From The Ethics Alarms Archives, August 21, 2014: “Wishing Ethics: What Should We WANT The Outcome To Be In Ferguson?”

finger-crossed

[This seems to be a propitious time to re-post this essay, from the peak of the Micahel Brown shooting upheaval. I’m going to wrestle my fingers to the ground and avoid making any comments on it now, and leave such reflections to the comments.]

The simple answer to the question in the headline is: we should all want the truth to come out, whatever it is, and be dealt with honestly and justly. I don’t think that result is possible, unfortunately, just as it proved impossible in the Martin-Zimmerman tragedy.If the truth could be determined, however…if an experimental, advanced video recorder just happened to capture everything that occurred between Officer Wilson and Mike Brown, including in the squad car; if it captured the incident from all angles, and we could hear and see everything that transpired between them, what would we want that to be, recognizing that the tragedy cannot be undone?

Would we want it to show that Mike Brown was murdered, that he was fleeing for his life when he escaped the car, then turned, fell to his knees ( as at least one witness claims) and was gunned down with his hands in the air? Obviously many Americans, including Brown’s family, the Ferguson protestors, many African-Americans, civil rights activists, police critics, politicians and pundits, have an interest in seeing this be the final verdict of investigators, for a multitude of reasons. The grieving family wants their son to be proven innocent of any fault in his own death. Others, especially those who prematurely declared Officer Wilson  guilty of “executing” Brown, have a strong interest in being proven right, for even though it would not excuse their unfair and irresponsible rush to judgment, such a determination would greatly reduce the intensity of criticism leveled at them.

[Side Note on Ethics Dunce Jay Nixon: That won’t stop the criticism here, however: Whatever the facts prove to be,  Gov. Jay Nixon’s comments are indefensible, and inexcusable. Now the Democrat is denying that they meant what he clearly meant to convey: calling for “justice for Brown’s family” and a “vigorous prosecution” can only mean charging Wilson, and that is what those calling for Wilson to be arrested took his comments to mean. If the Governor didn’t mean that, as he now claims, then he is 1) an ignoramus and 2) beyond incompetent to recklessly comment on an emotion-charged crisis in his state without choosing his words carefully.]

Or should we hope that the facts exonerate Wilson? After all, shouldn’t we want the one living participant in this tragedy to be able to have some semblance of a life without being forever associated with villainy? Certainly his family and friends, as well as member of the Ferguson police force who want their own ranks to be vindicated, and police all over the nation who have had their profession attacked and denigrated in the wake of the shooting, fervently hope that the narrative pushed by the demonstrators is proven wrong.

Others want to see Wilson proven innocent for less admirable reasons. They want to use the incident to condemn police critics, and undermine and discredit civil rights advocates, especially long-time ideological foes like Al Sharpton. They want Eric Holder to look biased, (he looks biased anyway, because he appears to be taking sides) and to make the case—one that a single episode neither supports nor can possible rebut—that police do not have itchy trigger fingers when their weapons are pointed at young black men.

From the standpoint of ethics, which means that the best outcome will be the one that does the most good for society, the choice is complex.  Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Declaration: I Know Who I Won’t Be Voting For In November, And Why”

When I wrote this post, I knew it would cause some consternation, and it did. I wrote it after becoming disgusted with Alyssa Milano, Kamala Harris, and all the other passionate #MeToo advocates who insisted that a decades-old, recovered memory, conveniently-timed, recited-in-a-baby-voice accusation against a distinguished judge nominated for the Supreme Court was sufficient to disqualified him for that office because respecting “women/victims/survivors” was a paramount and non-negotiable value in our society,  but that a more credible accusation by a Presidential candidate’s former staffer alleging a more serious sexual assault by that man should be shrugged off because beating Donald Trump is more important than those same values we were told could not be outweighed. 

I realized, as every day the latest outrageous trick, lie or plot from the Axis of Unethical Conduct (that’s Democrats, the “resistance”, and the news media) dragged me closer to a decision to vote to re-elect the President, that if I reached that decision I would be doing exactly what the #MeToo hypocrites are doing.

Oh, I could rationalize a difference: their convictions regarding Trump are based on propaganda, Big Lies and impeachment cabals, and they are, in the case of the Milano types, ignorant of the threat to democracy that today’s Left poses, and in the case of Harris, Klobuchar, Pelosi, Warren, and the rest, they are part of it.  My problem is different, as it stems from the fact that while one choice this November is undeniably worse than the other from an ethical perspective, making either choice requires me, as an ethicist, to contradict the principles and values I spend all day and all year trying to promote.

