Failure Apathy: An Opinion

Why is it this beggar has been doing that for the last four years outside your downtown office? Why is it this person with a mental health condition has been diagnosed five times and been given three different medications to see what works. It is not because of the person involved whether that is the homeless person or the mental health sufferer, and to an extent it is not those helping but unsuccessfully. The problem is the programs and by and large societies failure apathy on whether these programs work or not.

Shelter system support programs that aim to get the individual back on their feet or off the streets, and mental health hospitals that are meant to return the individual to a normal life, manage to evade accountability in a way that is hard to compare. The number of people who have gone through their programs with no success sometimes repeatedly going through the latest designed program that will help however producing no meaningful change is too high. The problem is that these “latest” programs continue and are mysteriously hailed as effective. What is an acceptable success rate would be unacceptable for any other group. No one cares if these institutions fail these people and so they are simply not held accountable in a way nearly all others are.

What is taken as success is a shockingly low bar. In particular, those with mental health conditions should be utterly up in arms at the state of their treatment. How is it today by some calculations 80% of those with conditions such as schizophrenia do not work. This is not inclusive of volunteer work. Volunteer work and part-time employment that may pay minimum wage or just above, make up the bulk of the 20%. It seems clear that if this is taken as acceptable, those involved and society at large, have a deep failure apathy that translates in what those needing treatment understand as a clear failure of this part of the health care system is considered fine.

There are many complex problems that are solved if there is accountability for failure. When there is no accountability there is no cost for failure for those responsible for its solution. Rather the failure bares on those that are homeless and remain homeless for years, or the person who suffered a mental break and has now gone from one medication to the next with multiple diagnosis and yet no real change in their well-being. In these examples is it “up to the individual”? With no one wanting these conditions of being, it is impossible to say it is just for the individual to solve and nothing substantive can be done for them. Known to be successful and the right direction are programs that build up the individual, provide skills and addictions counselling. When they do not work however, is it the failure of the individual or those running the programs? It is clear it is those running the program and yet they escape accountability by shifting blame in subtle ways to the individual. This of course is entirely shameful as the individual involved is vulnerable and entirely powerless. Can he or she who has been on the street for four years turn around and say why have your programs failed me? No, they cannot. At least in no meaningful way. That must change.

Whether it is a homeless person who remains on the streets for a prolonged time i.e. several years, or a mental health sufferer who does not work and has been diagnosed multiple times and changed medication just as many, those who have been assigned to that person should not evade consequences for failure. They should not be allowed to shift blame to the individual involved, or simply state some vague claim that it was a complex case. Unfortunately, in reality there is failure apathy towards those assigned to these people. These vulnerable populations have no recourse to the abject failure of programs when they do not work. And many times they do not. Unless meaningful accountability mechanisms are put into place with real consequences that will push improvements forward, there will be no change. The homeless person or mental health sufferer must be able to turn around and say you failed me. That assertion must also carry weight to it and not be simply a talk or a note that is dismissed in their positions of privilege.

Conversation on Machiavellian Ethics and Governance by Harvey Mansfield

Hi Ethic Nutters,

YouTube suggested for me this following video by Bill Kristol with Harvey Mansfield.

It’s a facinating watch.

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ot0yg5u9LHQ

Enjoy,

Andrew

Partiality: Morality with Humanity

At the core of morality as it is taught, there are two opposing ideas that are often in conflict and rarely in agreement. Those are whether decisions of ethics should be made partially or impartially. Partial moral thinking posits that once we have entered into a relationship, at least most, that relationship entails special duties. Special duties that we have to the person we are in a relationship with that we have to them because of that relationship, not because of an objective characteristic of the person. Impartial moral thinking posits that when making decisions of ethics, we are to treat everyone equally and count them, in an as of yet still absent calculator, as the same value. This is in an attempt to make ethics objective which I will share in this post has the result of making impartial approaches to morality and discussions of ethics cold and lacking of humanity.

