On the tv and the media

29 06 2013

I’m no good at personal confrontation.

I know, I know, y’all are thinking But absurdbeats, you can be such a bitch!  And it’s true! I can be! But as comfortable as I am tearing into an argument, I am no good at tearing into a person—so much so that I cringe at witnessing a person getting chewed out.

That said, my discomfort transformed into awe over the course of this video:

Maybe because this guy wasn’t some poor schmoe but a CEO, maybe because Congresswoman Duckworth was so righteous, maybe because he was so. goddamned. shameless, but I actually enjoyed this, uh, little exchange.

Commenters on other sites have pointed out that the problem may lie less with Mr. Owie-I-Turned-My-Ankle-Once than with a system that allows him to claim a veteran’s disability for an injury sustained in prep school, and I don’t disagree.

But: a shitty system does not excuse shitty behavior.

Systems matter. The ancients pointed out that the type of society in which one lives affects one’s behavior, and over the millenia thinkers have exhausted a lotta brain cells trying to figure out how, exactly, culture may shore up or degrade virtue. Aristotle wondered whether one could be good in a bad polis, Diogenes wandered about searching for that one honest man, and today those of very different political persuasions bewail the corruption of our culture and the doom which awaits us all.

So, okay, culture matters.

But so, too, does conscience. I don’t know the exact relationship between culture and conscience, what resources any one individual needs to reflect on this relationship, nor what one needs to choose conscience over an interest which culture may promote, but I doubt that conscience is always and everywhere collapsible into culture.

There’s something called ‘virtue ethics‘ which focuses on conscience and character. I am dubious of its efficacy on its own—it’s too easy to slide from virtue as a goal to virtue as an excuse—but as part of a comprehensive set of standards, it’s can help to check oneself. If you want to think of yourself as a good person, then you need to consider what are the actions of a good person, and how do my actions compare.

This is where the whole conscience-culture nexus gets tangled (as least for us epistemological nihilists): If culture decides what is ‘good’, and I want to be ‘good’, then how can I go against culture?

That’s a tough one, and in its abstract form I can only offer multiple, partial answers.

The case of Mr. Owie-Ankle, happily, is not so abstract, and thus more amenable to judgement.

Braulio Castillo clearly cares about goodness. He’s a man who contributes to charity and gives back to his community.  Given that he publicizes these good works, one can safely say that Castillo has at least thought about what is good.

As such, it is telling that he both highlights his “military service” and obscures the details by which he came to claim veteran’s disability based on that “service”. On his company’s website it is noted that he

attended the United States Military Academy (West Point) Preparatory School. Braulio was honorably discharged from the United States Army and received a service connected, disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs for his active duty service as an enlisted soldier in the US Army.

Did you catch that? He attended not West Point, but West Point Prep, doesn’t detail the injury (injured his foot in an exercise), and calls his time spent at that prep school “active duty service as an enlisted soldier in the US Army.”

It was not.

If he thought that he did nothing wrong in claiming a 30-percent disability for an injury sustained prior to an active college-football career, then why not publicize the details?

It’s entirely possible that he thinks that doing good here makes good whatever he does there (another skew in virtue ethics), so why bother with such petty matters as, um, fudging the facts?

It is also entirely possible that he may have been suffering from a malady Upton Sinclair identified long ago: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”  And perhaps he could point to the particular business culture in which he operated—in which not understanding something is SOP—and say B-b-b-but everyone’s doing it! and claim that if his acts aren’t, y’know, good-good, they are at least par for the course.

(Of that last possibility, I would be unshocked.)

But that he called himself an “enlisted soldier in the US Navy Army” on “active duty service” when he was neither tells me he knew he was fucking with the facts, and was fucking with those facts for money.

That’s not good, Mr. Castillo, not good at all. You richly deserved that shredding.

And because of that, I richly enjoyed that dessert.





I didn’t want to do it

7 06 2011

I do not fucking want to write about Anthony Weiner—but here I am, writing about Anthony fucking Weiner.

He’s an idiot, and by this I mean: he’s an idiot.

Not a criminal, not a pedophile, not a man so vile he must be hounded out of Congress.

