Ethics

An Act of Heroism or A Petty Crime?

Last week Kevin Williamson did something I have often dreamed of doing, although to people talking or texting on cell phones while driving and not in a movie theater.

The show was Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, which was quite good and which I recommend. The audience, on the other hand, was horrible — talking, using their phones, and making a general nuisance of themselves. It was bad enough that I seriously considered leaving during the intermission, something I’ve not done before. The main offenders were two parties of women of a certain age, the sad sort with too much makeup and too-high heels, and insufficient attention span for following a two-hour musical. But my date spoke with the theater management during the intermission, and they apologetically assured us that the situation would be remedied.

It was not. The lady seated to my immediate right (very close quarters on bench seating) was fairly insistent about using her phone. I asked her to turn it off. She answered: “So don’t look.” I asked her whether I had missed something during the very pointed announcements to please turn off your phones, perhaps a special exemption granted for her. She suggested that I should mind my own business.

So I minded my own business by utilizing my famously feline agility to deftly snatch the phone out of her hand and toss it across the room, where it would do no more damage. She slapped me and stormed away to seek managerial succor. Eventually, I was visited by a black-suited agent of order, who asked whether he might have a word.

The reaction has been fascinating. While a great many have applauded Williamson for his bit of cell phone vigilantism, others have been far less sympathetic and indeed think he should be brought up on charges. Personally, I called him a hero on facebook.

But is he really a hero? Technically this was destruction of personal property. While the woman was certainly rude, lack of social grace does not negate the right to property.

On one level, it’s difficult to disregard that Williamson did act in an almost (or maybe not even almost) illegal fashion, and he himself was guilty of causing a disturbance. At the same time, the absolute lack of proper etiquette is becoming a growing concern in modern society. My wife and I rarely attend movies largely due to the fact that we have small children and babysitting is expensive. Yet were it not for the children we still would likely have cut back on our movie-going as it had become something of a tedium. I vividly recall attending the third installment of the Pirates of Caribbean franchise. The sheer awfulness of the film was compounded by the sheer awfulness of the crowd attending, largely populated by shrieking girls gawking at Orlando Bloom. Cell phone abuse was hardly the biggest issue with this crowd.

All the same, the reason that so many view Williamsom with admiration is that he confronted rudeness head-on. Instead of bellyaching later in a blogpost about the obnoxious woman sitting next to him, he actually did something about it. Though the action itself is of dubious ethical value, it was an action, and in world of words any actions taken to tackle social problems seem much more meritorious.

There are obvious concerns with Williamson’s actions being replicated on a larger scale, so we should probably not completely encourage such behavior. That being said, I have a difficult time not applauding Williamson for doing what so many of us have yearned to do.

Proposition 8 Struck Down, For The Time Being

By now I’m sure you all know that Proposition 8 was struck down by a federal judge. Who knows what will happen on appeal. There is much to be said, but I want to focus on one narrow and possibly tangential point. This phrase from the judge’s ruling, a phrase being reposted on facebook in many statuses:

“A private moral view that Same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples is not a proper basis for legislation.”

The absurdity of that sentence really struck me. There was nothing “private” about the view of the “superiority” of hetereosexual couples. It has been carried on through generations of communities and in the present day was represented by 52% of Californians. How a popular decision that represented thousands of years of ethical thinking and concern for the family became a private morality is baffling.

More troubling is the implication of the judge that a “moral view” is not a proper basis for legislation. Since when has this been the case? Our laws on pedophilia, minimum wage, health care, torture, human rights, etc. are based at least on part on “moral views,” views that in some respects may be just as if not more private than the ones the judge rejects today.

If morality is not a basis for legislation, what on earth is? Morality guides us in making decisions; without a moral or ethical compass (or perhaps even without a religious one) there is no basis for legislation to be made. Laws are supposed to help make society run better, but there is no way to make society run better unless you have a notion of what a “better society” looks like, and you don’t get to that notion without morality.

State recognition of homosexual marriage is one thing, but this ruling attacks the foundation of our government. Morality must have a place in the public sphere and must be one of the foremost foundations of legislation.

To be sure, the judge is simply smoke-screening for the fact that he is imposing his own standards of morality. But the fact that his statement rejecting a moral basis for legislation is being so celebrated should worry all Americans.

Elena Kagan: "I'm sorry-the memo which is?"

 

 

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan was asked yesterday about her falsification of evidence detailed here.  Her response was a classic example of Beltway Weaselspeak:

“Did you write that memo?” Hatch asked.

“Senator, with respect,” Kagan began, “I don’t think that that’s what happened — ”

“Did you write that memo?”

“I’m sorry — the memo which is?”

“The memo that caused them to go back to the language of ‘medically necessary,’ which was the big issue to begin with — ”

“Yes, well, I’ve seen the document — ”

“But did you write it?”