I have to pick an ethics system, and after reviewing the ethics decision-making models, I believe in my case, where integrity is crucial, the system to be applied is Absolutism, where the Rule of Universality applies. The only other choice is the most brutal form of utilitarianism, the ends justify the means. I feel that if I choose that I should author an apology to all of Biden’s #MeToo supporters (and Bill Clinton’s too) and pack it in.  Kill Ethics Alarms, close down ProEthics, and become a porn flick director.

Here is Humble Talent’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Declaration: I Know Who I Won’t Be Voting For In November, And Why:

I think that as a Canadian, I can take a step back and look at this from a different view from people in America.

Frankly, I get this. 100%. I’ve been really struggling talking to some of the people I used to talk with constantly, because I find them… aggravating. It’s like there’s an Anti Trump-Derangement Derangement, where people that have held conservative beliefs for their entire life all of a sudden turn on a dime to defend Trump from what they would have called out 10 minutes ago from anyone else. i get how it happens, Trump has been under siege for years and it’s sometimes hard to figure out whether or not the criticism laid at his feet is legitimate or not. But frankly, sometimes it isn’t hard at all to point out when the criticism is legitimate or not, it is, and the response from previously thoughtful commentators is so obviously mired in this deep morass of tribalism, except instead of a left-right tribalism, the crux of the differentiation is a type of blind loyalty to Trump. I don’t find that interesting, intelligent, thoughtful, or even particularly honest.

Loyalty to Trump is not a defining principle of conservatism. It’s even less of a defining principle to any other ideology, other than Trump’s cult of personality. Continue reading

The Pandemic Creates A Classic And Difficult Ethics Conflict, But The Resolution Is Clear, Part I: Stipulations [CORRECTED]

[Warning: I’m sure there are typos below; I’ll be fixing them, but I’m a bit swamped, and I want to get this post up. It’s a utilitarian decision. Update: I think I’ve fixed them all.]

I have been consciously avoiding wading into this issue, first, because its components are beyond my expertise in two fields, second, because to do a proper job would take a book rather than a  blog post, and third, because to even do an inadequate  job, I will have to quote extensively from the arguments of others, which I try to do as little as possible (believe it or not). I detest appeals to authority, which is basically all I get from my deranged Facebook friends all day long.  Nonetheless, I can’t put this post off any longer, because this is an ethics issue encompassing several related ethics issues. I also can’t cover it in a post of reasonable length, so this will be Part I.

The grand ethics issue facing the nation, the public, the President and our future is when to begin re-opening the  economy, allowing people to get on with their lives. Let’s begin with ten stipulations:

1. This is an ethics conflict, not an ethics dilemma. There are ethical considerations and values on both sides of the equation.

2. Many, too many, of those involved in the problem are going to approach it as an ethics dilemma, in which ethical values compete with non-ethical considerations. Unfortunately, that group includes almost all, and maybe all, politicians and elected officials, including the President.

3. It is a cruel trick of fate, or a bizarre joke by a sadistic Creator, that this crisis is occurring in an election year, and with a national leader with the personal characteristics, chaotic leadership, management style, and divided constituency of Donald Trump….but that’s the situation. It is particularly unfortunate that he does not have a reserve of public trust, because that, if not essential now, would sure help a lot as he makes some difficult decisions. He is significantly responsible for that trust deficit; the media and “the resistance” are even more responsible. That doesn’t matter right now. It is a different issue, though a related one.

4. We still do not have adequate information to make a fully informed decision, and will not have before a choice is unavoidable. That’s a fact. We still aren’t certain how the virus is transmitted, or the degree of infectiousness by the asymptomatic. We don’t know why some areas of the country are experiencing higher rates of infection than others. We cannot compare the U.S. statistics with other countries, because we can’t be sure of the accuracy of those foreign statistics. We aren’t even sure of the effectiveness of the supposedly essential precautions, like masks and social distancing. For example, I have articles on file from the last 30 days by credentialed medical professionals arguing that wearing masks may increase the likelihood of infection. I don’t care if this is a minority opinion; minority opinions are often right. Meanwhile, I just watched HLN interviewing a researcher who claims that social distancing should be 12 feet or more, after measuring how “droplets” from coughs spread. But a social distance requirement of much more than six feet is impractical, meaning that it’s not worth talking about.

5. Making important decisions without perfect information is what effective leaders have to do. Two recent weak Presidents, Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter, were marked by a habitual reluctance to make difficult and urgent choices without “all the facts,” and this resulted in multiple fiascos. The danger in making a premature decision, as defined by those two intelligent men, is that the decision will be subject to second guessing after the missing facts are known. President Trump has to be courageous and responsible and make any choice, knowing that whatever he does will be attacked whatever happens. He has to place his fate in the hands of moral luck, and the fate of the country as well. That’s a terrible situation to be in, but that’s the job. Continue reading

Exactly How Much Are We “All In This Together”? The Golden Rule Vs. “Look Out For #1”

Well it’s 4:30 am again, and once more an issue encountered right before bedtime has pushed me into insomnia.

