The Racial Double Standard

 Posted by on 22 August 2014 at 11:00 am  Justice, Law, Police, Racism, Rights
Aug 222014
 

When I was an undergrad at Washington University in St. Louis, I worked as a server in a restaurant in Clayton. (Clayton is a very upscale business part of town.)

The head cook was a very good (black) man, albeit with a very checkered past. He’d served time for attempted murder: fellow drug dealers went after his pregnant wife, and he fully intended to kill them in retaliation. However, in prison, he’d gone straight. When I knew him, he was a great kitchen manager, he worked crazy-long hours, and he was a devoted father. He also worked hard to keep the younger (black) kitchen staff on the straight and narrow and out of trouble with the law. He was the kind of guy that I’d trust with my life, without hesitation.

One night, he told me that if he was driving home alone — or with another black person in the car — he’d get home without incident. However, if he was giving a ride to one of the (white, female) servers, he’d be sure to be pulled over by the cops and questioned.

Can you imagine living with that?

I’m used to going about my business without interference from the police — unless I’m speeding or whatnot. If I’m pulled over, I can expect to be on my way in a few minutes — perhaps with a ticket but without being questioned about my private business, let alone searched. That’s not the case for too many people, I think.

Acting Badly Does Not Equal Being Bad Person

 Posted by on 21 January 2014 at 10:00 am  Character, Ethics, Justice
Jan 212014
 

Too often, when I say something like, “Mr. X acted unjustly toward Ms. Y” or “Mr. X, I think that you were not honest with Ms. Y,” the reaction of Mr. X (and defenders of Mr. X) is something like , “SO YOU THINK THAT MR. X IS AN UNJUST PERSON!” or “HOW DARE YOU CALL ME A LIAR!” (Yes, they’re often angry and yelling.)

Alas, such inferences are wholly unwarranted. The simple fact is that a person might act wrongly — even perhaps violating the basic demands of a virtue — without being a terrible or corrupt or vicious person. Perhaps the person acted in haste, without sufficient forethought. Perhaps the person acted on a mistaken principle. Perhaps the person didn’t see the full effects or implications of his actions. Perhaps the person misunderstands the proper application of the principle. Perhaps the person was ignorant of certain facts about the situation. Perhaps the person thought the principle didn’t apply in that case. And so on.

Basically, a person can act wrongly — meaning, in a way harmful to self or others — without intending to do so. A person might act contrary to a virtue, yet do so honestly.

That’s part of why moral judgments of persons for their actions need to be distinguished from moral judgments of persons for their characters. These are two different kinds of judgments, and they serve two distinct purposes. (That’s a critical point for my case against moral luck.) Of course, these two kinds of judgments are related: judgments of actions are the basis for judgments of character. Nonetheless, a single bad action does not a bad character make — just as a single good action does not a good character make.

Aristotle makes a similar point in Book 5, Chapter 8 of the The Nicomachean Ethics. (Note that to act by “choice” means that the person deliberates beforehand about his best course of action.)

When [a man] acts with knowledge but not after deliberation, it is an act of injustice — e.g. the acts due to anger or to other passions necessary or natural to man; for when men do such harmful and mistaken acts they act unjustly, and the acts are acts of injustice, but this does not imply that the doers are unjust or wicked; for the injury is not due to vice. But when a man acts from choice, he is an unjust man and a vicious man.

Now, I make more allowances than Aristotle does here. Deliberation can go awry for many reasons, even in good people. Still, I agree with Aristotle that a person’s chosen actions reveal his character more clearly than do his hasty, impulsive, or rote actions. Often, when a person deliberates, he ought to know better, and he ought to have acted differently.

As for the people who assume that any moral criticism means an accusation of vice… well, that kind of defensiveness suggests that they damn well intended to do what they did — or, in any case, they’re sure as heck not going to admit that they were wrong. I’d consider that a major red flag in a person.

