Not Quite The Last Word

It’s not quite the last word in my Ethics, Analytics and the Duty of Care course, but it’s the beginning of what the last word will probably look like.

I mean, it, it’s not even whether they are a majority or a minority. I think, you know, the essential question is, are they disadvantaged? Are they oppressed, are they in some way less able to participate in the culture that defines? What is ethical? What is right? What is good?

And maybe that’s the hopeful note that we can end on. You know. Ethics is something that by its nature belongs to all of us. There’s no subgroup, majority or minority, that has a privileged position over it.

And we recognize that when we ask those who have the least opportunity to make their views known, when we ask them first, what they would perceive as ethical understanding. That somebody who lives in a shack in Malawi with an annual income of $42 has as much a stake in the discussion of ethics as you or I or anyone on the planet and therefore needs to be involved in the decision of what counts as ethical and what doesn’t.

It’s not a John Rawls social contract kind of thing, because that inherently does favor the already wealthy, because, you know, it’s all about negotiations and legalisms and things like that. It’s a much more messy thing. You know, this 60,000 parameters thing.

But we don’t get to that point unless we make sure that this person in the shack in Malawi is the first person we ask. And I think if I had to summarize my ethical position, it would be something like that. And that very much reflects the influence of the duty of care philosophy. But it also reflects, perhaps, the aspirations of the other ethical theories to maybe raise us up to be something more than what the evidence on the ground says we actually are.

See the whole discussion here:

Ethics Leadership

Our Leaders and the New Morality

Today we were witness in Canada to the sight of government and church leaders half-apologizing or non-apologizing for the mass unmarked graves of children who died at their institutes of learning.

These institutes, known as ‘residential schools’, were created with the explicit purpose of erasing the cultural identify of indigenous children by separating them from their families and strictly regulating their learning and behaviour.

Despite being told of the mass graves by witnesses during the Truth and Reconciliation hearings neither government nor religious leaders felt it would be important to search for the children’s remains and acknowledge their deaths.

Now everybody is shocked, but they shouldn’t be. It’s the same pattern of abuse that we’ve come to expect from today’s self-professed guardians of morality.

Police, for example, were first told of the decades of abuse of boys by the Christian Brothers at Mt. Cashel orphanage in 1975, but it was years before anyone heard about it and not until 1989 that some newspapers first began documenting the story.

The abuse by religious leaders was not one of a kind. The story of abusive hockey coaches is well known in Canada and one that continues to surface even this year. There’s missing and murdered Indigenous women. There’s a long list of excessive force incidents by Canadian police. Canadian military leaders have resigned in disgrace after presiding over a culture of sexual abuse.

None of this is meant to diminish the offensiveness of the mass graves and the residential school system. These are in a category of their own (at least in Canada) and are a complete and utter disgrace. It is only to point to a pattern.

It is long past time we stopped looking to government, corporate and religious leaders for any guidance on morality. They have shown us time and again how deeply immoral they have become.

Each time you think there is a line they couldn’t cross, they seem to find a way to sink to new depths of depravity. You would think that scenes of dozens of dead children would have deterred gun rights advocates in the U.S., but they didn’t even slow down. Similarly, the revelation of mass graves has done nothing to deter those who celebrate their authors today.

To be frank, I think the people complaining about ‘cancel culture’ and ‘political correctness’ and saying ‘history is history’ should just shut up.

I, for one, have had it with their fake moralizing. Go peddle your hypocrisy elsewhere. We know who the immoral people are, and it’s not the people calling for diversity, inclusion, equity and reconciliation.

It’s not worth much in the face of such tragedy, but to my Indigenous friends and colleagues, I would like to apologize on behalf of myself and any of my ancestors or compatriots who played any part in this outrage. I’m sorry. Sincerely, genuinely, deeply sorry.

I am committed to genuine truth and reconciliation. At the very least, we can begin with a full and proper investigation, and at the very least, we can stop celebrating the memory and morality of those who perpetuated these crimes. That, at least, would be a start.

Cancel Culture Ethics


Their accusations are their confessions.

Remember that. It’s how we need to consider the many and varied arguments we hear daily from conservative critics. It’s a common tactic. It’s what Freud called “projection”, where you identify your own faults, and ‘project’ them on to others, accusing them of the things you yourself are guilty of.

