Tag Archives: Ethics

On Harassment

Harassment has everything to do with the character of the perpetrator, not the person on the receiving end.  It is an action reeking of contempt and misplaced assumption about power.

How did Trump reply when asked if his daughter were to be in such a situation? “I would like to think she’d find another career or find another company if that was the case.”

To clarify, his son, Eric Trump added, “I think what he is saying is that Ivanka is a strong, powerful woman; she wouldn’t allow herself to be.”

Allow herself to be?

This struck a nerve with me, a nerve I’d buried and forgotten.  Until now.

On two occasions in my career I’ve been caught off guard by inappropriate and sexually suggestive behavior while at work.  Both times I was alone in my office.  Both times the person was of a higher rank and older.  Both times I was paralyzed with a running loop of ICan’tBelieveThisIsHappening racing in my mind.  Both times I was embarrassed.  Both times I walked away in a daze wondering how I’d pull off getting back to work.

I did not allow this behavior.  I’m about as flirtatious as a brick and my attire is a degree less conservative than a Mormon fundamentalist.  But even if I had the appeal of a Samantha Jones or Sofia Vergara, harassment could not possibly be justified or described as relevant to the person being harassed because it does not stem from them.  The action belongs to the perpetrator.

Harassment is uninvited.  In fact, that’s pretty much the central nature to harassment.

On a rational level I know that I did nothing wrong; nevertheless I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I left my office both times feeling shame and contemplating what I had done to make the men believe that was okay.  Now, after reading about Trump Inc’s position on the subject I see why.  I’m wrapped up in a culture where the woman’s actions and credibility are called into question as a matter of course.

Deep down, I absorbed the lie of victim-blaming.  And this is the unfortunate truth despite the fact that I know better, that I’m a Ph.D., a vocal feminist, and a proud Beauvoirian.

If you’re perplexed as to why I didn’t say anything, the only response I can offer: I was in a state of complete shock.

I imagine other women, all the unreported cases, have a similar narrative: alone, no witnesses, not another career to run to, a perpetrator with a higher standing.

Note: another career wouldn’t make sense for me because

1) I love my job

2) See number 1.

So, on behalf of any person who has been bullied, harassed, or belittled for gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, and/or race, I’d like to say:

Fuck you, Trump and son, for suggesting we are not strong, powerful, or should look for another career.

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History

When you deny history

you are blind in the present.


Fed Up

The ridiculousness of the last few months with respect to the venom spouted by the Right, generally directed to anyone who is not a white male, has been nothing short of maddening.  From the claim that people coming to this country are rapists, thieves, and likely terrorists to the mindless belittling via name calling, I’ve tried to disengage and wait for it to blow over.

BUT, at this moment I’m officially fed up, pissed, disgusted, and unable to ignore the claim made by Fox’s darling buffoon, Bill O’Reilly that slaves were “well fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government.”  (This was in response to Michelle Obama’s speech when she said she lives in the White House, a place built by slaves.)

Why is my blood boiling?  Perhaps it’s because the HUMAN BEINGS who were reduced to their physical selves and subjected to a brutal existence for the sake of others’ welfare are no longer with us.  They cannot stand up and shout back at O’Reilly.  Instead, people today must speak up in their place and remind those who wish to make ahistorical claims insulting the trauma endured by thousands, that their efforts to dismiss the sweat and blood drawn out in a dehumanizing fashion will not replace the truth.

From a logic standpoint I’m also peeved.  The inherent nature of slavery is wrong.  Families no more.  Children abused.  Rape.  Beatings.  Denied space to think, love, flourish.  A life bought and used by an other. Humiliation constantly on the horizon. There cannot be too much or too little of slavery because at its core it is wrong.

There is no scale.

To reduce a HUMAN BEING to the status of object and property, robbing that HUMAN BEING of choice to exist as they desire embodies the essence of evil.  Therefore, one cannot possibly treat a slave “well” because to classify a person as a slave in the first place negates the meaning of said “treatment.”

To put another way: there cannot be such a thing as a “good Nazi” because the definition of being a Nazi precludes any possibility of being “good.” Or, there cannot be such a thing as a “gentle rape” since the very definition of rape bears the idea of violence.

Likewise there is no such thing as a well treated slave!

