Category Archives: Sethics vs. Assorted Assumptions

SethBlogs goes deep on assorted Sethical conundrums.

CBC, NOW PRINCIPLE FREE III: CBC Radio Declares Moral Bankruptcy

CBC Radio’s Editorial policy is clear:

(1) CBC Radio promises to tell every story from the perspective of truth and justice, and

(2) CBC Radio endeavours to alter their definition of truth and justice depending on who the players are in each story.

CBC, NOW PRINCIPLE FREE SERIES:

I: CBC RADIO CELEBRATES PRE-FORMANCE ART

II: CBC RADIO ENDORSES EXCLUSIVITY POLICY

III: CBC RADIO DECLARES MORAL BANKRUPTCY (you are here)

IV: CBC RADIO HONOURS THE ROBIN HOOD OF RACISM


In my cranky opinion, our friends at CBC Radio are unprincipled. They will, that is, trade their favourite principles for their antitheses any time political correctness is in need.

For instance, CBC Radio is assertively opposed to drug addiction stigma. This is demonstrated by their many gentle interviews with advocates who inform us that drug addiction is a disease and never the responsibility of the addict. CBC Radio makes an instant moral switcheroo on this position, though, the moment the addict is a public figure (especially, it seems, if they’re a rich, male who is of the right), such as, say, the former mayor of Toronto.

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that one principle must always fit all situations: distinctions between cases and/or moral hierarchies can leave us with alternate answers in different scenarios.

For instance, maybe the reason CBC Radio is pro stigmatization of celebrity drug addicts is not because CBC Radio is bigoted against rich white males, but instead because they believe we cannot afford a buzzed driver at the wheel of major affairs.

My criticism of CBC Radio, though, is that, when they trade principles, they never seem to point out a nuanced distinction that justifies the alteration. Instead, like a flipped switch, they go from all in to all out the moment a principle yields a politically incorrect result.

I’ll provide three examples to justify this accusation.

1. FEAR

Two of the guiding moral positions of CBC Radio are that when there is an Islamic terrorist attack (A) we must not give into fear, and (B) we must be careful of blaming all Muslims for the cruel actions of a few.

To my mind, both are understandable values. If we allow fear to rule our attitudes and public policy, we may diminish some of the great achievements of our free society.

Nevertheless, I also empathize with fear-based policy because I do believe there is something significant to fear here. And the value of better protecting ourselves from terrorism (whether that’s giving in to fear or not) is at least worth considering. Ultimately, all safety measures are fear-inspired, so the question is not whether we yield at all to what scares us, but instead how much we weigh and protect our individual rights along the way.

That does not mean that I dispute being wary of letting fear take us into an Orwellian apocalypse. However, my objection to CBC Radio is that they do not consider these moral questions from the principled position that they claim for themselves (always weighing rights over fear). Instead, they value human rights and freedoms when they align with PC tastes, and they ignore them when they don’t. Consider when a mass killing is committed not by an Islamic terrorist, but by a Westerner. Suddenly, far from cautioning us against letting fear intervene upon our freedoms, CBC Radio is open to discussing not only how we can change laws to protect us, but also the flaws in our culture that may have provoked the violence.

Indeed, if there is a murderous attack on a mosque by a Westerner, CBC Radio will convene a panel on Western Islamophobia (after all, we Westerners are complicit in provoking an individual zealot to act). In contrast, if there is an Islamic terrorist attack on Westerners, CBC Radio will also convene a panel on Islamophobia (after all, we must remind ourselves that most Muslims are peace-loving).

I don’t object to either sentiment in principle. Checking our culture for bigotry is worthwhile. And reminding ourselves that not all members of a group are guilty of the worst acts of individuals is also worth doing to reduce the above bigotry. But why does CBC Radio always seems to treat Western culture as guilty of the crimes of its worst citizens, and Islamic culture as separate from its members’ worst actions? Is there not some nuance available in both cases?

As ever, there may be legitimate distinctions between the types of fear CBC Radio does and does not approve for motivating public policy. However, once again CBC Radio never dwells on such intricacies. Instead, they take their seemingly fundamental principle of “not letting fear influence us because we can’t let the bad guys win” and they turn it off any time that fear is oriented in a politically correct direction.

2. DUE PROCESS

CBC Radio shares a hotel room with the progressively correct movement “Black Lives Matter” (or BLM), which contends that the United States (and BLM Toronto and BLM Vancouver claim Canada as well) has a significant police racism problem against black citizens.

I don’t know if BLM is right or not. Harvard economist Roland G. Fryer offers us research which shows that black people in US cities are more likely per interaction to be handled aggressively by police, but also that white people are actually slightly more likely per previously non-violent encounter to be shot. Neither of these points proves BLM right or wrong just yet, but they do indicate to me that this is a complicated issue worthy of further study.

If CBC Radio had any true principle, they would look into BLM’s claims with an open, but skeptical mind. But, for CBC Radio, any questioning of a claim of racism is racist, itself. Consequently, whenever CBC Radio interviews a pundit who supports BLM, they treat the commentator as a prophet for due process and anti-racism whom they shall not trouble with critical questions.

However, amazingly CBC Radio once again drops the principles of due process and anti-racism in cases where the accused is not of progressive concern. For instance, if a white police officer is accused of mistreating a black suspect, CBC Radio treats the police officer as guilty, by definition. And, if the alleged victim of a crime is female, CBC Radio substitutes the principle of due process for the progressive notion to automatically “Believe Women.” This faith-based system of justice allowed CBC Radio and other morally vacant media outlets to shame Toronto police and prosecutors into charging Jian Ghomeshi of crimes for which evidence was lacking.

CBC Radio’s anti-due process sentiment is especially evident in sports where the broadcaster has signed onto the baffling argument that athletes accused of crimes should be suspended by their teams without proof of guilt. (As I wrote in THE SEPERATION OF WORK AND PLAY, I’m opposed to athletes being suspended even if they are found guilty of crimes, but I’ll settle for a moratorium on suspending employees on accusation alone.) In fact, the NFL has suspended several black athletes accused of violence against women in the last couple of years. But strangely neither BLM nor CBC Radio has raised a finger of concern.

3. FREEDOM OF SPEECH

In the last year, several NFL players endorsed BLM by kneeling during the American anthem before games. Ever shy, US boss Donald Trump then criticized those athletes, stating that it would be grand if NFL owners would fire them for their anthem antics.