It was used to devastating effect by the previous U.S. president. Any time he was suspected (usually justifiably) of some form of corruption or malpractice, he would wrap up the suspicion in some new terminology (which Scott Adams called a “linguistic killshot“) and fling it back against the opposition as a direct accusation.

And we need to be clear that this is exactly what the term ‘cancel culture’ is. It’s an attempt by the people most likely to censor and silent opponents to accuse their opponents of exactly that sort of behaviour. It’s effective because it’s targeted at the audience least likely to stifle opposition, and therefore most sensitive to the criticism.

But remember: their accusations are their confessions.

The people accusing us of ‘cancel culture’ because we have decided to call an end to hateful and abusive behaviour are themselves the most likely to belittle, censor and silence opponents. That’s how they keep their power.

Despite their constant cries of censorship, conservatives dominate social media. Despite their accusations of left-leaning bias in newsrooms and on college campuses, conservatives exert a disproportional influence on both. Their cries of censorship in social media are baseless. And lets not forget the preponderance of conservative thought in organizations as varied as religious institutions, the police, military, schools of business and corporate boardrooms.

They would like us to believe that “we’re just the same, you and I.” They would like us to believe that if we were in the same position, we would do the same thing, that we would preserve our privilege, that we would take advantage of the weak, that we despise the poor and the marginalized just as much as they do. And their ‘proof’, they say, is cancel culture.

Except – no. The very same action, taken in the defense of the marginalized, is not the same as that action taken with the intent to oppress one. And this can be seen in the nature and character of the defense, how it is directed toward the action, and not the person, how it leaves even the attacker no weaker than when he started.

Their acts of silencing and oppression have no beginning and, it seems, no end…

  • like when the state of Mississippi banned Sesame Street, calling it “too controversial” because it had black actors
  • like when @ForAmerica attacked the Macy’s Day Parade for “blindsiding parents” because it dared to show two girls kiss
  • like when conservative ‘free speech’ website Parler starts banning accounts for posting left wing ideas
  • like when a conservative government bans universities from teaching gender studies
  • like when Republicans in Georgia pass laws promoting voter suppression

You know and I know I could make this list longer and longer without much effort (but with more effort than it might seem, because conservatives has also flooded Google search with these accusations, making their own transgressions harder to find).

Every time a conservative complains about censorship or ‘cancel culture’ we need to remind ourselves, and to say to them,

“You are the one complaining about cancel culture because you are the one who uses silencing and suppression as political tools to advance your own interests and maintain your own power.

“You are complaining about cancel culture because the people you have always silenced are beginning to have a voice, and they are beginning to say, we won’t be silent any more.

“And when you say the people working against racism and misogyny and oppression are silencing you, that tells us exactly who – and what – you are.”

“Your accusations are your confessions.”

Ethics Immigration

Failing the Values Test

This article in the Gazette offers examples of five questions from the new Quebec values test. I confess that if I answered them honestly, I would fail. Let me illustrate.

1. In Quebec, women and men have the same rights and this is inscribed in law. True. False.

The same rights as whom? Each other? Other men and women?

In fact, the people with the most rights are rich old white men. There is plenty of evidence that the justice system is tilted to favour them. I have seen numerous examples of this with my own eyes, both in Quebec and elsewhere.

The people with the fewest rights are young indigenous women. Especially if they’re missing or murdered. Perhaps the mechanisms of the law will be moved to help them. Maybe. Unless a rich old white man is indifferent to their plight. Which is most of the time.

Maybe if the question had asked whether they have the same rights as each other in theory. Though even then, it’s hard to make the case.

2. Choose the illustration or illustrations that indicate who is allowed to marry in Quebec. The illustrations depict: two men; two women and one man; two women; a man and a woman; two men and one woman.

The putatively correct answers are those with fewer than three people. It is not explained why the cut-off is two. This is especially ironic coming right after the question suggesting that everyone has the same rights.

A more challenging question here would be to ask whether old men can marry children (whether one, two, or many). Or whether people can act as though they’re married even though they’re not. Things like that.

I’d probably get this one right because it asks a factual question about what the law states, not a theoretical question about how it’s applied.

3. Identify which situations involved discrimination. A job refused: to a pregnant woman; to a person lacking the required diploma; to a person because of their ethnic background.

