It is asserting that the obvious is the opposite of what it is, hoping that enough people will be deluded, confused or corrupted to follow a fraudulent argument while convincing yourself as well. 36C  argues that the application of integrity, an ethical value, to wrongdoing cleanses the wrongdoing. Identifying and responding to ethical challenges is more difficult than ever. 11B. This rationalization has been used to excuse ethical misconduct since the beginning of civilization. “Judge not, lest ye not be judged” (Matthew 7:1) is frequently cited to support the position that it is inherently wrong to judge the conduct of others. If someone really is making the argument that an action is no longer unethical because so many people do it, then that person is either in dire need of ethical instruction, or an idiot. Lincoln, Jefferson, Oprah—it’s easy to cherry-pick flaws among the great and famous, but absurd to use those aspects of their personalities as objects of emulation. It was unconstitutional then, and it’s unconstitutional now. A behaviour devoid of good, it is bad act or an illegal act punishable by law. This is yet another variation on the most common and insidious rationalization of them all and #1 on the list: “Everybody Does It.”, The Golden Rationalization has many variations, among them…. The idea was, and is, to point out how ruthless romance can be, and how passion drives lovers to violate their own ethical principles. Marion Barry’s Misdirection, or “If it isn’t illegal, it’s ethical.“. 68. When the harm done is voluntary and unethical, however, and not dictated by a prior duty or legitimate orders, it may breach both the ethical principles of reciprocity and the categorical imperative. Predicting that another individual’s unethical conduct might follow from one’s own acts, good or bad, is irrelevant to the analysis of whether that subsequent conduct is right or wrong. 4. All of the Mount Everest climbers who left a stricken colleague behind to die protested later that they were certain the next climber behind them (or the next, perhaps) would stop to help the man. As one of Clarence Darrow’s favorite poems says. Like any other conduct, “punching up” is ethical when it comports with standards or ethical behavior—when it is fair, just, proportionate, and civil. If the argument is made in good faith, the speaker is an incompetent dolt; usually it is the desperate last resort of a someone who has found that their real arguments are inadequate or unpersuasive. The Futility Illusion is just a sad alternative to courage. The argument is silly in Scooby Doo cartoons, and is even more ridiculous in real life. The Irrelevant Mitigation: “He’ll/She’ll/They’ll get over it.”. Contrived Consent, or “The Rapist’s Defense.”. Nobody cares! Absolutely, ending “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was long in coming and necessary, but it is still a disgrace that it took so long to end a disgraceful policy. Indeed, this single, admittedly horrible act is a tiny part of his life! Course Hero is not sponsored or endorsed by any college or university. More than 70 percent of managers think that the most common example of unethical behavior is when employees lie to cover up a mistake they've done, or take shortcuts in work tasks. I didn’t steal the money from the treasury! By identifying and explaining the processes in which people justify unethical behavior, managers and teachers can employ moral imagination -- the ability to place oneself in an objective, dispassionate position to evaluate actions and consider alternatives -- to counteract possible rationalizations. Sure, it would have been easier to fool ourselves with #32A. I’ll miss you, but I’m pretty sure I’ll get over it. We do not judge the ethics of conduct according to the virtues, or lack of same, of its object. This is applied by the doer, who reasons, “I am a good and ethical person. In #57, the unethical actor substitutes himself for his victim, and his values and needs as well. Indeed he is. A lawyer is bound to seek her clients’ legal objectives, and is required not to have any regard for the opposing party’s needs and interests at all. Some of these are honest misconceptions, some are intentional distortions, some are self-serving rationalizations, and some, upon examination, simply make no sense at all. John Lyly’s Rationalization, Or “All’s fair in love and war“, This popular and well-traveled rationalization was first put into print by  16th century poet John Lyly, who wrote in his novel “Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit,” published in 1579, “the rules of fair play do not apply in love and war.” The tip-off that this is a rationalization, and was so even in 1579, is that everything wasn’t considered fair even in war once mankind began civilizing beyond caves and clubs. Tortured or inexplicable defenses of otherwise clearly wrong behavior in public dialogue are often the product of cognitive dissonance. I expected everyone to approach theatrical projects the same way, professionally, meaning that the mission and the duty were paramount. We made the decision quickly, and what my mother “would have wanted” was never a factor. By all means, mitigating the harm is an ethical obligation, but the core conduct is usually unaltered. Neither principle, however, means that the incriminating evidence is less true because of how it was uncovered, or the conduct behind it less wrong. 