Consequently, numerous NFL players and many pundits argued that the president was threatening the players’ freedom of speech. I’m not sure if Trump’s customarily brash argument was technically suggesting a limitation on freedom of speech. When one is at work, one is not necessarily free to express anything one likes in the same way that one is when off duty. Nevertheless, as a free speech fan—who has become worried lately about this vital resource—I was pleased to hear free expression discussed and defended in the media, including on CBC Radio.

Nevertheless, I once again noticed that CBC Radio only seems willing to positively discuss free expression when the speaker in question is supporting an ideal that CBC Radio already favours. Far from Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s ideal, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” CBC Radio apparently prefers to think of free speech as a conditional. If a citizen says something CBC Radio deems worthy, the speaker can have all the speech they like; but, if the speaker crosses CBC Radio’s righteous opinion, then he or she must accept the suppressing consequences.

For instance, a few months before Trump ascended to his thrown, Canadian singer Remigio Pereira—a member of the group The Tenors—added the phrase “All Lives Matter” to a pre-game anthem performance in the US. This was clearly intended to contrast the “Black Lives Matter” argument. While I didn’t object to Pereira’s dissent, I also had no quibble with his bandmates firing him for making such a controversial statement during a performance without their consent. They were hired to sing the national anthem, not to make a political argument while on the job.

But I notice that CBC Radio—who currently claims that it is paramount to allow pro-BLM athletes (and now pro-BLM anthem singers) the right of free expression even when they’re at work—felt no inclination to defend the opera singer’s right to sing his mind. Quite the opposite: they cheered on his fall from the podium as the karma-inflicted consequence of his “racist” utterance.

As with all of my examples, I’m happy to hear arguments that suggest a distinguishing factor between these cases. But I am ever dismayed by CBC Radio’s apparent lack of awareness of these seeming contradictions.

I recognize that CBC Radio has gone too far down the rabid hole to be neutral on these issues, but, if they would consider acknowledging a smidge of complexity when commenting on ethical quandaries, maybe they could find a way to bring some enlightenment to the moral questions of our time. And that’s a principle that even CBC Radio could stand behind.


CBC, NOW PRINCIPLE FREE SERIES:

I: CBC RADIO CELEBRATES PRE-FORMANCE ART

II: CBC RADIO ENDORSES EXCLUSIVITY POLICY

III: CBC RADIO DECLARES MORAL BANKRUPTCY (you were just here)

IV: CBC RADIO HONOURS THE ROBIN HOOD OF RACISM

SELF-AGGRANDALISM VI: How To Avoid Questions And Influence People

In the face of difficult questions, the most talented egos use impeccable sleights of language to rebrand their behaviours to seem heroic. This series is dedicated to those rhetorician-magicians.

SELF-AGGRANDALISM SERIES:

I: NEVER LET THEM SEE YOU CARE

II: IF YOUR CRITICS DON’T BELIEVE IN YOU, NO ONE WILL

III: WINNING MEANS NEVER HAVING TO SAY YOU’RE SORRY

IV: POET KNOWS BEST

V: HUMILTY IS AS HUMILTY DOES

VI: HOW TO AVOID QUESTIONS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE (you are here)

VII: IF YOU CAN’T BULLY ‘EM, ACCUSE ‘EM


Congratulations! I understand you’ve decided to go into politics. It can be a lot of fun for your pension, but tedious for your brain and ego. Whereas in the outside world, the truth allows for shades of grey and humility, when you are a politician, you must pretend—with every inflection of your tone—that your way is always 100% the right way, and that your opponents are not only wrong, but embarrassingly so.

To achieve such focussed confidence in a world of nuance, you must think of yourself as a politician-magician. When you see a question you don’t want to answer, your duty is to distract the audience with sleights of language, so that you can replace the question with one you do want to take on. This may sound daunting, but you will not be on stage alone: utilizing the following easy-to-learn techniques from many great prevaricators before you, you too can become your society’s Confuser in Chief.

1. ELOCUTION, ELOCUTION, ELOCUTION:

No matter what the question or quandary, never let them see you ponder. Instead, make your body language and tone tell your audience that you are self-assured and party-assured in every subject under your jurisdiction’s sun. Show us that there is no question too big for you by smiling and nodding thoughtfully during the interviewer’s question (use “Mmm-hmm”s if you’re on the radio) as though you think it’s a great question, even if (especially if) you’re about to sidestep it. Stay calm. No matter how wildly you avoid a query, if you sound relaxed as you’re doing it, the less likely it is that your audience will think you’re doing it on purpose. At worst, those nit-wits will just think you misunderstood the question.

2. NEVER ANSWER A QUESTION YOU DON’T LIKE:

Now that you’ve got your tone in place, you’re ready to start waffling. The first thing to keep in mind is that the questions your interviewer attacks you with don’t always comport with your campaign slogans. The interviewers are trying to trick you into going off your key messages. Don’t let them manipulate you! Think of their questions as first drafts: your job is to edit their queries into something you’d prefer. For instances:

A. THE TICKLE AND TANGENT:

Start by complimenting or humorously acknowledging the question, and then zipping into your talking point. Try this:

INTERVIEWER: What’s your position on Eco-1000-dusters? Are they doing more environmental harm than good?

YOU: That’s a great question; in fact, I think the level of dust in our air is a cruical question of our time—one which my opponent routinely ingores! For me the first order of business is making sure we support everyone in our community who’s ready to make a positive contribution to improve our air quality.

See how you’ve acknowledged the question by both complimenting it and showing how your opponent has no answer for it. That tickle was all you needed to prove that you could discuss the subject. Now you can freely segue away to empty phrases without any obligation to join those dusty depths, yourself!

B. THE FLIP AND QUIP:

When asked a direct question about your plan that would prove daunting for you to handle, remember these simple words, “I’ll tell you what we will do…” of better yet, “I’ll tell you what we’re not going to do.” The directness of your words hides the indirectness of your answer. Watch this:

INTERVIEWER: So does that mean you’ll be increasing the fine for tree-eating even though you once said that tree-eaters were getting a bad rap?

YOU: I tell you what we’re not going to do. We’re not going to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on police services trying to catch tree eaters. However, the (evil) purple party will.

Or:

YOU: I tell you what I am going to do. I’m going to plant 1000 more trees a year, especially in parks where children play.

