Saturday Ethics Review, 7/13/2019: The Uncomfortable Truth About “The Lion King,” The Green New Deal, Children At the Border, Blackface, And Harvey Weinstein

Hi!

Is it unethical for an ethics speaker to drop trow during a program? I think so. It was a situation I narrowly avoided this morning. I am a rather animated speaker, and after I slammed the D.C. ethics rules into the floor to illustrate a point, my effort to retrieve the volume resulted in the rear snap of my galluses pulling loose from the back of my pants. With an unpantsing imminent (and about to be streamed live to hundreds), I asked my moderator to come down from his platform and rescue me by reclipping the devices on, which he did.

Hilarity ensued.

1. “Asshole” ethics. In another episode today, I referred to Harvey Weinstein as an “asshole,” in the context of discussing the multiple David Bois ethics problems in handling the Hollywood mogul’s representation. The exact statement was “Even assholes deserve competent representation.” This came closely after I had mentioned that lawyer incivility was an ethics problem whether there were explicit rules against it or not. One of the attendees in cyber-space texted a query as to whether it was uncivil for me to use the term “asshole.”

I answered that I was reminded of the moment in  “1776” when one of the members of the Continental Congress challenges Thomas Jefferson’s use of the term “tyrant” to describe King George. Is it really necessary, Jefferson is asked, to use such a harsh word? Why resort to an insult? “Because the King is a tyrant,” Tom replies.

I went on to say that I have found that in certain situations, only certain harsh words are sufficiently accurate.  What should I call Harvey, a miscreant? A jerk? No, the man is an asshole, I said. I’m not using the term as an ad hominem attack, but as the most accurate term I can think of for someone who has done the things he has done to so many women while indicating no remorse at all. I do not use the term indiscriminately, and would not use it in certain forums, such as open court. But I do not believe in word taboos, and when the description, however harsh, fits, it is not uncivil to make a Harvey Weinstein wear it.

2. Now, what’s the right word for THIS? In the Washington Post,  Dan Hassler-Forest reflects on the themes of “The Lion King” and asserts that the lions, hyenas, and gazelles are “stand ins for human societal organizations” and that the themes of the movie “incorporates the white supremacist’s worldview.” Hassler-Forest is an author and public speaker on “media franchises, cultural theory, and political economy” who works as assistant professor in the Media Studies department of Utrecht University in the Netherlands. “No matter how you look at it, this is a film that introduces us to a society where the weak have learned to worship at the feet of the strong,” his article asserts. Continue reading

Last Resort Ethics Catch-Up, 6/19/2019

Desperately trying to salvage the day with the next one looking worse, and a lot of important ethics matters being swept toward the falls, were they risk being swamped by rapidly moving events…

1. Great sequence, unethical to make it…Not only was D.W. Griffith a film pioneer and a racist, he was also quite mad. If you haven’t see this sequence from D.W. Griffiths’ “Way Down East,” you must. That’s Lillian Gish on the ice floe, and actor Richard Barthelmess trying to rescue her for real. It was  shot on a frozen river as the ice broke up,  and Gish was really headed over the falls, though they were only a few feet high.  No stunt actors were used; Gish’s hair froze and she lost feeling in her hand from the cold. Her right hand was never quite right after that.

Things like this are what made actors’ unions necessary.

2.  What a mess.  The President’s Secretary of Defense nominee, Patrick Shanahan, resigned from the Acting-SOD role and removed his name from consideration in order to keep his family from being dragged through some awfully ugly mud, very little of which, it seems was of his making or germane to his qualifications for office.

Before their divorce, Shanahan’s ex-wife was arrested after punching him in the face; after the divorce, his son was arrested after attacking and nearly killing his mother with a baseball bat.  The Waltons this wasn’t. Shanahan tried to defend his son after that episode, arguing in a message sent to  his ex-wife’s brother  that his son had acted in self-defense and writing…

“Use of a baseball bat in self- defense will likely be viewed as an imbalance of force,” However, Will’s mother harassed him for nearly three hours before the incident.”

