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Friday, February 16, 2007

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Tim

"... well, I hope I would grab a few of my friends, head over to the other tribe’s camp while they were sleeping, and those dishes, that silverware, and that food . . . well, that would be mine."

Or, you could booby trap the other tribe's side of the island.

Or, you could kidnap and hold hostage some of the other tribe's members.

Or, you could cut the heads off a few of the other tribe's members.

Or, you could fill a truck full of explosives and blow it up in the other tribe's camp.

Then ... you could blame your actions on someone else!

jmsloop

Actually, I couldn't pursue any of your ideas, Tim. Not only would they be morally reprehensible, but I would also wind up in prison. However, within the context of the show, we already do have a precedent set when robbery from the other tribe was "OK" within the context of the game itself. A few seasons back, that big guy . . . can't recall his name, but the sorta dead head guy who made it onto Survivor All-Stars . . . well, he took a bundle of the other tribe's stuff and nary a word was said. So, yes, within the context of that game, I take their stuff.

By the way, you'll never hear me blaming anyone else for my actions. EVER. You will, however, hear my discuss, think about, describe, what I say as being structural inequalities. And you will see me call people when they claim "gifts" as an achievement.

Tim

What you consider acceptable versus morally reprehensible is determined by what someone already got away with on a TV show? TV producers as ethicists?

The precedent set: "'Pirates pillage. Pirates steal. Pirates take advantage. We are pirates, so we pirated,' explained the smiling Rupert."

Wonderful.

Maybe Hue can "hypothetically" punch you in the nose while you're stealing from his tribe and then ask if you'll give him the day off from school?

ben

Yes, Tim, everyone can agree that chopping off heads and suicide bombings are morally reprehensible. I see this more as a question relating to our own society than to Iraq/terrorism.

So I'm curious: You don't see any parallel at all to our own society in what John is describing (I haven't seen the show?). If not, why? And in the specific case, is it fair or ethical to expect people to play by the rules of a rigged game?

Tim

A rigged game?

John, are you tenured? That's quite a gift, don't you agree? Certainly you benefitted from a rigged academic system with preferences for legacy, race, athleticism, economic status, ....

May I plagiarize your work? If not me, who then?

Would you like to argue that the academic promotion system is free of inequality and isn't rigged? That you've arrived at your position, not by luck, not by being a white male, not based on economics, etc., and therefore are fully justified in demanding of your less fortunate students and all others less fortunate than you that they NOT steal your ideas and work?

ben

Tim, is the extent of your argument against John's point to frame him as a hypocrite? If so, is your point that we who benefit from structural inequalities should shut up and be glad we're on the advantaged side?

Tim

No ben, don't shut up. Especially not when your thinking and beliefs are being challenged.

Instead, think! John not only argues that it is justifiable to steal, but that he hopes he would gather a band of thieves and do the stealing.

Why? Robin Hood ethics? Or is it ethical based on Rupert's precedent of piracy?

If John can't stand to have his ethical scenarios challenged, then so be it. Let him say so.

If it is not hypocritical to steal from others when you would protect your own property in similar circumstances, then let him explain why.

If he wants sycophants, let him ask for them.

Daniel

Stealing is wrong (except on the Moon. To quote Ignignok: "Not if you need it"). Setting up systems that encourage some people in a society to have much while others have little (and to have little chance of acquiring more) is dumb policy. We talk about stealing in the cool language of the abstract, but violent class warfare takes place in the heat of passionate anger and resentment. Why do the have-nots rise up? Because they determine the system is unfair and that our ethics are rigged.

I don't recommend socialism. I recommend democratic capitalism, a system in which politics provides a pressure-release valve on pure capitalism's tendency to concentrate wealth over time. American capitalism is both structurally stable and internally dynamic so long as the society remains both upwardly and downwardly mobile, but whenever this mobility is reduced, problems arise.

Finally, I quote my main man, Lao Tzu, who wrote: "Not collecting treasures prevents stealing." I thought this was profoundly true until someone stole my 89 Buick LaSabre in 2001. How was that a treasure? O well. The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao.

ben

Tim, I largely agree with John’s understanding of society, and I think you disagree, which is why I want to hear you put forward a position on what IS an ethical response to a rigged game, on TV or otherwise. Is your position that people at structural disadvantages should basically say, “Thank you sir, may I have another?”