I believe the rise of impartiality in morality was an attempt to make this school of thought appear objective through the use of logic as a foundation of reasoning. This however necessitated the abandonment of our emotional reasoning. We know however that a lot of good decisions, not all, but there are quite a few, that depend on our passions and emotional reasoning above cold logic. Indeed some of life biggest decisions lack logic and impartiality such as marriage, where to live, where to travel, and what your hobbies are through life. Not only do these decisions lack logic and impartiality, but if polled, it would be safe to assume many would not want logic or impartiality to play a role in these decisions. People’s decisions about marriage, where to live, travel, spend free-time, are made in a way that is correct through valid reasoning that is, however, partial at its core.

Special duties are not compelling merely because they fit so well with our intuitive reasoning, they are also universalizable. Often a rule to treat your close family above strangers, or fellow country men and women above those living on the other side of the world, can easily be made. Are there limits though to how much support and assistance we give under our special duties before supporting and coming to the aid of those who we do not share special duties towards? Professor Peter Singer via his Comparable Moral Significance Principle, chalks down the answer to the point where we are not sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance, i.e. if nothing of importance is lost. Partialists can see immediately, again, what is of comparable moral significance i.e. scales of importance, is arguable and therefore not factual in some objective sense, and set on stone. From this line of thinking there seems to be at least some wedge in the idea that full radical equality when making decisions about moral correctness must be central.

Along with the value of passions and emotions in ethical decision making, we additionally should recognize finally, that the calculations entrenched in moral thought are subjective. These are not objective in the sense of a science despite this desire from philosophers. The cold calculating logic that was used in an attempt to offer credibility in the past centuries does not hold today as objective in a true sense. A sense akin to a science. It was the push to turn moral reasoning into a science that led to calculations that first questioned whether we should treat strangers equal to family, and those in far off lands, the same as a fellow citizen of Canada, for example.

Impartiality eliminates reasons for decisions that are very valid using an assumption that the value of equality is objectively a basic good. But is equality always the best thing? It does not always hold true that equality is a universal base good that is prima facia true. Let us take an example of four brothers.

There is a family raising four brothers, Dan, Ryan, James, and Matt. Each brother is only a year or two apart and are being raised in as identical a fashion as could reasonable be achieved. The same schools are attended, the same courses taught, and the same teachers used. After graduating from their undergraduate degrees Dan decides to go into finance, Ryan decides to purse a law degree, James becomes a photographer, and Matt becomes a teacher. Their salaries when they start their careers vary greatly. While Dan and Ryan, after graduating from law school, earn over $100,000 annually, James who has been following his passion earns no more than $45,000 from various contracts with clients and a project he is pursuing individually. Matt’s income is about $65,000 annually. Each of them are happy although some colleagues of theirs are not.

From the example just shared, we can expect for many different options in life being presented to each of the four boys. Some of them will have possibilities that money can provide them, that the others do not. Should there be government intervention to equal these options that are available to only some of the brothers and not all? For instance, James cannot afford a house and has to rent. Matt despite earning a good income and enjoying his chosen profession, struggles to pay for child care. Dan’s high pressure job causes him to have a mental breakdown at 45 at which time he will have to go on disability and start a new career. There are many possibilities here from the most equal of “playing fields”. The act of making a choice that necessitates a deviation of equality cannot be prevented. This is true of all decisions. Furthermore, even in a state of full equality, the freedom to decide and be unique implies unequal states of living overtime. Should there be a constant readjustment? Few I think would suggest that. The act of making good choices, or at a minimum the freedom to make choices and enjoy the outcomes, must absolutely be paramount. Those brothers who are “ahead” are so only in the present and not necessarily forever. They are in no way responsible for the others that are “behind”. Why can we not treat people differently based on the decisions they have made in life? Do we not already? Attempts to achieve a utopia of continual equality cannot exist without the components that enable it. Those components are seen by many today as that which would led a hypothetical utopia to be in fact a nightmarish dystopia.

The above thinking, is merely to show that equality is not a base good in some objective prima facia truth. Nothing of what was said implies that we should not eliminate systemic discrimination, barriers to employment, and equality of freedoms and rights. It is to support the idea, that under morality, impartial calculations that treat everyone as equal widgets in some calculation is not as sturdy a foundation of ethics as one might think This is despite many having rested in arguing for it as a base position of morality. What impartialists do not seem to understand is that impartial calculations as a base position for moral thinking, does not include our human nature and our humanity. When used in moral deliberation it can at times be fundamentally seen as boarding on psychopathy and a cold calculating logic that involves human lives in a way that lacks emotion.

