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
I won’t make a habit of this, I promise: a Comment of the Day deserves its own post. However, the comments on the question of whether Mayor Buttigieg’s brother-in-law was crossing ethical lines or not by making an inter-family disagreement into media fodder have been uniformly excellent, and bundling the three of moderate length coming up makes sense to me.
Incidentally, the polling shows a real split of opinion, but 59% agree on the basic question: they feel the pastor was ethical. (I’m still not sure about that.)
Here’s the poll so far…
The first of the trio of Comments of the Day on “Principled Or Betrayer: Pete Buttigieg’s Brother-In-Law, Pastor Rhyan Glezman” comes from James M….
Ah! I also feel wefweshed!
1. On torturing the homeless with earworms. The city of West Palm Beach, Florida has been blaring the horrible kids song “Baby Shark,” as well as another annoying song in the genre, “Raining Tacos,” outside an event center to drive homeless people away. Listen…
The homeless and their advocates object to the tactic as cruel and counter-productive. The city says it only wants to make them go to homeless shelters.
This is a case of “ick” rather than unethical conduct. Music is used to keep subjects of torture awake in some cases, and auditory assault by kids’ songs is only different in kind from high-pitched beeps and other more direct methods used around the country, such as recordings of chain saws . Some cities have even outfitted parks and public spaces with devices that blast a high-frequency sound that only teenagers and young people can hear.
The use of annoying songs passes the utilitarian test, I think. In this case, the desired end justifies the means. I will change that assessment of there is evidence that one or both of the two songs are literally driving the homeless insane.
That is a distinct possibility. Here’s “Raining Tacos”:
2. Let’s try to think of the least qualified, most objectionable candidates who would still be better than this trio...It’s official! Mark Sanford, who had to resign as South Carolina governor to avoid being impeached after going AWOL and conspiring to cover it up as he secretly visited his soul mate, a South American seductress, or, as such were called in less politically correct times, “firecracker,” has now declared that he will accept the GOP nomination for President. He now joins failed semi-Republican Senate candidate and Gary Johnson running mate William Weld, who is 74 and hasn’t held office in 22 years; he distinguished himself as a nominee of the Independent Party by announcing that he would vote for Hillary Clinton. Then there’s Joe Walsh, who spent all of one term in the House, and was reduced to being a radio talk show host after it was revealed that he was a deadbeat dad.
The news media is faking fainting spells because the Republican National Committee is not going to hold debates among this ridiculous crew, and is cancelling primaries as well. The RNC’s position isn’t unethical, it is responsible. I held in 2015 that the GOP had no obligation to allow Trump to run for the GOP nomination, and he was a more acceptable and serious candidate than any of these fools—which is not to say that he was serious or acceptable. These are three dead in the water political failures trying to use NeverTrump hate to breath life into the corpses of their careers.
Here’s how bad they are: I’d vote for Newt Gingrich (ugh) or Mitch McConnell (ugh X infinity) over any of them.
3. And this is why our rights are in real and immediate danger. From the Washington Post:
“Americans across party and demographic lines overwhelmingly support expanded background checks for gun buyers and allowing law enforcement to temporarily seize weapons from troubled individuals, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, as President Trump and Republicans face fresh pressure to act.”
“Allowing law enforcement to temporarily seize weapons from troubled individuals,” aka the “red flag” laws, is a violation of due process, the Second Amendment, and also a “pre-crime” measure. The public support sit because a) unscrupulous politicians demagogue the issue of gun control, b)the average American, thanks to our incompetent public school system, can’t distinguish a constitutional right from prickly pear, and c) limiting the rights of hypothetical “bad people” is so easy, compared to when one’s own rights are being infringed.
This is a useful poll, because it shows how vulnerable the ignorant are to politicians who want to take over their autonomy and weaken our democracy under the impetus of “do something.” Who is going to explain to these millions of inattentive people with weak critical thinking skills why “red flag” laws are the totalitarian camel;s nose in the tent? President Trump, with his junior high school level rhetoric? Me, with my essays that violate Facebook standards? The news medi-ack! Ack! Gag! Cough! I couldn’t even that ridiculous possibility out. Who?
And who gets to define a “troubled individual”? Anyone with symptoms of depression, anxiety, or stress? That describes 90% of the people I know. Those with irrational anger and obsessions? That’s the entire Trump-hating Facebook Borg, based on my reading this week. People with rocky marriages, conflicts at work with supervisors and co-workers; ranting bloggers? Charles M. Blow? Kurt Schlicter? Stephen Colbert? Alec Baldwin?
