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!

In Face of Tragedy

 Posted by on 14 December 2012 at 6:00 pm  Character, Justice
Dec 142012

Oh, how I love this — and how we need it today.

Don’t judge humanity by the actions of a lone moral monster. Instead, focus on the many, many people who abhor this vicious injustice and offer help to the innocent victims. Better yet, be one of those good people when and where you can.

Update: Here’s the original image with some potentially helpful links.

Virtues in Our Culture

 Posted by on 11 December 2012 at 10:00 am  Activism, Benevolence, Culture, Justice, Rights
Dec 112012

Yesterday, I bought some clothes at Nordstrom’s, in part for today’s photo shoot. Alas, I left my credit card with the saleshelperlady. I discovered that when I opened my wallet at the next store. So I went back to Nordstrom’s, and I found the saleshelperlady. The moment that she saw me, she exclaimed, “OH, I’M SO GLAD THAT YOU’RE HERE!” She was mortified that she’d failed to return my card. But, in the meantime, she’d kept my card safe, and she was hoping that I’d return for it.

What’s remarkable about this story is just how un-remarkable it is. Incidents like this — where a person chooses to be honest and decent rather than taking easy advantage of a stranger — happen every day in America. Yes, thieves and cheats exist, but they’re the exception, not the rule. Mostly, we can trust random strangers to be decent and honest and friendly.

That’s a major cultural achievement, and it’s grown stronger in significant ways in recent decades. (Today, a decent person accords that basic respect and consideration to everyone, not just to people deemed to be of the proper religion, color, sex, or class.) Such goodness is all around us, but we’re so steeped in it that we often overlook it.

So… take a moment to notice such goodness this holiday season. It’s there, it’s real, and it’s important. You will brighten your whole outlook if you make an effort to notice of these small examples of rationality, benevolence, and justice in our culture.

Plus, this is the kind of deep moral foundation on which cultural change — and, eventually, political change — can be built. So be hopeful, be joyous, and be an exemplar of the virtues you want to see in others!

Preliminary Thoughts on Defamation

 Posted by on 16 October 2012 at 12:00 pm  Defamation, Free Speech, Justice, Law, Rights
Oct 162012

Last week, I was chatting with my friend Santiago about the validity of defamation laws. Just to get everyone on the same page, Wikipedia summarizes defamation as follows:

Defamation — also called calumny, vilification, traducement, slander (for transitory statements), and libel (for written, broadcast, or otherwise published words) — is the communication of a statement that makes a claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individual, business, product, group, government, religion, or nation a negative or inferior image.

I’m particularly interested in this topic because I have a question on it in the Philosophy in Action Queue that I’d like to answer sooner rather than later. Here’s my current thinking on the matter, and I’d be interested in people’s thoughts in response.

I can understand that a person might be deeply distraught to be harassed by people telling bald-faced lies about him, particularly when that costs him well-earned business. I can understand the desire to recover damages for those losses. However, even if a person should be able to do that, I’m doubtful that defamation should be a legally actionable tort in a free society. Why?

First, defamation laws are too often used as a weapon to silence criticism — meaning, to violate free speech rights. If a person dislikes the criticisms of others — even if those criticisms are completely justified by the facts — he can can sue (or threaten to sue) others into silence. Alas, I have personal experience with such abuses. The cost in time, money, and anxiety of defending yourself against a false claim of defamation is ginormous.

The fact that defamation lawsuits — or the threat thereof — silence speech important for living life should be deeply troubling. People should be free to speak out about their experiences with incompetent doctors, shady contractors, dishonest businesses, and the like without fear of legal reprisals. Such speech is critical to living life well, yet under defamation laws, people engage in such speech at their peril.

Second, if a person unjustly attacks your reputation, defending yourself is almost always pretty easy. You simply have to say that the person is mistaken or lying, then state the facts. (Many staunch defenders of defamation laws are unwilling to do that, I’ve found: they see themselves as above any such explanations to the unwashed masses.) You can also ask forums hosting the defamatory speech to remove it or not permit more of it. Sure, some people will believe the lies, but most people worth knowing or dealing with will not just swallow them. Reasonable people will listen to you. I know that from far too much personal experience too.

Third, notwithstanding those practical conerns, the critical question about the validity of defamation laws concerns the nature and scope of rights. To wit: Does a person have a right to a factually accurate reputation?

A person’s reputation is the sum of the judgments that others make of him: it’s “the beliefs or opinions that are generally held about someone or something.” As such, a person cannot be entitled to a certain reputation by right. A person can influence his reputation by his words and deeds, but it’s not his property because ultimately, a person’s reputation consists of judgments in the minds of others. It’s their property, in fact.

Certainly, some people believe ridiculous claims about me — yet they’re not violating my rights in doing so. They’re just jerks or chumps, but hey, that’s their right. I don’t have a right to anyone’s good opinion, even if that’s what I deserve morally. People are entitled to believe whatever they damn well please — and, I think, to say pretty much whatever they damn well please too. Yes, that speech might do me damage, but so does the speech of pastors and politicians.

Ultimately, I don’t see any basis for claims of a right to reputation. Hence, at least right now, I don’t see that defamation laws can be justified.


May 282012

This BBC News story — The terrible price of a Korean defection — tells the chilling tale of Oh Kil-nam, a Marxist professor who defected from South Korea to North Korea with his family in 1985. Yes, you read that right: he defected to North Korea. Here’s an excerpt:

His wife Shin Suk-ja was horrified by the idea of going to the North and opposed it from the start. “Do you know what kind of place it is?” she asked. “You have not even been there once. How can you make such a reckless decision?”

But Oh replied that the Northerners were Koreans too – they “cannot be that brutal”, he told her.

