The Bill Maher Ethical Conundrum

Wits

“One of these things is not like the other…”

 

The Bill Maher Ethics Conundrum is not what you probably think it is.

Maher, the alleged comic and anti-conservative scold who hosts an HBO program, was chosen by a student committee to be the  commencement speaker for the University of California-Berkeley’s December graduation. This was a lazy, embarrassingly juvenile and politically-loaded selection, but Maher had also just recently used his show to join fellow atheist and neuroscientist Sam Harris in a condemnation of Islam, calling it  “the only religion that acts like the mafia that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture or write the wrong book.” Later on Maher nodded approvingly  as Harris also called Islam”the mother lode of bad ideas.”

This caused Muslim students at Berkeley to prove Maher correct about their religion’s entrenched intolerance of opposition, and they have been joined by other political correctness censors in the student body—there are a lot of them—to demand that the university rescind Maher’s invitation because of his “hate speech.”A  Change.org petition—-now THAT site is the real mother lode of bad ideas—now urges students to boycott the decision and asks the campus to stop him from speaking. It has gathered more than 1,400 signatures. The committee that chose Maher, naturally, backed down, but the University, so far at least, is sticking to its decision to invite him.

Yes, yes, universities ought to be marketplaces of ideas where all views are welcome, and yes, it is hypocritical and offends the traditions of liberal education to stop Maher from stating his views on Islam, or re-telling “The Aristocrats,” or making a fool of himself, or whatever he’s going to do because some students or all students disagree with him, just as it was for Rutgers students to force Condolezza Rice into withdrawing after she was invited to speak at Rutgers. The dilemma illustrated by this flap is a classic ethics problem, which I will henceforth call the Bill Maher Conundrum, which has been long debated and never decisively settled:

Is the ethical nature of an act defined by its intent, or by an objective assessment of the act alone without reference to motive? Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Month: Ken White, of Popehat

JohnPaulJones

“Civility is not weighed equally with free speech. It is not a prerequisite of free speech. It is a value, an idea, to be tested in the marketplace of ideas with other vales. Free speech is often uncivil. Lenny Bruce was uncivil. “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” was uncivil. “I have not yet begun to fight” was uncivil. “I called you naughty darling because I do not like that other world” was uncivil. “Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit; so let it be done!” was uncivil. The equality of all humans regardless of station has always been a deeply uncivil idea, because “civil” usually means “that which makes me comfortable.” Comfortable people paint nice watercolors but otherwise don’t accomplish much.”

Ken White, First Amendment lawyer, wit, philosopher and blogger par excellance, in a masterful dismembering of a sinister  email about free speech sent to Berkeley students, faculty, and staff by U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks .

An equivocating, double-talking, free-speech degrading college administrator attempts to warp our nation’s values in the minds of the young, and Ken exposes the university’s censorious and timid soul for the dangerous fraud and the disgrace to intellectual freedom that it is.

As Carly Simon said once about James Bond, nobody does it better.

Easy Call: Prof. Yoo’s Secret Class

Prof. John Yoo of the University of California at Berkeley’s Boalt Hall  School of Law can’t do anything these days without attracting controversy, whether it be writing a book or appearing on The Daily Show. Yoo, you may recall, is the former Bush administration lawyer responsible for writing key legal advisory opinions justifying the use of waterboarding and other extreme measures to interrogate captured terrorists and suspects of terrorist activity. Since joining the law school faculty, he has been more or less continuously attacked by students, critics and protesters who believe that the memos he authored compel his dismissal, disbarment, prosecution as a war criminal, or worse.

Now Berkeley is being criticized for allowing Yoo to hold his spring semester Constitutional Law class in a secret location known only to class members. Anti-Yoo protesters demand to be permitted to disrupt his class in the name of free speech and campus discourse. Yoo, in his typically provocative fashion, says they are welcome to attend his class once they get admitted to the law school and pay their tuition. Continue reading