Scott Adams is still a choad

>> Tuesday, April 19, 2011

This is difficult, this is a problem. On the one hand, you don't want to give an idiot more press than he deserves; on the other, it can be hard to resist commenting when somebody is being an enormous jackass, especially when said jackass is managing to serve as an object lesson in the process.

On the third hand, there's also how much one actually cares--repeated posts on one subject may convey a misleading impression that one is hot and bothered by that subject, when one might really be mildly amused and in dire need of low-hanging fruit to harvest for blogsagna (an Italian dish made by baking layers of pasta, cheese, and self-indulgent opinionating). Then on the fourth hand, there's the question of what is up with all these hands, and what planet are we from, anyway? But let's skip that last question and let it pass.

A few weeks ago, I featured Dilbert creator Scott Adams in a "dumb quote" post. And then, two days ago, I called him a choad. This ought to be all one ever has to say about Mr. Adams, but then Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams posted a piece referencing a recent post by Adams that can be found here, if you so care.

I don't actually care all that much, myself, and I can't suppose you have much reason to, except you might be a bit like me and be one of those people who sometimes gets gulled into rubber-necking traffic accidents on the information superhighway. So I went to Adams' blog and read his post on being unmasked as a sockpuppet, and I gotta tell ya', there was blood and glass everywhere. If you really want to push the metaphor, there was blood and glass everywhere and Adams is wobbling around with a bottle of Wild Turkey in one hand and his keys in the other while he tries to unlock the ripped-askew passenger-side door of his accordioned Datsun 210 because he thinks he needs to exchange insurance information with the guy driving the cement lane divider that hit him. Also, he isn't wearing any pants, and I don't know if that happened before the accident, or after.

But that's not really worth a blog post. What's (vaguely) worth a blog post (maybe) (since I don't have anything else in mind right now) is Scott Adams on ethics. Get this:

Let's try this the old-fashioned way. I'll give you all of the facts about this scandal, and some proper context, and you can assume every word of it is bullshit. And that leads me to my first point about context: As a general rule, you can't trust anyone who has a conflict of interest. Conflict of interest is like a prison that locks in both the truth and the lies. One workaround for that problem is to change the messenger. That's where an alias comes in handy. When you remove the appearance of conflict of interest, it allows others to listen to the evidence without judging. [italics in original]

Oh, jeez. No, no, no.

See, as you're probably aware, the thing about conflicts-of-interest is not that you "work around" them. The thing with conflicts-of-interest is that they are so bad that you not only should avoid actual conflicts-of-interest but you shouldn't even have the appearance of one. The general remedy for conflicts-of-interest, therefore, is to openly acknowledge the conflict, and (if appropriate) decline to participate. That is, sometimes it's merely sufficient to report the conflict, but where that isn't sufficient, one is ethically obligated to abstain from voting, withdraw or resign from membership or representation, insulate oneself from any contribution (however meaningless or accidental), etc. What one absolutely doesn't do is say, "Well, there's a conflict here, but if I pretend to be somebody else we can pretend the conflict has gone away."

To do that, you see, is to demonstrate that one is either an idiot who doesn't understand the problem or that one is ethically and morally challenged--although these possibilities aren't exclusive, so one might be dumb and unscrupulous, ouch.

If Adams' mentality were confined to one inordinately successful syndicated cartoonist, it still might not be worth mentioning. Unfortunately, one fears Adams may not be a single, hardly relevant data speck, an ethical anomaly and situated in a field in which he is mostly harmless (after all, an unethical daily cartoonist is hardly in the same ballpark as an unethical doctor, lawyer, accountant, bureaucrat, building inspector, etc.). One frets, for instance, that there are any number of elected officials and probably at least two United States Supreme Court Justices (I'm not naming names, ::koff::clarencethomas::antoninscalia::hack::wheeze::), and perhaps some number of folks holding important stakes in the private sector who share Adams' mindset. "Well," these people say, "I realize some hypersensitive souls might say this looks shady, but I know I'm right and the results are worthwhile, so I'll do it anyway."

Which is just awful. When we talk about the ends not justifying the means, we don't just mean those means which are especially gruesome; there are also the banal and ordinary means we use to achieve our ends. The merits of our objectives don't justify lying and other dishonorable and unethical conduct. We do what is right not because we're afraid we might get caught, but because we can hardly hope others will take steps we're not willing to take to make sure that something is done honorably and properly. It's part of that whole mensch. You follow the rules because it's right and because it would be better for all of us if everybody always did the right thing, you don't go looking for ways to get around the rules or to wave them away.

And maybe it isn't fair to single Scott Adams out as a choad in a world full of choads, but we have to start somewhere, right?

EDIT/UPDATE APRIL 20th, 2011: Looking at the piece today, I see there were some sentences where my thought fractured or trailed off. I've edited those lines for clarity but haven't changed the meaning or thrust of the lines; basically, they were badly proofed, and I suspect some readers would get the gist anyway. For those who noticed, were annoyed, and were kind enough not to say anything: thank you.


Nathan Tuesday, April 19, 2011 at 8:44:00 PM EDT  

That paragraph you hilighted is the very one that jumped out and slapped me in the face when I read it.

Talk about unclear on the concept.

Janiece Tuesday, April 19, 2011 at 10:42:00 PM EDT  

And this does nothing to dispel my opinion that his mind-set is indicative of my entire industry.

If I'm to make it another 15 years, I may have to turn to self-medication.

Megan Wednesday, April 20, 2011 at 8:26:00 AM EDT  

It's like he has no idea that he is making this so much worse.

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