Sunday, February 04, 2007

Mock The Ethicist: "Why Bother Talking About Ethics?" Edition

The Ethicist seems to have two firm rules:

  1. Try not to talk about ethics.
  2. If you must talk about ethics, try not to actually talk about ethics.
Witness this week's column:

A parent writes in, asking if a particular baby-sitting pay scheme it taking advantage of eir teenager. It might, if you stretched, be possible to wring some ethical discussion out of this question by examining the power dynamic between the teenager and the person hiring her, but Randy declines to go even that far, stating that "while it can be tough for even an older teenager to negotiate with adults, your daughter can decline the job if she dislikes the terms". So, while this particular question didn't really raise any ethical issues to being with, Randy still does his best to make sure that any actual talk about ethics is firmly quashed.

A wife writes in, wanting to know whether its ethical for a school to refuse to hire her husband because he has a beard. This could be a truly interesting discussion, raising as it does the conflicting issues of employees' personal autonomy and employers' interest in the appearance of their employees. So what does Mr. Cohen do? Assert something and move on, thus avoiding any actual discussion:

While the principal behaved legally, she acted unethically and unprofessionally by basing a hiring decision on your husband’s facial foliage (if that is actually what she did).
Ummm... hello... a little help here? Maybe Randy is such an ethical genius that he intuitively understands these things, but would it hurt him to explain that statement to the us mere mortals? 'Cause it ain't self-evident to me that she behaved unethically, much less unprofessionally. What if her school's dress code states that men shouldn't wear beards? Isn't it her professional duty to abide by the dress code in making hiring decisions? Maybe Randy thinks that the principle should just get another job instead... it seemed to work for the teenager.

While I'm at it I'm also going to pick on his writing style. Its full of these asinine asides:

  • she besmirched the honor of our nation’s barbers who valiantly provide the neatly trimmed beards so vital to our way of life
  • Your husband might consider resubmitting his application accompanied by a picture of Abraham Lincoln.
  • Why not add a third tier if the child throws a tantrum — baby-sitter combat pay — or a fourth for excessive exposure to Raffi, compensating a sitter who has to listen to “Baby Beluga” more than a dozen times?
Page filler... fucking page filler. If you cut out the irrelevant drivel and just focus on his actual analysis you find out in short order that there's not enough material there to justify a column.

See you next week when we'll catch more pearls of wisdom from one of America's pre-eminent philosphers.

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