Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Victimless Crimes: When It's Not About You

"When the story of Bill Clinton’s liaison with Monica Lewinsky became public, there was plenty of condemnation, but almost nobody talked about hypocrisy: lying, yes; moral turpitude, by all means; but not hypocrisy. That is because hypocrisy is essentially an aristocratic failing. It extols “the best” even if the best is generally unattainable.

This indeed is one reason that hypocrisy, among all the vices, is regarded with particular disdain and horror by egalitarians. A hypocrite publicly upholds noble values and standards of behavior even though he knows he may sometimes fall short of the conduct they require. He does this because he recognizes that those values are worthy of support and commendation even if he cannot always embody them."

- Roger Kimball, judging Elliot Spitzer (negatively) while writing for Pajamas Media

"This is the problem these guys get into: they're so morally rigid and puritanical in real life (and on some level, so responsible for this priggish world we now live in) that when they get caught committing victimless crimes, everyone thinks they should be punished for sheer hypocrisy."

-Feminist writer, Nora Ephron, defending Elliott Spitzer (naturally) in The Huffington Post (naturally)

I always like the "victimless crime" line - I wonder if anyone's used it on Spitzer's wife and three teenage daughters yet? (Just "trying to help") Or the people he busted,...for prostitution? Or the people that voted for him, based on his law-and-order approach, and upright manner?

And - just asking - why isn't Nora Ephron still married to Carl Bernstein any longer? Wasn't there some talk of an affair, back there, somewhere? My, how soon we forget,...or how convenient:

"Situational ethics is individualistic,...The problem is that it gives people an excuse for not obeying the rules when it suits them. If someone wants to do something badly enough, they are likely to be able to justify it to themselves,...whereas humanity is a practical species full of selfishness and other flaws."

Politics: It serves a purpose, people.


  1. Younger children regard rules as fixed and absolute. They believe that rules are handed down by adults or by God and that one cannot change them. The older child's view is more relativistic. He or she understands that it is permissible to change rules if everyone agrees. Rules are not sacred and absolute but are devices which humans use to get along cooperatively.

    At approximately the same time--10 or 11 years old--children's moral thinking undergoes other shifts. In particular, younger children base their moral judgments more on consequences, whereas older children base their judgments on intentions. When, for example, the young child hears about one boy who broke 15 cups trying to help his mother and another boy who broke only one cup trying to steal cookies, the young child thinks that the first boy did worse. The child primarily considers the amount of damage--the consequences--whereas the older child is more likely to judge wrongness in terms of the motives underlying the act (Piaget, 1932, p. 137).

    There are many more details to Piaget's work on moral judgment, but he essentially found a series of changes that occur between the ages of 10 and 12, just when the child begins to enter the general stage of formal operations.

    Intellectual development, however, does not stop at this point. This is just the beginning of formal operations, which continue to develop at least until age 16. Accordingly, one might expect thinking about moral issues to continue to develop throughout adolescence.

  2. Bullshit.

    Relativism is an excuse (some) adults use to get around ideas they don't like - if it wasn't, more adults would engage in this type of behavior , and there wouldn't be any condemnation of what Spitzer did. Spitzer knew he was doing wrong - he said so himself - why you would think to try to defend him with this bullshit excuse is beyond me.

    Here, I'll make you a deal:

    Invite a thief to your house. After he robs you blind, come up with all the convenient, relativistic, excuses you want for why they took all your shit. Then write me back - explaining why being broke and homeless is all cool with you - and I'll see if we can agree that ethics, morality, and having a sense of character, should be only worthy of the domain of children.


  3. If ethics are not situational (e.g., if stealing is wrong, then it is wrong to steal cancer medication, even to save the life of your own child) or relative to culture or society (e.g., if it is a deadly sin to waste whale blubber in Eskimo society does that mean the same act is reviled by Romanians?) then we need to agree upon some unchanging and univerasally agreed-upon point of reference. But what would that be?

    The Bible? The Koran? The Golden Rule?