They are of course all situations that involve discrimination.

The intent of course is to ask which of these involves discrimination prohibited by law. But of course there’s the law as written, and the law as applied, and these are two different things.

For example: the Montreal Canadiens refuse to employ a pregnent women as a power forward on the second line. Is this because she is a woman, because she is pregnant, or because she didn’t make the team? Bonus points if you can answer in the case where the player is Hayley Wickenheiser.

Discrimination takes place in fact, and is often sanctioned in law, even if it is the sort of discrimination that is prohibited in theory.

4. Since March 27, 2019 by virtue of the secularism of state law, all new police officers may not wear religious symbols. True. False.

So, this is false.

Christians may wear their small crosses under their uniforms. Jedi can wear their Star Wars underwear.

The only religious symbols actually prohibited by the law are the visible religious symbols worn by some minorities that make Christians uncomfortable – turbans, kirpans, yarmulke, Odin-horns.

5. What is the official language of Quebec? French; Spanish; English; French and English.

Canada is officially bilingual, and Quebec is a part of Canada, so the answer is ‘French and English’.

That’s why when you’re in an airplane in Montreal, as I was just a couple of days ago, all the announcements are in English and French. Also Arabic, which is what was spoken by 90% of the people in the plane.

French is the official language of the government of Quebec, but that (of course) is not the same things as Quebec.


That’s the problem with a values test.

I get that the government wants to get the message across to new immigrants that women are equal, gay marriage is permitted, job discrimination is prohibited, there is a secular government, and there is a common (linguistic) culture.

But the way to establish this is not to put the values in a test, unless the questions in the test are very carefully worded. The test provided here requires the respondent to answer with known falsehoods in four of the five questions.

It’s also unreasonable to require that new immigrants share a set of values and attributes a large number of people already living in the country do not possess.

We should promote our values, not by forcing them on people, but by living them, and proving by our own example how tolerance and respect for others creates a better society.

Ethics Justice

Handmaiden to Despots?

Responding to Heather Morrison, who writes,

As any movement grows and flourishes, decisions made will turn out to have unforeseen consequences. Achieving the goals of the movement requires critical reflection and occasional changes in policy and procedure.The purpose of this post is to point out that the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) appears to be inadvertently acting as a handmaiden to at least one despotic government, facilitating dissemination of works subject to censorship and rejecting open access journals that would be suitable venues for critics of the despotic government. There is no blame and no immediately obvious remedy, but solving a problem begins with acknowledging that a problem exists and inviting discussion of how to avoid and solve the problem. OA friends, please consider this such an invitation.

Sustaining the knowledge commons full post:

This is an issue I have thought a lot about. My work takes me to various countries, some of which might be classified as despotic. I have worked with the governments of those countries, always from the perspective of advancing open access and free learning. The question I have asked myself is whether it is appropriate to work with them.

I have decided that it is, and for a very simple reason: any principled selection process would leave me with very few countries to work with, if any.

It is easy to point to a particular country and suggest that we should not work with that country. But if we apply the same principle that led us to that decision the we are left with a significant practical problem. And if we extend that principle to agents of the country, including companies that support that country, or customers of that country, or suppliers to that country, as we most surely should, then we are left with no countries in which to work.

And at a certain point, when a recommendation to boycott a given country is made, I find that I have to ask, why this country? What made the person select this country to address, as opposed to one of the many others engaged in the same practice?

I will most certainly concur with Heather Morrison that a problem exists. There are countries in the world that murder their own citizens, either extra-legally, or by some sort of state sanctioned capital punishment. There are many countries that interfere with the publication of academic materials on political grounds. There is definitely a problem, one of many problems plaguing our world today.

How to address this? It is easy to identify what we oppose and to work against it. But my experience is that, in the long term, if is much more effective to work for something. It is also a lot harder, which is maybe why we don’t see so much of it.

We need, globally, to build the structures and institutions that will address issues such as this. Support for entities such as the United Nations and the World Court will go a long way toward addressing oppressive regimes. It is essential to build international trade regulations that prioritize justice, human rights, and environment as much as they do the needs of global capital.