“The document is certainly in my handwriting.”

Although Kagan later explained her thinking in the memo — she said she was only trying to help the medical group express its true opinion — and it was clear that she did write the memo, she looked slippery in her attempt to avoid openly admitting that she did so.  That won’t sit well with skeptical senators.

Shannen Coffin, the former Bush deputy attorney general who defended the partial birth abortion ban responds to this non-answer at National Review Online: ']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Kagan Engaged in Falsification of Evidence to Defeat Partial Birth Abortion Ban

The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Democrat Senator from New York, was a pro-abort, but he voted to ban partial birth abortion, which he correctly described as “barely disguised infanticide”.  Many pro-aborts draw the line at this gruesome killing of an infant.  Not so Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan apparently.  Shannen W. Coffin has written a fascinating article at National Review Online.  Coffin was the deputy attorney general in the Bush administration who defended the partial birth abortion ban law.  In this article he details how Kagan falsified evidence in an attempt to defeat a partial birth abortion ban in Congress during the Clinton administration:

When President Obama promised in his inaugural address to “restore science to its rightful place,” he never explained what that rightful place would be. Documents recently released in connection with the Supreme Court nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan suggest an answer: wherever it can best be used to skew political debate and judicial outcomes.

The documents involved date from the Clinton White House. They show Miss Kagan’s willingness to manipulate medical science to fit the Democratic party’s political agenda on the hot-button issue of abortion. As such, they reflect poorly on both the author and the president who nominated her to the Supreme Court.

There is no better example of this distortion of science than the language the United States Supreme Court cited in striking down Nebraska’s ban on partial-birth abortion in 2000. This language purported to come from a “select panel” of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a supposedly nonpartisan physicians’ group. ACOG declared that the partial-birth-abortion procedure “may be the best or most appropriate procedure in a particular circumstance to save the life or preserve the health of a woman.” The Court relied on the ACOG statement as a key example of medical opinion supporting the abortion method.

Years later, when President Bush signed a federal partial-birth-abortion ban (something President Clinton had vetoed), the ACOG official policy statement was front and center in the attack on the legislation. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Kopf, one of the three federal judges that issued orders enjoining the federal ban (later overturned by the Supreme Court), devoted more than 15 pages of his lengthy opinion to ACOG’s policy statement and the integrity of the process that led to it.

Like the Supreme Court majority in the prior dispute over the Nebraska ban, Judge Kopf asserted that the ACOG policy statement was entitled to judicial deference because it was the result of an inscrutable collaborative process among expert medical professionals. “Before and during the task force meeting,” he concluded, “neither ACOG nor the task force members conversed with other individuals or organizations, including congressmen and doctors who provided congressional testimony, concerning the topics addressed” in the ACOG statement.

In other words, what medical science has pronounced, let no court dare question. The problem is that the critical language of the ACOG statement was not drafted by scientists and doctors. Rather, it was inserted into ACOG’s policy statement at the suggestion of then–Clinton White House policy adviser Elena Kagan. ']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

The Television Ethic

It seems to me that the shows on TV have gotten worse, much worse than they have ever been. Shows like “Cougar Town,” “Super Nanny,” “One Tree Hill” or “The Bachelorette” – basically any show on any of the major networks. These shows are either a shameless “sitcom” with bad and awkward sexual humor, a boring reality show that smug Americans watch so they can make themselves feel like they’re better than the narcissistic dweebs who end up on those shows, or an overwrought “drama” that lacks any sense of humanity instead substituting gratuitous sexual content.

I suppose what’s most striking is the total absence of anything sacred. If you watch TV, it’s clear there’s nothing special about human affairs and human relationships. Television teaches us that we’re all really only out for ourselves. Other people are a means to increase our “happiness” and to the extent they do that they are valuable. Traditional human virtues like love, gratitude, forbearance, patience, loyalty, faithfulness, and peace are mocked on television. No one on television takes any of these things seriously. In fact nothing on television takes anything seriously (maybe a few rare exceptions e.g. LOST). After all, persons who take things seriously are really just fooling themselves that who they are matters or what they do matters. It’s not who you are, it’s what you have, or who you have. Television teaches an ethic of exploitation for personal gain and I think it’s terrible.

But maybe it’s always been this way and I haven’t paid close enough attention.

The Claremont Reviews Advent Interview with Fr. James V. Schall

Since 2002 Ken Masugi, a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute and lecturer in Government at Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC, has conducted Advent interviews with James V. Schall, S.J., author of over thirty books on political theory and theology. Fr. Schall teaches in the Government Department of Georgetown University.

The interviews themselves are a delight to read and span a variety of topics from current events to the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI to issues in philosophy, theology and ethics — and sometimes, in addition, what books Fr. Schall himself is reading at that particular moment in time.

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