Ethics Hero: Mario Salerno

Not all the people giving lip service to “we’re all in this together” are virtue-signaling hypocrites. Some really mean it.

Surveys conducted last month estimated that 40 % of renters in New York City, if not more, would not be able to pay their April rent, which was due  last week.

This threatens landlords as well, as the shortfall will make it difficult for them to pay their own water and sewer bills at their buildings, not to mention taxes,  The 200-300 tenants in Mario Salerno’s properties, however, found a version of this sign taped up in the halls:

 

Mario Salerno said in an interview that he did not care about losing his rental income in April, nor care what the exact amount was that he would not be collecting from his 80 apartments.  He will be losing hundreds of thousands of dollars by canceling the month’s rent, but his sole concern, he said, was trying to make life a little easier for his renters. He is even forgoing rent for those who kept their jobs and are working from home.

“My concern is everyone’s health,” said Salerno. “I told them just to make sure that everyone has food on their table.”

He’s not exactly Michael Bloomberg. During the day, he runs the Salerno Auto Body Shop and gasoline station, which his father opened in 1959.

In the 1980s Salerno bought vacant lots across Brooklyn to store cars damaged in accidents before they were repaired, and eventually turned 18 of the lots into apartment buildings. He’s counting on the auto business to keep food on his own table until conditions improve for his renters.

“I say, don’t worry about paying me, worry about your neighbor and worry about your family,” he told reporters.

Comment Of The Day: “From Australia, A Cancel Culture Chapter That I Don’t Understand At All”

Reader JP, who is a minister, had a fascinating reaction to the post about the Australian cartoonist in the process of being “canceled” because he had the audacity to mock mothers who pay more attention to their cell phones than their infants. Australians, especially mothers and feminists, are furious…because he criticized conduct that nobody denies occurs.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “From Australia, A Cancel Culture Chapter That I Don’t Understand At All”:

“Is guilt driving the attacks on Michael Leunig? Is that it? They are punishing a truth-teller for using satire and humor to hold a mirror up to their faces like satirists and social commentators are supposed to do? If that cartoon sparks such anger, what would these people have done to Swift, Voltaire, Gilbert, Shaw, Parker, Wodehouse, Vidal, or even Dave Barry?”

A few years ago,  I was teaching this class on 1 Corinthians. It had been going on for about a month at this point where we got to the section on marriage, divorce, and adultery. Most of the class focused on the marriage part. Very little was said about divorce and adultery. I didn’t focus on it too much. In a class like this, I tend to let discussion stay with the interests of the class. I did address divorce and adultery as real problems of the church and  said they should not be ignored.

After class, a women came up to me and let me have it.  According to her, divorce and adultery were “none of the church’s business.” She was pretty passionate about it, so I let it go. She wasn’t at the next class  I assumed she was making a point because she thought that I would never agree with her.

A month later, her husband dragged her into my office, saying she been committing adultery. He wanted to know what he should do about it. She wouldn’t look a me. I suggested a professional counselor, and that was the last time I saw either of them. Continue reading

Pandemic Ethics Observations, Part 2: Reality

(Part I is here.)

I’m going to try to keep this chapter as free of politics as possible for as long as possible.

It won’t be easy.

In general, the unprecedented society-wide obsession with the Wuhan virus pandemic in the U.S. is a product of mass media and social media as much as the virus itself. One could almost call it a parallel epidemic here, one of distorted behavior and social norms rather than illness. The question is whether that behavior and those norms are ethical in nature or if they are propelled by non-ethical considerations—fear, for example; not just fear for one’s own welfare being threatened, but fear of being made a pariah. It also matters if they work. Ethical requirements that are certain to be futile in practice because of well-known aspects of human nature are not ethical. They are delusional and harmful.

For the short term, one could give everyone the benefit of the doubt and call this mass Golden Rule behavior: each of us would like to have everyone else behave so as to minimize the likelihood that we would be infected, right? However, like so often is the case with the Golden Rule, this calculation only works in an imaginary vacuum that ignores the complex systems that are society, culture and civilization.