There are records, there are stories, there are tales passed down through generations.  I refuse to stay silent and pretend those voices do not matter.  That their lives didn’t matter.


Happiness hinges on Gender Roles? That old Chestnut

 

The anti-feminist and self-proclaimed marriage guru, Suzanne Venker wrote a column for Fox News regarding the status of marriage.  She asserts in the title that marriage is not a relationship of equals: “To Be Happy, We Must Admit Women and Men are not ‘Equal.'”

Nor should it be, according to Venker. Thus, one might gather, marriage ought to be an inherently asymmetrical relation…for the sake of “happy.” Venker miserably attempts to avoid that asymmetrical inference with: “Being equal in worth, or value, is not the same as being identical or interchangeable.”

The problem according to the author? Feminism destroys marriage. She writes: “Today, men and women have no idea who’s supposed to do what.”

Like what, pray tell me. Should I announce at the beginning of my next university lecture: “Ladies, I know you are equal, but you are not equal here. I realize you wanted to become an engineer, a philosopher, a historian; however, this confuses things. Your value is of a different sort. This endeavor will ruin your potential for happiness and marital bliss. University is for men since their role is to…um…do anything other than your role.”

And if a female student quips: “But I’m happy here.” Shall I reply: “Shhh, dear.  See a doctor and get a prescription for a tranquilizer. You needn’t fret about a career.”

And if another female student says: “But I want to earn money.”  Shall I reply: “Oh, sweet fragile being, your role is not to earn money.  Ladies marry money.”

Then once they exit, I too must collect my things and say: “I’ve misappropriated my talent by earning a PhD and daring to stand before you fine male students with knowledge to dispense.  I thought I was happy but apparently I would be happier if I acted natural, and I’ll research how to be natural right away.  So, I will go now.  I’m not sure if anyone else is available to teach you at the moment, but that can’t be my concern.  Bye!”

Let me be blunt. This shit (excuse me) thinking needs to stop. It is not tradition. It is not a “natural” condition.

The notion that woman is not man’s equal is the underscoring reason perpetuating abuse, violence, gendercide, the attempt on Malala Yousafzai’s life, “mansplaining,” and the non-violent yet serious issue of less pay for women, to name a few.

Venker enthusiasts might chant: But that’s not what is meant here! Women should be cared for and put on a pedestal!

And, I ask, what happens when they don’t do as they are told?

To claim that marriage is not among equals is to also claim that women are less than men. There is no circumventing that connection. Venker tried as much by stating that women need to appreciate their “role,” but that simply fails to diffuse the essence of the claim.  I suspect the topic of same-sex marriage renders her completely perplexed.

She hearkens back to the mythical time when men were in charge and the dynamics of marriage offered more for women. Women were the winners in that scenario, right? After all they could focus on pleasing their husband by keeping house and cooking instead of the pesky task of earning money or developing talent.

Unless you consider the massive uptick in pharmaceuticals for the “happy” housewives in the 50s.* Or the alcoholism. Or the assumption that women did not work. Are minority women included in this dreamy 1950s picture?

To buoy her position, she paints a dismal picture of the current culture treating women as equals by referencing the Costa Concordia Ship crash (2012) and contrasting it with the fatal sinking of the Titanic. On the Titanic, during a time when women were “rightly” treated as non-equals, the disaster protocol was “women and children first off the ship.” As a result only 103 of the nearly 1,400 passengers who died were women, Venker notes.

However, with the feminist agenda and a pro-equal policy, more chaos ensued on the Costa Concordia.

Aside from being completely absurd, this piece of evidence lacks a strong (or even a minor) causal connection. When the Titanic was sinking there were only about a dozen people privy to that information. In fact, few survivors reported having felt any sort of impact with the iceberg. By direct order, the ship commenced with evacuating slowly and calmly to prevent panic. Because people were not entirely aware their life faced a serious danger, they boarded the life boats without haste, leaving some nearly empty. Surely the “unsinkable” ship couldn’t sink!

In contrast, the Costa Concordia’s passengers were overwrought with panic. “The ship hit rocks, creating a huge gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation” (The Guardian). Of course, that would force a behavior resulting in a by-pass of conventional pleasantries. (Note the devastating Boston Cocoanut Grove fire of 1942.)