C. THE HYPOTHETICAL-ANTITHETICAL:

Hypotheticals can be the best of questions, and they can be the worst of questions. But the neat thing is you only have to answer the ones you like because the “Hypothetical Convention of 1901” states that politicians can always have sanctuary from hypotheticals by simply pointing them out. So, when you hear an “If” or “Would you” contemplation that your party policy can easily handle, great! Answer away. However, if the hypothetical question isn’t so digestible, then simply say, “I/we don’t answer hypotheticals” or “I/we don’t deal in hypotheticals.” You see, because the hypothetical convention was signed by all political parties (and hockey coaches, for that matter), it is considered bad form for the interviewer to try to press you on it. On the rare occasion that they do, simply re-assert your right to plead the hypothetical convention, then apply the FLIP AND QUIP (see above).

D. THE POLITICALLY CORRECT MISDIRECT:

Regardless of what era in history you are reading this, there will always be particular groups that are seen as more in need of consideration than others, and so when you refer to them, you gain points for compassion. And the neat thing is it doesn’t matter whether what you’re doing for that group is actually helpful or ethical: once you have said something in celebration of that group, it’s hard for anyone to criticize you because you can immediately imply that they don’t care about said group if they do.

So, when questions get tough, point out that your concern for X group (if in doubt, go with children) won’t allow your conscience to consider such a course of action, “but…” and now get to your talking point, or better yet, tell a story about a child you met on the campaign trail who motivated you to do more on this particular issue. This is a segue that’s hard for an interviewer to crack, because—if they try to re-direct you when you’re emotionally describing your concern for children—they’ll likely be seen as callous.

HINT: To get extra credit for your anecdotal interaction with such a citizen-of-significance, include a location that will impress the voters, such as meeting the person on transit, at a firefighter-saving workshop, or a single mom convention.  For instance:

“I remember talking to Cindy Lou, a single grandmother of eight, while on the bus to her subsidized housing complex. She doesn’t like my opponent either. She, like me, was concerned about the state of children in our society.”

E. THE DISTRACTION-REACTION:

If there is an issue that has on its poles two politically unpalatable positions, try to let your opponents hash out the unwieldy terrain. Be patient. Let them get some good shots in. Then, once they’ve wounded each other with hard-hitting criticisms, refer to their fight as a distraction from a much more important (i.e. less politically contentious) topic. In fact, now would be a good time for a Politically Correct Misdirect (see above). Give it a try:

OPPONENT 1: We must invest in more arsenic-testing of our soft drinks to save lives.

OPPONENT 2: Arsenic-poisoning is so rare, but the expense of such testing will cost the economy billions of dollars.

OPPONENT 1: So you’re saying Let people die?

OPPONENT 2: No, I’m saying Don’t let the economy die.

YOU: All of this bluster is a distraction from the fact that neither of you has a policy that will keep strychnine away baby kangaroos. Today, I met Gilda, a single mother of a baby kangaroo, and she told me that her daughter…

F. THE COMPLEX AND FLEX:

Before your interview, review your thesaurus and any complicated statistics that you happen to like. When you’re backed into a corner, bring out the big words and numbers. Most people won’t look them up; and most interviewers won’t want to admit if they don’t understand them, so, if you can confuse them, they will move onto the next question to avoid looking like they can’t keep up with you.

HINT: If you’re worried the interviewer might be able to follow your train of distraction, combine several big words and numbers and roll them out as quickly as you can to keep even the fastest of minds from following you.

G. THE RE-DIRECT DEFLECT:

And, finally, sometimes you’ll be dealing with one of those mean interviewers who will point out that you haven’t answered their question. Do not panic; do not blink. Stay on your redirect message, and reassert your irrelevant answer. Most interviewers will move on after one re-try, but if not, then try saying, “I’ve already answered that,” (given that you’ve now been talking about the same question for a while now, most of your audience won’t remember whether you’ve answered it or not), and then help your interviewer escape the stumble in the conversation by segueing into a FLIP AND QUIP (see above).

If you can master these techniques, you will be a politician, my friend. Remember, politics is not about who has the best plan for your society: it is about who can sound like they do.


SELF-AGGRANDALISM SERIES:

I: NEVER LET THEM SEE YOU CARE

II: IF YOUR CRITICS DON’T BELIEVE IN YOU, NO ONE WILL

III: WINNING MEANS NEVER HAVING TO SAY YOU’RE SORRY

IV: POET KNOWS BEST

V: HUMILTY IS AS HUMILTY DOES

VI: HOW TO AVOID QUESTIONS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE (you were just here)

VII: IF YOU CAN’T BULLY ‘EM, ACCUSE ‘EM

MARKSISM

It has come to my attention from a student-Canadian teammate of mine that an instructor at a well-known Vancouver-based college is utilizing her students’ self-assessments to assist her in building their grades for her course. That is to say, a portion of the candidates’ grades will be derived from the marks they claim to think they deserve on an assignment. I understand this was a popular marking technique in the 60s and 70s, but I had hoped it had expired with its cousin, the bellbottoms.

If grades matter, then allowing students to assist in deciding them means that students who have a false sense of their own achievement, and/or a strong sense of willingness to lie for the sake of a better results, will have an advantage over the humble and/or honest candidates.

I don’t want to betray the type of material being graded, but I can disclose that it is neither a business course (where perhaps the ability to overvalue one’s product is an essential part of the occupation), nor a self-esteem-inflation workshop where the students’ ability to think well of themselves is being evaluated.

Instead the skill allegedly being measured is in no way related to opportunism or narcissism. Thus, I call upon any proponents of this dilapidated marking philosophy to reconsider. You are paid to measure the students’ aptitudes! I understand that you believe that your students know themselves better than you do, but surely there’s a possibility that some of them are better at knowing themselves than others, and so, through factors unrelated to the skills being measured in your course, some students will be aided, while others will be hindered, by this policy.

Moreover, even though you may truly believe that all students know their aptitudes better than their teacher, and thus can best assess themselves, what makes you so certain that they will tell you the truth? While some students may feel obligated to be honest in their self-marking, others might be less ethically inclined, and so may feel a greater psychological connection with giving themselves the best score they can.

In general, the over-confident and self-promoting already have many undue advantages over the under-confident and fair-minded in the Western workforce; we don’t need to give them the additional favour of unearned grades.

