A Philosopher's Blog

Weiner Resigns

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 17, 2011
Anthony Weiner

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After dragging out the tragic drama, Anthony Weiner finally decided to resign his position. This puts him in stark contrast with fellow New Yorker Chris Lee. After his shirtless-photo-Craigslist scandal, Lee promptly resigned.

Weiner’s career-ending injury was, of course, self-inflicted. As I have said before, the fatal blow was not his virtual infidelity. It was, of course, his decision to launch a prolonged campaign of deceit. If he had simply admitted to his behavior, then he would have been regarded as creepy but he might have not have been pushed to resign. Without the attempted cover up, the bump in his briefs would have probably been a brief bump in his career.

It might be argued that his virtual misdeed would be sufficient grounds for his resignation. After all, Chris Lee resigned after attempting to have an affair. This does have a certain appeal. After all, a member of congress is supposed to serve the interests of his district and he cannot do his job properly if he is caught up in a scandal. This does have considerable appeal. To use an analogy, many jobs (including my own) restrict the outside employment that an employee can undertake. The reason is, of course, that outside employment can interfere with the primary job. While being caught up in a scandal is not a job, it can have the same effect by consuming far too much time and focus. Of course, if the person is able to keep the scandal from impacting his duties, then this argument would fail in that case.

It can also be argued that members of congress who cannot keep their own members under control are unfit for office. This falls under the general question of what sort of unethical behavior (or violation of social norms) would be grounds for expecting a member of congress to resign.

One obvious answer is to refer to the rules specified by congress. As with any job, there are conditions of employment and these set the limits of allowed behavior. Provided that these limits are not violated, then there would seem to be a lack of justification to expect a resignation-even when the person behaves in ways that are regarded as inappropriate or even unethical.  For example, a university professor cannot be fired merely for having an affair. Naturally, having an affair with a co-worker or student could be grounds for dismissal, but not because it is an affair.

Naturally enough, if a resignation is expected, this often means that there are not actual grounds for kicking the person out As far as I know, inappropriate (but not illegal) sexual behavior is not grounds for being given the boot from congress. Lying, except for the obvious case of doing so under oath, also does not seem to be against the rules. If it were, then the House and Senate would be rather empty.

Obviously enough, people are sometimes expected to resign even when they have not actually violated the rules. In the case of politicians, this seems to most often happen in cases involving sex. This, not surprisingly, reflects America’s rather unhealthy obsessions regarding sex.

It can be argued that politicians who are involved in sex scandals that do not break the relevant rules should still be pushed to resign. This could be done on ethical grounds. While we tend to regard politicians as an unethical lot, we still expect them to behave in ways we consider appropriate when it comes to sex and regard such violations as unethical. A rather appealing argument is that if a married politician will betray his wife, then he cannot be trusted and hence should leave office.

An obvious reply is that as long as the politician has not actually acted in ways that are relevant to his job, then his betrayal of his wife is not relevant. After all, a man can be relentlessly unfaithful to his wife and still be very competent and capable in his job.

Another appealing argument is that if a politician is engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior and has tried to conceal it, then it would seem reasonable to suspect that he might be up to other misdeeds and concealing them. The obvious reply is that such behavior (provided that it does not cross over into the criminal realm) is not actually relevant to job performance and the person’s competence. After all, I suspect that most married men are involved in some degree of what would be considered inappropriate behavior, yet they are able to function in their jobs.

In Weiner’s case, his resignation does seem to be the right thing to do. The scandal has reduced his ability to represent his district and he has shown that he has rather serious flaws in regards to ethics and judgment. He should, of course, have the chance to redeem himself. However, he needs to do this on his own time.

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Scandal & Resignation

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 14, 2011
Anthony Weiner

Image via Wikipedia

After his attempt to have an affair via Craigslist was exposed, Chris Lee apologized and resigned. On the face of it, that was the honorable and right thing to do.

Anthony Weiner’s case is slightly different. Rather than using Craigslist in an attempt to have an affair, he used various means of communication (Twitter, phone, etc.) to send photos and engage in talk about sex. He alleges that he did not have an actual affair and had no intention of doing so. Since his credibility is rather low, it is not a matter of certitude that he did not have an actual affair or that he did not attempt to initiate one. However, his virtual affairs were morally unacceptable and his lying was certainly unethical.

As to whether he is worse or better than Lee is something of a tough call. While Lee intended to have an affair, he apparently did not succeed. Weiner, however, engaged in ongoing virtual affairs and then engaged in a prolonged campaign of deceit. I am inclined to say that Weiner is worse.

As far as whether a politician  should resign after a sex scandal, much depends on the specifics of the case. However, some general comments can be made.

On one hand, if the actions are not illegal and do not violate the specific rules governing the office (such as congressional ethic), then the actions would not seem to warrant resignation. After all, what would justify expecting a person to resign would seem to require that it be actually relevant to the job. So, for example, if a congressman has an affair using his own resources, then he would not seem to have acted in a way that violated the conditions of his job. If a congressman used federal money to pay for his hookers, then that would be a rather different matter. On this view, Lee need not have resigned.

On the other hand, such a scandal can indicate that the politician’s moral character is deeply flawed in ways that render him (or her) untrustworthy. Unlike many jobs, a high level politician is expected to act in ethical ways and not grossly violate community standards. While this seems odd to say, politician’s depend on their reputation and a politician who has been involved in sex scandal often damages this asset to the point were they can no longer effectively function. While we will tolerate all sorts of sneaky dealings and we expect politicians to lie, the public is still very intolerant of sexual straying on the part of politicians. Bill Clinton is, however, an obvious example. As such, there is also the concern that such a politician will damage his party, thus also giving a practical reason to resign.

The worst part of the Weiner case is not the sexual aspect. That made him into a joke. The worst part is the campaign of lies. While we do expect deceit from politicians, that degree of unrelenting deception in this matter showed that Weiner is quite willing to lie in an unrelenting manner. It also shows that he has some rather weak reasoning skills-at least in certain areas. As such, it seems reasonable to question whether or not he is actually capable of representing the people of his district. There is also the question of whether or not they want him-which is something that must be decided by the due process of the next election. Since there are not any real competency requirements for most political offices, the confidence of the voters seems to be the only real test.




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Craigslist Red Light District Going Dark (Maybe)

Posted in Technology by Michael LaBossiere on May 13, 2009

Craigslist has yielded to pressure from a multistate attorney general task force and is supposed to be cleaning up its “red light district.” This part of Craigslist was previously titled “erotic services” and was well known as a place where sexual services could be purchased. Naturally, those posting services had to be somewhat circumspect and generally used abbreviations (“bj” for “blow job”, for example) and some other “commodity” in place of money (“skittles” instead of dollars, for example). So, a prostitute might list that she will provide a bj for 50 skittles. Of course, this did not really fool anyone-it merely allowed people to willingly turn a blind eye towards what was really going on. The same sort of thing is done when people advertise many “escort” and “massage” services.

So, how is Craigslist going to clean up what might be called the best little whorehouse on the internet? Step one of the plan is to replace “erotic services” with the “adult services.” Of course, “adult” seems almost worse than “erotic.” After all, the euphemism for a pornographic movie is “adult film“-which can be bought in an adult bookstore. Obviously, changing the name does not really change the reality. So, on to the more robust steps.

Advertisements posted in the “adult services” section must be from legal adult service providers. Naturally, these never have any connection to selling sexual services, so everything will be fine. Of course, this does help cover Craiglists’ butt legally.  Most importantly, each ad is also supposed to undergo a manual review, presumably making sure that no one is trading “bjs” for “skittles.” Each ad will also cost $10, thus detering whores and gigolos who can’t scrape together ten skittles.

While it could be argued that the folks at craigslist are not responsible for what the people who post ads really offer (like sex for money), they certainly seem to have an obligation to keep their listings clear of services that are clearly illegal. After all, knowingly helping to enable criminal activity certainly seems something that would also be illegal. Since many of the ads in Craigslist were rather blatant, they cannot use the defense of plausible ignorance of what was being offered.

There is also the moral issue, which is distinct from the legal issue. On one hand, prostitution is often regarded as immoral. Some argue this point on religious grounds or because they have a general opposition to sex. Other people argue that it is immoral because it is oppressive, harmful and degrading. Assuming that prostitution is immoral, then it would be wrong of the folks at Craigslist to knowingly assist people in such immoral activities. While they might not know the content of specific ads, they certainly do know the sort of stuff that was posted. As such, they would be tainted a bit with the immorality of these activities.

On the other hand, a free market ethics would endorse people selling whatever it is they wish to sell to customers who wish to purchase it. So, if we let the market decide, then prostitution would be acceptable.  Of course, such unlimited free market approaches would be a path towards madness and evil, so we would probably want to limit it a bit. For example, perhaps prostitution would be acceptable if the prostitutes are not coerced and are renting out their bodies of their own free will. In any case, the free market seems to have a significant demand for sexual services.

One last question is a practical one: will the changes work? Assuming that the folks at Craigslist do what they say they will do, then the answer would be “yes, mostly.” The manual screenings will catch any obvious attempts to sell sex illegally and probably many that are not so obvious. Of course, it would be unreasonable to expect Craigslist’s system to work perfectly. It is also unreasonable to think that this will have a significant, lasting impact on prostitution. While Craigslist did make it easier, I am confident that prostitutes and customers will find other ways to hook up. In fact, I would not be surprised if some clever person came up with a new listing service (“skittleslist” perhaps?) to provide a new place to hang that red light.

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