No, he’s a horny guy with poor horny-impulse control who as a high-profile warrior in our current political wars had to have known that taking him out (temporarily or permanently) would be a sweet, sweet success to combatants on the other side.

I do feel bad for his wife, but as I am not his wife, how his wife responds to him is really up to her. Not to me, not to anyone else.

I am not one of the recipients of his tweet-pics, and in no way have had any sort of relationship with him; how those women or the people who do have some sort of relationship with him is up to those women and others.

I am not (currently) one of his constituents, but if I were, I wouldn’t be demanding his resignation and, come the next election, if I thought he were the strongest candidate, I would vote for him.

And I think, really, his political future is up to him and his constituents, and whether they think his legal-but-idiotic actions indicate something political significant about his character or not may be one of the factors they consider in deciding whether or not to vote for him. That’s how it should be.

I may have mentioned once or twice or thirty times before that I care about policy. Policy policy policy. Shitty husband? Don’t care. Shitty mother? Don’t care. Asshole to your staff, kinda care, but I’ll take the asshole with the right (which is to say, left) legislative agenda over the sweetie with an authoritarian agenda. I might prefer that sweetie as a friend or neighbor, but as representative? No.

Nor would I in any way be shocked by a right-wing counterpart who cut her voting cards in a way exactly as I do. I’m irritated by do-as-I-legislate-not-as-I-do politicians, but I completely understand why a conservative voter might hold her nose and vote for the cheater/closet-case/hypocrite to prevent a non-conservative from winning.

I don’t have a whole lot of patience for those who excuse their side for engaging in the same behavior that they criticize in the other side, but even there, I get the rationale: My team is always right. (It’s a principle, I guess, albeit one rather absent of, er, principle, but tribalism has its role in both politics and sports.)

I’ve not-written an essay beginning with the phrase “Morality is ruining politics” for over a decade, but I actually do have a highly moral approach to politics: it is a morality based in the purpose of politics itself, which is to say, one rooted in the notion of the public good.

No, I won’t try to write that essay, here; instead, I’ll simply note that I take a compartmentalized as opposed to holistic approach to political character, that is, that I assign different moralities to different spheres of life. Yeah, this can lead to behavior at, say, work, which might appall one’s friends—compartmentalization my increase complication—and one line that could connect these different spheres is to strive, pace Aristotle, for excellence in each field, with the recognition that such excellence varies across those fields.

Virtue ethics folk tend toward holism: if you’re a wretch at home there’s likely spillover in other areas of life, perhaps to the point where moral failing in one sphere might disqualify you from participation in other spheres.

The problem with this approach is twofold: one, the evidence doesn’t support this (i.e., there’s plenty of evidence that bad people can do good things) and two, this assertion of one’s goodness can lead one to justify one’s actions on the basis of that goodness (or, good people can do bad things and excuse the badness of the act on the basis of the goodness of the person—a variation of the Euthyphro dilemma).

The virtue approach is particularly dangerous when comingled with power, to the point that one may rationalize truly horrific actions (see the history of abusive medical experimentation in the US, for example): Because we’re good what we do couldn’t possible be bad.

The compartmentalization approach isn’t perfect, either, and can lead to Gingrinchian rationalizations along the lines of I cheated on my wife because I loved America so much—although, on reflection, he’s actually engaging in a kind of reverse political-virtue ethics, to wit, I’m so good in politics you must forgive me for my private life.

Anyway, you can cover for political misdeeds using compartmentalized political language (my political convictions made me do it), but I also believe, in a way that I can’t quite articulate here, that the risks of unchecked abuse are lower with a narrow political morality than a wider all-encompassing morality.

In any case, I also think that the compartmentalized political morality approach works far better in a pluralistic society than in a more unitary one. We, the American people, do not share one comprehensive view of morality: we disagree not only on approach (comprehensive vs. compartmentalized—or, as I put in a long-ago post, the Legos-vs-coins approach) but on substance.  In short, the more points on which we demand agreement before we can work with one another, the less likely we’ll actually be able to work together.

And I think politics is a sphere for getting work done.

So if I ever move to Anthony Weiner’s district, my question to him will be: Are you getting work done?

If he is, and if I like the work, then what he does after work is really not my concern.