A Philosopher's Blog

Carlos Danger & Badness

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on July 29, 2013
, member of the United States House of Represe...

Carlos Danger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One longstanding philosophical concern is the matter of why people behave badly. One example of this that filled the American news in July of 2013 was the new chapter in the sordid tale of former congressman Anthony Weiner. Weiner was previously best known for resigning from office after a scandal involving his internet activities and his failed campaign of deception regarding said activities. Weiner decided to make a return to politics by running for mayor of New York. However, his bid for office was overshadowed by revelations that he was sexting under the nom de sext “Carlos Danger” even after his resignation and promise to stop such behavior.

While his behavior has been more creepy and pathetic than evil, it does provide a context for discussion the matter of why people behave badly.

Socrates, famously, gave the answer that people do wrong out of ignorance. He did not mean that people elected to do wrong because they lacked factual knowledge (such as being unaware that stabbing people hurts them).  This is not to say that bad behavior cannot stem from mere factual knowledge. For example, a person might be unaware that his joke about a rabbit caused someone great pain because she had just lost her beloved Mr. Bunny to a tragic weed whacker accident. In the case of Weiner, there is some possibility that ignorance of facts played a role in his bad behavior. For example, it seems that Weiner was in error about his chances of getting caught again, despite the fact that he had been caught before. Interestingly, Weiner’s fellow New York politician and Democrat Elliot Spitzer was caught in his scandal using the exact methods he himself had previously used and even described on television.  In this case, the ignorance in question could be an arrogant overestimation of ability.

While such factual ignorance might play a role in a person’s decision to behave badly, there would presumably need to be much more in play in cases such as Weiner’s.  For him to act on his (alleged) ignorance he would also need an additional cause or causes to engage in that specific behavior. For Socrates, this cause would be a certain sort of ignorance, namely a lack of wisdom.

While Socrates’ view has been extensively criticized (Aristotle noted that it contradicted the facts), it does have a certain appeal.

One way to consider such ignorance is to focus on the possibility that Weiner is ignorant of certain values. To be specific, it could be contended that Weiner acted badly because he did not truly know that he was choosing something worse (engaging in sexting) over something better (being faithful to his wife). In such cases a person might claim that he knows that he has picked the lesser over the greater, but it could be replied that doing this repeatedly displays an ignorance of the proper hierarchy of values. That is, it could be claimed that Weiner acted badly because he did not have proper knowledge of the good. To use an analogy, a person who is offered a simple choice (that is, no bizarre philosophy counter-example conditions) between $5 and $100 and picks the $5 as greater than $100 would seem to show a failure to grasp that 100 is greater than 5.

Socrates presented the obvious solution to evil: if evil arises from ignorance, than knowledge of the good attained via philosophy is just what would be needed.

The easy and obvious reply is that knowledge of what is better and what is worse is consistent with a person choosing to behave badly rather than better. To use an analogy, people who eat poorly and do not exercise profess to value health while acting in ways that directly prevent them from being healthy. This is often explained not in terms of a defect in values but, rather, in a lack of will. The idea that a person could have or at least understand the proper values but fail to act consistently with them because of weakness is certainly intuitively appealing. As such, one plausible explanation for Weiner’s actions is that while he knows he is doing wrong, he lacks the strength to prevent himself from doing so. Going back to the money analogy, it is not that the person who picks the $5 over the $100 does not know that 100 is greater than 5. Rather, in this scenario the $5 is easy to get and the $100 requires a strength the person lacks: she wants the $100, but simply cannot jump high enough to reach it.

Assuming a person knows what is good, the solution to this cause of evil would be, as Aristotle argued, proper training to make people stronger (or, at least, to condition them to select the better out of fear of punishment) so they can act on their knowledge of the good properly.

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32 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on July 29, 2013 at 9:52 am

    An interesting question is whether Weiner’s behavior was actually worse than Clinton’s?

