and private enterprise censoring speech critical of the government is that the former is prohibited by the Constitution, and the latter is protected by the Constitution, since the freedom not to say something is the same as the freedom to say it. Durant and Atria, appear to be using that freedom to do exactly what a censoring government would do if it could. And how do we know that a Simon & Schuster executive didn’t contact the White House for guidance, and were told to bury the book for “future considerations”? We don’t. Yet this is the kind of suspicion and distrust engendered when communications entities behave like this.
Note that Durand doesn’t challenge the truth of the soldiers’ assertions about Bergdahl. Her concern is how it will be used by political opponents of President Obama. The fact that she would feel that this is a legitimate factor to be considered in publishing a book to the extent that she wouldn’t see the danger of expressing it in an e-mail is as disturbing as the sentiment itself. The book editor sees her duty as protecting the state from opposition and criticism, apparently. How many other gate-keepers of our free speech feel the same way?
No ethical person can read this and conclude that such treatment by society is fair, responsible, compassionate or American. It is the ethical duty of every citizen who believes in our society’s commitment to the freedoms guaranteed by the Declaration and the Constitution to oppose efforts to persecute former sex offenders, because our elected officials will not oppose them. It is, in the end, a matter of choosing national integrity over bigotry and fear.
“I am one of those untouchables. And I’m not one of those ones that everyone agrees shouldn’t be on the registry. Continue reading