Venker’s evidence regarding problems with equality rest on a rather murky foundation and an awkward scare tactic. For example, other causal factors are more likely to explain the difference in evacuation. Because feminism exists, it does not follow that women died on the Costa Concordia as a result. Venker’s ability to thread a causal connection is about as strong as me announcing: “Every time I wash my car it rains the next day.” While that has unfortunately been true, I couldn’t conclude that the act of washing my car caused the rain.

Venker clings to the notion of gender roles and disputes the concept of social construction. Her evidence? “We know little girls love their dolls and boys just want to kick that ball.”

This does not prove a “natural tendency.” Who provides these toys?  What happens when a boy plays with a doll?  When a girl kicks a ball?  Are they encouraged? In fact, her example lends itself to the exact position she wishes to strike down, namely the possibility of learned behavior. What one “likes” or gravitates towards can be attributed to environment and condition. Don’t believe me? Pull out your seventh grade school picture, take a look at your stylish outfit and do, and reminisce on what was “cool” at the time (or rad or groovy). Still think environment has nothing to do with what you are drawn to?

For the record, let’s review what is “natural,” shall we?

Thinking, creativity, and the desire to play (be it music, sports, or logic puzzles). These are aspects of the human condition, and to dismiss, stifle, or infringe one’s expression of these is wrong.

To tell any human being they are less than another human being based on the body into which they were born is wrong.

To tell any human being they are destined to serve another human being based on the body into which they were born is wrong.

 

 

* From ‘Mother’s Little Helper’: The Crisis of Psychoanalysis and the Milton Resolution by Jonathan Metzl. “Emphasis on the Valium craze of the 1970s, however, has caused many scholars to overlook the 1950s as a decade in which key links were forged between ‘mothers’ and psychopharmacological medications….Thanks to psychopharmacology, ‘emotional’ problems could be cured simply by visiting a doctor, obtaining a prescription and taking a pill. Invariably, these problems ranged from a woman’s frigidity, to a bride’s uncertainty, to a wife’s infidelity. The predominance of such conditions suggest how psychopharmaceuticals came of age in a post-war consumer culture intimately concerned with the role of mothers in maintaining individual and communal peace of mind. As a result, the 1950s set precedents connecting women and psychopharmaceuticals that lay the foundation for Mother’s Little Helpers in the decades to come.”


Officials Examine Brady’s Balls

Forgive me for the title.  I couldn’t resist.  But seriously…

The way one approaches this latest NFL scandal carves out a nice little gem of an example for one studying Ethical Theory. Notice the particular questions and comments in the news to establish the degree of “wrongness” for deflating the balls below NFL standards.  What makes this action “wrong” in the first place?  Is it merely rule-breaking?  Is it intention?

If you consider the character of sportsmanship to be paramount for determining the action then you might be harnessing Aristotle. Character and disposition matter.  Are the players acting out of proper ambition and for excellence?

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If you turn to the consequences of the action (was there an altered outcome?) then you lean towards a Utilitarian Ethic.  The results of the action determine the rightness or wrongness.  If the action did not cause any harm then the action was not “wrong.”  Did the deflated ball cause the Patriots to win?

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If you find that the principle governing action defines “right” (for example, one must follow regulations) then you most likely favor a Kantian position.  The moral worth of an action hinges on a rational motive that can be universalized regardless of the consequences.

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If you view football as a meaningless endeavor where grown men are paid astronomically to catch a ball and run to a set point while dodging other grown men in the process only to arrive at the other side of the field and then begin the process again but in the opposite direction until a certain time and then again at another date and then again for another season and then again the next year…well, you’re a Nietzschean.

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Morality and The Circle by Dave Eggers

The novel The Circle lays bare the trajectory of our culture’s attitude towards online life. It illustrates both a warning and a reflection. Have we incorporated internet “liking,” posting, and commenting into our conception of “activity”? Is this what it means to be “social”? To communicate?

Imagine a fictional corporate entity resembling a magnified combination of Facebook and Google and there you have Eggers’s The Circle. The underscoring logic of the company, the founders claim, is to promote transparency and thereby a heightened sense of morality.

  • If everyone could be tracked and cameras become ubiquitous (and perpetually provide live streaming) then would anyone ever dare to lie, cheat, and/or steal?
  • And, given the idea that information ought to be free for all, would it be “wrong” to withhold all information including personal information?