QUIT PLAYING GAMES WITH OUR HEARTS

Today, in the wee hours, the BCTF and the BC government reached a tentative deal to start the schools up again for the 2014-15 season. SethBlogs doesn’t want to take all of the credit, but this past Friday, SethBlogs, two SethBlogs siblings, and one SethBlogs spouse, started a petition gently asking the BCTF (whose rhetoric we found to be annoyingly self-celebrating, and emotionally manipulative) to focus on the facts of bargaining. Apparently, our request worked! You’re welcome.

In the meantime, as both sides head to their neutral bunkers to discuss whether tentative should become definite, I think our petition remains relevant to keep the incindiary discussions from catching fire again. For instance, I just heard CKNW quoting teachers as relieved to be going back to work after they’ve been “without a paycheque for months.” Such language (uncriticized by CKNW) suggests that the teachers have missed months of pay for their cause, when of course, most teachers are paid for the summer in advance, and so would already have been compensated for that timeframe, and so really were out a salary for weeks. Certainly not an easy position to be in when one has bills to pay, but I think most dictionaries would back me up that “weeks” are not the same thing as “months.”

Thus, for your consideration, I present the petition created by the SethBlogs Society. Check out the link for reading/signing, and/or you can view the entire content here. Said us:

We call upon the BCTF to stop using emotional and misleading arguments in the current dispute with the BC government.

Dear BCTF, Mr. Iker, and supporters of the teachers’ side of the labour dispute:

While we acknowledge that the government may also have some unfair language to answer for, we find that the BCTF and their supporters have more often engaged in unreasonable rhetoric. They seem to position themselves as a collection of infallible representatives of truth, integrity, and the rights of our children, while simultaneously portraying the government as uncaring misers set on destroying our education system. We find this contrast to be based largely on red herrings and emotional mischaracterizations of contentious matters.

The following is not meant to be an exhaustive list of controversial issues in this dispute, but a collection of arguments by which we feel the BCTF and supporters are distracting us from the issues at stake in bargaining.

1: Binding Arbitration:

Binding Arbitration has its virtues, and may still have a place in the current dispute, but please stop insisting that the government’s refusal to go this route at the present time is somehow immoral and unreasonable. It is not necessarily in the best interest of the taxpayers (by way of the government who represents us), to put our collective chequebook in the hands of a third party, who could easily settle on a figure that is beyond what we feel we can afford.

Moreover, binding arbitration may settle on a middle figure between the two sides’ positions, which sounds reasonable in theory but in practice could have an unfair result. For instance, one side could purposely ask for the stars so that they could settle for the compromise of “just” the moon.

2: Provincial Comparisons:

The suggestion that BC teachers should get a raise because they make less than the national average is a red herring. Just because another group in another province has a better deal does not define ours as unfair. The provinces have different priorities in terms of how to spend their money (as determined by elections); as well, they may have a lower supply of teachers (which, we understand, BC has in abundance). The notion that all workers must make more than the national average creates a perpetual raise policy; that is, every time a province leapfrogs above the average, another province will be pushed below and will thus be expected to make their own leap.

Please keep in mind that we, the electoral majority of the citizens of BC, voted for this government. We believe the voters of BC were fully aware that this labour dispute was approaching. If the electorate had wanted teachers to receive a more significant raise, perhaps we would have voted for the NDP. Elections and voters matter.

3: The Importance of Teachers:

Please stop asserting that the importance of a job definitively justifies a high level of compensation. As much as we may wish it were otherwise, we are not living in an economic moral meritocracy. In our current economic structure, our society does not compensate based on virtue. Otherwise Red Cross workers would be millionaires and Justin Bieber would be a pauper.

4: The Poverty Argument:

We find the claim that teachers “don’t go into teaching to make money” (implying that making a teachers’ salary is difficult financially) to be disrespectful to the women and men of this province who make less than teachers and don’t have access to their generous benefits packages. We don’t know the motivations of all teachers; many may indeed have chosen teaching to benefit society. That is admirable. However, the implication that teachers (who average $71,000 per year in salary, plus impeccable benefits) are in a low-paid field is difficult for many of us to fathom. (And, that doesn’t take into account that this salary is based on ten months’ work: over a full year, pro-rated, it would be $84,000.)

5: The Poverty Argument, Part 2:

Similarly, we find the claims from some teachers that they “have to take a second job during the summer to cover [their] bills” to be disingenuous. Teachers receive their summers off and, for the most part, are paid over a 10-month period rather than 12 months. In other words, they have access to their full salaries earlier than the average worker.

Thus, suggesting they don’t have employment and are not paid over the summer months is misleading. If anything, the two months are a rare benefit, in which teachers have many options, including vacation time (perhaps with their kids, who are conveniently off at the same time) or the choice to bump up their salaries by teaching summer school or taking other jobs. How many other occupations have this kind of flexibility?

6: Ignoring the Benefits:

We feel that, when making direct comparisons to the compensation of other workers, the benefits inherent to these public sector positions need to be factored in. Teachers have a high degree of job security, good health benefits, and generous defined pensions usually not available in the private sector.

7: “It’s not about money”:

We’re dismayed by the common assertion that teachers aren’t striking for the money; instead, they claim, they’re striking for the students. Maybe that’s part of their motivation, but, a casual look at their contract proposals indicates quite clearly that they’re looking for a substantial boost in compensation as well.

8: “If you host the Olympics, you can afford to pay teachers more”:

The argument that, because we invested in big projects such as the Olympics, the construction of the new convention centre, the BC Place roof upgrade, and Christy Clark’s trips to Asia, we can afford to pay teachers more is fallacious. Our province has a right to different priorities than those of the teachers, and not all taxes are collected just to pay for public sector employees.

9: The Money Saved From the Strike:

BCTF advocates argue that savings from the strike should go back to the teachers. We find this strange. The argument seems to suggest that there should never be a consequence for workers when they go on strike, and that they should always be retroactively paid for the time off.

10. The $40 “Bribe”:

Some people have been “incensed” at the government for offering $40/day for children under 13 to help cover childcare costs. While we agree that there may be a politically motivated angle to this offer, we feel there is also a reasonable justification: assisting parents who may be struggling during this strike. Dismissing this offer as a “bribe” is elitist and not respectful of people in a more difficult financial position.