Do we really want “everyone” to behave in this extreme risk-averse manner if it crashes the economy? If it puts friends, neighbors and loved ones out of work? If it makes day to day life impossible? This is why Absolutism and Reciprocity fail so often as ethical systems, and why Utilitarianism is required in some measure to temper their effects and distortions.

However, in the outrageous scaremongering we are witnessing, some of it simple hysteria, some ignorance, and much of it motivated by that which I am going to try not to talk about until Part III, the real trade-offs are being obscured or missed. This is, to name  a single ethical breach, incompetence. I actually read several pieces yesterday that argued that to understand how the pandemic spreads, one should consider “World War Z,” the graphic novel-turned Brad Pitt horror movie. I understand the narrow point being made, but it’s still an irresponsible and stupid thing to say or write. “World War Z,” is dystopian future film in which a rampaging virus turns most of the world’s population into mad, speedy, flesh-craving zombies. It is the likely end of the world, with everyone doomed to a horrible death.  That is not what faces the United States, or anyone, with this virus. Shut up! Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Sixth Grade Dance

A furious mother is making an issue out of a Utah middle school’s policy requiring sixth-graders to agree acquiesce when a classmate asks them to dance.

Alicia Hobson’s 11-year-old daughter, Azlyn was asked to dance by a boy she thought was icky. She “politely” refused, but the principle at Rich Middle School in Laketown, Utah,  intervened, telling the couple to get out onto the dance floor. Was the boy short, fat, covered with acne, bad-smelling, a bully, afflicted with Down Syndrome? Was he poor, have a lisp, or Muslim? Was there a cool boy Azlyn was waiting to play Prince Charming? Never mind: As the principal, Kip Motta, later explained in a letter to Alicia Hobson, the school has a policy requiring students to accept dance invitations, and sticks by it. Motta wrote,

“We do ask all students to dance. It is the nice thing to do and this will continue to be our policy. There have been similar situations in the past where some students have felt uncomfortable with others, and, as stated prior, the issues were discreetly handled. This allowed all students to feel welcome, comfortable, safe, and included.”

Hobson equates the policy with “rape culture,” and is prepared to take the issue to the Utah Board of Education. “Girls HAVE to learn that they have the right to say no and that those around them have to respect that,” Hobson wrote on Facebook. “I’m not going to quietly stand by while my daughter and all of her classmates are being wrapped up in rape culture. No way.”

Ethics Alarms dealt with a similar issue in a different context in this post, about children accepting kisses and hugs from repulsive family members.

Before I pop the quiz question, I have three observations. The first is that that the principal’s fad use of the word “safe” has just got to stop. That’s not what “safe” means, and if we keep using “safe” to mean “insulated from any event, feeling or experience that someone might prefer to avoid,” the word will cease to have any communication value. The second is that equating the social obligation to accept an invitation at a supervised dance with “rape culture” is a hyperbolic crock, and should be identified as such immediately.

The third observation is that the “Today” headline is intentionally misleading and unfairly supports the mother’s inflammatory framing. “School policy forbids kids from saying ‘no’ when asked to dance” presumes the conclusion Hobson wants. “School policy requires students to be kind and considerate when asked to dance” promotes  the school’s rationale. An ethical and responsible headline would be, ““School policy requires students to accept an invitation to dance.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz today :

Is the school’s policy wise and ethical?

Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Quiz: Plot E”

The quiz about the American military cemetery of shame in France provoked many varying opinions, none more eloquently expressed than this Comment of the Day by JutGory.

I only post quizzes when I am at least somewhat unsure of the ethics call. My position in the post was in response to the blogger’s argument in favor of giving the graves headstones, which I felt was unpersuasive. I’m not sure Jut has changed my mind, but his points are much, much better.

Here is JutGory’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Ethics Quiz: Plot E”: Continue reading

Lunchtime Ethics Appetizer, 2/12/20: With Just Desserts!

Bon Appetite!

