Friday, September 2, 2011

U. S. Department of Ethics

I, Louise Doire propose the creation of The United States Department of Ethics, which may otherwise be known as “Doire’s Folly.” Arguably, the LAST thing this government needs is yet another office, another department, another bureaucratic quagmire staffed by stuffed shirts, stiff suits and partisan pettiness. But hear me out. I’m thinking in terms of a sort of Ethics Supreme Court, which would be formed in much the same way as the U.S. Supreme Court. An ethicist would be nominated by the President and would have to pass muster in the House and Senate. Qualified nominees would be those persons well-versed in philosophy with a specialization in ethics or logic, though I grant you that a philosopher of ethics is not necessarily ethical. This is worth noting because you see; I don’t really want them to make ethical decisions per se.
What I have in mind is a responsibility for judging whether or not an ethical argument (or any other kind of argument) put forward by a government office, official, candidate, or President is valid or invalid. So, whenever a department or official issues a statement on some controversial issue the Ethics Department will look it over and point out what justifications are valid or simply rhetorical BS. Also, a member of the Ethics Department would be present at all Congressional, Senatorial and Presidential debates armed with little game show buzzers. Whenever a candidate utters an argument that falls within the category of fallacy, the Ethics Department member will press the buzzer and explain why the statement under question is unacceptable. Because I swear, the stuff that’s passing as acceptable moral reasoning these days is laughable.
Take for example the nonsense that’s coming from State Department ‘spokespersons’ with regard to their stamp of approval of the Tar Sands Keystone XL Pipeline project (and if you don’t know what this is then you have not been paying attention to my facebook posts). Kerri-Ann Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs recently offered, "The sense we have is that the oil sands would be developed and there is not going to be any change in greenhouse gas emissions with the pipeline or without the pipeline because these oil sands will be developed anyway.” This rationalization is eerily similar to the defense Adolf Eichmann offered at his trial in 1960. Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust claimed that he was merely one of a cog in the wheel, that essentially if he hadn’t done it, someone else would have. About the notorious Nazi physicians, Darrell Fasching, Religious Studies scholar and author of Comparative Religious Ethics wrote, “The will of the bureaucracy was so massive and omnipresent that the Nazi physicians typically said they felt that their refusal to perform their duties would not change anything…If they didn’t do the selecting someone else would” (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). A more juvenile example would be if a child pled that everyone else was going to do it anyway, so s/he did too. My mother didn’t buy that when I was thirteen and I don’t buy it from an Assistant Secretary of State. This is called the Bandwagon Fallacy.
Congressman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) offered, "It seems to me that it's far better to rely on a friendly neighbor in Canada than some unstable sources around the world.” This argument rests on the proposition that the virtue of the collaborator in the immoral act is more relevant than the act itself. It’s like making the point that since I have to buy a gun to shoot my neighbor anyway, it’s better to buy it from my cousin than from a stranger. This is called the Red Herring Fallacy, one which distracts the audience from the issue in question through the introduction of some irrelevancy.
Then there is the conclusion drawn by the State Department and issued in their report that the “plan to move tar sands oil across the U.S. by pipeline will not cause significant environmental problems.” Well, this one really doesn’t require a philosopher so much as a climate scientist or the directors of the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the National Wildlife Federation, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Center for Biological Diversity or NASA climatologist Dr. James Hansen or a teacher of 8th grade environmental science or say, a professor of religious studies at a small liberal arts college. Really, all that’s needed here is for someone to point out to the State Department their delusion that the Emperor is not wearing new clothes; the Emperor is wearing no clothes. Read Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes OR the State Department’s official report on the Keystone XL Pipeline project. Same story, different emperors.

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