It is tempting to short-cut this process, to have (say) DOAJ stand on its own against countries that oppress their citizens. But this is not justice, nor can it be seen as any pretense of justice. Only by building the institutions that serve all people, on a global scale, will we be able to address the injustices that we, as individuals, seek to redress. Any other approach would be parochial and sectarian.

Meanwhile, as an individual, I stay firm and unwavering in my own commitment to individual autonomy, celebration of diversity, an open society, and collective governance. Change happens not by changing governments, but by changing people, and the only way to change people is to be an example of the change you want to see in them.

Ethics Sports

Integrity in Sport

For years I have been hearing the mantra from agencies like the International Olympic Committee and the rest that the need for integrity in sport is paramount, and that this is the reason performance-enhancing drugs were banned.

I’ve always felt that the IOC said this with a nudge and a wink, because they’ve tolerated any number of other advantages for specific athletes, including improvements in equipment design (such as bobsleighs), better clothing (especially for swimmers), and the rest.

But it didn’t bother me that much, because using performance-enhancing drugs did feel like cheating, and worse, the use of these drugs could be harmful to the athlete. And I am not supportive of the idea that athletes should deliberately harm themselves in the pursuit of gold.

However, the news that sprinter and Olympic gold medallist Caster Semenya will be required to take drugs to reduce her testosterone levels makes me question all that.

Where is the integrity of drug-free sport if athletes are now required to take certain drugs that impact on their performance? What’s the difference between one athlete taking testosterone to increase her levels as opposed to another athlete taking testosterone to reduce hers?

I agree with Chris Mosier’s comments: “We know that Michael Phelps was suited to be a swimmer but he may not have been a great sprinter, so he found the sport that he was made for just as [Caster] Semenya has found the sport she was made for.”

Whether a person is ‘male’ or ‘female’ is not defined by testosterone levels, and there are no non-arbitrary definitions of testosterone levels that would make a person one of the other. Being a woman isn’t about being ‘weak’ in certain specific ways. If a non-drug-taking woman can best her field for whatever reason, then good for her.

If, on the other hand, you feel that athletes are just slabs of meat to be displayed for entertainment purposes and commercial gain, then the requirement that she must take drugs won’t bother you at all.



Let’s be clear – if the Conservatives had faced the SNC-Lavalin issue, there would have been no scandal.

This is because they would have very quietly given SNC-Lavalin everything it wanted, and let them off the hook for corruption charges.

The only reason this is an issue at all is that there appears to have been a Liberal cabinet minister who was not corrupt. Of course, it also appears that she paid a price for that.

But what we should be talking about is why we would want to let SNC-Lavalin off the hook at all. On the news this morning there was commentary to the effect that ‘everyone wants to make sure SNC-Lavalin is not harmed by these charges’.

But the jobs won’t disappear just because SNC-Lavalin does. Government contracts – like Ottawa’s LRT system – will continue to exist. Other (hopefully more ethical) companies will appear to fill the gap.

Companies shouldn’t get a free pass on their misdeeds (I don’t care whether the U.S. and the U.K. already have laws to this effect – they’re hardly role models).

We should do business properly and ethically in Canada. That means penalizing companies that perpetuate shady business practices. Because companies that get away with bribing officials in Libya won’t think twice about doing the same in Canada.

Of course, like I say, all this goes away quietly under a Conservative government. It just becomes business as usual.

Ethics Leadership

Moral Leadership

What prompted me to start this site (after, admittedly, thinking about it for a while) was the realization that I didn’t really have any platform where I could write this:

To imprison a seven-year old child and hold her without water until she dies of thirst demonstrates a complete lack of any moral leadership.

I refer, of course, to Jakelin Caal, who died December 8. And then on Christmas Eve, it happened again. This time, it was an eight-year old boy named Felipe Alónzo-Gomez.

I would have taken this as an obvious point, but apparently it hasn’t registered yet, that there are no excuses that justify these deaths. And any sort of moral or ethical argument that leads to this as an outcome is bankrupt.

And I think that these cases illustrate a general loss of moral leadership on the part of those very people who claim to be moral leaders, the politicians, by virtue of their offices, and their supporters, by virtue of their values and beliefs.

If your morality allows this, then you cannot come to me with any sense of or claim to moral leadership. Period.

That’s all I wanted to say – and I realized I needed a place to say it. Because someone has to say these things.