Letters to the Ethical Spectacle

I have an intermittent fear of heights. When a hiking trail deposits me at the head of a cliff, when I am driving my car on the outermost lane of a bridge with low guardrails, I look down and freeze, nervewracked by the latency of the situation; I imagine myself tumbling.

The other day, I had a call on my ambulance to a huge construction site in midtown Manhattan, to pick up a construction worker who had been hit by falling scaffolding. I ran down hundreds of feet of snaky metal ladders with my equipment bag on my shoulder, to find that firefighters had already secured the patient to a back-board and placed him in a Stokes stretcher. We went aboard a large scoop with the Stokes, knelt down and held onto the edges, and were whirled hundreds of feet in the air by a crane which deposited us on the street next to my ambulance. As we stepped out of the scoop, I realized that in the beauty and novelty of the moment, I forgot to be frightened.

Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

Spectacle Letters Column Guidelines. If you write to me about something you read in the Spectacle, 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. This is in response to many of you who have expressed concern that spammers are finding your email address here. 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. The following is this month's example.

I'm stunned- You're an unbelievably uptight and preachy asshole with absolutely no sense of humour!

Also, you literally do not know how to write an essay.Please see the following: http://members.tripod.com/~lklivingston/essay/

You have bastardized our language even more than mostAmericans.shame

jp kones jpkones@yahoo.com

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Re Homosexuality and Choice:

I agree that "...homosexuality doesn't harm anyone, and therefore is a behavior that should be well-tolerated by society" is a better argument than "homosexuality is not a choice." But it seems to me that you (and Amy Goodloe) are conflating two issues of sexuality, namely orientation and behavior, thereby setting up a straw man. Few people, gay or otherwise, would claim one has no choice regarding the gender(s) of persons with whom one has sexual relations. The existence of heterosexual-identified actors in gay porn, or of lesbian sex workers who make their money from men, is proof if any is required.

If the position of the mainstream activists Goodloe mentions were really that one shouldn't be permitted to choose whomever one wants, that would be a problem, but that's not the way those activists use the term "choice." They use it not to refer to behavior, but to refer to orientation. That is, the lack of choice has to do with the gender(s) of persons to which one is attracted. They are correct when they argue that few people wake up one morning and decide, "I'm going to be gay!" (And they would probably be wrong to categorically deny that anyone has ever done so, though it appears that sexual orientation in women is more fluid than in men.)

Do choices affect orientation? How could they not. Can one choose to change one's orientation? Certainly, though most such attempts seem to fail.

That the choice argument should not be the determining factor in how society addresses gay rights is a separate matter from whether sexual orientation is, for most people, a choice. But because most people do not experience sexual orientation as a choice, I think the argument is useful nonetheless. And it doesn't necessarily have to be defensive. It can be a way to help those heterosexual people who do not experience their orientation as a choice recognize a common human experience.

Jim Stoicheff

Dear Jonathan:

I enjoyed Tina Valle's appeal for Augusta National golf Club (a private club) to open it's membership policy to include women. Sadly however, Tina's Bachelors degree in Sociology didn't include much education with respect to the US Constitution. Actually there's no clause or Amendment with reference to a right of all citizens to play golf in someone's private club. As archaic and non PC as it may seem in the 21st Century...there actually is however, a reference to freedom of association.

It's not as though Ms. Valle, who says she actually "decided to learn how to play the game a year ago." Now she thinks she should be allowed membership at Augusta? Really? She would pay the membership cost of joining and playing there? Can Ms. Valle afford to "rub elbows" with the likes of Warren Buffett, Sam Nunn, Nelson Doubleday, George Shultz, Peter Coors? Does she think holding up a foursome of billionaires while she hits a 30 yard tee shot from newly installed (just for her) "red tees" should be tolerated at a place like Augusta? If the point of Ms. Valle's thesis is "golf," then is she saying that a private golf club's "male only" membership policy makes for a shortage of opportunities to play golf for women? If not, then why did she take so many words to describe how she evolved from "hating" golf, to actually "watching the Golf Channel on occasion?"

Noooo...Ms. Valle isn't really concerned with having a place to play golf. Her recent BS in Sociology has (in her mind) gives her license and moral authority to challenge Augusta as a giant "conspiracy" of men with the mission of repressing the ability of women to compete with them in business.

Yes, the Augusta membership roster reads like a roll call of the Fortune 100, with CEOs and Chairmen from companies like American Express, the Bank of America, Citigroup, General Electric, Berkshire Hathaway, Motorola, Prudential, Hormel Foods, Bassett Furniture, and many more, but is the fact that these people belong to an all male membership private club make it a "civil rights" issue? Does this (and any other male gender exclusive social organization) constitute an "unfair" or "discriminatory" business practice? Ms. Valle thinks it does. Perhaps it would, if not for one tiny technicality.... The US Constitution.