    What is "common sense" to one person is pure insanity to another - we can't read each other's minds, that's what makes it difficult to get everyone to agree to obey the same "truth."

    The Amish believe that it is wrong to kill other human beings. For this reason they refuse to fight in wars. But an inner-city gang member might have a different opinion on this issue based on his own experience.

    They can't both be right - or can they?

  4. Yes, Anonymous, it would be wrong to steal cancer medication - stealing is wrong - though one might still do it, under extreme circumstances, being prepared to face whatever consequences are necessary. And just because Eskimos, or Romanians, "believe" a particular act is a "sin" doesn't make it so (they could be mistaken) but you don't have to be a fucking genius to know wasting food is, generally, a bad idea.

    I noticed you went from talking about Eskimo "sin" to questions about the Bible and the Koran - in other words, religion - which means we're in Bizarro World now. Is there a place for "reason" in this conversation? (Maybe that's your reference to the Golden Rule?) Look, as an atheist, I don't need "holy books" to tell me how - or even to try - to be a good person: Adhering to truth is our contribution to each other, what humans do to get along. (You might gather I'm not the corny type but I'll go out on a limb here and say truth is love, fool.) Forfeit truth - fuck having a "nice" demeanor - and we've got nothin'. Everything falls apart.

    Opinions may be like assholes - everybody's got one - but truth is singular. It is who, and what, we really are. (For instance, the Amish are allowed to take their position because someone else - a United States Marine, for instance - is willing to die for them. I return the question to you: Are they wrong?) You've already acknowledged children know what "good" is, so (since we both have been children) the only question left is why more adults don't adhere to the truth.

    Anon, just because some idiots don't have common sense doesn't mean it doesn't exist - it just means someone's wrong - a fact too many NewAge types (cowering behind the deceit of relativism) can't face: They're people who display too little respect for truth - or, at least, who know it exists but want to deny it to the rest of us,...as you may be trying to do now. (I'm holding out the hope you're just confused.) Relativism is precisely what makes NewAgers dangerous:

    NewAgers may be willing to bullshit us about the stars, but we won't find them getting their cars fixed by astrologers. They know better, but they're willing to bullshit us in all other areas of life, and that (make no mistake) makes them liars. No wiggle room there.

    NewAgers who prescribe to "alternative" medicine, eventually, find out the hard way they're wrong - they die. Or cause others to die. Usually in great pain. That makes them callous murderers. No wiggle room there either.

    They (and you) know better. Just the fact we, existing in 2008, have these things called "facts" should tell anyone that truth can be reigned in. Hell, Elliott Spitzer just got caught by some - the facts of those phone calls. They took his power away. My ex-wife (a huge NewAger obsessed with power through lying) got caught by facts on a fuckin' cassette tape. Facts lead us to the truth about people, including ourselves, and the world around us. Some people, and things/situations, are just wrong and some are right. There's no escape.

    Relativism is an attempt to keep us from knowing what's going on. It's a way to control us, through lying, so people can do wrong. They're crazy, and it's only by knowing the truth of what they're doing that we can determine that. (We all know what they say about power.) But, no matter how people try to hide the truth, there will always be facts to get in the way. And for that we should be grateful:

    The truth, indeed, sets us free.

  5. If the Amish have to be wrong for the Marine to be right, andwe can achieve an absolute position (called "truth") on the ethics of killing independent of culture, society or situation, then our hypothetical gang member can go along on his merry way and kill anyone he needs to with an absolutely clean conscience.

    Is that common sense we can all agree on?

    Or is right to kill people in some situations and wrong in others?

    I know you don't like situational ethics, but that is the dliemna that your position poses.

    If it the "truth" that killing is absolutely right in all situations, then we shouldn't have laws against murder.

    That doesn't sound like common sense to me.

  6. First, having known my share of gang members, they do kill with a clean conscience.

    Second, to think we live in a world where we won't fight wars is childish. Remember: some people are "bad" and to think - as you seem to - that we should just pray for a perfect world without any boundaries, where we get all relativistic about it, is silly:

    Common sense says you need to grow up.