I wish I could blame Philip Galanes, as it was a question in his advice column Social Q’s that got my ethics alarms ringing, but I should have been thinking about this one as soon as the pandemic response entered the social isolation phase. It’s not only a difficult ethics issue but an important and a classic one.

In “The Diary of Anne Frank,” we learned that the four member Frank family hid from the Nazis in a two floor secret annex in  Otto Frank’s office building. Soon after going into hiding, the group almost doubled with the addition of three members of the van Pels family, and still later, a dentist, Fritz Pfeffer, called Albert Dussel in the diary, was admitted to the group. Pfeffer was a stranger to the Franks, but the family dentist of Otto Frank’s employee Miep Gies (the heroic caretaker of the Franks and their secret ally)  and the van Pels. Adding Pfeffer strained the food supply and the living arrangements as well as increasing the risk to all, but nonetheless, the group accepted him.

An inquirer asked Galanes,

A couple of weeks ago, before Covid-19 exploded in New York, a close friend asked if she and her husband could leave Manhattan and stay with us at our home in Bergen County, N.J. It was a tough question to have asked of me, but I decided it was the right thing to do. I told my friend they could come. For other reasons, they didn’t. Now, she’s asked again. They’re really scared! I’m not sure what to do. My husband has asthma, they would have to share a bathroom with my cranky 19-year-old son, and I am helping my elderly mother who lives nearby (contact-free). Any advice?

His advice was to keep her out, and to expect the friends to be hurt by the decision.

There are missing details here, like the size of the house, which could make a huge difference in assessing risk. Some might ask other questions, like “Exactly how good a friend is this?” That would lead inexorably to other questions: “Would the answer be the same if it was a relative? An ex- lover? How about someone to whom the questioner owed a debt of gratitude? What if she offered to pay a lot of money? Would the same answer be as justified if the couple want to send  only their child? Two children? Continue reading

Should Abortions Be Ruled “Non-Essential” Medical Procedures In The Pandemic Crisis? An Ethics Decision-Making Exercise

News Item:

Texas and Ohio have included abortions among the nonessential surgeries and medical procedures that they are requiring to be delayed, setting off a new front in the fight over abortion rights in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

Both states said they were trying to preserve extremely precious protective equipment for health care workers and to make space for a potential flood of coronavirus patients.

But abortion rights activists said that abortions should be counted as essential and that people could not wait for the procedure until the pandemic was over.

On Monday, Ken Paxton, the attorney general of Texas, clarified that the postponement of surgeries and medical procedures announced by Gov. Greg Abbott over the weekend included “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.” Failure to do so, he said, could result in penalties of up to $1,000 or 180 days of jail time.

Oh-oh.

Is abortion truly a non-essential medical procedure? Is it ethical to treat it as one? This is a perfect storm of an ethics conflict colliding with an ethical dilemma, with so many of the factors that confound ethical analysis present. For example, is the shortage of beds and the stresses on medical services really the only factors being considered by those in making the policy decisions in Texas and Ohio? Is the pandemic really a cover, in whole or in part, for other motives, like a desire to limit abortions generally for as long as possible? Is the ethical response by a pregnant woman to comply with the policy, even to the point of giving birth. There are many ethics decisions involved here.

Let’s just focus on one of them, the decision to call abortions non-essential procedures, and run it through one of the ethics decision-making systems. I’m going to use Professor Laura Nash’s 12 Questions, from her Harvard Business Review article, “Ethics without the Sermon” (1981)]

1. Have you defined the problem accurately?

In other words, “What’s going on here?” Continue reading

A Lesson In Ultimate Utilitarianism: Israel’s Nazi Hit Man

Israeli special agent, Otto Skorzeny. No, I’m not kidding.

There are few better examples of how extreme versions of “the ends justifies the means” can be adopted as an ethical course than the strange, and oddly under-publicized, story of Otto Skorzeny.

Do you know the tale? I didn’t, until today. This is a good day to consider it, being the anniversary of the date Hitler’s minions invaded Czechoslovakia.

 Skorzeny was born in Vienna in June 1908. He joined Austria’s branch of the Nazi Party in 1931 when he was 23. He worshipped Hitler. When the Nazi army invaded Poland in 1939, Skorzeny left his construction firm and volunteered  for the  SS Panzer division that served as Hitler’s personal bodyguard force. He took part in battles in Russia and Poland, and was probably involved in exterminating Jews.