    • Anonymous said, on July 29, 2013 at 10:09 am

      Or Filner’s. But what difference does it make? So he sent some unsolicited pictures. So what? People walk around naked in NYC, amongst other places, all the time. It’s no big deal.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 30, 2013 at 4:06 pm

        His repeated lying to the public makes it a big deal. If he had just sent junk shots and texts to women, that would be a matter for him and his wife. But, he spent campaign funding to find the “hacker”and lied to the public repeatedly. So, it became the business of the people who he represented and then the business of the folks who can vote for mayor.

        • Anonymous said, on July 30, 2013 at 5:02 pm

          “But, he spent campaign funding to find the “hacker”and lied to the public repeatedly”

          That was when he was a member of congress. He paid for that transgression by resigning his congressional seat. All of which was known before he entered the mayoral race. As for lying, all politicians do it. Wake up and smell the coffee.

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 31, 2013 at 4:20 pm

            Apparently he was still lying when he was running for mayor. He is now paying for that transgression as well: he crashed in the polls and his support is eroded.

            Politicians do lie, but they should not. The fact that the practice is common does not make it right.

            • WTP said, on July 31, 2013 at 6:01 pm

              But lying to his wife. Which doesn’t count. The fact that it is common with politicians makes it useless as a discriminator.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 30, 2013 at 4:10 pm

      Good question.

      Clinton actually did the deeds, perhaps on many occasions. Wiener just sent images and sexted. Clinton tried to evade on the basis of his definition of “sex”. Wiener engaged in a prolonged campaign of deceit, even spending campaign funds to try to back his deceit.

      Tough call in terms of moral badness. But, I’d give Wiener a slight edge because of his protracted campaign of deceit. In terms of being pathetic, Wiener wins the gold.

  2. ajmacdonaldjr said, on July 29, 2013 at 11:52 am

    Allow me play the devil’s advocate here.

    I’m assuming you consider Wiener’s actions bad for two reasons:

    1) He broke his marriage vow of fidelity;


    2) He lied.

    This having been said, I have a few questions:

    Considering the Sadian, Nietzschean, Foucauldian post-ethical society we inhabit, aren’t “good” and “bad” meaningless terms? And aren’t your references to Socrates and Aristotle quaint, at best?

    If Wiener had asked his wife for permission to sext other women, and she had granted it, would his conduct still be bad, or would it not? And who’s to say?

    If ethical and unethical – good and bad – conduct do exist, as you are asserting, then by what standard are we to make such determinations? Again: Who’s to say? Aren’t all truth claims subjective?

    Since there are no objective moral truths, isn’t objective power all there is? And isn’t this objective (political) power what Wiener is trying to attain?

    Isn’t the law, religion, and morality only for the common people, and not for the enlightened, who realize good and evil don’t exist, knowing that law, religion, and morality are nothing but noble lies, which are expedient for use in ruling over the common people? Isn’t this exactly what Plato’s Republic teaches?

    And isn’t this why politicos like Clinton, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Obama are never prosecuted for what the common people think to be crimes?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 30, 2013 at 4:19 pm

      I’m an objectivist about ethics, so “good” and “evil” are meaningful to me. Relativism collapses into subjectivism. Subjectivism collapses into nihilism. Nihilism collapses into absurdity. 🙂

      Wiener didn’t seem to commit any actual crimes, except perhaps his use of campaign money to pay for the search for the alleged hacker. Fortunately, it looks like Wiener is done-he dropped to last and his chances of winning are hovering just above zero. As it should be.

  3. T. J. Babson said, on July 30, 2013 at 6:44 am

    • WTP said, on July 30, 2013 at 9:09 pm

      Like this guy, he is politically “correct”, thus he can do whatever he wants. Who are a bunch of women to tell him otherwise?


      And still no one on CNN, GMA, NBC, CBS, ABC, the NY Times, Washington Post, etc. etc. etc. sees anything significant here. Women need to know that their silly little concerns are insignificant relative to The Greater Cause.

  4. T. J. Babson said, on July 30, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    Wow. Howard Stern interviews Sydney Leathers.

