Prelude To “The Pandemic Creates A Classic And Difficult Ethics Conflict, But The Resolution Is Clear,” Part III… Ethics Quote Of The Century: President Donald J. Trump

abusive-relationship-larger

“Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.”

—–President Donald J. Trump, writing on Twitter in October, after he tested positive

When everybody is attacking and insulting the President now, especially those who didn’t have the guts to do so when he wasn’t a lame duck and they were still afraid of him, this seems like a propitious time to give him due credit for an important and perceptive statement that perfectly expresses the message of the final installment of an Ethics Alarms series that began way back in May.

The sentiment the President succinctly and eloquently expressed was quintessentially American, as well as identical to what other leaders have been lauded for in the past. President Trump, in contrast, was attacked and condemned for expressing this simple truth. He “downplayed the deadly threat of the virus” said the Times. “He isn’t taking the pandemic seriously!” erupted Vogue. After all, the virus “ruined” Amanda Kloot’s life! How dare he not tell as all to be terrified, and to make all of our plans and calibrate our decisions and goals based on the assumption that doom was nigh.

Funny, I don’t recall historians condemning FDR for “downplaying” the threat of the Great Depression when he said,

I don’t recall the British accusing Winston Churchill of downplaying the threat posed by Nazi Germany while hundreds of thousands of British troops were nearly trapped an Dunkirk, and he announced to Parliament, “We will never surrender!”:

This is because the news media, tunnel-visioned health experts, and elected officials who want to make Americans dependent of the government psychologically and factually, want the nation to be fearful. They want us to surrender to the pandemic. They want us to allow it to control out lives. And for most of this year, it has.

President Trump is among the Americans I would view most unlikely to utter an ethical statement, much less a great one, but this was a great statement, essential, inspirational, and right.

I assume this is sufficient notice of what the conclusion of Part III will be.

[If you review the linked post, note that every one of the ten stipulation I laid out in May are still accurate.]

Ethics Dunce, Rogue And Fool To Be Held Up As An Example Forever More: Dr. Anthony Fauci

Fauci

From the New York Times:

“In the pandemic’s early days, Dr. Fauci tended to cite the same 60 to 70 percent estimate that most experts did. About a month ago, he began saying “70, 75 percent” in television interviews. And last week, in an interview with CNBC News, he said “75, 80, 85 percent” and “75 to 80-plus percent….In a telephone interview the next day, Dr. Fauci acknowledged that he had slowly but deliberately been moving the goal posts. He is doing so, he said, partly based on new science, and partly on his gut feeling that the country is finally ready to hear what he really thinks. Hard as it may be to hear, he said, he believes that it may take close to 90 percent immunity to bring the virus to a halt — almost as much as is needed to stop a measles outbreak.

No, what is hard to hear, though at this point hardly a shock to anyone with a functioning brain, is that Fauci now admits he’s been lying….you know, “for our own good.”

Don’t heed the spin, the double-talk and the euphemisms: when someone tells you something other than what he or she knows to be true or believes to be true, that individual is deliberately attempting to deceive you by communicating what they believe to be untrue as true. That’s lying. No debate. No defense. That’s what it is, by definition. “I did it for your own good” is a rationalization.

Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Robot Dog

Robot seals work too, apparently…

From a recent New York Times story:

When Linda Spangler asked her mother, in a video chat, what she would like as gift for her 92nd birthday, the response came promptly.

“I’d like a dog,” Charlene Spangler said. “Is Wolfgang dead?” Wolfgang, a family dachshund, had indeed died long ago; so had all his successors. Ms. Spangler, who lives in a dementia care facility in Oakland, Calif., has trouble recalling such history.

So Linda, who is a doctor, got her mother a dog.

Well, Mom thought it was a dog, anyway. It was a robot dog. Sensors allow it to pant, woof, wag its tail, nap and awaken, and users can feel a simulated heartbeat.

Hmmm.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Was this ethical?

Continue reading

On Distributing The Wuhan Vaccine: An Old Ethics Dilemma With No Solution

I was waiting for this one.

Back when ventilators were the rage (before we found out that once you were on a ventilator, you were pretty much toast anyway–Science!), I had filed an article about the likelihood that Down Syndrome sufferers would be deemed unworthy of high priority when scarce equipment was being rationed. I never got around to writing about it, but I knew, like the giant swan in “Lohengrin,” the issue would be sailing by again. Sure enough, as the prospect of a Wuhan virus vaccine seems within view, the same basic question is being raised: if there aren’t enough vaccines for everyone, who gets the first shot  (pun intended)?

Well, there is no right answer to this one, unfortunately. All debates on the topic will become that popular game show, “Pick Your Favorite Ethical System!” or its successful spin-off, “What’s Fair Anyway?” That’s fun and all, but the debates are completely predictable.

The issue is essentially the same as the “meteor or asteroid about to hit the Earth” dilemma in movie like “Deep Impact,” where only a limited number of citizens can be sheltered as a potential extinction event looms. If you follow the Golden Rule or the John Rawls variation, you end up with survivors being chosen by lot, or pure chance. Kantian ethics also tends to reject any system that sacrifices one life for a “more valuable” one. Competent and rational public policy, however, has to take into consideration more factors than these over-simplified (and this appealing) ethical systems can.

Like it or not, a decision in the rationing of a vital resource problem has to come down to utilitarianism, or balancing. That means winners and losers, and the losers in such decisions always feel that the winners being favored is unfair. From their perspective, they are right. Policymakers, however, have a duty to society as a whole, and the long-term best interests of the whole population. Being human, they also have biases, and how they weigh the various factors involved in balancing interests inevitably is affected by their own agendas.

If the job of determining who got the vaccine first was delegated to Black Lives Matters, how do you think it would approach the problem? Continue reading

Oh Great. The Ethicist Goes Woke.

Boy, look at all that social distancing!

The New York Times Magazine’s Kwame Anthony Appiah, aka “The Ethicist,” chose to respond  to a question about the fictional ethical conflict posed by a Black Lives Matter supporter who is so torn. Should she follow her sense of moral outrage to participate in protests against systemic racism and police brutality (as proven by a single death -by-cop in Minnesota that had nothing to do with race, and a botched no-knock police search with a warrant that had nothing to with police brutality or race), even though it risks spreading the Wuhan virus?

It’s not a tough question in ethics terms. It really isn’t. Even leaving aside the clear (at least to me) verdict that the George Floyd protests themselves are unethical, being contrived, dishonest, destructive, and aimed at substituting one kind of racism for another while unfairly demonizing police, it’s no contest as a utilitarian calculation. The protests are accomplishing nothing positive while harming many and much, and would be unethical to participate in even if they did not contribute to the Wuhan virus resurgence—and if they don’t, then public health officials have been lying to us all along.

This isn’t a difficult balancing problem at all, but sadly, the usually rational Appiah tied himself into rhetorical knota to avoid saying, “Are you kidding me? Stay out of mobs! How could you even ask such a thing?” Continue reading

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