It’s time for Chuck Klosterman, the New York Times’ designated amateur who now handles “The Ethicist” advice column, to hang it up, and let some randomly chosen unemployed New Yorker take a shot at the job. Since assuming his post, Chuck has had good moments and bad, but this botch is embarrassing, and signature significance—no one who isn’t a bona fide Ethics Dunce could make such a terrible call.
Get this: Klosterman was asked whether surreptitiously taking cuttings from plants owned by a shopping center was unethical:
“…While walking through our local shopping center, we noticed a particular plant that we both liked and decided to get it for our patio….My wife thought she could grow it from cuttings, so we went back and took about three or four cuttings from one of the many plants that were scattered around the shopping center. The plant was not hurt or damaged in any manner or form, but my gut instinct told me that this was wrong. Was it?”
Does this question really need asking? Apparently, because the fraud masquerading as an ethicist at the Times thinks it’s a “thorny” question (Chuck likes puns…maybe the column should be called “The Punster”) about an “unethical act that has a positive impact.” ( Helpful hint to Chuck: the issue is stealing.) Klosterman then embarked on a rationalization orgy: Continue reading
Arlene’s Flowers & Gifts proprietor Barronelle Stutzman had been selling flowers to Robert Ingersoll and his partner, Curt Freed, his partner, for a decade, but drew a line in the sand when they wanted her business to supply the floral arrangements for their same-sex marriage. She refused, citing her relationship with God. This week, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a consumer protection lawsuit against Stutzman, drawing a line of his own.
There are legal and ethical issues mixed up here like gazpacho, and some of them are not difficult. For example, whether Stutzman should have the legal right to do so or not, her decision to reject and stigmatize long-time customers is indefensible ethically. It is cruel, unfair, ungrateful and disrespectful. They were good enough to profit from for ten years, but not good enough to accommodate at the most important time of their lives? Such conduct earns a massive ethics “Yechh.” Continue reading
As you can see from the sign above, the I Love Drilling Juice and Smoothie Bar in Vernal, Utah, owned and operated by a local pro-oil and gas activist George Burnett, charges liberals an extra dollar for its fare. The smug owner then donates the proceeds from his partisan surtax to the Heritage Foundation and other conservative organizations.
I hate to pop Mr. Burnett’s self-satisfied balloon, but his stunt is unethical and profoundly un-American. The former is best illustrated by the scheme’s obvious failure to satisfy Kant’s Rule of Universality, a.k.a. the “What if everybody did this?” test. If every business discriminated on the basis of political and ideological belief, daily life would be unbearably complicated, contentious, and nasty, with all communities broken into exclusive, inconvenient and hostile camps. The practice of making people pay extra for basic goods and services according to whether their politics are Blue or Red is also hostile to basic American principles of respectful diversity, open minds, and civil discourse. Yes, Burnett’s liberal tax is legal and constitutional. But it is unfair, and violates the principle, if not the letter, of equal treatment for all. Punishing citizens for their beliefs is bullying, whether the culprit is a city mayor who wants to ban a business because its owner opposes gay marriage, or an arrogant activist who wants to make anyone who disagrees with “drill baby drill!” to have to pay more for smoothies. Continue reading
With some hesitation, I must re-open the issue of officious inter-meddlers and grievance-mongerers who get satisfaction and empowerment from claiming to be offended by things that could not possibly harm them or genuinely infringe on their rights. The atheists are at it again.
My position has been stated here and elsewhere many times: in the absence of genuine long or short term harm, the ethical human response to a symbolic grievance is to keep one’s response proportional to the offense, which sometimes means considering how many individuals will be made miserable in order to satisfy one individual or a small group, and letting it go. Forcing a university to change the long-standing name of its football team based on a dubious argument that the name is an offense to Native Americans when most Native Americans couldn’t care less, for example, is wrong. Forcing a school to stop teaching kindergarteners to sing “Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer” because a Jewish parent thinks the song promotes Christianity is wrong.
Now a group of New York City atheists is demanding that their city re-name a street that was dedicated to the memory of seven firefighters killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Continue reading
Like all of us, Seattle attorney Ronald Clarke Mattson was infuriated when he found cars parked straddling the lines in crowded parking lots and garages.
It really is rude, inconsiderate, obnoxious and unethical behavior, especially when it is blatant, as when the owner of the Lexis or the Jaguar intentionally takes up two spaces to guard his baby against any accidental dings. This is a statement that rings out loud and clear: “My car is more important than your convenience, and I’ll take up two spaces, robbing you of your right to one, because I matter, and you don’t.”