Kid Shaming: Wrong, Wrong, and Wrong

 Posted by on 14 January 2014 at 10:00 am  Children, Ethics, Justice, Parenting
Jan 142014
 

Dog shaming is funny: it’s a harmless way for dog owners to amuse themselves (or blow off steam) about the naughty behavior of their dogs. It’s harmless because the dogs don’t know that they’re being publicly shamed and mocked. (They can’t read, after all.)

Kid shaming is another matter entirely. Here’s one example and here’s another. Such public shaming teaches the worst possible moral lessons — particularly that you can’t trust people who claim to love you and that life will be good so long as you conceal your mistakes and wrongs from the authorities. It’s a betrayal of a child’s trust in a parent, not to mention an unconscionable abuse of parental authority. To see how and why, read this article: Destroying Your Child’s Heart – One FB Picture At A Time.

Just imagine if your boss publicly shamed you at the office — or the whole wide world — for your mistakes and wrongs. Really, just imagine that for a moment. Think of your last screw-up, whether large or small. I bet that you’d learn one of the following lessons from the article, just like kids do:

  • Bully your kids and they will learn to fear you. As in be afraid of you. Cringing in your presence and hiding their lives from you.
  • Publicly shame your kids and they will learn the only important character development is to be found in a good public persona and the fool’s gold of value based solely upon outward perception and public approval
  • Mock your children as they struggle and they will learn to never share their struggles with you.
  • Share their weaknesses with the world and they will find the world to be cruel and will put you in the role of the cruelest of all.
  • They will think they are a joke, not to be taken seriously. Their pain the only commodity to sell.
  • They will treat you as you have treated them.

Parents, you can do better!

 

I love this brave and thoughtful Salon essay by Caitlin Seida so very much: My embarrassing picture went viral. It begins:

I logged onto my Facebook one morning to find a message from a girlfriend. “You’re internet famous!” it read. She sent a link to a very public page whose sole purpose was posting images that mock people’s appearances. There I was in full glory — a picture of me dressed as my hero Lara Croft: Tomb Raider for Halloween — but written over the image were the words “Fridge Raider.”

Initially, she wasn’t angry, but then she saw some of the comments:

“What a waste of space,” read one. Another: “Heifers like her should be put down.” Yet another said I should just kill myself “and spare everyone’s eyes.” Hundreds of hateful messages, most of them saying that I was a worthless human being and shaming me for having the audacity to go in public dressed as a sexy video game character. How dare I dress up and have a good time!

We all know the awful humiliation of a person laughing at you. But that feeling increases tenfold when it seems like everyone is laughing at you. Scrolling through the comments, the world imploded — and took my heart with it.

In addition to issuing takedown requests to various web sites — which she was able to do because the photo was hers — she also confronted people directly about their nasty comments:

…Facebook made it easy to find people who had commented on the images. By now, the picture had metastasized through reposts on Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, 9Gag, FailBlog. But looking through the Facebook “like” function, I could track down the most offensive commenters.

Most of them were women. Shocked? I wasn’t. Anyone who’s survived high school can tell you how women slice each other up to make ourselves feel better. I sent several of those women a message.

“You’re being an asshole,” the note said. “Why don’t you just do the right thing and delete the post and stop sharing it?”

The most common response was not remorse or defensiveness but surprise. They were startled that I could hear what they’d been saying. Their Facebook pages were set to private, after all. Most didn’t realize that when you post to a public page through your Facebook account, it doesn’t matter that your own content is restricted: The whole world can read your words anyway.

And of course, they hadn’t really thought of me as a person. Why should they? These images are throwaways, little bursts of amusement to get through a long workday. You look, you chuckle, you get some ridicule off your chest and move on to the next source of distraction. No one thought about the possibility that I might read those words. Far less, that I would talk back.

Read that last paragraph again. Personally, I’m going to be more careful about the funny things I share. I don’t want to be even a small part of any social media wave that makes a decent person’s life miserable.