It was expected that Democrats would weaponize the memo against him in hearings, #MeToo-style.

Shanahan told  The Washington Post  that he wrote the memo in the hours after his son’s attack on his ex, before he knew the full extent of her injuries, to prepare for his son’s initial court appearance. He said  never intended for anyone other than his son’s attorneys and his brother-in-law to read it, but, of course, by showing the message to his brother-in-law it was no longer confidential.

Somehow, in a civilized culture, private tragedies like these should not become an impediment to public service. Yet it is hard to imagine how Shanahan thought it would not, since this is not a civilized political culture. Continue reading

Are “Pre-Crime” Measures Absolutely Unethical?

Yes.

I guess that would be a too-short essay on an important topic with special contemporary relevance, so I am bound to say more. Nonetheless, I would be more comfortable with my fellow society members and more confident of the future of the the nation if the answer to the title query was universally accepted in absolute terms. For the acceptance of the principle of pre-crime is dangerous. It places less than a spiked mountain-climber’s boot on a slippery slope to totalitarianism, which is the real-life equivalent of the Devil in the scene above from “A Man For All Seasons,” both the play and the movie, based on the writings of Sir Thomas More, in which  More emotionally refuses to arrest a man because of the evil  he might do, before he has actually broken any laws:

More’s Wife: Arrest him!

Sir Thomas More: For what?

Wife: He’s dangerous!

William Roper (More’s Son in Law): He’s a spy.

Margaret (More’s daughter): Father, that man’s bad.

More: There’s no law against that.

Roper: There is – God’s law.

More: Then God can arrest him.

Wife: While you talk, he’s gone.

More: And go he should, were he the Devil himself, until he broke the law.

Roper: So, now you’d give the Devil the benefit of law?

More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s. And if you cut them down – and you’re just the man to do it – do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

Few more profound and important thoughts have been so eloquently and powerfully  presented in a motion picture as this scene from “A Man For All Seasons,” to which I will note (again) in passing, “Rotten Tomatoes” gives a lower score than “Birdman,”a fact that provides a disturbing snapshot of the state of our education, culture and priorities in 2019.

Both political parties have placed their feet on this slippery slope in the past. The essence of pre-crime is punishing a citizen for what he or she is, rather than for what he or she has done, on the theory that what an individual is makes that person “dangerous,” in the words of Mrs. More, for what they might do. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (and the Supreme Court that backed him) was responsible for probably the worst example of pre-crime in our history, when the United States, in full panic mode after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, imprisoned loyal Japanese-American citizens as a precautionary measure. Another panic, also not entirely groundless, led to a pre-crime mentality during the Red Scare and McCarthy episodes, seeking to punish Americans who belonged to the dreaded Communist Party, a nonetheless legal organization.

To be abundantly clear, I will define pre-crime as when the government removes a civil right, a Constitutional right, from a citizen, not as punishment for breaking a law, but based on what that individual believes, says, is or is understood to be. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/17/2019: Georgia On Various Minds, Carson’s Deficiencies, Harris’s Pandering

Good morning, Ethics Lovers!

The solo performer is the immortal Doodles Weaver, Sigourney’s uncle.

1.  This is indefensible, and—I hate to keep using this word, but don’t blame me, blame prevailing political winds—totalitarian. Carl Malamud believes that there should be open access to government records, and he has a group that has been  putting them online for years. When his group  posted the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, however, the state sued for copyright infringement claiming that giving the public access to the state’s laws and related legal materials without the state’s authorization is the “strategy of terrorism.”

No, having laws that the public has no way to see or understand without paying for them is the strategy of dictators. A federal appeals court has ruled against the state, and now Georgia wants the Supreme Court to step in. So does Public.Resource.Org, Malamud’s group, which also wants SCOTUS to resolve the issue,  since the question of who owns the law is  current in  20 other states that have copyrighted their  annotated codes. The issue is whether citizens can have access to “the raw materials of our democracy.”