If stealing is NOT/NEVER permissible, what do you think IS permissible in response to unfairness? At least in the scenario John describes, hard work is not (or is not usually) enough. In such cases, should you consign yourself to lose through no fault of your own? Is there an ethic of fairness that might, in this case, trump an ethic against stealing?

For my part, I would contend that stealing is ethical in the context of this game, if John’s description is accurate. While it may not be permissible to speak of TV producer as ethicist, the TV producer here is essentially acting as God. The producer creates the world and the situation of the game. And if that’s the case, is the producer not allowed to set the rules of the game as well? Put another way, do you act unethically when you strip or “steal” the ball in football or basketball?

In the context of real-life class politics, of course, this is more problematic. But couldn’t you conceive of a situation where stealing MIGHT be the most ethical thing to do? What if your family (or you) would certainly starve unless you pilfered from the Rockefellers? Does your ethical duty to your family trump an ethic against stealing? This isn’t just “situational ethics” - this is asking you to acknowledge that sometimes ethical goods compete. Or are you saying that there is a categorical imperative against stealing, no matter the consequences?

Another interesting way to look at this is from the perspective of the rich team. Do they have an ethical obligation other than winning? If not, may the expect the poor team to have further ethical obligations? May they benefit from an unethical situation, do nothing to alleviate it, and yet consider themselves to have acted ethically - or to have “deserved” their victory?

On the academy, you might argue that the attempt to level the playing field is made via admissions policies of various stripes (not plagiarism). In any case, we’re not talking about “equality of outcome” here, which tends toward socialism. We’re talking about “equality of opportunity,” a very American concept. Does society (or the rich team) have a duty to create that? And if they fail to do so, we have the same question again: Is it unethical to refuse to play by rules of a rigged game?

(Dan just addressed this last part).

Tim

- Is your position that people at structural disadvantages should basically say, “Thank you sir, may I have another?”

No.

- If stealing is NOT/NEVER permissible, what do you think IS permissible in response to unfairness?

I haven't argued that stealing is NOT/NEVER permissible. I will gladly argue that there are ethical responses available to the Survivor TV actors to point out the stupidity of the show, mock its premise and act in "civil disobedience" to its rules.

- In such cases, should you consign yourself to lose through no fault of your own?

Lose what? What is at stake exactly? What would you lose by not competing, or mocking the game, versus your gain? What benefit is there to yourself and the TV show's viewers by stealing from the other tribe versus another course of action?

- Is there an ethic of fairness that might, in this case, trump an ethic against stealing?

No. Not in this case. And that's increasingly clear given John's silence and your efforts.

- And if that’s the case, is the producer not allowed to set the rules of the game as well? Put another way, do you act unethically when you strip or “steal” the ball in football or basketball?

The producer can set the rules of his game, but you don't have to sacrifice your ethics based on them. If you do, it's called weakness of character. However, if the producer wants to create rules that are ethical, fair, constrained and agreed upon (as is the case in football and basketball where "stealing" must be accomplished without committing a "foul"), then fine.

- But couldn’t you conceive of a situation where stealing MIGHT be the most ethical thing to do?

Sure. I can conceive of situations where lying, cheating, stealing and killing are ethical. I can also conceive of dilemmas where your choices are are bad including choosing to do nothing.

This is actually more difficult than you might think in practice because to eliminate all the ethical options before committing to an unethical one is so rare that the situations lose their applicability.

- Do[es the rich team] have an ethical obligation other than winning?

Absolutely. Otherwise, they can justifiably steal from the poor team. Stealing from the poor team would increase their ability to win.

- May the[ rich team] benefit from an unethical situation, do nothing to alleviate it, and yet consider themselves to have acted ethically - or to have “deserved” their victory?

No. That's why Survivor is a stupid game show, stupid television, and leads otherwise intelligent people to irrationally want to steal and lead others to steal. Members of the rich team may believe they deserve their victory, but they are not ethical people for doing so.