  7. On the contrary, I do not believe that we should pray against war as I am not religious. I agree with you that the truth is absolute, no matter what culture, society or situation I am in.

    For example, if it is wrong to drive on the right side of the road, then it is wrong to do that anywhere, even in countries where people are supposed to drive on the left side of the road.

    If it is right to use waterboarding on terrorists, then it is also right to use waterboarding to extract information from anyone who breaks the law, including jaywalkers, tax cheats, and people who return library books late.

    As you can see, we agree absolutely that situational ethics is a new age fraud - absolute truth should be aknowledged and applied 100% consistently across the board, no matter what the situation.

    The only problem, to return to the original dilemna, is figuring out who gets to decide what the absolute truth is.

    The interpretations of the Sacred Scriptures of the world's religions change over the centuries as fads pass in and out of favor.

    Politicians and political systems come and go.

    Scientists change their theories as new evidence comes in.

    The Courts change laws as societies evolve.

    None of these groups seem to be able to provide "absolute truths" of the sort we require.

  8. I think that article by Steven Pinker , The Moral Instinct, in the NY Times Magazine really speaks to this debate.

    It was a link in one of the posts a month or so ago.

    I think looking at moral questions as relative can be attractive because it seems easier than expending the intellectual energy required to sort through the complexity of this world, not to mention the courage and resources required to take a stand at some point.

    The absolutist view of morality can also lead to laziness , but at least there is a willingness to take a stand and be accountable.

  9. Oh, Anonymous, the only reason I'm abandoning my policy of ignoring most "anonymous" posters is because the subject matter is so ripe, and you are so trying to be clever. But it's that desire to be clever that's got you stuck - you're not British, are you? If you're an American, why bother? Just talk, fool. That's our way. As they say in the Navy: "Keep it simple/stupid." Like this:

    When it's cold, you put on something warm, right? The facts tell you to. Not "Sacred Scriptures", political systems, or anything else. (I love that you try to pass yourself off as non-religious but you capitalize, or even write, those words - sacred? - who are you trying to fool, you NewAger? Are you writing from a "holy" place? You guys crack me up.) It's the same the world over. And these facts are cumulative. They add up to something we call "truth" or "reality". Now just because some idiot, somewhere, didn't get the memo (labeled "on the cold thing") is no reason for me to wonder if it's a good idea to bundle up when the weather changes.

    Or try it another way:

    I usually walk to work but sometimes take the bus. That simple task - going to work - requires billions of facts holding together to accomplish: Facts about water systems and treatment, plumbing, etc., for my shower. Food production, refrigeration, etc., for my breakfast. Electrical systems, and connectivity, for the bus and street lights, and so much more. It just goes on and on and on. Now, of course, I don't know all the facts of all of it, but I can trust it works - and I'll make it to work - because, once again, the facts are cumulative. They add up to something: A reality I can count on.

    Now, sure, you can decide to buck it - become like one of those Indian prayer guys, covered in white powder, or something - but changing your mind isn't going to stop me from getting to work and, as I said, it's childish to think it will. Like the hippies who went to the Pentagon to levitate it, or those Harmonic Convergence assholes, you can try but, well, good luck with that.

    NewAge Democrats are learning about reality the hard way. They've lost 6 of the last 8 elections but still think the facts are in their favor. That's delusional. (Your segueing into waterboarding was another NewAge tip-off: man, you guys are one-trick ponies. You've really got to watch the desire to fall back on coded phrases. It's a total I'm-a-cultist red flag.) As Geoff Gilpin said of NewAgers:

    "We tried creating our own reality and it failed. Our future, if we have one, lies in the rational, objective, scientific world that we all inhabit. It may not seem exciting after the mystical wonders of the last generation, but it’s our best hope."

    The "mystical wonders" of failure. You gotta love it:

    The mere cultivation of the ability to sit in your own shit, declaring it's gold.

    I guess, for some people, it's one way out, eh, WC?

