Letters to The Ethical Spectacle

There are two types of New Yorkers: those who ride the subway every day and those who brag that they haven't ridden it in twenty years. I am a daily rider. On the subway you see all the diversity of the people of New York--something I took so much for granted I never really noticed until a friend from Texas pointed it out. But what interests me the most are the faces of the other passengers early in the morning: sleeping, dreaming, some already closed against the day, some hoping for something better. Hope rides the IRT in the early morning.

Often, I spend my own commute hoping for something better. At New Years' 1994 I made up a list of the things I wanted to do with my life--I had just turned 40--and one of them was to start the Ethical Spectacle. I was otherwise preoccupied at New Years' 1999 but plan to make another list this fall: what do I want to do now?

I am hopeful as always. I have written sometimes that hope keeps us warm and vital, but in other essays have considered the possibility that it makes us passive and vulnerable. In reviewing old issues of the Spectacle I just found the following quote from Teilhard de Chardin: "There is no such thing as the 'energy of despair' in spite of what is sometimes said. What these words really mean is a paroxysm of hope against hope."

Your letters keep me hopeful. I can be reached as always at jw@bway.net.--Jonathan Wallace

Democracy and Stupidity

Considering that you published a challenging article on a political subject, it's my suspicion that you've been flooded with responses already. And, as argument (outrage!) is a better impetus than agreement, most of it's likely been pretty nasty.

However, I do believe that your general position is actually the most popularly held among the relatively and even highly educated populace of the nation.

I am among those who would not trust unbridled democracy. And, if I were less of a pessimist, had more faith in the wisdom of people, it would comfort me no end to believe in just representation. But what I must believe in, if I am to have any faith in government, is stability through balanced conflict.

As with any thorough political exposition, points you put forth do inspire me to argue. And much, by simple honesty, cannot be intelligently denied. Not that I see much point in doing so, in either case. Nor did I expose my disillusion for such sake.

What I am writing to say, after consideration, is only a comment. I'm glad you put in the time to write the article. I'm glad I stumbled upon it. And I'm glad that you have the passion that inspired it. I'm glad to know that you are part of the system. My faith in people is improved, just a bit, by that. Thank you. I need that, sometimes.

Bob Satori mantic@brightok.net

Dear Jonathan:

I stumbled across this article when I was actually searching for much different content (you know search engines these days :). I decided to switch my focus to this article for a while.

And as you may guess, I come here to object. I find that one of the greatest insults to anyone is a criticism of his intelligence; this is why people laugh at Clinton while still considering him okay, but consider men like Quayle to be idiots for all time.

So when I hear you insult George W., I understand that you are making a truly significant attack on his integrity, and any such attack must be justified. What really makes George W. a man without the "required" intelligence? Both him and his father have credentials. Now it is one thing to say that the republicans as a whole are pretty dim for nominating G.W., or even his father, but both of them have served in other offices that show that they are successful men, over and over again. How many incompetent people can do that?

Hey, George W. didn't know the names of the presidents of those three obscure countries. But who does? Al Gore? Well, I have a question that he should EASILY be able to answer: what is a router? Despite his claim of inventing the internet (which was a complete, flat-out lie) he probably could not answer this simple question. Although even Gore Vidal thinks Al Gore is smarter and more well-spoken than G.W. Bush, I think such an assumption needs to be reassessed.

The most insane attack on the republicans regards the "mana" and family wealth issue. Let's face it, the Kennedys only exist because of exploitation of wealth, which was made by the exploitation of alcohol when it was illegal. Your attack may be true with some Republicans, but it is hardly discernable as a Republican characteristic vs. a Democrat one. Even Al Gore's family has a lot of money. So your attack is more on politicians altogether than on Republicans. Can we tell the WHOLE truth and nothing but the truth?

Of course, then you make attacks on G.W.'s lack of compassion, which basically rounds him out as a cold-hearted idiot. What could be worse than that?