I find it interesting that in the last paragraph, plagiarism is now crossed out as a permissible response to inequality of opportunity. Hurts when it hits close to home, no?

Tim

And Ben, since we have a consensus here that the people violating the laws of warfare in Iraq to kill American soldiers and Iraqi civilians are morally reprehensible, I think it's only fair that you tell us what would be a permissible response by our military beyond the law of war to alleviate the inequality of the situation.

ben

Sorry about that last post in the wrong place - my fault, and certainly ironic. Dan, could you move it over here?

Tim, you fail to answer the central question of my last comment, make a bunch of bullying/condescending comments, declare victory and “strike me out” ... yet repeatedly refer to me as “petty.” That’s something.

I pressed you on whether the rich team’s obligations (in real life or in the game) go beyond simply not stealing - which I understood to be your only answer before. You offer no new one, so I assume that you believe that we/they have no other obligations, which I think is an impoverished moral outlook and one that ultimately leads to civil unrest and social breakdown.

Or maybe I have misunderstood you: Did the Civil Disobedience bit refer to the “rich team” as well? If you agree that the rich team has an obligation to resist the rigged rules, too, then we have gone through a lot of mean-spiritedness for no good reason.

Tim

- Tim, you fail to answer the central question of my last comment ...

I'm sorry, Ben. Do I owe you that?

When you "press" me for answers and I provide them, then ignore my questions, call my answers disingenous and claim I didn't provide the answers I did ... well, you're being petty. And if telling you that is petty and condescending behavior on your part makes me a bully in your eyes ... grow up.

- Did the Civil Disobedience bit refer to the “rich team” as well? If you agree that the rich team has an obligation to resist the rigged rules, too, then we have gone through a lot of mean-spiritedness for no good reason.

It did not, as it was in reply to the poor team's ethical options other than stealing. I also replied - disengenously you said - to your question about whether the rich team could "benefit from an unethical situation, do nothing to alleviate it, and yet consider themselves to have acted ethically - or to have “deserved” their victory?"

Now you want me to answer more of your questions without the benefit of your respectful reply to mine ... and I'm condescending?

Yes, the rich team has ethical options NOT to play by the rigged rules, including civil disobedience. In fact, that would make for much entertainment, IMO.

ben

Tim, neither one of us has ever fully addressed all the other's comments, nor did we fully address John's post. We were both selective, picking points we cared about, as people tend to do when arguing.

I will leave it for others to judge who is bullying, who is condescending, and who needs to "grow up." Perhaps for both of us, the fact that few others jumped on this interesting thread is instructive.

In any case, I think the fact that we have achieved agreement on the last point is good enough for me - and that was why I asked again. If we can agree that everyone involved has a duty to make the game/society as fair as possible (ie, fairness goes beyond property rights), then we have some common ground, despite appearances.

For my part, I am most interested in pointing out that individual success does not happen in a vacuum, so successful individuals do owe some level of debt to society as a whole - if they shirk that, they compromise the legitimacy of social system. Furthermore, I believe that Robber Baron ethics will always generate Robin Hood ethics, and that it's self-serving, and ultimately self-destruictive, to deny that correlation.

Somehow, I doubt you agree - or fully agree - with the last paragraph. But, as I said, I think it is cool that we did find a point of agreement.

Tim

- Tim, neither one of us has ever fully addressed all the other's comments, nor did we fully address John's post. We were both selective, picking points we cared about, as people tend to do when arguing.

Ben, I did my best to answer the questions you posed in each of your comments. I was not selective and gave you the best answers I could. Please don't belittle my efforts by describing them otherwise.

I'm glad you found at least one of my answers satisfying.

Janet Edens

I believe that Robber Baron ethics will always generate Robin Hood ethics.

Very insightful, Ben. These sorts of discussions always make me impatient. More often than not, it's the haves who preach "ethics" to the have-nots. They who cheat by gaming the system, then preach righteousness to the disenfranchised.

History is full of stealing, lying, killing and all manner of "morally reprehensible" actions deemed entirely appropriate and even heroic by the winners. We all have ethics because it benefits us to do so. The second it doesn't, we change them.