Instilling Values into AI

Hi Ethics Nutters,

Good morning.

There are two main concerns of mine today. The first is unregulated Genetic Engineering by foreign states. The second, is the values that AI will have and whose values they are that are instilled. A great article I’ve just found is by Ibo van de Poel titled, “Embedding Values in Artificial Intelligence (AI) Systems”.

Link: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11023-020-09537-4

This is not something that should be taken lightly and it speaks volumes to our understanding of ethics in how it will be applied to AI systems.

Even claims made in the article are frought with difficulty, such as claims that someone can value something that has no value. Whereas, many might say and myself included, that a claim such as something valued can actually have no value, is itself an imposition of a normative claim. It is the person who values an item or thing that gives it its value. An item or thing does not objectively hold value, which those claiming it either has or does not have somehow know its true nature better than others.

If one person or group does not value and item but one person does, that item has value. The individual has given it its value and to say it really has no value is simply an imposition of a majority, or worse educated minority. If we think value and ethics are objective, although I believe less and less do today, then we can create and instill a moral algorithm for AI that can be used by everyone. However, because there is a growing realization that value and ethics are actually a very subjective element of humanity, this is a radical hurdle in the implementation of AI across cultures, sub-cultures, and perhaps even within a homogenous culture that allows for differences of values and ethics within it, such as a liberalized system.

There is no way that an AI system widely used and not programmed by the individual to some extent, can escap a authoritarian application of morality. What is meant by programmed by the individual would merely be the selection options prior to a purchased systems start-up. This would allow for large normative legal decision to be implemented although allowing for the very necessary individualized nuanced details of what the person as the space to think is right and wrong.

The idea that we can program morality into AI for all, rests on the fallacy that morality is objective. It is not.

Thanks,

Andrew

Good As We Are or Good As We Discover It

An interesting point of discussion I want to merely raise is whether we define Good from our default behaviour as humans, or is it something that we discover, something other than how we are naturally? Do we look around and govern using ethics as law on what is agreeable behaviour, or is ethics something which is discovered that is beyond our current way of being and exterior to human nature. The way in which these questions are answered rests largely with how morality is seen and whether it is intrinsically subjective or somehow objective and independent of ourselves. How it is answered bares greatly on how we are governed.


In the past, has it been true that we look around and determine what is best for human flourishing will be what is right and ethical and just? Was it through some guise of religious dogma used to govern for centuries that we came to understand morality as that which we find agreeable in what will make society prosper as social animals. Or is there legitimacy in divine natural law as being objective to our nature and that which raises us above the other animals.


Today, many atheists and agnostics would side with the use of morality as a way to govern and natural law simply being hocus pocus justifications. This seems to have increasingly wider acceptance as the reflective truth on what happened in the past. For the sake of intellectual discussion though, it is important to examine natural law theory and the notion that ethics and morality are objectively found through reasoning, and are external to our natural behaviours as social animals. This discovery through reasoning guides us to a better future existence than our current state of being.


If we assume that we discover what is Good through reasoning, the next question of course is whose reasoning? Can we arrogantly say that the reasoning of one individual is superior to that of another? Is there any objective determination that someone has become capable of reasoning to the degree that it is truth in some external way to our nature? Can there ever be anything external to our nature or is that a concept left behind in humankinds history? Those that are educated would arguably be positioned to reason in a way that is different than those who are not, however how that difference in logical reasoning merits greater understanding of a normative claim is unclear. There is a tendency to think that the reasoning performed after it has been structured by education is superior to an unstructured reasoning. However, this discrepancy itself is based on value statements, biased opinions, and other subjective elements that are used in a hierarchy of thoughts and opinions. Increasingly today, it seems that there has become a schism of what constitutes a valid opinion with education no longer being a defining determinant.


If we cannot assign individuals to reason “better” for others, does it mean that we no longer have direction? Does it mean that societies direction has become diffuse with societies path no longer a collective path but a selection of individualized options as if in a restaurant making the selection of the main course. Do liberalized nations offer this selection effectively and that being the distinguishing characteristic of itself from foreign authoritarian governing apparat. Is this fostering of liberalized selection, true recognition of the subjective nature of morality and the individuals right to autonomy and liberty? It seems so.