I think Georgia is going to lose and lose ugly, though I have given up prediction 9-0 Supreme Court rulings. That’s what this one should be, though.

2. More on “the best people” front. One awful aspect of the Trump Administration that cannot be defended is the President’s irresponsible appointments, which are too numerous to list. In the case of Dr. Ben Carson, whom Ethics Alarms assessed as some kind of idiot savant based on his embarrassing performance in the debates, we knew, or should have known, that Trump appointing him Secretary of HUD was a guaranteed fiasco in the making. Continue reading

I Guess I Shouldn’t Feel Badly About Facebook Banning Ethics Alarms…

…since the social media giants are slowly but surely revealing their true nature as machines of speech and viewpoint censorship, and social control.

Today’s Big Brother avatar: Twitter.

Ray Blanchard, Ph.D., a respected psychologist and adjunct professor at the University of Toronto was blocked on Twitter for expressing his opinion informed by clinical experience. His articulately and civilly presented  position was flagged for “hateful conduct.”

The professor served on the working group for gender dysphoria (the persistent condition of identifying with the gender opposite your biological sex) for the DSM V, which contains the official definitions that assist psychologists diagnose patient disorders. Over the weekend, he  tweeted his professional conclusions on transgender identity.

My beliefs include the following 6 elements: (1) Transsexualism and milder forms of gender dysphoria are types of mental disorder, which may leave the individual with average or even above-average functioning in unrelated areas of life. (2) Sex change surgery is still the best treatment for carefully screened, adult patients, whose gender dysphoria has proven resistant to other forms of treatment. (3) Sex change surgery should not be considered for any patient until that patient has reached the age of 21 years and has lived for at least two years in the desired gender role. (4) Gender dysphoria is not a sexual orientation, but it is virtually always preceded or accompanied by an atypical sexual orientation – in males, either homosexuality (sexual arousal by members of one’s own biological sex) … or autogynephilia (sexual arousal at the thought or image of oneself as a female) (5) There are two main types of gender dysphoria in males, one associated with homosexuality and one associated with autogynephilia. Traditionally, the great bulk of female-to-male transsexuals has been homosexual in erotic object choice. (6) The sex of a postoperative transsexual should be analogous to a legal fiction. This legal fiction would apply to some things (e.g., sex designation on a driver’s license) but not to others (entering a sports competition as one’s adopted sex).

This clinical opinion by a qualified expert was reported by at least one, probably many, Twitter users who, like the growing number of progressives within the Leftward social movement, believe that their power and control of society will arrive more swiftly if dissent and contrary views are marginalized, suppressed, and branded as hate speech. Twitter swiftly complied. The professor was silenced. His position was a thought crime: it would not be permitted in the interests of “the greater good.”

Fortunately, Ray Blanchard is internationally known, and Twitter’s tactic shook some nests with pretty big hornets inside. Helen Joyce, an editor at The Economist, wrote,

“Ray Blanchard served on the gender dysphoria working group and chaired the paraphilia working group for DSM V,” Joyce tweeted. “He is a world expert in the field. Twitter has just suspended his account for a thread setting out his findings from A lifetime of research. Unreal.”

Jesse Singal, contributing writer at New York magazine, wrote,

“Gender dysphoria is in the DSM-5. Despite endless rumor-mongering and misinformation to the contrary, it *is* considered a mental disorder. Maybe it shouldn’t be! But it’s beyond insane to suspend someone for expressing an opinion which lines up with the DSM. I have less and less faith that, as a journalist who often writes about science, I will be able to continue using Twitter without getting punished for communicating scientifically accurate information.”

There were many more who condemned Twitter’s nakedly political act. Oops! I guess we were a bit aggressive there! Better retrench, or everyone will be on to us!