In 1944, Skorzeny handpicked 150 soldiers in a plan to foil the Allies after they landed in Normandy on D-Day. Dressing his men in captured U.S. uniforms, he procured captured American tanks for  to use in attacking and confusing Allied troops from behind their own lines. This mission more than anything else earned Skorzeny two years of interrogation, imprisonment and trial after the war ended. Somehow, despite being one of Hitler’s favorite SS officers, he still managed to be acquitted in his war crime trial in 1947. The Führer had even awarded Skorzeny the army’s most prestigious medal, the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, for leading the rescue operation that rescued Benito Mussolini from his captors.

After  Skorzeny’s acquittal, newspapers called him one of the most dangerous Nazi criminals still unpunished. Typically brazen, he capitalized on the notoriety by publishing his memoirs,  including the 1957 book “Skorzeny’s Special Missions: The Autobiography of Hitler’s Commando Ace.”

Skorzeny did not reveal in his books how he escaped from the American military authorities who held him for a year after his acquittal, perhaps saving him from more charges and another trial before the Nuremberg tribunals. The escape was rumored to have been assisted by the CIA’s predecessor agency, the OSS, which he assisted in some special operations after the war. 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

Comment Of The Day: “Comment Of The Day: “Pre-Thanksgiving Day Ethics Wrap-Up, 11/27/2019””

 

Alizia Tyler’s Comment of the Day predictably set off another round of debates relating to the Civil War. There are few episodes in our history that are so rich with ethics and leadership controversies, so it is not surprising that Lincoln, secession, slavery, the Confederacy, Lee and other objects of contention keep finding their way here, most recently in connection with the relentless Confederate Statutory Ethics Train Wreck.

Red Pill Ethics has made an impressive entry in this fascinating and ever-green category. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post,”Comment Of The Day: “Pre-Thanksgiving Day Ethics Wrap-Up, 11/27/2019””….I’ll be back at the end.

I sat and argued Lincoln a bit to my significant other. Or at least all the things history kind of brushes aside.

1) Laws determine what we can’t do, not what we can do. If there is no law saying that an act is illegal then it is by definition legal. This is the foundation of American law. The government just can’t make up rules and arrest you for things that aren’t illegal.

By this universally true standard, the South’s secession was legal. There is no law prohibiting it and, historically, none of the early states entered the union with the understanding that it was an unbreakable agreement. Indeed the federal government was deliberately made to be a weak structure to preserve the autonomy of the states. To this day there is no law saying that the states can’t leave the union – in any case such a law would be deeply hypocritically and ethically bankrupt given America’s rebellious origin. Some Supreme Court cases have touched the issue but their constitutional basis is literally non existent – “Texas had become part of ‘an indestructible Union, composed of indestructible states’ ” uhhhhh where does the constitution say that?

2) At the time of the Civil War, secession was widely if not universally viewed as a legal option. So a few Southern States peacefully succeeded and ordered all Northern troops out of their sovereign territory. The feds did not comply. They sat in Fort Sumter and did not leave. The Confederacy then blockaded the Fort to prevent it’s resupply that the unlawful occupiers of that land might be forced to leave. Again the Feds did not comply. Instead they ran the blockade and sent more men and material to the Fort. Sorry fam, but when one nation sends troops into another nation to occupy their land… that’s an invasion no matter how bloodless it may be. The modern equivalent of a bloodless invasion like this would the Russian annexation of Crimea. Bloodless but inarguably illegal and an act of war. If Ukraine had gotten its shit together and actually had a functioning military or military alliances it very likely would have been the start of a big ol’ war. As it stands though, Ukraine lacks the power to fight back and so it took the invasion on the chin.

The South did not. They opened fire on the Fort and eventually took it back – and they managed to do it without actually killing anyone. A bloodless invasion was met with a bloodless defeat and sovereign land was returned to its sovereign owner. In any case, the North’s soft invasion and the previously unheard of authority that it implied so alarmed the other states that four more states who had initially opposed secession then decided to secede. The North then blockaded the South’s ports and invaded Virginia. Even Maryland and Delaware, Northern states, considered withdrawing from the Union but were prevented from doing so by federal intervention…which brings us to the next evil that Lincoln’s administration perpetrated. Continue reading

Thoughts Upon Reading The Comments To The Recent “Conscience Clause” Post

The comments on the recent post regarding the so-called conscience rule being voided in court generated the comments the topic always does. What follows is a relatively short, general post to frame the issues as clearly as possible.  Admittedly, when a post is titled “When Law and Ethics Converge,” perhaps I shouldn’t have to explicate with a post focusing on the difference between law and ethics. I strongly believe that conscience clauses undermine the law, and are unethical, as you will see.