To blame Bush for the status of Texas is ludicrous. Firstly, how easy is it to fix any "backwards" state, or country, or anything completely? The way I see it, Bush's job of governing resulted in some improvements, and yet you and many others claim that his efforts there prove only that he is not good enough to serve in office. Yet it seems that the incompassionate but successful efforts of men like Rudy in N.Y. are still looked down upon by liberals. Are the republicans EVER the good guys?

But since you seem so irritated with liars, can you honestly stand up and support Al Gore? It seems that G.W. is too dumb to be able to develop his own ideas, and Al Gore too smart to be trusted. So who do you vote for? The liar or the idiot?

Thanks for your time.

Sean Martin smartin@amnix.com

Dear Jonathan:

Essay: Ten.

I agree whole heartedly with much, if not damned near all of what you say.

It is frightening that we have come to, by most appearances, government by advertising. The political conventions were more infomercials than real political events; although even that is a stretch, as there was very little "info" associated with the "-mercial."

"Given a choice between an extremely weak representative democracy, and direct Athens-style government, I would choose the latter in a flash, despite all Madison and Hamilton's fears of the headless and ungovernable mob. I can imagine no more exciting feeling than walking up the hill, ready to take up the day's business in the city and knowing that I was entitled to be there because Athenian. Not because of the money."

Trouble here, I think, is the mass electronic media. The propaganda machine is attached to mindless, idiotic entertainment (the good news, I suppose, is that the Roman notion of entertainment has waned ... ). As such it is just as capable of manipulating the mob as the elite. They are being led around by the nose.

My soapbox lately has been devoted to castigating the (mis-)use of mass media for manipulation rather than enlightenment - have been writing tirades to my congressional delegation and the FCC. General theme is that "campaign finance reform" is not the cure; rather, the USE of the money thus raised is the problem. Make the forum free, and thus decouple it from the marketplace. My contributions presumably go in the nut file, alas.

This all has very serious, ominous forebodings for our country. Things have happened over the last couple of years - public affairs, as well as things in my industry - that leave me wondering "Is anyone at all paying attention?" The answer, I fear, in most cases is no.

-- Best regards,

Dr. Arthur H.M. Ross aross@ieee.org

Greetings Jonathan:

Well the political (election) season is at its peak, and I see you are out there trumpeting for the Democrats as best you can. Your essay declaring that W. is just "not smart enough to be president" stirred some interest for me, since I thought you might be more inclined to come up with a unique viewpoint. I was disappointed however, by your words. You simply parrot the DNC tactic of marginalizing (Quailizing) the Republican candidate with what amounts to "urban myths."

Your bias against capital punishment and the "Jay Lenno"-like attack assailing Bushís intellect make your essay nothing more than sloganeering liberal junk Jonathan. I find your personal conceptions regarding just "who these Republicans are" amusing however. Your perceptions seem to be taken from the Hollywood/media generated "evil Republican" myth that it is almost comical. You blend an enormous helping of your bias and silly (false) notions about who Republicans are, with a dose of everything from "Athenian direct democracy" to "Kent State" in your rambling, self promoting hodgepodge of political pap. You do this all in an effort to basically tell a joke about how stupid you think George W. Bush is. Funny, but unless I just missed it, I didnít catch any reference to Al (I took the initiative in creating the Internet) Gore. Oh, but I suppose he will be the subject of next monthís essay. Huh Jonathan?

Among your most incredible (and there were many) statements: "George Bush looks and sounds to me exactly like an old line IBM executive (and so did his father.) Strong chin, easy command of the unique collection of clichÈs which is the language of mana, and precious little evidence of an independent thought process.."

I cannot believe you could print THAT and not expect someone to inquire whether you really meant Bush--and not Gore. Jesus--you Democrats are amazing. You are a coalition of weird splinter groups consisting of (but not limited to) union activists, gays, media socialists, government drones, and general whacks who, combined with a strong political machine (the Democrat party) manage to elect enough people beholding to each of your extreme, and typically regional special interests issues. You are absolutely paralyzed at the thought of mainstream Americans electing a person who would ignore your eccentric and frankly, extremely odd positions on most issues, and simply represent the will of the majority.