Of particular concern, I think, are seemingly hilarious commentaries on the supposedly bad behavior of other people, such as this one by Elan Gale: This Man Is Hilariously Live-Tweeting His Flight-and-Feud With The Woman in #7A. I thought it mildly funny until I read the other side of the story: Bullying at 35 thousand feet. Of course, I have no way to determine the veracity of either story: both might be inventions. Yet the incident is instructive, I think. As I posted to Facebook:

It seems high time for everyone (including me!) to be suspicious of reports of god-awful behavior by random strangers. Perhaps the story is fabricated or embellished — or perhaps the circumstances aren’t quite what they seem — or perhaps the person who “schooled” the jerk just enjoys feeling like a self-righteous, sanctimonious prick. Surely, any truly awful person isn’t going to reform due to being the laughingstock of the internet… and it’s too likely that a good person will be unjustly vilified instead.

I love laughter, I really do… but there’s plenty of funny in the world without being unjust or malicious.

The Beauty of Gratitude

 Posted by on 14 November 2013 at 11:00 am  Benevolence, Education, Ethics, Justice
Nov 142013
 

On November 7th, Letters of Note published this touching and beautiful letter from Albert Camus to Louis Germain, the teacher who helped him rise so far beyond the miserable circumstances of his birth and childhood. (See the post on Letters of Note for a few details about that.)

19 November 1957

Dear Monsieur Germain,

I let the commotion around me these days subside a bit before speaking to you from the bottom of my heart. I have just been given far too great an honour, one I neither sought nor solicited.

But when I heard the news, my first thought, after my mother, was of you. Without you, without the affectionate hand you extended to the small poor child that I was, without your teaching and example, none of all this would have happened.

I don’t make too much of this sort of honour. But at least it gives me the opportunity to tell you what you have been and still are for me, and to assure you that your efforts, your work, and the generous heart you put into it still live in one of your little schoolboys who, despite the years, has never stopped being your grateful pupil. I embrace you with all my heart.

Albert Camus

Ah, what a perfection of gratitude that is!

 

I’m delighted to announce that my first book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame, is now available for purchase in paperback, as well as for Kindle and Nook.

The book defends the justice of moral praise and blame of persons using an Aristotelian theory of moral responsibility, thereby refuting Thomas Nagel’s “problem of moral luck.” It’s an academic work but accessible to anyone with an interest in philosophy.

About Responsibility & Luck

Does the pervasive influence of luck in life mean that people cannot be held responsible for their choices? Do people lack the control required to justify moral praise and blame?

In his famous article “Moral Luck,” philosopher Thomas Nagel casts doubt on our ordinary moral judgments of persons. He claims that we intuitively accept that moral responsibility requires control, yet we praise and blame people for their actions, the outcomes of those actions, and their characters — even though shaped by forces beyond their control, i.e., by luck. This is the “problem of moral luck.”

Philosopher Diana Hsieh argues that this attack on moral judgment rests on a faulty view of control, as well as other errors. By developing Aristotle’s theory of moral responsibility, Hsieh explains the sources and limits of a person’s responsibility for what he does, what he produces, and who he is. Ultimately, she shows that moral judgments are not undermined by luck.

In addition, this book explores the nature of moral agency and free will, the purpose of moral judgment, causation in tort and criminal law, the process of character development, and more.

For more information, including two sample chapters and the detailed table of contents, visit the book’s web page.

Again, you can purchase Responsibility & Luck in paperback, as well as for Kindle and Nook.

Paperback Kindle Nook

Like every author, I depend on good reviews of the book on Amazon, social media, and elsewhere. So once you’ve read Responsibility & Luck, please review it!

Choose Your Associates Wisely

 Posted by on 13 August 2013 at 10:00 am  Character, Ethics, Justice, Relationships
Aug 132013
 

Last night when watching the excellent television show Major Crimes, I was struck by these words of wisdom from Sharon Raydor: “If you hang out with criminals, you eventually will become a witness, a suspect, or a victim.” Or, I would add, an accomplice.

Too many people think that they can immunize themselves from friends and associates of dubious character… somehow. It’s just not true. If you choose to maintain ties with destructive, crazy, malicious, negligent, irrational, or otherwise sordid people, they will splash their crazy on you, again and again. As a matter of self-protection, you need distance.