36. The most infamous example of this rationalization is, of course, the rapist’s defense that the victim either was inviting a sexual assault by flirtatious conduct or provocative dress, or secretly “wanted it.” This is also a common theme of totalitarian rationalizations: the peasants don’t want to have to think for themselves. Most people, for example, will at some point tell a lie, or benefit themselves at the expense of others. The Vendetta Excuse: “It’s not the cheating, it’s the cheater”. 25C. What they mean is that they didn’t like the choices they had, and taking the unethical option involved less sacrifice, less controversy, less criticism, less effort…in short, less courage, than doing the right thing. Finger pointing is how ethical standards are decided and enforced, by objective and responsible citizens and institutions pointing fingers and saying, “You are right, you are wrong,” and explaining why, fairly and reasonably. The Don knows that drugs are exactly like liquor, prostitution and gambling. Positivity is a form of self-deception, like all rationalizations. Rationalization 51 is  The Apathy Defense, or “Nobody Cares.” The theory there  is that as long as “nobody “is bothered by the unethical conduct, it’s ethical. Get the informed consent, 8A devotees, and then we’ll talk. I almost called this the “Frosting on a Turd” Rationalization. #42. The Romantic’s Excuse, or “I care so much!”, We all admire great passion. A.  Barry Bonds’ Pass:  “He didn’t need to cheat.”. Prohibition was sold using #57A. Indeed, that rationalization usually is the mark of a coward, for what he is really saying is “I am safe from any consequences of my viciousness, because any response against me will be seen as “punching down.” As in the playground cases, this is frequently an unwise assumption. Several states have also abolished the insanity defense altogether, to which I say, “Good.” One must be accountable for one’s actions, regardless of what motivated them. Some excuse Bonds on the grounds that whatever advantage he thought he was gaining by using PEDs, they were imaginary. We can also arm ourselves by looking after ourselves, both mentally and physically. The Unethical Tree in the Forest, or “What they don’t know won’t hurt them,”36. It is an appeal to embrace acts that can do wide-ranging harm to society, civilization, human aspirations and liberty, because un-named, speculative  lives can be saved. They are all haters, hate is bad, and it’s the haters who are the problem, not the corruption, dishonesty, and betrayals they criticize. But the misconduct of a victim never justifies unethical conduct directed against that victim. 25B, The Irresistible Impulse, or “I can’t help myself!”, It was a close call where to file this one. This is the common rationalization of the constant screw-up, whose explanation for always getting in trouble, continually making others angry or upset, encountering hostility or sanction in employment, and failing at personal relationships, is that everyone is out to get him or her, for reasons unknown. Because we each are responsible for making our own ethical judgments, and to delegate those judgments to a third party, especially to a third party who is not objective or likely to be affected by conflicts of interest, makes neither logical nor ethical sense. Ethics is far broader than law, which is a system of behavior enforced by the state with penalties for violations. The Golden Rationalization, or “Everybody does it;” 6. According to one study, there are four common rationalizations for justifying misconduct: Saul W. Gellerman, “Why ‘Good’ Managers Make Bad Ethical Choices,” Harvard Business Review on Corporate Ethics (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2003), 59. We all know that it is impossible to be perfect, so the use of this rationalization cleverly turns a very  easy form of ethical conduct—in this case, basic manners and civility—into a challenge that no one should be expected to meet. Citizenship, an ethical value, requires obeying the law, but a lot of people convince themselves that that laws are voluntary, and that it is somehow ethical to violate “bad” ones, defined, of course, as those that are inconvenient, burdensome, or that stop you from doing what you want to do. For fiscal year 2015, the documents show, it was the Obama White House that proposed to cut the NIH’s budget from the previous year. Living in the here and now, even when faced with loss or terminal illness, allows us to make every second count. Second, 36C also repeats the disingenuous assertion inherent in #19. Identify the following common drivers of unethical behavior. Of course, much of the time, especially when The Idiot’s Proof is offered by journalists, pundits and politicians, “some say” really means “I say, but I don’t have  any justification for my opinion, or the guts to say it directly.”