So at the end of November 1985, Oh, his wife and two young daughters travelled via East Berlin and Moscow to Pyongyang.

When they arrived at Pyongyang airport, Oh began to see he had made a mistake in coming. Communist party officials and children clutching flowers were there to meet them. But despite the cold of a North Korean December, the children were not wearing socks and their traditional clothes were so thin that they shivered. “When I saw this I was really surprised and my wife even started to cry.”

Oh Kil-nam was able to escape, but as of his last contact with his wife and daughters in 1991, they were in a labor camp. They’re probably dead now — or so I hope, based on what I’ve read of North Korea’s labor camps.

At the end of the article, Oh Kil-nam says:

I hope there will come a day when I can meet my family again, hug them and embrace them, and cry tears of happiness. If it does happen it will be the happiest day of my life.

The man couldn’t possible deserve that, not in a million years. The evil that he did to his family is simply overwhelming: he delivered his reluctant family into the hands of the world’s most brutal dictatorship. He could never make amends for that. He could never earn forgiveness. He could never be redeemed. No suffering that he could endure in this life could possibly compensate for what he did to his family.

A person can overcome most moral wrongs… but some evils are just too heinous for that.

Praising the Good: OmniSync

 Posted by on 20 March 2012 at 12:00 pm  Computers, Justice, Productivity, Technology
Mar 202012

I’ve used GTD-style task tracking software OmniFocus for some years now. (Sorry, PC users: it’s Mac-only.) Although I have a few features that I’d like to see added, I love the program.

Recently, the company (The Omni Group) announced that their sync service has been taken out of beta. (That’s what syncs my OmniFocus database between my desktop, laptop, iPad, and iPhone… which is critical for me!)

Given that the service is free — and works so well — I thought that I should write them a quick note about how much I appreciate it:


I’ve been a devoted OmniFocus user for many years, and I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your sync service. Before switching to it about six months ago, I was trying to sync my OmniFocus data between four devices using SwissDisk and then MobileMe. Neither worked reliably: SwissDisk was fine, until it suddenly stopped working. MobileMe would hang routinely, requiring me to restart OmniFocus multiple times per day. OmniSync has worked flawlessly, however… beta or not.

Of course, I hugely appreciate that it’s free, and I thought that the least that I could do is write to tell you that I’m grateful that you offer such a great service at such a great price.

So… Thank you!

The virtue of just is not merely about condemning evil: it’s also about praising the good… particularly the good that people offer you for free! I know how much I appreciate when people write to thank me for work that I’ve done for free… and I like to give as I get!

Mar 062012

In Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed giving the benefit of the doubt. The question was:

When should we give another person the benefit of the doubt? Often, people say that public figures facing some scandal should be given the benefit of the doubt? What does that mean in theory and in practice? When ought people give the benefit of the doubt? Is doing so a matter of generosity or justice?

My answer, in brief:

To give someone the benefit of the doubt means that you’re not leaping to conclusions about wrongdoing, but considering their past actions and character, and hence, only condemning when the proof of wrongdoing is definitive. It’s proper to give someone the benefit of doubt when it’s likely that the person didn’t act wrongly, when you’re waiting for definitive evidence, or when your judgments are based on knowledge of character.

Here’s the video of my full answer:

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Join the next Philosophy in Action Webcast on Sunday at 8 am PT / 9 am MT / 10 am CT / 11 am ET at www.PhilosophyInAction.com/live.

In the meantime, Connect with Us via social media, e-mail, RSS feeds, and more. Check out the Webcast Archives, where you can listen to the full webcast or just selected questions from any past episode, and our my YouTube channel. And go to the Question Queue to submit and vote on questions for upcoming webcast episodes.

Video: Dealing with Temperamental People

 Posted by on 20 January 2012 at 4:00 pm  Ethics, Justice, Videocast
Jan 202012

In Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed dealing with temperamental people. The question was:

Should people be willing to “walk on eggshells” around temperamental people? Some people – often very talented – are known to be highly temperamental. They’ll explode in anger if others disagree with them, make innocent mistakes, or just act differently than they’d prefer. Is that a moral failing, and if so, what is its source? How should people around them act? When and how much should others try to placate them?

My answer, in brief:

Temperamental people indulge their emotions when they don’t get their way because they don’t respect and value other people as autonomous individuals. If that irrationality is entrenched, then the best course is likely to refuse to deal with the person.

Here’s the video of my full answer:

If you enjoy the video, please “like” it on YouTube and share it with friends in e-mail and social media! You can also throw a bit of extra love in our tip jar.

All posted webcast videos can be found in the Webcast Archives and on my YouTube channel.

Jan 202012

In Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed mutual unprovable accusations of wrongdoing. The question was:

How should a rational person evaluate unproven accusations of serious wrongdoing about people he deals with? I recently heard some information about a business associate’s dealings with another of his associates that, if true, would make me reconsider doing business with him. However, his side of the story is that the other person is the one who acted wrongly. This is a serious matter, and it’s clear that one or both of them acted very badly, but since I was not personally involved and the only information I have is of a “he said/she said” nature, I am not sure how to decide what I should do. Am I right to consider the information I heard at all, since I can’t confirm it?

My answer, in brief:

Such dilemmas of moral judgment are difficult to navigate, and ideally, you either know enough about the characters of people in question or you can gather that information in order to come to an informed judgment. If you must choose between the two people now, then you should do so provisionally, as best as you can.

Here’s the video of my full answer:

If you enjoy the video, please “like” it on YouTube and share it with friends in e-mail and social media! You can also throw a bit of extra love in our tip jar.

All posted webcast videos can be found in the Webcast Archives and on my YouTube channel.

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