Law and Ethics are not the buddies people think they are, or wish they were. If you look around Ethics Alarms, you see why. Ethics, as the  process by which we decide and learn what is good and right conduct, evolves with time and experience. A predictable cut of a society’s ethics are always going to be a matter of intense debate. Ethics are self-enforcing, for the most part and by nature, because being ethical should make us feel good.  Once an authority or power starts demanding conduct and enforcing  conformity, we are mostly out of the realm of ethics and into morality, where conduct is dictated by a central overseer that, if it is to have genuine authority, must be voluntarily accepted by those subject to its power.

Society cannot function on ethics alone. Without laws, chaos and anarchy result. Because chaos and anarchy are bad for everyone, no individual who has accepted the social compact may decide which laws he or she will follow and which he or she will defy—at least, not without paying a price, which is society’s punishment. In ethical terms, this is a utilitarian calculation: we accept laws that individually we may find repugnant, because allowing citizens to pick and choose which laws they will obey as a matter of “conscience” doesn’t work and has never worked. Ethics pays attention to history.

Thus it is ethical to obey the law, and unethical not to,  even if good arguments can be made that particular laws are themselves unethical. This is where civil disobedience comes in: if a citizen chooses to violate a law on a the basis of that citizen’s conscience or principle, the citizen also has to accept the legal consequences of doing so as an obligation of citizenship. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Open Forum, And An Idea….,” B-17 Crash Thread

The first Comment of the Day to arise from the recent Open Forum is on a topic that never occurred to me before: one more indicia of how well readers here respond to the challenge of keeping the blog vital when I am called away. Here’s a summary from the AP:

“…a deadly crash in Connecticut this week of [a] B-17 has cast a pall over the band of brothers — and sisters — who enjoy riding in vintage planes and raised questions of whether machinery over 70 years old should be flying passengers.

The propeller-driven 1945 bomber went down at the Hartford airport on Wednesday, killing seven of the 13 people aboard, after the pilot reported engine trouble on takeoff. The cause of the fiery wreck is under investigation.

Arthur Alan Wolk, a lawyer who specializes in crash litigation in Philadelphia, said Friday that the accident shows the risks associated with flying old planes: They break. He said the rules for operating vintage aircraft are stringent, but he questioned whether compliance and training are adequate.

“The engines are old with no new parts being manufactured for decades,” he wrote in a blog post. “Even in service these aircraft needed the resources of a government to keep them flying. The aircraft and engines were never intended to last this long so intense maintenance and inspections are vital to continued safety.”

Frequent commenter Other Bill raised the issue, writing in part,

Ten or fifteen Christmases ago, I took my son and son-in-law on a one hour flight in a B-17 out of Falcon Field in Mes, Arizona. It was mind-boggling in so many ways. Incredibly crude and rickety. I can’t imagine flying in it at altitude for twelve hours, never mind enemy fighters and flak. Was it responsible to put my son and son in law at such risk in a plane built in a hurry to last for twenty five missions sixty or seventy years, an entire lifetime, after its construction? Should all warbirds be grounded and placed on static display? Seeing them fly brings tears to my eyes, but is the risk worth it?

His musings sparked this Comment of the Day from Steve O in NJ:

Hmmmm. I guess you have to measure the number of warbirds flying versus the number of accidents and the number of fatal accidents. Don’t forget, the FAA has some very stringent rules in place as to what standards an aircraft, especially an antique, needs to meet before it is allowed to fly. Flying is by nature risky, even with modern equipment.

Over the years 27 of the 261 pilots who have passed through the Blue Angels have been killed in crashes or other accidents, roughly 10%. So every man (no female demo pilots on that team yet, although the USAF Thunderbirds have had at least 2) who suits up with that team has a 1 in 10 chance of dying, statistically. Does that mean we should ground them? Italy’s Frecce Tricolori (Tricolor Arrows) demo team had a disastrous crash in 1988 that killed 3 pilots and 67 spectators. They’re still flying (saw them myself last year) and no one talks about disbanding them.

Warbird flying is more so, because of the fact you are dealing with very old aircraft and crude equipment by today’s standards. However, those who fly them accept the risk. The same goes for show flying, particularly with these aircraft so small you are almost wearing them rather than piloting them. I have to add that in 2016 the American Airpower Museum’s P-47 “Jacky’s Revenge” suffered engine failure during a promotional flight over the Hudson, crashed, and sank, drowning the pilot. The remaining AAM pilots and aircraft continue to soldier on, however. Continue reading