I said much more on this topic in the 4 August 2013 episode of Philosophy in Action Radio, in answering the question on red flags in relationships. It’s a long discussion, but I was quite proud of it. It’s particularly helpful, I think, to good people apt to get “taken in” by not-so-good people.

If you’ve not yet heard the episode, you can listen to or download the relevant segment of the podcast here:

For more details, check out the question’s archive page.

 

A few days ago, I read this hysterical article — Should You Send a Lady a Dick Pic? A Guide for Men — which includes gems like the following:

Scenario 1: You’re on OKCupid and you have been exchanging messages with an attractive woman who you strongly believe is interested in seeing your penis. She hasn’t exactly come right out and asked you about your penis, but you’re pretty sure she wants to see it. Like, 60% sure. Also, you’re drunk.

Should you send the lady a dick pic? No.

And:

Scenario 5: You’re so mad at your ex girlfriend and you want to remind her that there’s no possible way her new boyfriend’s penis could measure up to your penis, which is great. Also, you’re drunk. You’re so, so drunk.

Should you send this lady a dick pic? God, seriously? No.

I was thereby inspired to create a handy flowchart for any man considering sending a picture of his man-parts to a lady:

On a more serious note, I recommend this blog post by the always-fabulous Katie Granju: Carlos Danger: I’ve Touched That Hot Stove, And I Can’t Recommend It. Here are the first few paragraphs:

Like most Americans, I love a good comeback story. And those who know me personally will tell you that my Pollyanna-ish willingness to believe people when they swear up and down to me that they’ve changed, that they want to change, is pretty much unlimited. I am a sucker for a sincere sounding apology along with promises to forge ahead with fresh insights and honorable intent.

Yep, I’ve always been the girl who will touch that hot stove more than a few times just because someone – and let’s be honest here and admit that in my life, I’ve most often been taken in by those someones of the he persuasion – seems sincere when he tells me that he’s changed, and when he swears on all that’s holy to me that it’s gonna be different this time.

The scars on my hands from all those burns in years past are good reminders to me of how poorly that strategy always seems to work out. But they also require me to own up to the fact that I definitely have a personal history of allowing the Carlos Dangers of the world to yank my chain again and again and again, with generally disastrous consequences.

In recent years, however, I’ve toughened up a bit, and I believe that I have become better able to spot trouble as it heads toward my table to ask whether it/he can buy me a drink.

Go read the rest!

I’ve been thinking along these same lines lately — particularly about the “red flags” seen in friends that should motivate me to add some distance — if not cut ties completely. In the past, I’ve not been tuned in to those red flags — or I’ve dismissed them as personality differences or aberrations — or I’ve bought into the person’s commitment to change. As a result, I’ve been burned, often quite badly. I will maintain my benevolence, but I won’t be such a sucker in future. As a matter of justice, I will notice those red flags, then keep my distance from people unwilling to meet the basic standards for “sane” and “decent.”

As it happens, I’ll be discussing this very issue on Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Radio… so be sure to tune in!

Horse, Agent of Justice

 Posted by on 30 July 2013 at 2:00 pm  Animals, Funny, Horses, Justice
Jul 302013
 

Normally, I don’t enjoy videos of people being hurt, but I’ll make an exception for this jackass who tried to play a mean joke on an already-agitated horse… from behind.

Jul 082013
 

On April 18th, a gal from BlogTalkRadio emailed me without prompting to apologize for Wednesday’s disconnection during the show and to inform me that they’re aware of the problem and working hard to increase their capacity. I decided to reply with the following message the next morning:

I just wanted to say thanks for the excellent customer service.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been enduring some of the worst customer service ever from another company (my podcast host, podbean). So your up-front, pro-active email was a breath of fresh air. Thank you!

She immediately replied:

You have no idea what your note did to brighten my morning. It’s been a truly rough couple of days, and knowing that there are people like you on our platform who support us even when we stumble makes the job I love that much better. Thank you so very much for your words of kindness.

I’m so glad that I wrote her! Her original email, and then her grateful reply, is a much-needed reminder that many businesses work hard at customer service. They deserve a pat on the back!

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha