Monthly Archives: February 2011

The inevitable gap between what’s legal and what’s ethical

Every writer I’ve ever read on ethics in adversarial settings takes explicit note of the obvious: that is it neither possible, nor desirable, in a deliberately adversarial institution to regulate away all unethical behavior.

As Arthur Applbaum puts it in the book that shares the name of this blog, if “the best of regulatory worlds is understood as a set of rules and levels of detection and enforcement that best balances the gains of eliminating the costs and harms and liberty restrictions of the regulations themselves, then the best set of regulations will legally permit a great deal of adversary action that is economically inefficient, harmful, and liberty-restricting.” (p. 196)

So we cannot expect that “the invisible hand of competition, even in a well-regulated market, will channel all adversary action to good ends.”

In this inevitable gap between what’s legal and what’s ethical we can pack a significant percentage of the best comics about business. Like this one from a couple of days ago.

(This comic is reposted without permission and will be removed upon request.)

 

The Ethics of Crazieness: A Follow-Up

I can’t resist writing a quick follow-up to the “How Crazie is too Crazy?” piece from earlier this week. If you follow college sports will know that the previous post came shortly before the storied Duke-UNC rivalry game. The game did not disappoint (especially for the Duke fans), as the Blue Devils made an historic comeback from a 14-point deficit at halftime to win by a final score of 79-73. Given the nature of the last post on “fan ethics” during sporting events, I think this game is a great case study of what should and shouldn’t be acceptable behavior for sporting fans.

Throughout Duke’s second-half surge, ESPN’s commentators’ voices could barely be heard over the broadcast as the Cameron Crazies filled the stadium with cheers. At one point, Dick Vitale called Cameron “electric” and after the game Coach K and Duke players all gave credit to the Crazies for motivating them. It was the first time Duke had overcome a deficit of 14 points to win since 1959. In rivalries like this, the crowd can play an important role. And surely that is what makes college sports so attractive to spectators. But should we allow more “extreme” measures from fans (obscene chants, gestures, etc) to be permitted in these cases? Does the fan’s passion for their team and game allow them to chant with a free conscience “Go to Hell Carolina, Go to Hell!” ad infinitum? (Ed. note for Carolina fans: that means “again and again.”) Interestingly, at Duke this is not only an acceptable chant, but is also frequently worn on t-shirts and so commonplace it’s simply abbreviated as “GTHC.”

To avoid rehashing the last post, I’ve decided to make three lists based on the latest game against UNC. Most of the things on the list can apply to any home game, but I’m using this particularly heated rivalry as a case study of sorts.

The “innocuous cheering” list which nearly any sports fan would condone as 100% within the realm of sportsmanship; the “borderline cheering,” made up of the gray area between being a good fan and violating an ethical boundary; and the “dubious cheering,” or just plain “jeering,” list, made up of actions nearly everyone (arguably even those of us performing the chats) know aren’t quite right. Obviously, this is only a personal opinion; and if you disagree with where I’ve put what, please feel free to comment. It’s up for debate!

Innocuous:

  1. The ever-present, always loud “Let’s Go Duke!” Cheer, or its equivalent (“Here we Go Devils!”, “Go Devils go!”)
  2. Jumping up and down and screaming while the opposing team has the ball. As in all sports cheering, the tactic is meant to distract the other team when they have the ball but has no mean intentions. This constant noise is one of the things that makes Cameron one of the hardest home courts to play on.
  3. Cheering when Duke makes a 3-pointer or Dunk.
  4. Body paint and face paint in support of Duke’s team colors.
  5. The “hex”. When an opposing team player fouls out, the Crazies are known to “hex” them by waving their hand and cheering until they sit and then yelling “See you!”.