    • WTP said, on July 30, 2013 at 9:21 pm

      Her parents must be ever so proud.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 31, 2013 at 4:21 pm

      Was she famous before this, or is this another case of collateral fame?

  5. T. J. Babson said, on July 30, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    Democrats at work.

    Per Nancy Pelosi, we had to pass ObamaCare so we could find out what’s in it. Well, they passed it, and three years later we can finally say definitively what is in it: a ban on full-time employment for low-income workers.

    Not a formal ban, to be sure. But the employer mandate—which has only been delayed, not removed—functions as a tax imposed on employers for hiring anyone to work more than 29 hours a week.

    On high-income workers, this tax is negligible. If you are worth $200,000 a year to your employer, chances are he already provides you with generous health benefits, and if new regulations in ObamaCare add a few thousand dollars to the cost, it is only one or two percentage points of your salary. It is easy for you or your employers to absorb.

    Who this really hits is the low-income worker in a low-productivity job. If you’re working the Fryolator at the local fast food joint and your job is only worth $20,000 a year to your employer, and then ObamaCare imposes an additional cost of $2,000 or more, the increase in payroll is simply unsustainable. Your employer either has to lay you off or cut you down to 29 hours a week to keep you from being counted as “full time.”

    Hence the announcement that Trig’s, a Wisconsin supermarket chain, has cut the hours of hundreds of its part-time workers in order to avoid being run out of business by ObamaCare.

    White Castle has announced that all new workers it hires will be part time, under the 29-hour a week limit. And: “A recent survey from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that half of the small businesses responding said they will reduce hours or add more part-timers in response to the law.”

    Another restaurant chain franchisee describes how he got out of the business rather than deal with the new costs.

    The brutality of this policy is hard to overstate. Low-wage workers are the ones who are in greatest need of full-time employment, since they are already barely making enough to get by. And such a big incentive against full-time employment is clearly a huge blow to upward mobility for the poor. For those starting at the bottom, the very first step up the economic ladder is to go from part-time employee to full-time employee. ObamaCare has just cut off that rung.


  6. WTP said, on July 30, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    TJ, curious if you’re familiar with this “gambit”. Seen it used anywhere…from Ace of Spades:

    I do not know the name of this particular rhetorical gambit but it is widely deployed I’m sure it must have one: The gambit of the vague blanket contradiction without — and this is key — the forwarding of a concrete positive statement which one is willing to defend as more true than the denied one.

    If that’s a bit abstract, I just mean this: You’ve all been in arguments with this type of dishonest “intellectual,” the person who believes that argumentation consists of only denying any proposition you make, rarely offering any kind of debatable rationale for the contradiction, and never offering her own competing claim for debate. This sort of interlocutor is simply not playing by any sort of rules of reasoned and fair debate, but is simply being a dishonest juvenile prat.

    And if that’s still too abstract, well, I just mean this.

    The reflexive contradiction is, again, couched in such vague terms that you cannot even intelligently debate the grounds for contradiction — the tactic is designed to avoid that sort of counter-argument entirely. The entire point of the shabby gambit is to ensure the “battle” can only take place on “your ground,” because the enemy never sketches out ground of her own.


    • T. J. Babson said, on July 31, 2013 at 7:56 am

      Not sure, but liked the Monty Python sketch…

      I’ll keep an eye out for examples.

  7. T. J. Babson said, on July 31, 2013 at 7:55 am

    Democrats at work.