I’ve left nasty notes for these jerks, for all the good that does. I’ve complained to stores, and even had them make announcements over their public address systems. On a couple of occasions, when one was handy, I’ve recruited a police officer, and several times I’ve waited for the owner of the car so I could tell him off (if he wasn’t armed or too big).
Once, when the car was a brand new, loaded, shiny sports convertible, I engaged in the intentional infliction of emotional distress, leaving a note that said that I had used a tool to leave a fairly deep, but small, indentation on his now no-longer-pristine car, and I hoped he had fun looking for it. (There was no such wound, but I am not proud of this.)
If I had a momentary desire to really harm the car, as I may have had once or twice, several considerations set off my various ethics alarms. The Golden Rule alarm wouldn’t sound, because this isn’t a Golden Rule situation: I would never take up two spaces. Others, however, would:
- The “Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right” alarm.
- The “It’s Against the Law” alarm.
- The “What If Everybody Did This?” alarm
- The “Don’t Take Action That Has No Purpose Other Than To Do Harm” alarm
- The “Sons of Maj. Jack Marshall Sr./ Lawyers/Ethicists Don’t Act Like This” alarm
- The “I Would Be Ashamed If Anyone Found Out” alarm, and most of all,
- The “You Know This Is Wrong” alarm.
And if they all failed to sound, due to poor installation and maintenance? Then I might have done as Ronald Clarke Mattson did, more than once. He pleaded guilty this week to a reduced count of attempted second-degree malicious mischief, a gross misdemeanor, for keying three automobiles in retribution for their owners’ parking misconduct. He received a one-year suspended sentence, 240 hours of community service, restitution for the three victims, and has to attend an anger-management class.
But his problem isn’t anger management. His problem is malfunctioning ethics alarms.
Mattson has been a lawyer since 1972, and could now face punishment from the Washington State Bar Association, which is charged with making sure that attorneys with faulty ethics alarms seek immediate repairs.
USA Today included an editorial yesterday about the explosion of births to unmarried mothers in America that has exacerbated many societal problems. It’s a stunning story : in 1960, the figure was 5.3%; by 1970, in the teeth of the cultural upheaval launched in the late 60’s, it had more than doubled to 10.7%. In 2009, 41% of children born in the USA were born to unmarried mothers, including a frightening 73% of non-Hispanic black children. The editorial suggested that reversing the trend is a priority, but was short on ideas for how to address it. Notably absent was the method of social control that had served the United States well since 1776, and had been effective world-wide since the institution of marriage: calling it wrong. Continue reading
San Francisco is considering accessing its inner PETA by enacting a ban on a the sales of any pet with fur, hair or feathers, meaning that little Scotty will have to make do with a boa constrictor, an iguana or a guppy if he wants a non-human companion to cheer him through grade school. The measure began as a ban on pet store sales to stick it to unscrupulous puppy mills, then gradually morphed into a nearly China-like proposal to ban almost all pets. True, the city’s proposal would still allow the adoption of dogs and cats from shelters, but don’t bet on that being the final result. PETA-ism, once it gains a foothold, won’t be satisfied until we are all tofu-sated and pet-free.
A Los Angeles Times story on the public debate over the ban concentrated on the business angle, for pets are big business. This is, however, an effort by the city government to set ethical values and standards, a legitimate government role when necessary and reasonable. Protecting innocent and vulnerable animals is an important government function; the question is whether it is necessary to protect animals from those who love them as well as those who abuse them.
Well, why not? There are slippery slopes all over this issue, in all directions. Laws ban the sale of exotic animals like tigers, wolves and chimps in many jurisdictions, because keeping them in private captivity is viewed as inherently cruel. Hmmmm…more cruel than keeping Shamu in that small tank? More cruel than keeping a polar bear in a Washington D.C. zoo? The logic for banning birds and small mammals as pets is pretty much the same: it’s inherently cruel. Does the life of a hamster deserve as much protection as the life of a leopard? Why stop at hamsters, then?
Are ant farms cruel? ( I know what happened to mine, and I don’t want to talk about it…) Continue reading
G.O.P Kentucky Senate nominee Rand Paul has pulled off a record-worthy achievement: he has earned Ethics Dunce status twice in a week’s time, something no one else, even serial Ethics Dunces like Sen. John Kerry and Tom DeLay, were able to do in the nearly seven years the designation has been in existence. He did not earn it the old fashioned way, however, as the old Smith-Barney ads used to say. Most Ethics Dunces do something, but in both cases Paul has proven himself worthy by what he says he believes. This makes him kind of a classic Ethics Dunce. He literally doesn’t understand basic ethical values, or if he does, can’t articulate them. Continue reading