Borderline:

  1. The Duke fight song with the student modified lyrics, “Carolina go to Hell! EAT SHIT!” sung the loudest (particularly during this game).
  2. The classic “Bullshit” chant following what the fans believe to be a poor call by an official
  3. Normally, I would put this clearly on the “innocuous” list, but a comment on the blogosphere about the physical presence of the Crazies made me bump it down. When the opposing team has the ball, in addition to cheering, the Crazies wave their hands at them while in-bounding. The students never touch the players, but the visual is compelling and the proximity of the students to the court is meant to intimidate opposing players. Some find this physical presence wrong, but as the students do not intend to physical harm the players I find it hard to categorize as “over the line.”
  4. When opposing team’s players are introduced the students “greet” them by chanting “Hi (insert name!)”. Although this alone I would find hard to object to, it has been tradition in years past to add “you suck!”, though in recent years Coach K has emphatically asked students to refrain from this (a cheer, notably, imported from the Maryland fan base).

Jeering:

  1. At one point a student was identified by a referee for attempting to have thrown something at Harrison Barnes, one of UNC’s top players.

Overall, however, I would say that more than anything the Crazies cheer for Duke rather than directing nasty things against UNC or their opponent. Sure, they want to get under the skin of the team they’re playing, but I would argue that the nature of the adversarial institution of sports allows for most of the Crazies type of behavior. Although, I must admit I am a bit biased as Cameron Crazy myself.

Judge for yourself based on this clip, taken from inside the student section: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ta09JvSoIsU

If academia were a professional sport

…and professors had bubble-gum cards vaunting their stats. From the comic geniuses at Piled Higher and Deeper:

And if pigs had wings….

Do we really care if political leaders lie to us?

This afternoon I attended a terrific seminar at the Kenan Institute for Ethics led by Amber Diaz, a PhD student in political science at Duke. Amber was presenting some preliminary results from a large survey she has conducted on Americans’ reactions to learning that their political leaders sometimes mislead them. According to the Kenan Institute’s web site, her dissertation is tentatively entitled: “Bumbling, Bluffing, and Bald-Faced Lies: Mis-Leading and Domestic Audience Costs in International Relations.”

It shouldn’t surprise readers of this blog that during the discussion of many different kinds and contexts of deception in politics, it seems to make a difference whether we interpret the deceptive politician as being engaged in an essentially competitive or a non-competitive activity.

In competitive “games” — especially those involving strategic rationality, where one party is taking into account how the other is trying to outwit her — we routinely leave room for “ethical deception,” or at least ethically excusable deception. Poker players can bluff, quarterbacks can pump-fake, pitchers can throw change-ups, negotiators can deliver a phony ultimatum, detectives interrogating suspects can trick them into believing they already have DNA evidence proving their guilt; and so on.

What about political leaders? Do we demand that they always tell us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? We might be inclined to answer, “Yes, of course!” And when we say this it is because we are thinking about them as our public servants, with a fiduciary duty to look after our interests rather than their own. One of these interests is in knowing the truth, and not being manipulated or disrespected. We hate the idea that a political leader would lie to us because he knows full well we would not go along with his scheme. We hate it even more if he lies to us in pursuit of some personal or partisan interest.

Amber Diaz’s research aims to see just how righteously indignant we really are when we realize we’ve been duped. Is this something that we make politicians pay a price for? (Amber is more than welcome to post on this blog if she wants to tell us more about the answers her research and number-crunching are turning up!)

But the fact is, we are not always upset about politicians being deceptive, and not just in cases where we might want to say “I know he’s a sonuvabitch, but he’s our sonuvabitch!” Sometimes we recognize that politicians are engaged in deliberately adversarial contests; and we respect them for being wily in some of these situations.

This is most obviously the case in the conduct of foreign affairs (a realm Amber is looking at, in fact). Here we see our leaders as engaged, at least partly, in an adversarial contest against our national rivals or enemies. We expect them to deceive these rivals sometimes (e.g., to send spies and special ops into other countries), and this may well require that they deceive us too. Similarly, we might expect political leaders involved in sensitive international negotiations (e.g. for trade, or arms-reduction, treaties) to bluff and make hollow threats.