Moreover, when teachers say to parents, “school isn’t daycare” (in response to parents complaining about having to adapt to the strike), we feel the teachers are missing the point. School’s primary function may not be childcare, but since it nevertheless has the effect of performing that role during the school season, parents have appropriately adapted their work lives to fit. Thus, it can be daunting to suddenly have to find childcare when the teachers are on strike. That doesn’t mean that it’s only teachers who are to blame for the sudden change, but when they complain about the $40 going to parents instead of themselves for work they’re not doing, they seem out of touch.

11: The Signing Bonus:

During the summer, the teachers were offered a signing bonus to avoid a strike in the approaching school year. Some teachers called this a bribe. Now, while on strike in the school year, they demand a much larger signing bonus. We don’t mind if the teachers eventually profit from the strike through their raise, but we think it’s important that there be a serious initial consequence to striking; otherwise, what’s the disincentive? Signing bonuses ought to avoid long-term strikes, not to reward them.

12: The Arguments of Children:

Please stop appealing to the alleged opinions of children to push your cause. A child holding a poster calling on the government to open up the schools is a vacant argument; children are not well informed on the issues, and will likely take whatever side their parents (or teachers) tell them is correct. Such use of earnest six year-olds oversimplifies while attempting to tug at our heartstrings. Again, it is a standard marketing (i.e. manipulation) ploy, one which has no place in this important debate. Let’s keep the discussion of this issue between adults, shall we?

13: Assuming that the Government Doesn’t Care:

The suggestion that the government doesn’t care about kids is an unfair accusation without evidence. The government is accountable to all parents in the province, but also to all people wanting to access health care, the roads, and the criminal justice system. Sometimes, the government has to make tough choices; this doesn’t necessarily mean they are indifferent to the needs of students.

14: The Government’s Right to Appeal a Court Decision; The NDP’s Right to Share in the Blame:

While at this point it looks like the government broke the law when they quashed the last NDP-BCTF contract, they—as with any other person or party—have the right to appeal that ruling. Please stop suggesting that the government is automatically playing the role of dictator when they defend themselves (i.e. the taxpayers) in court. Moreover, even though we disagree with the government if they broke the law, we feel the NDP should share some responsibility for setting the teachers up with that “sweetheart” deal. They left the Liberals to choose between accepting an untenable (ie: “sweetheart”) deal or breaking it.

15: Class Size and Conflict of Interest:

While we agree the teachers are in a valuable position to understand the challenges with class size and composition, we argue that they are acting in a serious conflict of interest due to the fact that they stand to gain personally from smaller classes and more teachers/aides. As such, we propose independent third parties be responsible for defining optimum class sizes and composition. The teachers’ oft-claimed dearth of resources to deal with their special-needs-heavy classes is hard to authenticate based solely on their own, potentially self-serving pleas.

CONCLUSION:

We are not arguing that the government is without fault in this dispute. However, we feel they have done a better job of keeping the debate focussed on facts as opposed to rhetoric. We call upon the BCTF, Mr. Jim Iker, and the many people in support of the teachers’ position to focus on the facts of bargaining rather than the fallacies of emotion and misleading characterizations.

ANIMAL WRONGS

Recently (as the current story goes), an Abbotsford dog walker left six dogs in a vehicle, under the cruel supervision of a hot west coast day, and returned to find them dead from heat stroke. Consequently, she dropped her victims off at a local ditch, and told the police and the owners of the deceased that the animals had been stolen.

This story will cause most compassionate humans to shudder. Along with my own participation in this collective sadness, I’m also troubled by the human-centric language that has arisen from this story on talk radio. Consider the following:

(1) Many people calling themselves dog lovers have phoned in saying that their hearts break for the owners of the dead dogs. I have no objection to such compassion, but I’m perplexed as to why their first concern goes to the animals’ friends and not the animals themselves, the beings who suffered the most.

(2) One of the owners of the animals (along with many radio callers who were imagining what their feelings would have been in the same situation) said that they could have forgiven the dog walker for her mistake if she hadn’t lied about it. This baffles me. Let’s look more closely at the competing crimes:

(A) A professional caretaker neglected her primary duty to ensure the well-being of the animals she promised to watch over, and left them in a dangerous situation to the point that they died suffering.

(B) A professional caretaker realized that she could get in trouble for betraying her duty to her clients, so she lied about it to protect her own hide.

It should be obvious—when comparing these two ethical breaches side by side—that the pain of the animals is far worse than the indignity experienced by the humans who were lied to about it. The crime of neglecting sentient creatures (especially as a professional who surely knows better) is ethically deplorable, as it demonstrates a preference for one’s small convenience over the resultant suffering of creatures under one’s care; in contrast, lying about one’s crime to protect oneself from punishment is at least understandable. Most people—even good people—will do a lot to avoid prosecution, whereas no good person with a patch of compassion would leave animals in a car in the hot sun. I’m not saying that lying to the police, causing vital resources to be wasted, is okay; that was selfish and immoral, and it should be punished by the law; nevertheless, it is understandable, given there was no longer anything she could do for the animals, while her career and reputation was in a precarious position.

The fact that so many humans are more worried about humans being lied to than deadly animal neglect is, I think, a symptom of how we under consider the experiences of our fellow earthlings.

(3) Several people have said that they feel that we should show compassion for the dog walker; after all, her life is now ruined because of an “accident.” I’m all for kind consideration even for the most vicious in our society; however, I think we must be clear on the terms of this compassion. This was not an accident. It was cruel act of negligence that any professional dog walker should have known was dangerous or at least painful for the creatures in her care. That’s not a simple error that anyone could make; it’s a crime of indifference.

Perhaps our society and justice system could use more compassion for its offenders, but so long as we live in a culture that demands justice from those who mistreat humans, I see no reason why we should not expect the same from those who tread so cavalierly on the experiences of animals.

THREE JEERS FOR NEW YEARS: FOR THE LOVE OF ALCOHOL

As one of alcohol’s top nights approaches, I would like to take a shot at the arguments in favour of giving booze a freer lifestyle. That is, there are calls for allowing the most popular intellectual immobilizer to be sold in grocery stores, consumed in parks, and so on. Whether or not these or other alcohol rights projects will do us harm, I have no idea, and so I am open to being persuaded by academics and social planners who have evidence on either side. And/or if someone has in their possession an ethical argument that the right to unimpeded access to their favourite mind-number is more important than the needs of the rest of us to be protected from the effects of over use, then I am once again ready to be convinced.