Bush not smart enough? Wrong issue Jonathan!Is the American public dumb enough to buy your DNC party-line hoax? Thatís the pertinent question. Since recent polling suggests that a majority of women (21% more than men) favor Gore, and that they use "the kiss" as there reason..I wonder if the DNC just might have the publicís number.

Bob Wilson

Dear Jonathan:

It seems odd to me (and as I've repeatedly said, if I vote it's gonna be for Dave Barry, not Harry Browne) that Buchanan is mentioned in polls-that-never-come- close-to-adding-up-to-100% at about 1%, yet Harry Browne (who has outscored him in SOME polls, where (gasp!) he's mentioned) is not. It seems that if there is to be an ethical spectacle here, it's the taking of the debates from the League of Women Voters and placing it over in a private (!) corporation. Ordinarily, I'd expect to hear howls of outrage if this kind of thing happened for what seems to be the sole purpose of increasingly arbitrary results, but I smell situational-ethics here so I'm not surprised at the relative silence of 'just-Jim-kvetches' once again.

Oh well, vote Dave Barry! Here's why. James M. Ray JMR@shopmiami.com

Dear Jonathan:

Suggestion..... In realizing that the Spectacle gets a lot of high school/college readers doing research for school, you may want to add a link to www.beavoter.org - an online voter registration form... - maybe at the bottom of the vote.html page?

Laurie Caro

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I found your article, entitled "Lying," very problematic. First, by claiming that lying is always morally wrong regardless of the circumstances, you have made real-life moral dilemmas impossible to resolve. How can we decide what to do when one absolute is conflicting with another absolute? Like for example, what if you are a Nazi hiding Jews in your house and the Gestapos knock on your door and asks whether there are Jews in your home? Yes, lying is morally wrong and ought to be avoided. But, we also have a moral obligation to help the hiding Jews from persecution. What should we do in such a situation where the avoidance to lie conflicts with our moral obligation to help and rescue people's lives?

In the case of your "murderer searching for his victim" scenario, you have failed to show that there are better options than lying. In the scenario, you have condemned lying even when confronted by a killer, reassuring us that there are alternatives we can take. But are they actually worthy alternatives? Resorting to force, running away, or not answering at all as you suggested? We cannot resort to force because that would be a contradiction to your belief that violence is absolutely wrong. The other two can only be worthy alternatives if we first devalue the worth of our own lives, and to my surprise you have done exactly that in your essay. Does our own life have any value or importance? Is it not worthy enough to have any consideration in our moral decision-making? If we accept your claim that our very own survival should never be "elevated to the level of a morally accepted choice," then you are not only belittling our life, but life itself. If a woman is attacked on the street and her life is threatened by a madman, then according to your claim she should not try to defend herself because self-defense requires her to resort to violence. Is the moral choice in this situation then to accept one's fate, say c'est la vie, and give up one's life? But if the woman's life should not be raised to a moral imperative, then what makes actions like suicide morally unacceptable. Also if the woman's life should not be raised to a moral imperative, why should we make an exception to the murderer's life, or for that matter, any other person's life? To not respect one own's life is to not respect life. If my well-being is not worth any consideration, then why should I be concerned with the well-being of others? It is inconsistent to value life with exception to our own. So, in the case of the murderer searching for his victim, there may be choices other than lying but they are not worthy enough or even moral to be considered alternatives we can take, failing to prove that lying is not necessary.

Lying per se is not necessarily wrong. There are certain cases where lying is not only justifiable, but morally obligatory. It is only when lying is undeserved or unjustified that makes it wrong. I believe most would agree that cheating on your spouse or lying out of cruelty is wrong. But many would also agree that lying out of self-defense or in defense of another is justifiable. Historical figures like Oskar Schindler who lied to the Nazi government to rescue Jews, and Harriet Tubman who deceived the South in her participation in the Underground Railroad are revered as moral agents and many would not only make exceptions in their cases, what they did would be considered the most noble and moral thing a person can do.

Paul wndrwall03@aol.com

Dear Jonathan:

Thank you! Than you! Thank you!