After 24 hours, Twitter restored the professor’s account, and said it had made “a mistake.” The mistake, I submit, was that it jumped the gun in the Left’s rush to install totalitarian speech suppression. We’re not quite there yet. Facebook can block Ethics Alarms, because Ethics Alarms lacks allies in high places. If the social media platforms just quietly, incrementally pinch-off dissenting voices that challenge the tactics, distortions and actions of those representing “the right side of history,” the frog will be boiled before anyone notices.

If Twitter and Facebook were serious about supporting free speech, they would suspend the accounts of users who abuse the reporting system, and use it to stifle opinions they disagree with.

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Pointer and Source: Tyler O’Neil

Ethics Quiz: Harvard’s Diversity Speaker

As the keynote speaker at its annual diversity conference, Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts & Sciences selected Tim Wise, an “anti-racism writer, educator and activist.” Here is a Facebook post by Wise from 2015.

This is America…people basing their beliefs on the fable of Noah and Ark, or their interpretation of Sodom and Gomorrah…rather than science or logic…If you are basing your morality on a fairy tale written thousands of years ago, you deserve to be locked up…detained for your utter inability to deal with reality…NO, we are not obligated to indulge your irrationality in the name of your religious freedom…but we will provide you a very comfortable room, against which walls you may hurl yourself hourly if your choose. Knock yourself out….seriously, knock yourself out, completely, for weeks at a time…I’m sorta kidding but not by much…I don’t believe lunatics like this should be locked up, but I do think they have to be politically destroyed, utterly rendered helpless to the cause of pluralism and democracy …the world is not theirs. They have no right to impose their bullshit on others. They can either change, or shut the hell up, or practice their special brand of crazy in their homes…or go away. Their choice. And this argument applies to any fundamentalist religionist of any faith who thinks they have a right to impose their beliefs on a secular, pluralistic society. Go away.

There is no evidence that Wise has moderated these views at all. He didn’t issue a direct attack on Christians at Harvard; he did say  that President Donald Trump is and “always was” racist, and that his election shows that “this country is more sexist and more racist than I realized” (because there was no reason not to want Hillary Clinton as President other than racism and sexism, I guess). He argued that academic institutions like Harvard should embrace the struggle for social justice and solidarity “not just at the level of rhetoric but policy.” This means,  Wise said, “Schools must make mission statements up to date,” and tell potential applicants that “if you’re not down with this mission, then you don’t actually fit in with us as an institution.”

You know: diversity! Continue reading

Arrested For Sexist Tweets

One of the early Ethics Alarms posts about schools disciplining students for their use of social media involved a male student who rated his female classmates in a Facebook post. In 2016, Harvard  cancelled the men’s soccer season as punishment for “the widespread practice of the team’s players rating the school’s female players in sexually explicit terms.” [The Ethics Alarms Quiz about that episode, which I just read, as well as the 156 comments it generated including two Comments of the Day, is a good one, and I’ll offer it here as another Ethics Alarms archives feature worth revisiting: Ethics Quiz: The Harvard Soccer Team’s “Locker Room Talk.”]

At Perrysburg High School in Ohio, however, the reaction of administrators to a similar incident plows new and especially alarming ground.  After many students reported his Twitter account for rating the school’s female students in derogatory terms, the school had him arrested and charged with “telecommunications harassment.”NBC reports that 18-year-old Mehros Nassersharifi has been issued a summons to appear in court, and faces expulsion from the school.His account, @GirlsRanked, purported  to list the “hottest girls” at Perrysburg.

No news yet if the school plans on confining him in an Iron Maiden or branding “SEXIST!” on his face.

There’s no quiz necessary here. What the school has done is far, far worse than a high school kid’s juvenile Twitter account. It is also one more item on my growing list of how the cancerous progressive fervor for installing “woke” attitudes into the culture using force and intimidation continues to metastasize.

No, you can’t prosecute someone based on the content of a Tweet. Every single student at Perrysburg High School should already know that, and indeed should have known it since the sixth grade at least. Yet apparently the teachers and administrators at the school don’t know it. First Amendment? What First Amendment? Continue reading