. Those who use The Romantic’s Excuse are playing with the cognitive dissonance scale…. It was, John Lyly, who wrote in his novel “Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit,” published in 1579, “the rules of fair play do not apply in love and war.” The tip-off that this is a rationalization, and was so even in 1579, is that everything wasn’t considered fair even in war once mankind began civilizing beyond caves and clubs. #29. Complexity doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility of seeking the right approach to these matters. Some of the worst crimes in human history have been rationalized by lovers. Nepotism. 19. It is a legitimate rebuttal for those who want to avoid any course of action because of fear of a worst case scenario, however remote. It’s not wrong, because nobody gives a damn. The presumption that lack of enforcement or punishment for unethical conduct means that the conduct is no longer wrong is illogical, self-serving, unjustified and unwarranted. As a rationalization, it posits the absurd argument that because there is other wrongdoing by others that is similar, as bad or worse than the unethical conduct under examination, the wrongdoer’s conduct shouldn’t be criticized or noticed. or “I’m just giving the people what they want!”. It isn’t ethical to violate what you think is a bad law while it is still a law, because this creates an obvious breach of the Rule of Universality: if everyone followed that course, we would have chaos and anarchy. The fact that an individual “owns” his or her misconduct doesn’t make the misconduct any less unethical, and doesn’t justify reduced accountability or consequences. During the various interviews as the entire set of Ebola protocols and their execution were shown to be ineffective and ill-considered, I watched one official after another say, “We have to stop pointing fingers and fix the problem.” How can any problem be fixed without identifying who screwed up, and making certain they either don’t do it again, or are not in the position to do it again? An unethical act is just as unethical, whether it is performed by a saint, a hero, or a villain. One society has been convinced, though legitimate, persistent, coherent and ethically valid arguments, that a common practice or conduct is bad for society, society can stop or seriously inhibit that unethical practice of behavior, either by law, regulation, or best of all, the evolution of cultural consensus. The Dead Horse-Beater’s Dodge, or “This can’t make things any worse”. It means that they have proven their value and work habits with their past performance, and thus have been deemed worthy of compensation as a form of insurance against the possibility that a volunteer will behave as you have, which is to say, unethically. The decision-maker didn’t care enough about the people to choose another course. “Don’t point fingers!”, or its common variation, “Stop pointing fingers!” provides protection for the very people who most deserve to be pointed to, allowing them to deny culpability, avoid the just consequences of their failings, and best of all, divert appropriate attention from what they have done or not done to the supposed meanness and vindictiveness of critics who want to make sure the same mistakes don’t occur again, especially with the same officials in charge. “It was a joke” is not a justification in every case, never when it really wasn’t a joke, and often even when humor was the intent. Note that this does not in any way address or disprove the charge; indeed, resorting to this tactic usually means that the critic is correct. If Winston Churchill, allowing Coventry to be firebombed in WWII in order to protect the secret that the Allies had broken the Enigma Code, had later explained that “it wasn’t personal,” the comment would have been viewed as callous, and rightly so. The doctor’s defense was that she would have lost her sight anyway because she didn’t follow the treatment prescribed by another doctor. It is a particularly unethical version of the “appeal to authority” fallacy. Being a real  irresponsible, narcissistic, rude, boorish, uncivil, nasty, destructive, ignorant, impulsive untrustworthy and despicable creep is no more ethical than being a phony one. >According to deficit principle, a satisfied need is not a motivator of behavior, the social need it. He is a capitalist without scruples, and #23 is a capitalist rationalization, one that demonstrates vividly why conscience-free capitalism is societal poison, sometimes literally. 49. 41. The Unethical Role Model: “He/She would have done the same thing,” which employs misdeeds of presumably admirable figures of the past as precedent for misdeed in the future, this is an appeal to irrelevant authority. Misuse of company time. It validates ethics. When the wrong resolution is chosen, the fact that the issue was complex is irrelevant to the fact that the final decision was unethical. First, it may be that the assumption that someone else would have taken the same unethical course is wrong, and, of course, it is just speculation anyway. Everyone knows that Scooby Doo cartoons invariably end with the captured miscreant, who typically was pretending to be a ghost, a ghoul, or some kind of monster to frighten people away from a gold mine/ buried treasure/ crime scene or