The Un-Ethicist

Gawker.com runs one of my favorite online columns: The UnEthicist. It’s technically a parody of Randy Cohen’s “Ethicist” column that runs in the New York Times.

The original is sort of an academic twist on the classic advice column. Instead of asking “I spilled red wine all over the carpet during a party at my boss’ house; should I just have the rug cleaned, or should I pay for a whole new rug?” readers ask “Of course, I blamed the spill on an associate who joined the firm a few months ago. He got fired for not being ‘enough of a man to admit what he’d done.’ I would never have intentionally gotten the guy canned, but now that he’s out, is it ethical to lobby for my cousin to get hired for the vacant position?”

It’s a fine column and it’s good to know that the subtle topic of ethical behavior is being discussed in a paper as prestigious as the New York Times. Week after week, Randy Cohen makes the point that ethics usually comes down to just one simple idea: considering the feelings and points of view of other people.

And many of the questions are absolutely fascinating ethical dilemmas. An artist friend of yours has died. She’s left instructions that all of her artwork must be destroyed. Is it ethical to ignore the request, in the interests that her creative legacy lives on?

But oftentimes, the questioners take the most trivial of issues and make them seem like Sophie’s Choice. Or, they’re asking a question like “I donated $3.2 million dollars plus both my kidneys to charity last year; is it ethical to have donated only one lobe of my liver as well?” which is clearly just engineered to get their name and their good deeds published in the international newspaper of record.

Gawker publishes a new edition of “The Unethicist” after each column appears in the Times. Gabriel Delahave answers the exact same questions as Randy Cohen…informed from a slightly different worldview.

I’m plugging this column because it’s usually a great read, but also because this week’s outing is exceptional. I read his response to the second question and thought “You know, the problem with the sort of people who even consider doing something like what this woman is considering is that they never get called onto the carpet as surgically and effectively as Delahave just has.” Usually, they hear something diplomatic (like Randy Cohen’s original answer)…which isn’t a hard enough slap to knock any sense into them.

Instead, they usually hear something diplomatic. Like the original response.

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