But we may even excuse deception within domestic politics precisely because we take seriously the constitutionally adversarial nature of democracy. Political leaders are not merely public servants with paternalistic duties to look after our interests. We have deliberately locked them into adversarial contests with rival politicians, and with rival sources of power in our society. We might want to tie one hand behind their backs in these contests. But if we understand the nature of our adversarial system, we cannot tie both hands. For this reason, as my colleague Kieran Healy pointed out in today’s seminar, we often gain a grudging respect for “successful” politicians who know how to win at the game we place them in — even when they are not “our sonuvabitch.”

In any case, if we are a bit confused or inconsistent in our evaluations or, or reactions to, political leaders lying — and this is what Amber’s preliminary data seem to be showing — it is at least in part because we are confused and inconsistent about how partisan or non-partisan we expect the game of politics to be.

Love is not a battlefield: it’s a market

And that’s why the New York Times can run a headline (in the Sunday Styles section…), Adam Smith, Marriage Counselor.

It’s a bit of a stretch. But when you come up with a sure-fire title for a book like “Spousonomics” (not to be confused with “home economics,” which was a whole nother thing — or is it?), all that remains is to find a bundle of theory and anecdotes to fill up the space between the covers. I haven’t read the book yet, so please take that as a plug and not a dis.

In the Times article, Jenny Anderson notes, after losing an argument with her husband:

I had just spent two years writing a book about how to have a better marriage. One secret, my co-author and I concluded, was to think like an economist: apply the rational laws of Adam Smith, as well as recent findings about why we do some of the weird things we do — mining the field of behavioral economics — to increase marital happiness.

Adam Smith, of course, is most famous for developing the “invisible hand” argument for how deliberately adversarial institutions like markets can produce benefits for the society that none of the “players” intended. “It’s not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner,” he argued, “but from their regard to their own interest.”

Is that the way we want to think about a successful marriage?! Can “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” get you all the way “until death do us part”?

Of course, incentives and mutually advantageous arrangements can help in both cooperative and competitive endeavors. And a family should surely be more about cooperation than competition. It is also worth remembering that Adam Smith never claimed that humans could be moved only by the pursuit of their own self-interest. The ability to sympathize and empathize with others, and to be moved to act on the basis of their needs was, for Smith, equally a part of human nature.

Seven years before he founded modern economics (and post-modern marriage counseling, apparently) with his famous Wealth of Nations, he published his Theory of Moral Sentiments which begins with the following much more Valentines-friendly observation:

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion which we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner. That we often derive sorrow from the sorrow of others, is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it….

“Life is short. Have an affair.” Will adultery go viral?

The cover of this week’s BusinessWeek is devoted to their feature on the so-called “adultery economy,” and the lead article is on a “dating” business that specializes in hooking up married people with people married to other married people. On a slow-business-news Valentines Week, BW is getting all edgy by implying that this sector of the economy might be taking off.

It occurs to me that “cheating” in a marriage is a better example than Heath’s case of a surgeon cheating her patient with an unnecessary procedure, which Bethany discussed in a post here yesterday. Heath wanted highlight one important difference between ethics in adversarial institutions (like sports or business), on the one hand, and in relatively non-adversarial institutions (like the practice of medicine — at least in some domains), on the other. In the former, participants will feel the tug of incentives to cheat when they see their rivals getting away with cheating; but in the latter, one person’s cheating does not make cheating any more attractive for others.

The Pat Benatar song notwithstanding, marriages, and families more generally, are non-adversarial institutions. It may seem like one’s competing with others in the “market for spouses,” but once you find one, despite occasional disagreements and arguments, you are really supposed to be cooperating within this institution, not competing. (Of course, the terms of cooperation, and the hierarchical power structures, in families have not always been fair; but that doesn’t make them internal forums for competition.) So adultery, or cheating on your spouse, is a pretty clear example of cheating within a non-adversarial institution.