These questions posed by the novel compel us to examine what is meant by moral action. Eggers’s work here echoes a sentiment elucidated in Camus’s The Fall (la chute). While it may be true that knowledge of being shadowed would nudge one in the direction of being on one’s best behavior, there is something left to be desired insofar as positing a definitive statement about morality. The concept of the moral agent is reduced to one who acts either for recognition or with fear of consequence.

Camus demonstrated the poverty of this line of reasoning through the character Jean-Baptiste in The Fall. Jean-Baptiste devoted a healthy portion of his day to charitable acts intentionally executed in public. He boasted of offering his seat on the bus for the elderly, for instance. One fateful day when no one was looking and he found himself confronted with a situation to help a woman in dire need he froze. His paralysis haunted him because in that moment he realized his past “good” actions could never testify to his character.

Instead, his character unfolded in the singular moment he failed to act. He fooled himself into believing that acting according to “good custom” granted him moral agent status; however, without rules and an audience the truth of his cowardice emerged.

The ancient Greeks focused on character as the cornerstone to morality. Aristotle in particular argued that excellence attained by habit, practice, and the development of reason led to a fruitful and good life. To act justly and bravely, for example, necessarily includes acting with a right disposition.  That is, the thrust of action must be derived from an authentic desire to be “good” and for its own sake.

Public honor, according to Aristotle, renders an inferior motive because it depends on the view of others whereas genuine “good” action is inherently self-sufficient.  “Good” action originates from the agent rather than an external force.

An important distinction regarding character resides between a person who acts bravely for publicity versus a person who acts bravely for no reason other than it was the right thing to do in the circumstance. Notice the end result may appear the same, namely an act of bravery came to the fore; however, the former feels shallow since the act was a means to another end (public honor) and the latter exudes heroism.

FullSizeRenderOn this point, the fictional leaders behind The Circle miss this mark. In the novel, the possibility of public praise or blame serves as the sole impetus for moral action, a Jean-Baptiste manner of thinking. Attention to the inner life of the individual, paramount for Aristotle, falls by the wayside.

The Circle’s constitution additionally chips away at the notion of character development by inducing a hyper attention to a life lived online which amounts to not really living at all. Hours of an employee’s day must be devoted to commenting and “liking” posts, ultimately replacing time for self-reflection and rumination. If one fails to maintain an online presence they become a pariah.

Consequently, a “self” no longer exists. The Circle absorbs all traces of it. The Circle owns it.

The concept of information sharing warps into a compunction to share one’s point of view on social media. “Information” exceeds our normal understanding of news and seeps into personal experience. When one travels, for instance, The Circle insists that pictures and descriptions be posted. To not do so violates their standard of information sharing.

Followers of the company enthusiastically chant “Privacy is theft!”  Keeping an experience such as a vacation to oneself is to steal from others the opportunity to view one’s photos of a place they might be interested in visiting someday.  Nothing may be kept to oneself. Moreover, to not share amounts to lying on one’s social media profile. Shouldn’t everyone know everyone’s interests and hobbies?

This “Privacy is theft!” mentality blindly embraced by the leaders and followers of The Circle resembles the mind bending claim “2 + 2 =5” from 1984.  Both dystopias usher in slogans countering the readers’ sense of normalcy.  But, as I stated at the beginning, Eggers’s book not only warns.  It reflects.  Where are the lines between private and public life blurring and how much of a role are we playing (willingly)?

The irony of posting a review about The Circle is not lost on me.  Have I succumbed to the trappings of The Circle?  I patiently await your comments 🙂

 

 


Heavy Thoughts: Women’s Issues Are Human Issues

“We are governed not by armies and police but by ideas.”  Mona Caird, 1892.

Catherine Mackinnon, professor of law, wrote a provocative essay “Rape, Genocide, and Women’s Human Rights” examining the nature of what is legally deemed a human rights violation.  In time of war it is well documented that rape becomes a method of terror.  The perpetrators of this systematic terror are not held accountable for this because rape is not classified as a crime against humanity.  Mackinnon points out that if soldiers were to march from village to village and cut off the arms of civilians then that would be a crime against humanity–and rightfully so.  She writes:

“What is done to women is either too specific to women to be seen as human or too generic to human beings to be seen as specific to women.  Atrocities committed against women are either too human to fit the notion of female or too female to fit the notion of human.”