We have a dumb, ignorant, lazy, badly educated, civically incompetent electorate that the news media and politicians want to make worse on all counts, and work constantly to accomplish that goal.
In what appears to be a case of the Popeyes (“It’s all I can stand, ’cause I canst stands no more!”), the evangelist minister brother-in-law of cult candidate for the Democratic Party nomination Pete Buttigieg found it necessary to publicly rebuke the young mayor of South Bend.
Buttigieg, who has hardly been an unqualified success in his only elected executive office so far, has also distinguished himself, if that’s the right word, by embracing Ocasio-Corte- level climate change fear-mongering, has suggested that the nation should not honor Thomas Jefferson, and is all-in on with his party’s determination to remake our system to make it easier to dictate progressive policies to the public, as he has endorsed abolishing the Electoral College, packing the Supreme Court, and eliminating the Senate filibuster. He has called for a National Service, forcing or enticing teens to participate in government-dictated social programs.
Most significantly, Buttigieg has been at his most arrogant and obnoxious when he uses Christianity and God as crude weapons against conservatives.
For example, he has accused Christians who don’t support the $15 an hour minimum wage of being poor Christians and hypocrites. Paul Miragoff nicely explains the intellectual bankruptcy in that claim, writing, ” Why isn’t Buttigieg a hypocrite for not supporting a $20 an hour minimum wage? For the same reason that other Christians aren’t hypocrites for opposing $15 an hour. The Bible doesn’t address the minimum wage rate and there are public policy arguments against raising it.”
Ah, but God is on this candidate’s side, you see.
Now he is arguing that the Bible can be read to favor late-term abortions, meaning that if one opposes killing the unborn, one is a bad Christian. In an interview this morning on “The Breakfast Club” radio show, Pete Buttigieg said, Continue reading
“Choice of Evils,” taken from the utilitarian philospher Jeremy Bentham’s (1748-1832) famous quote above, is an ethically rich “Law and Order” episode from 2006 that I recent watched again. Assistant DA Jack McCoy decides to prosecute a mother for murder after she admits to shooting her homeless, psychopath son. Her defense: she did it to protect the community, or, in cruder terms, he needed killing. She had met his girlfriend who was pregnant, and told her that her son would eventually kill her and the baby if she didn’t get away.
The mother explained that her first husband and the dead man’s father is in prison for murder, and like his son. lacked empathy or a conscience. She related how her son displayed all the traits of a psychopath growing up, such as torturing and killing animals. In sympathy for her plight, McCoy offered the mother a manslaughter plea and short prison time, but she turned the deal down, adamant that she hd done nothing wrong. She was then charged with second-degree murder (that’s also generous, since the killing was premeditated), and the trial began.
The problem of how to deal with “bad seeds” is a societal dilemma of long standing, and one without a satisfactory solution. It is easy to sympathize with the mother’s plight, but a society that approves of preemptive executions when an individual seems likely to harm someone before he or she actually does is on a fast track to chaos; it’s not even a slippery slope. Once again, the seductive appeal of pre-crime measures has to be resisted decisively, or individual rights and justice mean nothing.
Does society have to wait until a loudly ticking time bomb goes off? If it’s a human time bomb, absolutely, and no exceptions. Sometimes, that metaphorical bomb turns out to be a dud, and every human being has the same right to be judged on the harm, if any, he or she actually does rather than the harm some feel they are certain to do.
In the episode, it is discovered mid-trial that the son had in fact murdered a man, which his mother did not know at the time she murdered him. McCoy argued to the judge that this was irrelevant to the case and likely to mislead the jury. He was correct. The mother’s act was exactly as illegal and intolerable whether her son was a likely killer or a proven one. The discovered homicide is an example of moral luck: it changes how the mother’s act is perceived, but doesn’t change the ethical analysis at all.
In the end, the jury votes guilty, and sends the mother to prison for 25 years. This is because she admits on the stand that her current husband had threatened to leave her if her son moved back into their home, which he announced he would soon do. Thus the preemptive murder began to look less like an altruistic act to spare society, and more like one for the mother’s personal benefit.
Again, it shouldn’t have mattered. Killing a human being based on probabilities and presumed future harm to society can never be deemed just or tolerable.