    It looks like Detroit may yet have competition for the distinction of America’s most poorly run city. The unprecedented triple-drop in Chicago’s bond rating and the city’s shiny new long-term debt figure—$29 billion—should have pols quaking in their boots. The Chicago Sun-Times has published some distressing numbers from Chicago’s recent audits:

    The number of “physical arrests” by Chicago Police officers declined again — from 152,740 in 2011 to 145,390 in 2012. That continues a six-year trend that coincides with the hiring slowdown that caused a dramatic decline in the number of police officers. Police made 227,576 arrests in 2006. The number of arrests has been dropping like a rock ever since….
    Emergency responses continued their steady rise — to 472,752. That’s up from 300,971 in 2006.…
    The 55 percent subsidy to retiree health care that Emanuel wants to phase out and retirees are suing to maintain cost the city $97.5 million in 2012.
    The condition of Chicago’s four city employee pension funds is growing ever more precarious. The firefighters pension fund has assets to cover just 25 percent of liabilities, followed by: Police (31 percent); Municipal Employees (38 percent) and Laborers (56 percent).

    In addition to the pension, law enforcement, and emergency response concerns that remind us of a certain bankrupt city across the lake, the report notes that three of Chicago’s four largest private employers (JP Morgan, Accenture LLP, and Northern Trust) are in finance. It seems like blue cities have a codependent relationship with the one percenters progressives claim to hate.


  8. ajmacdonaldjr said, on July 31, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    Relativism collapses into subjectivism. Subjectivism collapses into nihilism. Nihilism collapses into absurdity. And nihilism is where we are. You’re old fashioned, and out of date. Wiener did commit a crime: he told the FBI his Twitter account had been hacked. Get with it professor Mike, there are no moral standards, it all power and survival of the fittest! 😉

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 31, 2013 at 4:30 pm

      While I am not the man of the times, I might be the sort of man the times need. 🙂

      • WTP said, on July 31, 2013 at 6:03 pm

        There doesn’t seem to be a current shortage of narcissistic sophists, so maybe not.

  9. T. J. Babson said, on July 31, 2013 at 10:50 pm

    Something the Dems wish they could do, but can’t yet.

    A Cambridge primary school dinner lady has reportedly been sacked for accidentally serving pork to a Muslim pupil.

    Alison Waldock, 51, claims she served 7-year-old Khadija Darr the gammon after the youngster pointed to the dish on the lunch menu.

    It is understood the mistake was spotted by the school’s headteacher who swept the plate away from the youngster before she had chance to eat it, and the girl’s parents were then informed who complained to the school’s catering firm.

    Dinner lady of 11 years Alison was suspended while chiefs investigated.

    She insisted it was a genuine mistake but she told a national newspaper how she was dismissed a month later, following an appeal, for gross misconduct due to “negligence, carelessness or idleness”.

    British Muslim groups have branded the decision to sack her “heavy-handed” and an “overreaction”.

    While Alison today claimed she was being made a scapegoat – and is now too afraid to ever take another job as a dinner lady.

    The mum-of-two said: “I feel the school and catering company made me a scapegoat so they can’t be seen as politically incorrect.


  10. T. J. Babson said, on August 1, 2013 at 10:05 am

    Democrats at work. Is it OK now to call women you don’t like sluts? I thought the use of the “s” word signified a war on women or something. If you keep reading you’ll see that Weiner kept calling all of his interns “Monica.” You can’t make this stuff up.

    The campaign staff awoke to see their former intern, Olivia Nuzzi, on the front cover of the Daily News. Inside the paper was an article bylined by Nuzzi in which she told a rather unflattering tale of her experience working on Anthony Weiner’s mayoral bid.

    Now, Team Weiner is firing back. TPM called Weiner’s communications director Barbara Morgan to discuss an unrelated story Tuesday and she went off on a curse-filled rant about Nuzzi, describing her as a fame hungry “bitch” who “sucked” at her job. Morgan also called Nuzzi a “slutbag,” “twat,” and “cunt” while threatening to sue her.

    “Fucking slutbag. Nice fucking glamour shot on the cover of the Daily News. Man, see if you ever get a job in this town again,” said Morgan.


    • WTP said, on August 1, 2013 at 10:28 am

      Man, see if you ever get a job in this town again…Putting aside just who “Man” refers, seems this Morgan woman has a rather inflated perspective of her influence. Seems that given Weiner’s current status and position, anyone not wanting to abandon that sinking ship would have their scruples examined more than someone riding it down. Loyalty to big, significant players is viewed as virtue. Not so much in regard to loyalty to losers who are despised by the most powerful players in the party.

