Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Unethical ethicist

Douglas Kern has some fun with the news that New York Times ethicist Randy Cohen was dropped from a Washington state newspaper for violating its ethics policy.

My highest law-school grade was in Legal Ethics. I achieved a stellar grade because I devised an infallible mechanism for solving any legal ethical dilemma. My mechanism was this: Remember that legal ethics is a system of rules:

1) designed by sociopaths;
2) for sociopaths;
3) to prevent public acknowledgment of their sociopathy;
4) while still allowing said sociopaths to fleece said public.

Once you realize that contemporary ethics is not morality but the clever simulation of morality, you’re halfway to qualifying for an ethics-consulting job.

Kern's point is that the rule Cohen violated--he contributed to MoveOn.org in violation of the paper's rule that its staff not contribute to political organizations--serves as a fig leaf for journalists to maintain the illusion of objectivity.

True, though regular readers of Cohen will not be surprised at his support of Move On. Cohen's philosophy, such as it is, seems to be that any action one takes is ethical as long as you're sticking it to "The Man." See this article by Jacob T Levy who takes Cohen to task for, among other things, telling a reader that it would be unethical to report shoddy work by a temp because it's immoral to "force" someone to have such a lousy job.
In response to the question about how to handle a poorly performing temp, Cohen declared, "if anyone's acting unethically here, it's your boss; it is ignoble to force people into soul-deadening, pointless, poorly paid jobs.... Organizing work into tedious, repetitive tasks, while profitable for the few, makes life miserable for the many; some political economists have called it a crime against humanity." In other words, as long as we have a division of labor, ethics is inapplicable to decisions we face about who does what job. In the face of"a crime against humanity," how could there be anything wrong with submitting fraudulent resumes, evaluations, or timecards?

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