The subjective nature of morality is increasingly taken as a concedence of thought for moralities foundation. This is arguably the driving factor behind the rise of individual rights and freedoms with recognition of true equality among people respecting their values and opinions. Morality is not an objective fact to discover. It has always been a view by those wielding power on what is best for society to adhere to in daily life. A look back at history will show anyone that the application of moral law was not evenly applied and was done in part to benefit interests of those in power. How much that has changed is debatable with many likely saying not enough. In Western liberalized society today, the environment is rightly protected and nurtured for equality of rights and freedoms which in time will shift power increasingly from a few, perhaps a many few, to the individual.

Moral Belief as Fact in Moral Controversy

Hi Ethic Nutters,

Here is an interest article by Anne Zimmerman. It is interesting for a number of reasons, but what I think is important to note is the mention of moral beliefs as something which we take as factual rather than just opinions. I agree this is often how they are expressed and held, and that has interesting ramifications for resolving controversies and disputes.

Bioethics: Analyzing Reasoning in Moral Controversy by Anne Zimmerman – Link to article:

https://modernbioethics.com/2021/07/22/bioethics-analyzing-reasoning-in-moral-controversy/?fbclid=IwAR3S8yA7e8gZdub4zfCaKOmUCalEcveeKowbEkgQzXOhEsVO2SiuX17MjYE

Enjoy!

Andrew

COVID Cappuccino Run: A Thought on Rationalized Social Disobedience

Throughout this terrible pandemic, I have stood patiently by outside my apartment building watching the world pass by as I stay within the guidelines of what is restricted and what is allowed. With all non-essential activities prohibited, that has meant I have only gone for groceries, to work, and for walks throughout the past now year and four months. The remainder of the time has been spent in my unit and just outside the front of the building. It is not a terrible thing to stay in I have found and it has become just my normal. However, while sitting outside my building staring at the coffee shop across from me I cannot help notice that throughout the pandemic essential somehow meant to many people you could still go for a Cappuccino run. This despite it clearly being anything but essential.

It’s very common to rationalize disobedience. From a young age those with siblings will say “Well Glen did it” thinking, therefore I can as well, if an action of disobedience is permitted. The wrongfulness is not understood if it is permitted by your brother or sister. In society, we must often restrict ourselves seeing people behave in ways that we know are wrong, however, are not reprimanded or disciplined in any meaningful way. Some of the time, we ourselves do not want to do that action, other times we would like to but have internal constraints that guide us not too. At times, we find those governing us sharing reasons why one person is permitted but not everyone.

With the COVID pandemic, early on it was known that to get through it we would all need to act in unison. Meaning half the population cannot go about living as though nothing was happening, while the other half isolate and take precautions. The reason for this was because it would spread from those thinking little of the risks to those who thought greatly of them. The Toronto experience during the second and especially third wave showed that there was a gradual sliding of obedience to public health mandates as more and more people saw others flaunting the restrictions such as making unnecessary trips. This of course was to great detriment with surely more than a few lives lost from those who did not heed the words of advice from the health officials. The disobedience that led to illness and increased spread, was rationalized in part by merely people seeing other people taking unnecessary risks such as nonessential trips to the coffee shop. It was then thought in a quasi-herd mentality that the risk is okay, despite advice to the contrary.

The rationalization to disobey public health guidelines came additionally from the simple fact that the disobedience to public health measures regarding what constituted essential was not in any manner enforced. There was no possibility of it. Therefore, as the pandemic continued and people saw increasingly not what was being asked of them but what was unrestricted in real terms the wrongfulness, the consequences, were not understood by the public. It is not the law or guidelines which are strict or harsh, but always the enforcement of it which is either strict or lacks. Where paper meets the outside world is where difference is made.

Many would say in response to the above, despite knowing and seeing people take unnecessary trips to coffee shops or unessential trips, that they continued steadfast with following the instructions.  We restrict ourselves when others are permitted or perhaps better put left to go unfettered. Others might argue they took all precautions they could and had to balance isolation with mental health. This rationalization to break from internal constraints, is deeply personal to the individual as they experienced the pandemic. Although early on as mentioned it was known there would have to be a vast public agreement to take precautions as asked, many realized after the first wave that as some have stated in the media, not everyone is on the same boat but rather simply experiencing the same storm.