      • T. J. Babson said, on August 1, 2013 at 10:37 am

        I suspect Nuzzi’s prospects are better than Morgan’s. Weiner is clearly a creep, and I don’t see any downside to Nuzzi for calling him out.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 1, 2013 at 5:23 pm

          Weiner is quite a piece of defective work. At least his moral failures took him out before he got to be mayor (or so I hope) or we might have seen him trying to spend public money to “treat” his “problem.”

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 1, 2013 at 5:21 pm

      Other Democrats have criticized Weiners and Morgan-is that also Democrats at work? Once again, who speaks for the Democrats?

      • WTP said, on August 1, 2013 at 8:21 pm

        Who speaks for the Deomocrats? Certainly not any of the women who were assaulted and molested by SD mayor Filner. No Democrats wished for them to speak. At least not when it mattered. Or now, for the most part. You certainly didn’t. Wiener is much more fun, though, isn’t he?

      • T. J. Babson said, on August 1, 2013 at 10:11 pm

        Mike, have you forgotten Sandra Fluke already?

        Why is there no outrage when Weiner’s campaign manager calls an intern a slut?

        Hint. It is the same reason there is no outrage when Obama kills thousands of innocents with drones, but there is huge outrage when Bush waterboards 3 mass murderers.

      • T. J. Babson said, on August 1, 2013 at 10:27 pm

        “Other Democrats have criticized Weiners and Morgan-is that also Democrats at work?”

        Obama called Fluke. Will he call Nuzzi? Has Obama condemned Morgan?

        UPDATE: 1:29 p.m. — At the White House press briefing shortly after the news broke, Press Secretary Jay Carney outlined the reasoning behind the president’s decision to call Fluke.

        Obama, said Carney, felt that, “the kinds of personal attacks that have been directed her way have been inappropriate.”

        “The fact that our political discourse has been debased in many ways is bad enough,” he added. “It’s even worse when it is directed at a private citizen who is simply expressing her views about public policy.”


  11. T. J. Babson said, on August 1, 2013 at 11:28 pm

    Democrats at work. Congress? The One is all that matters.

    CNN has uncovered exclusive new information about what is allegedly happening at the CIA, in the wake of the deadly Benghazi terror attack.

    Four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed in the assault by armed militants last September 11 in eastern Libya.

    Sources now tell CNN dozens of people working for the CIA were on the ground that night, and that the agency is going to great lengths to make sure whatever it was doing, remains a secret.

    CNN has learned the CIA is involved in what one source calls an unprecedented attempt to keep the spy agency’s Benghazi secrets from ever leaking out.

    Read: Analysis: CIA role in Benghazi underreported

    Since January, some CIA operatives involved in the agency’s missions in Libya, have been subjected to frequent, even monthly polygraph examinations, according to a source with deep inside knowledge of the agency’s workings.

    The goal of the questioning, according to sources, is to find out if anyone is talking to the media or Congress.

    It is being described as pure intimidation, with the threat that any unauthorized CIA employee who leaks information could face the end of his or her career.

    In exclusive communications obtained by CNN, one insider writes, “You don’t jeopardize yourself, you jeopardize your family as well.”

    Another says, “You have no idea the amount of pressure being brought to bear on anyone with knowledge of this operation.”

    “Agency employees typically are polygraphed every three to four years. Never more than that,” said former CIA operative and CNN analyst Robert Baer.

    In other words, the rate of the kind of polygraphs alleged by sources is rare.

    “If somebody is being polygraphed every month, or every two months it’s called an issue polygraph, and that means that the polygraph division suspects something, or they’re looking for something, or they’re on a fishing expedition. But it’s absolutely not routine at all to be polygraphed monthly, or bi-monthly,” said Baer.

    CIA spokesman Dean Boyd asserted in a statement that the agency has been open with Congress.



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