Just for the record, if the only agreed-upon goal is winning, I'd be stealing their stuff so fast it would make their heads spin. And, I'd trash whatever I couldn't take to further improve my odds. The game's not called "Hello Kitty Island Adventure."

Tim

We all have ethics because it benefits us to do so. The second it doesn't, we change them.

No, Janet. Not all of us. We all might fall short at times, but some of us hold on to our ethics even when it may mean our jobs, freedoms or lives.

My sympathies if you don't know anyone like that.

Janet Edens

You hold onto ethics because they serve you, Tim. They allow you to live the life you want to. They allow you to see yourself in a way that pleases you. They allow you to distinguish between who you want to associate with and whom you don't. They may also have meaning for you religiously or spiritually or whatever.

Ethics are simply a matter of placing value on behaviors, which we begin doing as individuals and then extrapolate to groups.We all make choices about what's ethical and what's not, individually and as groups, because we want to belong to groups.

I like keeping my own stuff, so it behooves me to believe stealing is wrong. I put that control on myself and choose to associate with others who put that control on themselves. I like my view of myself as a non-stealer and the approval I get from other non-stealers.

The point at which the balance tips and I grab someone else's things is a complex, shifting target. What we argue over and want to feel superior about is where our personal targets are. Would you do it if you were hungry? Starving? If your kids were starving? If you were trapped behind enemy lines?

There is not a single act, with the possible exception of the sexual assault of children, that has not been regarded as "ethical" under some particular set of circumstances, however arcane and convuluted the rationale.

So I stand by my original statement. These discussions make me impatient. They inevitably devolve into a mere matter of personal opinion as to who is the superior man.

Tim

Janet, would you say that Perry's model or Kohlberg's model more closely fits the origin of our ethical reasoning and stage of development that you claim we all operate in?

There are other models and I'd be thrilled to discuss a different one that you prefer to Perry and Kolberg.

Janet Edens

i don't know anything about perry or kolberg. never heard of either one of them. I'm just a girl who thinks on her own. Sorry to disappoint you. i went to south carolina schools. i'm sure i disappoint all kinds of educated people who already know what to think.

Tim

I'm just a girl who thinks on her own.

But you're so much more, Janet.

Do you advocate anti-intellectual uninformed stances in other areas or just when lecturing me about the origins of my ethical reasoning and development?

Janet Edens

I'm sorry you took it as a lecture. I thought it was a discussion. As for calling me uninformed and anti-intellectual, that hardly makes me inclined to continue, as I know how you meant it, although in some respects I'm pleased to be both.

Have a nice day!

ben

This is becoming an odd debate.

While Janet and I mainly agree about the ethics of social inequality, it looks like I'm much closer to Tim on the root of ethics themselves.

Tim, as long as Janet defends her position intelligently, which she pretty much always does, I don't think it matters if she can cite theorists. In fact, a lot of people who do cite theorists just use them as shorthand for positions they don't quite understand. I have.

By the way, what ARE the origins of your ethical reasoning? No one owes anyone else a response, but I'm curious.

Tim

Ben wrote: Tim, as long as Janet defends her position intelligently, which she pretty much always does, I don't think it matters if she can cite theorists.

Agreed. So, here is why I asked Janet about Perry and Kohlberg ... Janet wrote:

So I stand by my original statement. These discussions make me impatient. They inevitably devolve into a mere matter of personal opinion as to who is the superior man.

In response, I offer "theorists" (as Ben calls them) who study learning and ethical development as a science and have widely known models ... not personal opinion ... not personal superiority.

Janet states - in matter of fact rhetoric - what ethics are, why I have them, how malleable my ethics are, .... She seals the deal by stating that discussions about ethics are all a matter of personal opinion which make her impatient.

When I offer her an alternative approach ... hey, she just thinks on her own ... sorry to disappoint. Not interested in that academic "theorist" stuff. Too impatient.

You mean like flat-earthers? Intelligent designers?

Ben wrote: By the way, what ARE the origins of your ethical reasoning? No one owes anyone else a response, but I'm curious.

You're right, and I'll be happy to answer your question after you've deemed it OK to answer mine. You know, the one you don't owe me.

Ben

Fair enough. We'll stop the thread here then.

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