XLIX Ethics

With all this hoopla and outcry over the last few moments of the Superbowl, a casual observer could be led to believe that something (even of moral or ethical import) went seriously wrong.  Talk radio was abuzz assigning blame and finger pointing to the now-infamous “call” ( the Seattle Seahawks’ final offensive play was overanalyzed myriad ways. As a lifelong Hawks fan, it’s easy to look at the wrong end of a 28-24 Superbowl result, and cry “foul.” We wish to blame officials, coaches, coordinators, and/or other players or appeal to the zebra suits or a higher power for assistance in overturning the results. But the decision wasn’t a moral move, and definitely not an ethical one–even though it seems as if something went drastically awry.   The play could be described at best as unwise, and at worst foolish. Even the coaches and players ultimately assumed personal responsibility (see Russell Wilson’s and Kam Chancellor’s response in particular: http://www.fieldgulls.com/…/seahawks-players-react-to-super…

I’m sad (and probably tasted a small portion of what it felt to be a Green Bay Packers devotee a couple weeks ag0 in the NFC Championship; but the Seattle Seahawks will be back in the big game again. Or at least they ought to be . . .  See y’all in San Francisco next year. But when the emotions die down, we will realize that we failed to capitalize on a good play call against a goal line defense (designed to stuff the run (Marshawn), and Malcolm Butler made a mad play (deserving the MVP keys of that truck).  Congratulations to the New England Patriots for winning one of the greatest championships in recent memory. It was a classic battle  truly deserving of the term Super Bowl.

“Up” in the Air with Nail Houses

After a beautiful life and marriage cut short by his wife’s premature passing, Up (2009) depicts an elderly gentleman’s quest to fulfill his childhood “cross-my-heart” sweetheart promise to move to Paradise Falls in South America. Enter Russell: a young boy who is one “Be kind to the elderly” act away from earning his final badge toward becoming a Wilderness Explorer. Karl Frederickson has to continually choose between fulfilling personal desires and including Russell on his quest. Frederickson winds up discovering that the adventure doesn’t lie in the destination but in the journey. Frederickson’s nail house, which was so important to him at the beginning of the movie primarily because of its memories, gets appropriately left behind in his finding that life is never too late for new experiences. The fifth amendment of the United States Constitution generally protects private property from governmental seizure without “just compensation.” However, eminent domain (compulsory seizure for civil use, public safety, or economic development) allows the transfer of private property for the public interest in exchange for fair market value. Eminent domain represents a skirmish between individual property rights, public property, the common good, and private economic development.

The Constitution has traditionally been quite clear about public use, just compensation, and due process as prerequisites for eminent domain. But during contemporary times, Costco is a “public use”; just compensation is getting pennies on the dollar., and cities have offered owners nothing for their land, doing them “favors” to take it off their hands. So this is the world that we have come to. And how just did we get UP there?

A New Philosophy of Disability

imagesI recently learned that my dear friend and former USC Trojan graduate student colleague Brian Glenney had become a philosopher-tagger As a graffiti artist, he was now altering disability icon signs in Boston. I asked him” why,”? for this vocational transition represented such a radical departure trom his graduate school training nd academic studies focusing on  the philosophy of vision and the eye.

As a former SAT and GRE test prep instructor, I constantly immersed myself and my students in prefixes, roots, and suffixes. For instance, the latin prefix ‘dis’ actually stands for not, not any, or apart.  Thus, to disengage is to break off contact and dismember means to remove the limbs . . . hardly reassuring images . Dis per se as a slang term is to disrespect another. It’s no wonder that disabilities inspire negative connotations as they literally denote not having abilities or at minimum some particular malfunction. I recall handing out bulletins sitting in my wheelchair outside my church last weekend and a parishioner whispering in my ear that he would pray “that I would one day be normal.” There remains a lingering impression that those in wheelchairs are abnormal or somehow not whole. As a reflective philosopher, Brian noticed his own biases/prejudices of  disabled people, and wanted to do something about it.  In his night job, he  wanted to shift the conversation from DISabilities to LIMITLESS CAPABILITIES, from restrictions and what one may not be able to do to endless possibilities.

I share Bran’s long-term vision that our philosophical discipline  can be integrated into all sorts of real-life applications. I have had to be more creative in my own tagging exploits in the Midwest. The sequel to M. Night Shyamylan’s sensual classic, Signs (2002), exemplifies this exploration//fascination.  I have been fortunate to explore what I thought was not possible (with a little assistance). May the conversation and dialogue continue.

N.B. Dr. Albert J. Chan summarized/expanded on this post in a talk to B.R.A.I.N.(Brain Rehabilitation and Injury Network) on Tuesday, September 30 to their weekly rally of over 100 brain injury survivors, their families, friends, caregivers, and therapists.

Elysium: Immigration and the Ethics of Inequality

In the 22nd century, the privileged few live on a luxurious, disease-free, space habitat called Elysium (2013) while the masses reside within a planet Earth rampant with socioeconomic inequality.  At the same time, an alliance between big business (military-weapons supplier Armadyne)  and totalitarian government fosters exploitative workplace conditions.

Should everyone have access to the benefits/privileges of Elysium?  The film advances a populist ideal that everyone ought to have the freedom and right to live in Elysium (inside a world devoid of death, disease, or war, without borders nor boundaries). But is this position correct? Illegal immigration is obviously against the law but perhaps we need to look toward ethics to give us reasons why it is wrong. Making a distinction between universal human rights and the privileges/ responsibilities of citizenship (that belong with membership in particular groups, territories, and countries) might help, – e.g., consider the American right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness that goes along with the obligation to follow U.S. law.