What is the reason for leaving rape out of a legal discourse as a human rights violation?  Is it because the act of cutting off arms is identified as impacting all people whereas the raping of women during wartime as a method for attacking the “enemy” only physically impacts one gender?  How much do women count?  She continues:

“This problem is particularly severe for women’s human rights because women are typically raped not by governments but by what are called individual men.  The government just does nothing about it.  This may be tantamount to being raped by the state, but it is legally seen as ‘private,’ therefore not as a human rights violation….When men sit in rooms, being states, they are largely being men.  They protect each other; they identify with each other; they try not to limit each other in ways they themselves do not want to be limited.  In other words, they do not represent women.”

At the heart of the matter I am wondering if the recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby didn’t succumb to some of the same problematic thinking.  I realize the issue is not of the same magnitude as rape during wartime, but I’m not looking to the actualization of the actions; rather, I am questioning the underscoring point of view that may contain a similarity.

The Supreme Court carefully stated that while Hobby Lobby was exempt from providing coverage for four types of birth control due to “belief,” this could not translate into a company opting to withhold blood transfusions based on belief.  What is the difference?  First, let’s examine the essence of the belief.

Those opposing blood transfusions are basing this on the belief that it is a means of consuming another’s body (or one’s own in the case of receiving one’s own blood).  This hinges on an interpretation of the Bible stating that one must not consume another.  That is, people abiding by this interpretation believe the taking of a person’s blood falls into that category. This belief, and I’m not advocating for it, is not something that can be “proven” false, which is primarily what makes it a belief and not a fact.  Yet, it is a serious and deeply held belief, but not serious enough for the Supreme Court to consider as protected.  Why not exactly?  (I’m being rhetorical, please note.)

On the other hand, birth control acting as an abortion is not a belief, even though it is characterized as such in the ruling.  It is, rather, a false claim.  One can prove it is untrue.  Please read this insightful blog post for a thorough understanding by Defeating the Dragons.  Abortion by definition ends a pregnancy, but the contraceptions in question prevent a pregnancy.  That little tidbit is apparently unimportant, as the ruling made the effort to acknowledge that Hobby Lobby’s and thereby the court’s decision was not based on medical facts.

Is there a parallel here between Mackinnon’s concern for how crimes against humanity come to “count” as crimes?  Notice the act of cutting off arms impacts both genders as would the withholding of a blood transfusion.  Men, the ones making the laws, can identify with that.  They “get it.”

The desire to not be pregnant (one of the health issues) only physically impacts women, and it has been decided is not worthy of being protected legally.

But “Belief” should be protected!  Well, then, why not the belief about blood transfusions?  Although, as previously stated there is a stark difference here, for that does qualify as a belief whereas the other, contraceptions as abortions, amounts to a false claim.  Note the quote below that demonstrates what is called a straw-man fallacy; namely, the position is reframed from its original claim and then argued against.

Nonsense with an audience is dangerous.

Nonsense with an audience is dangerous.

In this case, keep in mind that Americans never argued for abortion inducing medications; moreover, the “medication” is misnamed here (as abortion inducing), and its actual functions are not mentioned.  This also mistakes a company’s role with respect to insurance, but that topic can be for another day.

 Click here for more information on the medical reality of contraception.

The quality of an action or law hinges on the quality of the idea initiating said action or law.  For example, if I wave to someone who is far away (the wave being the action), and then the person approaching turns out to be a stranger instead of my friend, I realize my wave is silly because the idea (that I knew the person) supporting it was erroneous .

To put another way, a boat may have the best navigation plan, but I don’t want to be on it if the captain believes the world is flat.  In both instances, the hand wave and a navigation plan cannot hold much weight because the foundational ideas are shaky.  Something of this nature actually happened with the Titanic.  A series of bizarre decisions were made (not enough life boats, going faster, a nearby ship could have responded to the Titanic’s distress signal and saved everyone but decided not to, the look-out was without binoculars), and they teetered on the idea or false belief that the Titanic was unsinkable.  We know how that turned out.

To be clear, I’m not opposed to belief as such or religious practice.  My concern is twofold: issues pertaining specifically to women are not held in the same esteem as issues relating to men, and that we now find it acceptable to create a law based on a false claim, which thereby threatens the value of the law.

 

 


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