I discovered "Ethical Spectacle" two days ago and have been reading essay after essay, holding my breath for the first misstep on your part. So far, knock on wood, your reason, logic and good sense, your words spoken calmly and quietly, are ringing all the bells of my own thoughts, opinions and conclusions about "stuff."

I realize that an issue may arise on which I'll disagree with you, but your thinking is so in tune with my own, and I respect everything of yours I've read so far, that it will do what all good writing and thinking should do--cause me to reexamine my thinking one more time.

I rarely send recommendations to friends and family concerning interesting websites I've discovered. Yours will be an exception.


Beverly Gaye Scofield BGSco@juno.com

Jonathon, Essentially what you say here is that we should have porno and hate books in our children's libraries. Why in the world would you be so irresponsible where children are concerned? I guess you don't have any kids. I am so relieved that this blocking software is available. Kids are so impressionable. Many of them look at hate and violence media and act on it - look at all the violence in schools (Columbine -prime example). It's been proven that media is responsible for increased aggression and violence in children. Stop blocking your own mind and conscience and be more concerned about our children. Our future will be very bleak if they grow up surrounded by such ugliness, hate and disregard.

Our children should be protected!

If you want smut in public libraries, why not advocate a separate controlled room such as those in video stores?? At least, they are responsible with sensitive material.

J. Kovacs-Diaz jkovacs@telcordia.com

Dear Jonathan,

The article by Larry Pratt on behalf of gunowners in America is based in some fairly serious misrepresentation of fact. As an Episcopal priest who was present for this vote at the General Convention in Denver (I represented the Episcopal Peace Fellowship which lobbied for its passage), I feel the need to try to correct the false impression Mr. Pratt's comments may have created.

The Episcopal Church, like most other mainline Protestant denominations, did loose a good chunk of its membership in the period from 1960-1990. While conservatives are wont to attribute that decline to liberal policies ranging from women leadership to changes in worship forms, in fact the losses are documented to have occurred in two perhaps unforeseen groups. One is the nominally committed members who perhaps joined out of the social pressures of the God and Country 1950s to attend church as expectable middle class behaviors.

The second, however, according to Wade Clark Roof and William McKinney, writing in American Mainstream Religion, Its Changing Shape and Future, are actually liberals for whom the church had not moved quickly enough from its traditional positions. Roof and McKinney suggest that most dissatisfied Episcopalians left ECUSA and found no replacement in other churches. Hence, the notion that a position against gun ownership and use might somehow prevent church growth or even cause losses in membership in ECUSA is simply mistaken.

Pratt also relies on a false premise in his argument that the church ought not to take this position because three million Americans report owning and using guns. (The numbers are probably higher than that, actually). Such an argument suggests that the mere fact that a given practice and attitude exists somehow validates the same. There are a number of existent, even popular, attitudes and behaviors that ECUSA has felt are not reconcilable with the Gospel. These include taking positions against abortions as birth control, capital punishment and favoring laws which prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians. While the feelings of human beings must be considered in the formulation of church policies - something we have not always been very good about - Episcopalians generally believe that there are ethical concerns of higher value than mere presence or popularity.

It was not lost on the Convention that it was meeting in a city which had lost 23 of its children to firearms use in the past year. Nor was it lost on the membership of this predominately urban denomination that guns pose the greatest threat to many of the children of the parishes and dioceses represented. As Dean Moore noted, the Convention had voted, based on a rather thorough study replete with statistics, ethical statements from a number of perspectives and study of scripture, to pass this statement of church policy. Those who opposed the measure spoke strongly and frequently in opposition to the resolution in committee and later on the floors of the Houses of Bishops and Deputies and managed to attach a "minority report" to the resolution itself mirroring Mr. Pratt's position. Ultimately, it was not for lack of consideration that the Convention did not adapt Pratt's view, it was simply because it did not find it persuasive.