As it could not be asked of someone working on location to take the same precautions as someone working entirely remotely, rationalizing disobedience for those forced to take greater risk in their daily lives was likely easy. For those who worked on location, it was not that they were seeing other people taking risk and therefore the wrongfulness not understood that led to their flaunting of rules. It may have been that the group of people taking daily risks were both desensitized to the risk and felt as part of a different group entirely from those working remotely. A group entitled to things others are not. Even those who enforce the law such as a police officer, or those who defend the law such as lawyers, along with all sorts of people who claim strict adherence to rules, will rationalize at times to themselves that they have earned leeway when the action being forbidden is wanted.

In terms of this pandemic, the treat people gave themselves was a quick trip to their favourite coffee shop, the only thing open. Perhaps with this thinking, it is a part of human nature to treat ourselves with some forms of disobedience. Strangely it seems that some forms of disobedience may at times be earned through strict adherence to rules forbidding it.

Political Divide

Hi Ethic Nutters,

I came across two interesting video’s on the political divide in the US which was the topic of my pervious post.

Enjoy!

Andrew

Here are the links:

Political Support Today: An Armchair Ethics Post

To look at the political supporters today as an objective outside observer, the immediate description would be a deepening polarization from those opposing, fueled by a new ability in the form of computer algorithms to deliver only content that fits and supports an existing view. Furthermore, it is seen that this polarization has turned violent from both sides and general discourse along with points of agreement has all but disappeared. If this state of affairs was seen in a developing country, it would rightly be said that the path to civil strife and internal conflict has begun with there being only signs of it continuing and escalating.

Both the right and the left are culpable in this polarization. While the right has ignited historical prejudices as a means to garner support and only fanned that anger to enact their sweeping reforms and policies, the left has by-and-large for many years ignored the right and belittled or pushed outside politics, the views that differ from their own. Examples of both include President Trump’s hate filled rhetoric during rallies, and late-night televisions decision to satirize and ridicule the rights views rather than try to engage in qualified discourse. It is easy to say in support of the left that to engage in discussions with clearly bigoted views provides those views with credence. That response however is not productive and furthers the division. To those who support the right, some proponents would argue that these are indeed elitists who care nothing of the common person and only their set agenda. Those on the left might say these views are compassionate and inclusive of everyone and therefore there is an element of universality to it. The problem is not that someone aligns themselves with the right or left, it is that no longer are the other party’s values and beliefs considered valid and even more worrisome, safe to hold.

What has happened in just the past five to six years is that the polarization has become not a matter of values and beliefs that may differ, but many of those turning violent in protest are in the mindset that it is fundamentally dangerous for the country for the other party to lead. This is an extreme but real view of many from both sides and perhaps the most frightening aspect of the political supporters today. Boiling down to the rights of the individual, both sides have strong beliefs, and perhaps not unfounded, that the other side will at the first opportunity take away strongly held and desired rights of the individual. No longer therefore is politics simply a passive matter that many once believed held no affect on their daily lives. It is quite the opposite now, with far more taking part in voting having been told by talking heads from either party that the very future of one’s existence depends on it. With more at stake and less dialogue the elements are ripe for significant conflict.

Neither the right nor the left are innocent from taking matters into quasi-vigilante actions both large and small through which political inclinations are expressed and a sense of belonging and having served a greater purpose are felt. We see this in the activities of far-right groups, along with the far-left groups both of which frequently display action that support a political side although do so in a legally questionable approach. These actions which are far from what could be said to be political rallies rather than outlawed protests, are now becoming the norm in terms of how to show support for political views. The time where political ideas were debated in clubs and amongst friends is disappearing. The views which were once not radically different have slowly become so by means of algorithms only showing supporting media from the last few clicked on, which is increasingly more radicalized media that is cheap to produce. The idea now that someone could talk to the opposing party and come to see eye to eye, is worryingly becoming improbable. More radicalized and emboldened elements in both parties with strong passions to seek large and quick changes in policy are influencing and drowning out moderate positions pushing the two ideological needles further in opposite directions.