However, I would like to do battle with three arguments commonly presented by alcohol-admiring pundits and callers to talk shows, not because I’m necessarily opposed to the free exchange of alcohol, but because I think their dogmatic and charasmatic stylings are allowing them to supplant good argumetns on both sides.

(1) Prohibition didn’t work (so it’s time to open up our liquor store borders).

The appeal to the flaws of prohibition, I believe, is to remind us of organized criminals such as Al Capone as though prohibition and the gangsters it provoked are equally culpable on a moral level for the violence that resulted. Ending prohibition was probably the right choice because the restriction had the effect of giving gangsters a moist underground economy in which to make dirty money (just as marijuana prohibition does today in Canada), but this does not mean that prohibition is intrinsically immoral; it may just be unfeasible because of our flawed society which will produce and buy from mobsters if we don’t get what we want from lawful means.

The fact that full prohibition provokes gangsters doesn’t mean that the “Free Alcohol” crowd gets to help itself to the notion that any restriction on alcohol will yield a comparable increase in organized crime. It doesn’t seem to be the case that partial limits to alcohol consumption cause the mob to compete with legitimate alcohol-selling businesses. Mobsters were an unintended consequence of prohibition, so if we have found a way to restrict alcohol without increasing our organized crime levels, then we can now ignore the major problem that made full prohibition unfeasible and decide whether particular restrictions are harmful or helpful to society.

(2) We’re behind other countries in modernizing our alcohol policy.

Once again, if there is evidence that improving access to alcohol in countries of similar culture and infrastructure to ours does not increase violence, drinking and driving, etc, then maybe it is the correct choice. However, the appeal to “modernization,” much like the notion that what is natural is always best, is baseless. That is, what is new in public policy is not by definition always better (even if it is much of the time). The politicians of these countries may be “updating” their policies not because it is best for their citizens, but instead because it is best for their chances of getting re-elected.

Thus, the argument that other countries are doing something new, so we should too, is empty. Instead, the question should be: how are they doing as a result?

(3) We need to be treated like grownups capable of handling our alcohol.

It’s unfortunate when laws and bureaucracy and locks on our doors are put in place because of the behaviours of the least civilized in our society. Nevertheless, the fact is that alcohol has the potential to make fools of nice people and violent psychopaths of jerks, so even if the majority of us can handle our alcohol, this does not necessarily mean that a wider entrance to our metaphorical saloon is the best option for our country.

The willingness of alcohol rights advocates to sacrifice (or at least not consider) the greater safety of all of us for their own personal alcohol-consuming convenience reminds me of the right-to-guns culture in the USA. In both cases, it seems to me that the proponents are so passionate about their right to their preference that they are opposed, on principle, to asking whether those rights have serious ethical consequences worth adding to our policy considerations.

MISSING THE VOTE

There seems to be a consensus among politicians, media, pundits, and callers to radio talk shows that our society would be better off if more of us voted. They don’t care who we vote for, so long as we vote. It is a notion so entrenched in our collective values that I have never heard it questioned. It is so popular, in fact, that there are many countries, including Australia, that fine their citizens if they ignore their obligation (and there are those who argue that Canada should create a similar law).

So let me be the first (that I’ve heard) to say that, while I would rather live in a society where the majority of people are interested in the goings-on of our legislatures, attempting to force that result may actually make us worse off.

I can think of two major reasons one might choose not to vote in Canada today:

(1) One is uninformed.

Being uninformed does not necessarily make one a bad citizen. I know people who work full time and spend a good portion of their leisure hours volunteering for charitable organizations. When it comes to politics, however, they don’t know much, so they don’t feel they should be involved in making the decision as to who leads us. To me, that sounds like an ethical decision from someone who does a lot of good for society. For them to take the time to learn about all the candidates might impede on the time they would normally spend on charity work.

But even if an uninformed person isn’t doing other good works with their time, why are pundits so convinced that we’d be better off if such a person were to vote? What are we gaining by having people guess at who should be elected? While that would increase our total percentage of voters (which looks good on paper) it would decrease our percentage of educated voters. Personally I would rather trust my fate to those who have spent time thinking about the issues at stake.

(2) One is too self-focussed to think about politics.

Voter-recruiters are bothered that a lot of young people don’t vote. Once again, I’m sure our world would be a better place if everyone cared about politics and voted without coercion. But if someone doesn’t vote for no other reason than that they don’t care, do they really have the maturity and greater-good considerations that we want in a voter? The sort of person who needs to be persuaded to care about their society will probably not consider any interests but their own when in the ballot box. Again, I would rather our political future be decided by those who, of their own volition, care about the result than by those who need to be berated into it.

Nevertheless, based on the unimpeachable notion that voting regardless of knowledge or motivation is always best for society, Elections BC has paid for television ads attempting to persuade everyone to vote. Does it really make sense to spend taxpayers’ money pleading with uninformed or unconcerned citizens to help us decide the identity of our government? If Elections BC were to create opportunities for those who want to be informed to have greater access to their politicians’ and party policies, then that to me would be a legitimate means of creating a more informed electorate. There is a distinction, however, between disseminating information and cheerleading participation.

While I’m sure that low voter turnout is a symptom of voter apathy, I see no evidence that it is the cause. Attempting to cure a lack of interest in politics by coercing those who don’t vote to do so (via either fines or guilt) is akin to trying to make society more environmental by encouraging people to drive in the H.O.V. lane regardless of whether their vehicle has high occupancy.


P.S. While I don’t agree with neutral bystanders such as Elections BC and the media trying to persuade everyone to vote, I do think it is their province to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to do so. Thus, where voter suppression tactics seem to be engaged, I believe it is the duty of the media to cry foul.

NEWS MANUFACTURER OF THE YEAR

Every year, The Canadian Press poles the nation’s news editors for the purpose of naming its annual Canadian “Newsmaker of the Year.” This year the vote determined that an alleged murderer who posted evidence of his crime on YouTube was their man. Consequently, many politicians and citizens have condemned the collective decision and have petitioned the news agency to take the title away from the accused.

The protestors argue that such recognition for the suspected murderer is both disrespectful to the victim of the crime and simultaneously gives the alleged villain more of the very attention he seemed to be seeking. They argue that “Newsmaker of the Year” sounds a lot like “Man of Year,” and so gives other potentially dangerous individuals impetus to do something equally cruel in pursuit of fame. I agree.