I do not envision any mass exodus from ECUSA over this resolution. We're too busy fighting over sexuality issues to have much energy left over for guns. Nonetheless, I think it probably fair, given the statistics compiled by Roof and McKinney through Princeton University's religious research institute, to say that the resolution probably is much closer to the rank and file Episcopalian's view than a Gun Owners' Association which has the luxury of ignoring ethical and theological concerns in its single-minded pursuit of what can only be seen as a deadly privilege.

Peace and Good through Justice,

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, TSSF
Priest, Diocese of El Camino Real (CA)

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I agree with you about Karla Fay. They should have let her go. She said she was sorry and if a man as prominent and Godly as Pat Robertson stands behind her, so do I.

Don btrdgs@flash.net

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I just read your Kent State article from May 1995.

I just stopped there on my recent cross country drive, and let me tell you what a sobering experience it was. That event was always significant in my life, even though I was only 13 at the time. And things have been happening that has made it even more significant.

When I went to Kent State, it truly was an incredibly sad experience. When you realize that we had our own people firing on ourselves, something has to be wrong. I was there at night time, and the place where each of the four who were shot and killed is lit up by these low lights. I walked up to the hill where the National Guard stood when they fired (next to a campus building) and could see the four lit places, which were anywhere from 100 to 200 feet away (and most likely not a threat to the guardsman). Several other students were also shot.

And then I think back to the protest I attended 2 years ago to save the ancient Redwood Forests in California (where less than 5 percent of the original old-growth trees remain) and there was this incredible number of police (several hundred) all dressed in full riot gear ready to go to town against the 'protesters.' The rhetoric that the sheriff and local newspaper were spouting both before and after the event which seemed to justify any type of force that the police may have to use to quell the rioting (there was none, nor was that the reason why the people were there), was very similar to comments made by the National Guard as to why they felt that they had to shoot against unarmed college students. The county of Humboldt County incurred over half a million dollars in police related expenditures for that day.

Anyway, it was very sad and moving experience, and I'm not so sure that much has changed since that day 30 years ago (those protests were against the expansion of the Vietnam war into Cambodia). Something has to change, and I am not longer willing to compromise on certain issues that pertain to the safety and protection of the people and the environment.

Anyway, I really did like the article as it reflected many of my own thoughts and concerns on what is happening in this country and planet.

I was not aware of your publication, as I was only searching for information on the Kent State event, but will now peruse your articles.

good luck


Please check your sources before you post. I realize it's your constitutional right to print what you want, but when your printing is obviously uninformed you only add to the growing ignorance in the society I, too, inhabit.

Yours truly, concerned persons leavemea1one@aol.com

An Auschwitz Alphabet
Dear Mr. Wallace,

my Name is Frank Kowol and I live in M¸nster, Germany. I am 30 years old and I thought I had learned enough about the Holocaust to understand at least a bit of the jewish fate in these days. By coincidence I came across your website and I had to learn that I didn't understand nearly anything of this period of time. I am deeply impressed of your reports and your conclusions. I wish you best luck and the strength to continue with your work and I can assure you I will remember your essay.

Yours sincerely

Frank Kowol kowolf@uni-muenster.de

Dear Sir,

My name is James St.Peter and I am a graduate student in history at Texas A&M. I am specializing in Holocaust History and was very moved and impressed by your site. I would like your permission to copy your web information intact to a website I am building on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. This website, at www.geocities.com/cleowolf, is dedicated to scholarly Holocaust research and would be used for educational purposes only. Any and all information used from your site will of course be cited as originating from you.

Thank you very much for your time.

James St.Peter jstpeter@prodigy.net

Dear Mr. Wallace,

Since I first discovered your site, I have become a frequent visitor and enthusiastic reader. I am impressed to find a website that accurately and intelligently poses viewpoints on such a vast array of subject material. I could go on and on about the merits of your site, but those merits are clearly represented in the mission statement.

I found the Auschwitz Alphabet was particularly powerful. Good work.

The Ethical Spectacle stands like a beacon of light shining over the hollowness of many aspects of our society.

Thanks for your wonderful site. Keep up the good work.

Dave Roberts dave@mtco.com