Bob Wilson

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Re On Lying:

I agree with most of what you say about lying but I think you misjudge a woman's reason to be married. I have been married 20 years and would not consider those 20 years a waste of time just because of a sexual infidelity. What matters most to me is that my husband never lies to me in matters of raising kids, money and life in general and that he is always an equal, caring partner. While I have never been unfaithfull I sometimes wonder if during my high risk pregnancy and the aftermath my husband REALLY spent a year without sex, since I couldn't "provide it". But the answer to this is not important enough for me to ask him.

What matters to me is that during my pregnancy, when I could barely move, my husband was allways beside me and allways attentive. After our kids were born, he has proved to be a wonderful father who lives for his family and provides us with all the emotional and material support we ask for. Why would the fact that he may / may not have been phisically faitfull make a difference ? I'd rather have him, than an emotionally distant, uncaring partner, even if I knew for a fact he had sex with someone else. Of course knowing he did "it" would hurt, so like you said in your GOD/Auschwitz example, rather than lose my faith on my husband by asking for the truth and risking getting a positive answer, I decided to stop asking "those damn questions".

Unlike you, I don't believe that all questions should be asked and are owned an answer, by God or anyone else. I believe even married people have the right to privacy from each other and should be able to reserve some thoughts or acts for their inner selves only. A kind of fifth ammendmend for spouses, kids, parents... Like you said in your Auschwitz essay, we all have angels and demons inside and we try to reach a balance and be the best we can. It is unfair to want your partner to let you pry in all the inner battles he / she struggles with. We can barely handle our own inner demons, why do you believe it would be good to know our partner's or our family's, against their own wishes?

Hello Jonathan,I loved your article about lying very much.

I will read it few more times along the way, for sure.


HI,I'm no one you know, but I'm in a personal situation that is very painful. My partner of two years is a liar. He qualifies his lies, he trivializes them, he blames me by saying that i make him fear my poor response. But he has lied to me, specifically about his dynamics with other women, since our first dates. I have found out that they were lies from casual conversation later when he is not on guard, or when his friends mention things. I don't think that he is physically cheating on me, but he is always elusive and secretive. I asked him to be more disclosing with me, and he said that he would. But it has been many months since that promise and many more lies have come up. He suggested that we do therapy as a couple, to fix our problems. He said in therapy after 7 sessions that he's not going to change and his supposed "intrigue" issues (that the therapist told him are probably his issues) are not harmful and therefore I am the one who has to change my expectations of him.

I find myself really at a loss, because I am an ethical person, in that I try to be as honest and upfront as I can be, I feel that sharing open and honest communication are the foundation of trusting relationships, and knowing each other as truly as we can. I am not of the utilitarian ilk, I would not judge whether or not to lie in each situation, because it more often serves the selfish comforts of the speaker that the true greater good of the people around. And here I am in a relationship with a person who doesn't even admit to lying, except when it is so blatant. Then he apologizes and says that he won't do it again. How many times have I heard that? Today is the day after our 8th session of couples therapy. . . where he revealed that he had lied to me earlier in the month. He was explaining his own experience, and not deliberately unveiling a lie. I just don't know what to do anymore, I keep trying to trust him but it is an uphill battle.

I hope you have had the patience to read my letter, so that I can fully express to you that your article elucidated the difficulties that I, too, have with lying and liars, and helped me see that I am not just an uptight person, as he tries to get me to believe. Thanks. M

heyi ran into your essay Losing a Wheel almost by an accident but i really really really really utterly thoroughly enjoyed your writing and thoughts that it compelled me to write this although i am not sure if your email address even exists now.

I had similar experiences and the fact that you mentioned this "For years, I was obsessed by the idea that life could end unexpectedly at any moment." seemed almost as it was a part of my life. I am glad that I am not the only one who had thoughts similar tothese. Anyways, very nice writing style content and ideas. absolutely loved it and since it has been almost seven years,would love to know what are your feelings now about the wheel that came off??


Dear Mr. Wallace:

Re Natural Rights Don't Exist:

You wrote: "I challenge anyone who believes there is a natural right of self defense to explain to me why there is no right of rape."



Hi Jonathan

Thanks for a great article. I came across it in a link from an article titled 'No right of rape' posted on Lew Rockwells site. In fact, it was the only good part of that article.

Despite the knowledge that our 'educational' system leaves a lot to be desired it nevertheless always seems to horrify me when I see its shortcomings at first hand. That the author of such garbage - Michael S. Rozeff - can be a professor of Finance at the University at Buffalo with such a display of ignorance is totally amazing. And this after reading your article which he obviously never understood or learnt a thing from.

I certainly hope he knows more about finance and that his ingorance of ethics doesn't tarnish the ethical behaviour of those he teaches.

Best regards

Excellent article re natural rights, until the very last where you wrote:

If I propose something you do not like, tell me why it is not practical, or harms somebody, or is counter to some other useful rule; but don't tell me it offends the universe.

This begs the question of why pragmatism should be a basis for morality. Why is pragmatism any more moral than "survival of the fittest", or "enlightened self-interest", or "love your neighbor", of any of the multitudes of other proposals for way to decide between competing moral claims?

Nevertheless, thank you for your article.

Bob Felts