March 2011

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Letters to The Ethical Spectacle

Spectacle Letters Column Guidelines. Send your comments to me at I will assume the letter is for publication. If it is not, please tell me, and I will respect that. If you want the letter published, but without your name attached, I will do so. I will not include your email address unless you ask me to. Flames are an exception. They will be published in full, with name and email address. I have actually had people follow up on a published flame by complaining that they thought they were insulting my ancestry privately. Nope, sorry.

Dear Mr. Wallace:

This letter is in response to the articles covering the protests by the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association {OCSEA}/American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees {AFSCME} against the attempt by Governor John Kasich and the Legislature to eliminate collective bargaining.

Public employee collective bargaining is defined as a good-faith process between management {Ohio Governor John Kasich } and a public employee union {OCSEA / AFSCME} representing its employees. The two parties negotiate wages, working hours, working conditions, etcetera. It benefits both parties because the Governor is able to negotiate with one set of people and it gives the State Employees Union bargaining-power. Collective bargaining is the quintessential idea upon which the state union system is based.

The key word here is "good-faith" and it appears to have been breached. Evidently it wasn't good enough for the Union to agree to so many concessions that already affects the quality of life for thousands of employees and their families.

Now the Governor and Legislature want to take things a step further. Kasich was quoted as saying "if lawmakers don’t dismantle public employees collective bargaining then I will." Is this really the only solution? Has the Governor/Legislature considered all the ways and means of reducing government waste before destroying the very critical role collective bargaining has played for so many years? How about increasing the payroll tax on certain Ohio professional sports teams? After all they sure put out a great product or service that benefits us all.

It's easy to make decisions affecting other peoples lives when those decisions do not affect your livelihood; something that is shared by the private sector as well. Why must the employee continue to be punished for the mistakes of Government/Corporate leadership {or lack thereof}? When will these "leaders" finally own up to their mistakes and share in the pain as well? Governor Kasich, show some compassion. There are better ways to deal with the budget shortfall. OCSEA / AFSCME, continue to protest and know that all unions across the land are coming to support you.

Joe Bialek

Dear Jonathan,

I've been reading several of your articles with great interest for the last days, and I was really impressed by your clear and strictly rational way of putting things apart. Some articles, for example the one about natural rights, remind me of certain philosophy lessons at my current school. And really, the website was a great discovery for me, as it shows that there are people who actually have the courage to examine words and phrases, which are completely natural to other people.



I read your article, Craigslist: the failure of an Internet community, and I must say I pretty much agree with you. I was an early Internet guy and admired Craigslist's sense of community from a distance, but after being flagged for no good reason (apartment for rent) I am flabbergasted. There is nothing worse than being falsely accused or unfairly judged by an anonymous source. There is no way to make a course correction without knowing what went wrong.

I am willing to recognize and respect the indigenous Craigslist community, but I expect a little respect and constructive criticism in return.

So has any progress been made since your article was posted?


Dear Jonathan, I read with great interest your article on lying, recently cited by Carry Tennis in While I agree with you on many points you fail to address what I consider one of the most important issues. I'm speaking of the case in which one is dealing with a known liar.

The stakes can be great or small. One might be pondering weapons of mass destruction or whether a letter has been posted. But there is no question that all of us at one time or another, knowingly or unknowingly, deal with people for whom the truth is a relative term. (Note Stephen Colbert's coinage of the term 'truthiness.' I have written recently on the devaluation of truth in many quarters to a measure or degree of belief, rather than a statement of fact. Neither scientific fact, nor 'on the ground' facts, are sufficient today to trump the truth needed, desired, or believed by some in pursuit of their economic and political goals.)

This independence of truth from fact is not limited to the public sphere. I have a friend whom, I discovered to my dismay, lies frequently and casually, often with no motivation other than to make a more interesting point where none would exist without the lie. When confronted on the matter, they blithely replied that of course they'd lied, and would lie again in a similar situation. They maintained that such lies were harmless, and that they, personally, knew when it was ok to lie and when it was not. Not surprisingly, I have since discovered that this person lies about many "small" things for their convenience, and has on at least one occasion that I know of lied about a serious and quite damaging matter.

To treat known liars on the same terms that one deals with truth tellers (in the classic sense of the word truth) is, of course, absurd. Honesty does not exist in a vacuum, as some transcendent good that, ethically, must be applied at all times and all situations. Honesty is part of a social compact. When one party violates the social contract, whether by lying or worse, then the ethical obligation to that party is abrogated. A lawfully elected leader who commits crimes loses his moral authority to command the compliance of his citizens. This is as true in cases of participation in illegal wars as it is in the torture of prisoners. A private person who acquires the habit of making small "white" lies for social convenience will inevitably graduate to serious lies when there is much at stake.

What degree of honesty is due in such cases? Is it morally right to even suggest that a person give up their freedom and go to prison rather than participate in an illegal war or torture prisoners? Should an individual tell the truth to someone who will use that truth against them, if the need is sufficient? This especially applies to cases of wrong doing. A voluntary admission of guilt to a liar is an act of questionable judgement, likely to cause more harm than good.

I do not have a ready answer to this question. However I consider it a timely issue deserving of further reflection and discussion.

Sincerely, B.

Thanks for your essay on Lying.

I wonder about your thoughts on various situations you did not include in that essay, generally involving a person who is so difficult -- some combination of weak, fearful, and demanding -- that telling this person the truth is painful, both to the weak person and, because of the emotional fireworks that results from hearing the truth, to the person telling him or her the truth.

Generally, your essay concerns people who are willing to hear the truth. I'm asking about how to deal with a person who is frequently unwilling to hear the truth, or who reacts to certain truths with extremely negative feelings and actions.

In practice, most people tend to walk on eggshells around such a person and cater to their preferences regarding not hearing certain truths. But this approach can easily and perhaps inevitably create other problems.

I'd be very grateful to hear your thoughts on this.