  10. Hey, Anonymous, I've got something more for you - on the violence issue - some of my favorite stories that explain my entry into the real world:

    Coming home, after the first day of a new school year, I'm walking through my alley where I'm met by a gang. They wanted my new school shoes. I looked at them - and then at my shoes - and then back at them again: I didn't "get" it. They wanted my shoes?

    Being a pacifist by nature, I didn't know what to do; but once they started to descend on me, I made up my mind, pretty quick, that, no matter how I felt about violence (which, at that time, I only knew I wanted no part of) I was keeping my fucking shoes. So, in my peripheral vision, I caught sight of a bicycle inner tube on the ground - made a leap for it - and just started wailing on 'em with everything I had. It was stick-and-move all the way down that alley, but I made it home, and with my shoes still on my feet. There was no lesson learned that day. I was just glad I made it home in one piece.

    The next step came, not too much later, when I was playing basketball with a guy. He got mad, because I had made a *sweet* shot that embarrassed him in front of everybody, so he returned the ball to me really hard.

    I was like "Fuck you", or some shit, and he - knowing I was a pacifist - rushed me. Instinctively, I hit him full-in-the-face with everything I had, and watched in amazement as he fell backwards, arms pin-wheeeling, with a look of total shock on his mug that I could hit that hard - or even would hit.

    I, too, was shocked. I'd never hit anyone with my fist before. Had no idea of it's possible effect. And I did the same thing I did in the alley: I looked at him on the ground - and then at my fist - and then back at him. But, this time, I "got" it. I could practically feel the connections being hard-wired together in my brain: I've got a rock on the end of my arm.

    Unfortunately, the lesson was short-lived, because his brother then hit me in the back of the neck with a paint roller. So I clocked him, too. And, once again, I found myself outnumbered, playing stick-and-move, but, this time, I enjoyed it because I could see in their eyes they no longer considered me as just some punk: I was dangerous. They regarded me, now, like kids taunting a poisonous snake with a stick. They knew they could get hurt - bad.

    Now, unlike a lot of my fellows from South Central, Los Angeles, I didn't let my new-found power go to my head. I didn't go a spree, kicking ass on anybody that looked at me wrong, or anything like that. But I did get the message that, while it may be nice (of me) to wish we can all get along, not everyone's gonna cooperate, so "a man's got to do what a man's got to do" - we must take The Macho Response. And it's the same dilemma we face, when discussing Al Qaeda, or anyone else out there that wants to harm us.

    Do we have to like it? No. Do we have to go insane with killing because we can? No. (We've actually shown a remarkable post 9/11restraint that no one, like you, gives us credit for. Believe me - I'm a veteran and have seen our arsenal - we're being "nice". Considering all the kick-America-when-she-seems-to-be-down back-stabbing going on out there, by everybody outside our borders - and quite a few within - maybe nicer than most deserve.) What we do is what we have to; always knowing what we're capable of; while trying to maintain a bit of dignity, because - it's clear - wallowing in the mud is as high a standard as some of these other fools are willing to go.

    As WC said, "courage", having "a willingness to take a stand", and to "be accountable" for your actions. That's about it.

    There's really nothing relative about it.

  11. Back to the Amish/MArine/Gang Member examples: i think the only thing more wrong than killing is just letting yourself killed. The Amish who lets himself get killed is a killer too. His death not only obviously hurts him but me and his family and the society. He fucked us all over by not preventing his own death.

    The Amish may have been conditioned or indoctrinated to not follow his own innate moral instinct, or to not think for himself. That conditioning is variable, but it really is not an excuse. As long as you keep making it an excuse, you perpetuate the conditioning - which keeps us from being worthy of the name: 'human'. Dogs can be conditioned, and excuses can be made for them, but more should be expected of humans.

    Rules are devices, I agree, but morality is innate to our species(again -see the Pinker article). I can see myself inflicting pain and fear on someone who has info about the impending murder of others. His pain will be temporary. Those deaths will be permanent. Murder is a greater evil than temporary pain, and that is ALWAYS the case.