Sunday, February 18, 2007

Mock The Ethicist: 2/18/2007

In these trying times its good to know that we have Randy Cohen to help us keep up with the complexities of modern life. Without his inspiring guidance how would we know how to deal with vexing questions such as these:

My company reimburses me for my parking garage. I found a two-car garage for $300 a month. I bill my company $150 for my half and sublease the other half for $225. I think this is fair, but my mother disagrees, believing that I should charge only my net cost, $75 a month. You? — name withheld, Queens

For the love of all that is holy, who cares what you mother thinks? And Randy, why the hell are you running these softballs? Here, I've got one for you:

Dear Abby Randy - Is it ethical for me to let the toilet paper hang down the front, or does good taste dictate that it hang from the back? How about the toilet seat... up or down, what do you think? -- Confused

He get's paid for this shit? Hey, NYT, sign me up. I can write a crappy pseudo-ethics column too. Moving on...

The next question from this week's edition isn't quite as banal, but is still more suited for a "Job Advice" column at Monster.com:

I resigned from a company where I worked for 15 years. In that time, I received many letters of commendation from clients and co-workers, some addressed to me and others to my boss. May I present these to prospective employers, or would this violate my previous employer’s privacy? — David Nieves, New York City

So how does The Great Pontificator answer?

Showing these notes to other people would not harm your boss, an essential ethical concern.

Now I can see why the NYT gives him a paycheck: never before have I met a man more capable of inducing head-asplody syndrome. Randy may have single-handly done more to dumb down discoure on ethics than anyone else on the face of the planet. Here's a hint: putting the word "ethical" into your answer doesn't mean you've provided an ethical answer. At least he has the good sense to ask a specialist to back him up on this one, albeit a legal specialist, and this time he doesn't ignore the specialist's answer.

Of course, he does spend half of his answer (that's right, 1 of 2 paragraphs) in a totally asinine comment about North Korea. But hey, even his lame jokes are enlightening, right?

Finally, after the reader has slogged through two boring questions and Randy's utterly predictable responses, ey are treated to a little ray of light breaking through the clouds:

My fiancé gave me a conflict-free African diamond engagement ring. Initially, I wanted a Canadian diamond, but Amnesty International and Nelson Mandela advocate supporting the conflict-free African diamond trade. Now I am debating if we should support the diamond industry at all and instead just go for a band. What is the most ethical thing a newly engaged gal can do? — Erin MclaChlan, Brooklyn

Oh joy! Rapture! There's so many interesting ways he could go with this discussion. For starters he could talk about the imperfect nature of the Kimberley Process, the regulatory framework for certifying "conflict-free diamonds". Regardless of what Amnesty International and Nelson Mandela say it may still be better to buy Canadian diamonds.

Or he could get really meta (and really controversial) by questioning the custom of engagement rings altogether. Why have only women traditionally worn wedding rings? Why do some women feel safer if they're wearing one? Does it make economic sense to saddle the marriage with $4k of engagement ring debt?

All of the above are well within the bounds of legitimate ethical discussion. So what does Mr. Cohen have to say? Drumroll please...

Use the money on a donation to Amnesty International or another worthy organization working to alleviate suffering in Africa.

<gasp> Randy! Why... why... it almost sounds like you have some insight into the question for once. Oh... wait... sorry folks, he's just kidding:

But ethics doesn’t demand saintliness, just ordinary decency. (I don’t condemn your using electricity, although power plants pollute the atmosphere.) In making this decision, you should honor any organized boycott, any meaningful effort at reform. And you might be reasonably guided by respected and sophisticated people and organizations, like Mandela and Amnesty International, which have devoted much thought to a complicated subject.

Ethics blueballs, anyone? OK, let's count the fallacies in that answer:

  1. Ethics doesn't demand saintliness, just ordinary decency: Well, maybe your brand of middle-of-the-road, Manhattan-situational ethics doesn't. But really, if the bar is that low then hasn't the couple already done their dillegence by paying their taxes and buying a diamond at a wholesome, socially-legitimate jewlery store? Why bother getting into all this theoretical discussion of "human rights" and "child slavery"?
  2. In making this decision, you should honor any organized boycott, any meaningful effort at reform: And just how, without your divinely inspired guidance, are they to determine which people are making a "meaningful effort"?
  3. And you might be reasonably guided by respected and sophisticated people and organizations, like Mandela and Amnesty International, which have devoted much thought to a complicated subject: Appeal to authority much? Hey, wait a minute... Randy, aren't you getting paid to devote thought to complicated subjects?

<sigh> Tune in next week when, once again, Randy will leave us all hanging...

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Blog Information Profile for gg00