But, while I concur with all of the above points, I’m not convinced of the protestors’ conclusion that the CP should have found a “Newsmaker of the Year” who had made a positive contribution. To my mind, if the Canadian Press is going to have a “Newsmaker of Year,” then—given that the making of news is often the province of negative agents—on what definition of “newsmaker” would murderers be excluded? Instead, I think the only way to avoid championing horrific acts is to for the CP to abolish this careless contest of significance that is the “Newsmaker of the Year” program.

The Canadian Press’s editor-in-chief, Scott White, explains that “Newsmaker of the Year” is neither a popularity contest nor a commendation. He argues that editing out unpleasant newsmakers from contention would be like excluding certain politicians from an election. This is an interesting analogy, except, while freely voting for government is a crucial aspect of running a democracy, a newsmaker election seems to have no journalistic purpose other than crowing a top newspaper seller. So, if White’s right (and I think he is) that the only way to have a “Newsmaker of the Year” is to sometimes allow for murderers to receive an extra shot of fame for fame-seeking behaviours, then maybe we don’t need to name a top newsmaker each year. The risk of copycat crimes outweighs the benefits of a self-indulgent poll.

I don’t see anything wrong with looking back at the significant stories of a past parcel of time. If the Canadian Press wants to review the previous news year for us and discuss the most significant stories, then could they not achieve such results without creating the impression that the most followed event of the year has won some sort of newsmaking championship?

In similar meta-news-manufacturing, CNN and other 24-hour news stations often ask their viewers to vote on what is the top news story of the day, so that the anchors can then refer to the top choice as “the most popular news story.” What for?

Once again, such voting and ranking creates a callous celebratory tone as it connotes an audience’s appreciation for certain stories. Whether those “voting” are enjoying the negative stories or not, the language of such polling gives an impression of approval. But, again, for what purpose? Do we really need to know what story people think is the “top” story of the day?

I could accept the legitimacy of such information if it were under the guise of viewer analysis or feedback. Perhaps questions such as “What is the most significant story of the day to you?” or “What story should lead our news coverage?” would be reasonable if the news agencies presented the results as a sociological look at its viewers without the fanfare of a beauty pageant. But, instead, the presentation of these surveys is akin to a simple top ten list that allows news followers a chance to “play along” with the news as though it were a game show.

While such polls of the day are immature, The Canadian Press’s “Newsmaker of the Year” is both childish and reckless. Many have argued that giving an alleged murderer a grand designation is wrong because it is nourishing his malevolent ego. I agree, but to my mind the greater crime here is that this manufactured title is giving potential killers a bigger carrot of fame to chase.

WEARY OF DIVINE COMMAND THEORY

I have acquired a hobby lately of watching debates (found on YouTube) between religious thinkers and atheist thinkers; I have enjoyed the eloquence of both sides in most cases. I am ever-annoyed, however, by the constantly attempted religious argument that, if there were no God(s), then we would have no morality, and therefore—since we clearly behave morally sometimes—there must be at least one god. That, to me, is not a compelling claim for the existence of God(s) (and not just because so many religious teachings seem profoundly immoral), and yet I have found the responses from the atheist side in the debates to be unsatisfying, so I would like to take a shot at it.

To my mind, proving the existence of an objective morality is a daunting task for both theists and non-theists. It is the classic philosophical challenge in logic of leaping from an understanding of what is, to a claim to what ought to be done about it. I see no evidence that religious people can answer this question any better than nonreligious people.

Consider the standard (and, I think, daunting) philosophical argument against the legitimacy of Divine Command Theory. If we imagine that we do have evidence that God(s) are telling us what to do, then moral philosophers argue that there are two ways to understand such moral prescriptions: either

(A) God(s) have discovered an objective morality, and so are interpreting it for us, or

(B) God(s) have invented morality.

In either case, the followers of God(s) “have a lot of their work still ahead of them” (to borrow a phrase from the the late atheist thinker, Christopher Hitchens):

Per (A) if a religious apologist wants to argue that God(s) are merely teaching us to understand the objective truth of morality, then we would now have an acknowledgement that morality could exist without God(s). That is, if morality is intrinsically true, and God(s) are simply explaining it to us, then morality would be true even if God(s) did not exist, and so therefore, since we believe that morality exists independently of God(s), we are not obligated to believe that God(s) also exist.

Per (B) if, however, a Divine Command Theory defender prefers to make the case that morality is a creation of God(s), then what reason would we have for believing such moral teaching? Perhaps the religious moralist would say that, since God(s) are all-knowing, they must be right. But what are they all-knowing about if morality does not exist independently of them? On what precept do we know that whatever God(s) feel or think is automatically right? Is it because they’re the smartest and/or the strongest? In this case, then morality is that which the smartest and/or most powerful force says is right. But that, in itself, is an objective moral claim (i.e. a claim beyond God, that we ought to follow the teachings of the smartest and the strongest). If, however, the Divine Command Theory apologist is not willing to make any such objective justification for accepting God(s)’s teachings, then he or she has no means by which to claim the legitimacy of his or her deity’s (or deities’) words.

In either case, we are back where started: on what basis can we claim something is right or wrong? If God(s) have provided us with a roadmap for morality, that’s interesting, but on what grounds do we have for trusting that guidance?

My personal nonreligious argument for morality requires only a root assumption that, all other things being equal, happiness is better than misery. I do not think that this is a foolproof argument because one can ask me what basis I have for making such a claim, and my only answer is that it is self-evident. With similar form, a Divine Command Theorist might also argue that he or she needs say no more than that God’s (or Gods’) righteousness is self-evident. Fair enough, but I believe a difference can be found in the quality of these two alleged antecedents for morality if we place them next to each other:

(1) Happiness is better than misery.

(2) God is always right.

I contend that my moral basis has meaning that we can all relate to that the religious one does not. By appealing to recognizable and identifiable human experience, my moral grounds do not depend on a fantastical assumption that there is an all-powerful transcendental force at the helm of our creation. This does not prove my moral claim to be correct, but I think it is a reasonable justification for any compassionate person to choose to behave morally. That is, if one believes that happiness is better than misery (in all sentient creatures), then one ought to aim for happiness-provoking actions, and avoid misery-yielding behaviours.