In a perfect example of how avoiding bias can create bias, I am accumulating a backlog of genuine and valuable ethics stories that are triggered by or related to political developments, and deliberately talking myself out of posting them. As regular readers here know, this has been a problem since the beginning of the Trump administration, when the Democrats, the resistance and most of the media  resolved to try to bring him down and cancel the election results with a campaign to delegitimize President’s Trump’s election. I regard this as one of the greatest ethics crises in U.S. history (another, running concurrently, is the near complete abdication of professional ethics by journalists), and I can’t ignore it. But doing my job, as repetitious as it seems, also means that I am reluctant to write about other political stories that I would have included otherwise, and often they involve important issues.

1. Which reminds me: One of the Washington Post’s most reliable anti-Trump columnists, Greg Sargent, issued an opinion piece that would be a strong entrant in a “Hypocrite of the Year” competition. Here’s the line that made my head explode: “Such delegitimization of the opposition strikes at the core of our system. Recognizing the opposition’s legitimacy is a key pillar of accountability in government…”

Astounding! Sargent’s ideologically compatible pals have been working overtime to deny the legitimacy of Trump’s election, from attacking the Electoral College to claiming a Russian conspiracy,  encouraging and cheering “Not my President!” demonstrations, manufacturing impeachable offenses out of thin air, and turning such once-neutral and unifying events as the Inauguration, the Kennedy Center Honors and the White House Correspondents Dinner—and more recently, a State of the Union address where the speaker of the House, on camera, symbolically rejected the legitimacy of the speech by ripping it up on live TV——into opportunities to directly challenge this President’s right to be in office and to be accorded the same respect and civility of his predecessors. If anyone who has been part of this assault, and Sargent definitely has, makes the accusation that Trump is wrong to “delegitimize the opposition,” that critic is either deliberately gaslighting the public, or so devoid of self-knowledge as to be functionally crippled.

2. Here’s an unscientific poll result that should give Democrats chills. Ann Althouse asked her readers whether they would vote for Bernie Sanders or President Trump if that was the choice in November. Ann readership is Madison, Wisconsin heavy, consisting of many of her former students. She is resolutely politically neutral, laning Left, as she voted for both Hillary and Obama, twice. She has also criticized many of the attacks on Trump, including in the news media, causing her commenters, if not her readership, to see an exodus by the Trump-Deranged, much as what has occurred on Ethics Alarms. Those commenters remaining, I believe, are not uncritical of the President, and I would expect to find them on the “disapprove” side in a Gallup poll. I was very surprised at Ann’s poll results:

In a related development… Continue reading

Ethics Alarms To “The Ethicist”: It’s Called “The Golden Rule”—Why Is That So Hard?

I hadn’t checked in for a while on Kwame Anthony Appiah, the N.Y.U philosophy teacher and author who finally brought ethical consistency to the New York Times magazine’s advice column, “The Ethicist.” I was surprised to find him struggling to answer two family related queries that I would have assumed he could and should have answered  easily with three words: “The Golden Rule.”

The first inquirer asked in part,

Recently a mutual acquaintance who knows my friend’s husband well told me that he has been cheating on my friend on and off for years with someone who once worked with him.I know that if I reveal this information, my friend will take their child and leave her husband. Do I sit on this information and pretend the affair isn’t happening, or do I tell her?

Isn’t that an easy call? Of course she should tell her friend. The Golden Rule applies: would she want to be told if the positions were reversed? Sure she would; anyone would. Not telling her would be a betrayal of the worst kind.

Yet Appiah uses 608 words to reach that conclusion. 608! This makes a slam dunk of an ethics decision appear to be a difficult one. Oh, it’s difficult in the sense that the inquirer has to take sides in a crisis affecting a couple she and her husband are close to, and thus the repercussions as well as the process will be unpleasant, but that’s life. One of the Ethics Alarms rules is that if you can fix a problem, fix it. The Ethicist’s rabbinical musings about the decision just supplies a dangerous volume of rationalizations to temp the questioner into keeping the husband’s secret, and abetting the harm. Continue reading