Do Not Shadow [DNS] provides patients a respectful environment

imageAs a university professor,  I actively promote effective teaching methodologies.   But a recent multi-month stroke recovery through various medical facilities, where physicians, nurses, and therapists would ask if I minded students “tagging along” during their rounds has given me pause. For the most part, I assented without hesitation. Hands-on teaching and training represent an efficient and effective transfer of medical knowledge between generations of medical practitioners. But . . . for the sake of patient privacy and personal respect, should persons with certain mental illnesses and brain injuries be placed on an automatic, paternalistic “Do not Shadow” [DNS] List as opposed to a default, informed consent alternative? For instance, maintaining personal hygiene is an integral component of medical practice, but repeated bathing and toileting for training purposes seems superfluous and can diminish an authoritative/professional relationship between observed and observer. This issue first surfaced when a former student of mine accompanied my OT shower. I did not mind her observing my other therapeutic activities, like playing chess or testing limits of my visual field, but the public bath left me later feeling vulnerable, exposed, and slightly embarrassed. I don’t blame the rehabilitation facility as they did request my general consent. What wasn’t caught was that I previously was a professor at the same school as this prospective intern. The specific academic connection would have been difficult for anyone to catch as the student no longer attended the same university.

Reasons against forming and conforming to a “Do Not Shadow” [DNS] list for training purposes are manifold:  Shouldn’t informed consent be sufficient for patient autonomy and enough to preserve privacy? What brain injuries would we leave on and off such a list? And is the latter unnecessarily burdensome and inefficient? Shall mentoring/teaching value or individualrights take priority? Or  respect ultimately a relatively trivial matter compared to excellent training and efficient care?

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Nail Houses (Part I)

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The Maquiladora Option [Part II]

Our guest again for Monday Morning is Ms. Jennifer Walton—President of uniform and apparel maker GOT Mfg. A previous post highlighted a recent interview on international labor courtesy of Skype; the current post consists of Ms. Walton’s responses to subsequent student questions during a business ethics course.

Business Ethics Student [BES]:

Ms. Jennifer Walton [JW]:

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The “Origins” of Free Enterprise

Bill Nye, “The Science Guy”


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Monday Night Considerations

A recent Monday Night Football [MNF] matchup featured a suffocating Seattle Seahawk defensive performance (8 sacks in the first half) and a grinding second-half comeback by the Green Bay Packers. Unfortunately, a replayed disputed last-second touchdown reception dominated the national airwaves for the next five days. Fortunately, this football game can be redeemed by discussing the business ethics of officiating.

In moral-decision making, similar choices produce different consequences because of contextual considerations; some actions are termed morally lucky or unlucky. For instance, a drunk driver coming home from the football game scrapes the side of a tree while another runs over a pedestrian. The first driver is the beneficiary of moral luck and public disapproval; the second driver is morally unlucky and receives outrage and disgust. It does not matter that their act of swerving in the street is exactly the same and certain circumstances (an innocent bystander walking outside) remains out of their control.

Likewise, this alleged mistaken call during MNF not only results in a morally unlucky finish for the officials but also produces the perfect unethical storm because of its timing [end of game], exposure [a nationwide football audience on Monday night], and context [replacement officials replacing striking referees]. If this call took place in another quarter or at least not during the final drive, if the game was played along with many others on Sunday, and/or if the contest was officiated by a regular NFL crew, the moral outrage would be muted or at least not have risen to this level of hyperbole. That particular call was not the only error Monday evening. Pundits acknowledged a series of gaffes throughout the game on both sides that could have changed the outcome at any given point.

What this football game shows is that non-ethical considerations (i.e. timing, exposure, context) affect how we view the morality of a given act. We hardly ever judge actions on ethical merit alone.


Consider the financial impact of this moral decision: US$ 300 million shifting from those who bet on the Packers to those wagering on the underdog Seahawks.

Disclosure: The Monday Morning Business Ethicist is a long-time fan of the Seattle Seahawks.


Your Employer Will Be Watching

The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen ‘chooses’ to fight in a mandatory made-for-reality battle of have nots. In the real-world, government agencies ask for social network passwords from prospective applicants with little to no resistance. Farces of freedom pervade both arenas of financial inequality.

The young movie heroine notes that even ‘the 99%’ have their pecking order and that weaknesses come with the privileges of money and status: “That the Careers [tributes] have been better fed growing up is actually to their disadvantage, because they don’t know how to be hungry.”

Yet well-off citizens in the two Capitols (with readily available consumer goods) maintain a competitive advantage to resist forms of their respective oppression. Panem children put their names a few extra times in the death lottery to feed their families; applicants on the lower end of the reality spectrum understand what it takes to survive but ‘willingly’ give up privacy rights in the process hoping for benefited positions. These modern human resource games (cf. the Roman Colosseum) illustrate the consequences of socioeconomic inequality in societies with too much time on their hands.

The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the authoritarian measures taken on FaceBook to protect national security and the corporate ethos. Freedom of privacy was temporarily restored by the stopgap of a collectively outraged public. Can anyone stop the consequences of economic disparity found in the Hunger Games and our real world? Does society . . . 5 . . . 4 . . . have time . . . 3 . . . 2 . . .for a sequel? . . . 1