If a Divine Command Theorist is not satisfied with that argument, then that is fine; my only recourse is to point out that, while my happiness-is-better-than-misery argument does not prove morality right, it does give a credible explanation for why people might behave morally even if there weren’t God(s) supervising us. It’s patently possible that, by evolution, we have inherited a combination of compassion (that makes us want to do right by other sentient beings) and reason (that gives us the ability to extrapolate a moral code from such concern). The theory of evolution suggests that our species has derived its nature from eons of natural selection of the traits that would best ensure our survival; and it is reasonable to think that both compassion (by virtue of its ability to provoke cooperation) and reason (by virtue of its ability to sensibly assemble our best ideas) would be useful traits for our species’s success.

It is possible, of course, that God(s) created the natural world so that humanity could acquire such morality (or at least the appearance of it). However, since evolutionary theory shows it is also possible that humanity could have derived a moral compass without God(s), then the existence/appearance of morality is, I’m afraid, not evidence for the existence of God(s).

UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF LAZY JOURNALISM IV: Extra Sensory Presumptions (Of Intention)

Journalism is vital to a free society; so, too, is criticism of the media. And yet SethBlogs doesn’t see as much oversight of the media’s methods as there is for other vital societal resources. SethBlogs suspects that this oversight oversight provokes a lazy complacency among our favourite journalistic representatives.

UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF LAZY JOURNALISM SERIES:

I: THE USEFUL CRUELTY OF SCRUTINY (OF IDEAS)

II: EXTRA SENSORY PRESUMPTIONS (OF EMOTION)

III: SMYTH vs. THE FALSE DICHOTOMY (OF ROLES)

IV: EXTRA SENSORY PRESUMPTIONS (OF INTENTION) (you are here)

V: THE EMPEROR HAS NO QUESTIONS (ON SEXISM)

VI: THE EMPEROR HAS NO QUESTIONS (ON RACISM)


In Episode I of this series, I wrote about a bad habit of many journalists to infer the emotional states of the people (hereafter “newsmakers”) they’re covering based on the newsmakers’ expressed emotions. The reporters syllogisms were as follows:

PREMISE: Newsmaker appears to have/is describing emotion X.

CONCLUSION: Newsmaker has emotion X.

I countered that this is a leap of logic wherein the reporters have assumed an infallible power of reading minds. The simple flaw in their logic is easily illuminated by noting the fact that humans sometimes misrepresent themselves. The only conclusion that could truly be drawn from the above premise is that:

SETHBLOGS’ ADJUSTED CONCLUSION: Newsmaker seems to have emotion X.

Or better yet:

SETHBLOGS’ READJUSTED CONCLUSION: Newsmaker says he/she has emotion X.

As with any other subjective conclusion, it should be up to the news audience to determine whether they think the newsmaker was sincere or not.

I did not receive a lot of feedback on this commentary, and so I suspect that it seemed to some to be a petty correction. That is if someone is crying, then surely we can assume they’re upset about something. I wouldn’t disagree in our everyday lives. If we see a friend seeming to express great emotion, I think it would be reasonable to assume (unless we suspect from experience that they have a habit of utilizing such alleged emotion for an advantage) that they are sincere, and so worthy of an expression of compassion. However, when reporters treat those in the news as though they are incapable of artifice, they are undermining their claims to journalistic objectivity. Consider the following two very recent examples, with which I intend to reinvigorate my argument against this crime against journalism:

(1) In the United States, President Obama will soon be nominating a new high-powered person to take on the role of Secretary of State to replace the outgoing Hilary Clinton. Most indications are that his first choice is US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, while his second choice would be Senator (and former Democratic Presidential candidate) John Kerry. There are many politics enveloping each choice, one of which is that, if John Kerry were approved, he would have to give up his Senate seat, which would give a recently-defeated Republican candidate an excellent chance of taking his spot. This would be good for the Republicans. Therefore, when the Republicans express grave concern about Susan Rice’s candidacy, they may (at least in part) be playing politics. Nevertheless, I heard the following on MSNBC:

REPORTER: The Republicans are very upset by the possibility of Susan Rice’s appointment.

This reporting statement gives credence to the notion that the Republicans have sincere reservations about Ambassador Rice. Maybe they do, but by framing this statement as an objective assessment of emotion, the broadcaster has told the audience that they have every reason to trust the political party’s “concern.” I doubt that the reporter was trying to influence us in that way (since it is, after all, a Democrat-leaning network); instead, they were most likely once again under the influence of lazy journalism. In lieu of taking the time to describe exactly what they could objectively see and hear, they rounded off from their nearest perception (that the politicians sounded upset) to fact (that the politicians were upset).

This is why I argue that—even in cases where it seems patently obvious that an emotion is sincere (such as with apparently grieving people)—reporters should be obsessive about never saying more than they can legitimately claim to know. Instead of referring to someone as “sad,” they should describe what they actually witness, perhaps that “the person’s voice faltered,” and then we the audience will draw our own conclusions.

(2) In Canada recently, a man was arrested at the border for allegedly trying to smuggle kids (who weren’t his own) into the US. His stated justification was religious, and so the radio station said, “X man believes Y religious precept.” Such a statement presumes that the man is not a religious con artist. Hopefully, we the audience might still suspect the insincerity of the man’s religious claims, but we have to consciously see past the broadcaster’s credence-giving statement. None of us knows what any other person believes: we only know what each other says. But, by couching religious claims as “beliefs,” broadcasters imply their sincerity, and so fallaciously create the impression that all devout religious representatives are equally devout religious believers. This is a serious leap of shorthand. Religious spokespeople already have extreme power in our world; they don’t need the extra benefit of being treated as though they always say exactly what they truly believe.

In short, it is not the job of journalists to tell us who to trust; all we need is facts.


UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF LAZY JOURNALISM SERIES:

I: THE USEFUL CRUELTY OF SCRUTINY (OF IDEAS)

II: EXTRA SENSORY PRESUMPTIONS (OF EMOTION)

III: SMYTH vs. THE FALSE DICHOTOMY (OF ROLES)

IV: EXTRA SENSORY PRESUMPTIONS (OF INTENTION) (you were just here)

V: THE EMPEROR HAS NO QUESTIONS (ON SEXISM)

VI: THE EMPEROR HAS NO QUESTIONS (ON RACISM)