Everyone who has seen the immediate actions of the past two incoming President’s of the United States should be concerned. Whereas President Trump set the example with sweeping unilateral Executive Orders, President Biden has followed suit and to a greater extent. The mechanism of Executive Orders is being used in a manner for which it was not intended and the discontinuation of this approach to its use should be a top priority for both parties’. If in four years Donald Trump returns, will he again sign countless Executive Orders undoing Bidens work and creating the beginnings of a disastrous cycle?

Perhaps most problematic in this arena is that those with moderate voices living everyday lives are having to safely navigate between the radicalized elements on both sides and are unwillingly being pulled into the conflict between the more radicalized elements. These individuals want a return to sanity in politics today and general society who feel they cannot be outspoken about how matters have gone too far and politicians are catering too much to the loudest supporting voices not the most rational supporting. The average worker today does not want to be told they are damaging and hurtful of another person merely for not being “woke”, or from the other side do not want to be seen as not onboard the team by not standing up for some hate filed agenda that pits populations against one another. A balance between the two must made be possible. Achieving this requires a dialogue that does not involve accusatory language as a start.

In the past when politics was an activity for just a few and wide engagement from the population was scarce, passions about political parties was not at the level we see today as for example only ten years ago. It was not seen to the same extent that a political party newly taking power could shape in significant ways parts of your everyday life. However, with the advent of social media news reaching people on an hourly basis if not more so, political stories and views easily find themselves becoming dominant news stories followed as if it were entertainment. Coupling political alignment with strong emotions is a tactic used to keep power as it creates strong allegiance. It does today, however, also cause a side effect whereby all to often the individual takes on responsibility for continual advocacy of the views and beliefs of the party. Facebook posts, Tweets, replies, have become a daily chore of radicalized and fervent supporters taking it upon themselves to do in order to respond to opposing views. While several years ago effort was made to teach people that online is the same as offline, offline has now become reflective of the dialogue that was online. It is divisive and at times very derogatory.

When supporting your politician used to mean taking her or his side in the off discussion you would have once a week, there was little worry someone would get “wrapped up in it”. Today though discussion and dialogue via social media is continuous. We receive notifications that we respond to frequently. This level of engagement has not yet before been seen and is causing strengthened alignments and emboldened supports who border on the obsessed. This continuous discussion and dialogue though is not comprised for the most part of inputs from both sides. Someone who is on the left no longer gets media from the right, and the opposite is equally true. There is now a continuous indoctrination of sorts into either political camp. This indoctrination is not regulated in anyway, contributors can be any random person with a few dollars, time, and an internet connection, and is rarely if ever done by a moderate voice from either side. To avoid further division between supporters of the right and the left today, increased dialogue that begins without accusatory language should be initiated and regulation of independent media should be greatly expanded to include online sources.

Looking at political supporters today a polarization that is only deepening is seen. With emotions involved far more than in the past, and the continuous social media indoctrination of those into ridged political camps, a real fear is that a cycle of swinging policies will become a normal practice until this division, polarization, ends.

Common, and yes rude, misconception of an Ethicist

Hello Ethic Nutters,

I hope everyone is doing well as we get through the tail end of this pandemic. Thanks for all the visits from around the world. It’s nice to see so many people enjoying my writings. I apologize for not allowing comments but I don’t want to spend time moderating.

A common comment that would come up during my undergrad and a little still today when talking about it, is that Ethicists, and Bioethicists just sit around and say this is good and that’s bad. Clearly this is the opinion of someone who is ill informed about decision making processes and just how complex achieving the right outcome from a decision is in many fields. Some examples of this thinking i.e. radical simplicity, would be to say a financial advisor tells people to buy low and sell high. A family physician to tell the patient to go see a specialist or take Tylenol then call again. Or, a sales person simply telling the person you should buy this product.

None of the above examples are true and it is equally as true that simplistic deconstruction of the field of study of ethics is simply a matter of finding out what is good and bad. That’s not even scratching surface, its a rude and derogatory/dismissive comment and people should understand it is as such.

That’s all I wanted to say in this rare personal post. I believe many who read my articles will understand this post very well.

Thanks,

Andrew