something else, being unmasked and stating ruefully, “I would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids!” Needless to say, this is neither a defense nor a mitigation. Any of us, no matter how virtuous, are capable of becoming “the bad guy”…especially when we are convinced that we are not. How, asks the fictionalized version of Confederate Captain Henry Wirz in “The Andersonville Trial,” can a post-Civil War military tribunal fairly hold him responsible for cruelly mistreating the Union prisoners in the Georgia prison camp as he was ordered to, when if he refused he would have been shot, and his successor would have abused them anyway? The idea may arise from a misunderstanding of the exclusionary rule in criminal procedure, which holds that evidence or confessions of guilt obtained by law enforcement officials by illegal or unconstitutional means cannot be used in the case against the defendant, and the so-called “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” doctrine, which holds that all evidence found as a result of illegally obtained information anywhere in the investigative process must be excluded from trial. 39. Not everyone can use 11B: just kings, sons and daughters of billionaires and other fortunate people who refuse to admit that they have been more lucky than good. The issue in which this rationalization was raised on Ethics Alarms was a news story about a grandmother who killed her cat and kittens to punish her grandchildren. For example, Bill Clinton didn’t make “one mistake” regarding Monica Lewinsky, but hundreds of them, involving lies, deceits, cover-ups and betrayals. The issue that prompted the use of this rationalization in an Ethics Alarms thread was taking photographs of strangers in public without their consent. If it’s not unethical to him, it’s not unethical. We do this in order to make that behavior seem optimal, even though it is likely not. One of the more pathetic excuses incompetent and negligent individuals try to employ when they have made bad decisions is to argue that a better decision would have not made any difference, so, by implication, it wasn’t such a bad decision after all. Making a joke, after all, is a little like shooting a gun: whether or not it hits the mark, you’re responsible for the result. 2A boils down to “He deserves it.” #65 boils down to “There’s no need to be ethical to someone more powerful than me.”. Journalists and pundits are often the worst devotees of #65. And why? That is good fortune, not ethics. It is not, however. You should not have to be paid to meet your commitments and obligations. FDR was vindictive and ruthless, but those aren’t the qualities that made him a great President. In 2013, for instance, Congress gave the NIH more than what the White House had requested, but then $1.5 billion was taken away by sequestration. Professionals. It doesn’t. Consequentialism, or  “It Worked Out for the Best” for its dubious logic, but is less demanding. A habit I often cite as the best way to use the Rationalizations list is to stop cold any time you hear one of them coming out of your mouth, and treat it as an ethics alarm. Rationalization #56 uses presumed virtue to claim that a potential actor is too good to do something…without ever making the case that the considered conduct is really wrong or unwise. The logic is flawed (it is the same logic as in The King’s Pass, #11, which holds that societal valuable people would be held to lower standards of conduct than everyone else) and dangerous, encouraging the reckless not to consider the substance of a course of action, but only its motivations. You may have to delve deeply to find something good in what you are experiencing, but there will always be something and there will always be someone else in the world who is either worse off than you are,  or at least going through something similar. Rationalization 8, The Trivial Trap  or “No harm no foul!”, relies on #3. A 2018 Smithsonian special decribed the discovery of the “Mars,” a sunken Swedish warship that was built between 1563 and 1564. Even if neither of these are the final result, the individual’s determination to do right is always desirable in itself. The law takes the same approach. Among the rationalizations it hangs out with are 1. 11. “Think of the Children!” is virtually always used as a short-term argument, never expanding analysis into a more inclusive and responsible framework by considering, for example, all of the children who may be be harmed in the future because of necessary action not taken, out of concern for children now. Small but unethical short cuts, lazy mistakes, careless inattention and routine sloppiness do so as well. What is usually abandoned is respect and fairness. The Dealer’s Excuse. This has long been the refrain in the Barry Bonds argument for  baseball’s uber cheater to be admitted to the MLB Hall of Fame. 32. Our duty is to act to ensure that the final days, hours and minutes of everyone we share existence with are as endurable, free and painless as possible, not merely to indulge ourselves at their expense because their discomfort will be  limited. Examples of this are everywhere. 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