Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Legal, Moral, Ethical

So a quick discussion of legal, moral, and ethical. Brought on by a couple of things in the news of late. 1) The commission report on Sarah Palin's firing of her Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, allegedly because he wouldn't fire her ex-brother-in-law Mike Wooten from the state police, and 2) The anti-Palin T-shirt sported recently that cannot be shown on basic cable TV because it uses one of George Carlin's famous Seven Words. (It says, "Sarah Palin is a Cunt," for those of you for whom that reference is too subtle.)

Legal, first. Legal concerns the law, and carries the force of punishment for disobedience. Not all laws are aimed at morality or ethics per se, and the ideal law protects its citizens without harming any.

It is illegal to run a stop sign in your automobile or upon your bike. At three a.m. on a clear stretch of highway with no other traffic in sight, a lot of people will roll through the sign, because in that instance, stopping isn't protecting anybody in practice -- albeit does in principle.

If there is a traffic cop parked there at three a.m., and you see him, chances are you won't run the sign because you will, in all probability, get an expensive ticket if you do, even though there was no real risk to anybody. The law applies 24/7.

The law doesn't always allow you to substitute your judgement for that of the legislature, even though yours might be better at times. If they make an exception for you, then somebody else will want the same right, and his judgement might not be as good as yours: Yeah, yeah, I saw the truck coming, but I knew I could make it, so it was okay to run the sign ...

"Moral" concerns right and wrong. There are things that are illegal, but not immoral, and vice-versa. If the government says you may not have sex with your spouse in certain ways that neither your SO nor you mind, then it is, not to put too fine a point on it, none of their fucking business. Pun intended.

Murder, robbery, like that, are crimes because they offend our collective morality, and we believe they are intrinsically bad.

"Ethics" goes to the systems one uses in determining and applying morality. I like the definition that morality is what you do when nobody can see you. That you do the right thing even if nobody would know if you didn't.

If you found a quarter on the sidewalk, probably you'd pick it up and put it in your pocket, and nobody would find that particularly heinous. If you likewise spotted a ten dollar bill fluttering past and claimed it, same deal. If, however, you came across a big grocery bag full of used hundred dollar bills and decided to keep it? Is that legal, moral, or ethical by most standards?

And -- if nobody saw you, if you knew you could get away with it, would you do it? Is it right or wrong? That's where morality and ethics come in.

That brings us to situational ethics, too, another whole can of vermis vulgaris ...

But, back to Palin. Was she within her legal rights to fire her commissioner? Absolutely. Cabinet-level officers serve at the pleasure of the governor, and she can fire any or all of them because it's Tuesday and partly-cloudy, and not offer a word of explanation. Legally. Politically it might be wise to offer a good reason, so you don't seem capricious, and piss off the voters, but that's another subject.

Morally and ethically? If she did so because the guy wouldn't roll over on a personal vendetta to get rid of the ex-brother-in-law? Slipperier territory, that. At the very least, it makes her look petty and vindictive, at worst, it trips over ethical statutes that apply to politicians and have yet to be decided. More importantly, I think, it offers a window into her character: If that's how she rolls, do we want her a heartbeat away from The Red Button that Will Make the Rubble Dance?

Put me in the Hell-no! column. Governor Palin strikes me as mean-spirited, small-minded, vindictive, a religious crank, and a scientific illiterate. Any of those are reasons for me to vote against her. Altogether, they are overwhelmingly so.

The T-shirt. Is is legal? Yes. Is it moral and ethical? Well, freedom of speech and all, and maybe, but it is in poor taste, certainly does more harm to the opposition's cause than good, and is bush-league -- another pun -- and lame. (I confess I like the more clever T-shirt/bumper sticker pictured above. At least there is some humor in it.)

The line is sometimes thin and sketchy, but the cunt-T-shirt steps over it. Bad idea.


Worg said...

Sometimes there is also a moral/ethical obligation to treat evil with extreme disrespect.

Question is whether calling her a cunt will help matters, though.

Personally, I'm holding out for the Realdoll.

Steven said...

Great points, well stated.

Worg, that's a great point too: we are obligated to disrespect and condemn evil. Politically, in the sense that politics regard the distribution of wealth, we are obligated.

Steve Perry said...

No question that one has to deal with evil using any and all tools, and sometimes ridicule can be pressed into service. But if you are trying to kick somebody's ass, shooting yourself in the foot doesn't help.

The ugly T-shirt isn't going to help, and it might well piss off some folks who are on the fence. If that long-haired tattooed hippie wearing an obscene T-shirt is against her? That might swing some sympathy votes from women who have been called that name and don't care for it.

Obama has done a good job walking the higher road this campaign. He needs to hold onto a slim lead to win. He doesn't need any distractions.

Anonymous said...

if you are trying to kick somebody's ass, shooting yourself in the foot doesn't help

Quite the visual there

Worg said...

I agree that Obama is just kind of being aloof and letting McPain ensnare himself worse and worse. It's kind of the strategy of the void and in this case it seems to have worked so far.

It'll be interesting to see what the next month holds. Sort of the culmination of the chinese curse... I hope.

Anonymous said...

It is important to note that the Alaska legislature has formal ethics rules regarding the hiring and firing of executive branch agents. In this case, Palin did violate the law.