And surely Heath’s (and Bethany’s) point holds: learning that others are cheating on their spouses gives you no additional, compelling incentive to do the same.

All the free publicity BusinessWeek has just given the “adultery site,” AshleyMadison.com, will no doubt be good for business. But in answer to the question in the sub-title of this post, adultery is never likely to be as contagious as, say, steroids were in baseball, EPA is in cycling, or diving is in soccer. It will always be there, like a non-infectious disease, but there won’t suddenly be an epidemic.

That’s good news for all those who believe in the true spirit of Valentines.

Adversarial Ethics and the Sports Fan: How Crazy is too Crazie?

We can all agree that athlete’ s behavior falls under the purview of a deliberately adversarial code of ethics. In a basketball game, a player who fouls another as she’s shooting isn’ t considered immoral, rather she is violating a rule of the game. Further, we hold athletes and coaches to a code of “sportsmanship” that extends both on and off the court. They shouldn’t cheat even when they can get away with it; they shouldn’ tfake injuries to draw a foul or penalty on the other team, and they shouldn’t ingestperformance-enhancing drugs while training.

But, what about the fans? Is a team cheating if its fans behave in ways that give the team a strong home-court advantage? Very few of us will ever rise to the level of collegiate or professional athletes, but that doesn’ t stop millions of people from being heavily invested in the outcome of sporting events. Fans are often the worst perpetrators of both pre and post-game “ trash talk” and have been known to direct demeaning and even vulgar chants at opponents. Does adversarial ethics engage with this type of fan behavior? Or is does this kind of behavior simply fall under codes for what it is to be a decent person in general?

Consider the “Cameron Crazies”, Duke University’s die-hard, bleeding-bluemen’s basketball fan base. ESPN writes that the “Crazies have earned a reputation as the rowdiest, wittiest, best-organized college basketball fans in the land.” Known for camping out for the notorious Duke-UNC game in Kryzewskiville for up to two months,the Crazies are notorious for their rambunctious behavior in games.

A few years ago,ESPN’s “Page 2” series wrote an article on “Cameron’ s Craziest” moments. Some of the more controversial moments included:

  • After disagreeing with referee Dick Paparo’s call the Crazies chanted: “You suck, Dick!” (The comma wasn’t as evident in the verbal chorus.) It’s worth nothing, however, that Coach K was not a fan of this chant and demanded the Crazies, “ keep it classy.”
  • When a Maryland player was rumored to have sexually assaulted another student, the Crazies mockingly chanted: “HEY, HERM, DID YOU SEND HER FLOWERS?”
  • Although not listed in the ESPN article, I myself, as an admitted Cameron Crazy, have witnessed a few borderline offensive cheers. While playing an opponent where one of the team members was accused of sexual assault this year, some in the crowd chanted “NO MEANS NO!”

Often, chants are aimed to intimidate or  psych out”opponents, taking aim at their personal lives. Some chants even include profanity, although recently Coach K has encouraged Crazies to “be more creative” than that in his pre-game talks. So the question is, where do we “draw the line” between appropriate cheering and offensive, even unethical, fan tactics?

Certainly there are clear examples: when the Crazies cheer enthusiastically after a dunk or 3-pointer for instance, or when fans shout “Defense!” Such cheers that are simply in support of the fan’s team seem clearly within the appropriate range of fan tactics. Things become murky, however, when fans like the Crazies draw in personal attacks on players. It’s worth noting, as well, that these are not professional athletes, but rather 18-22 year old “student athletes.”

Is it right to mock these players for their personal lives, is it right to make light of subjects as sensitive as sexual assault in a sports atmosphere? And perhaps most importantly from the perspective of adversarial ethics, is it fair for the Blue Devils to gain an advantage on the court because of some of these dubious fantactics?

I certainly don’t have the answer to these questions, and I must admit that while in the mob mentality of the Cameron Crazies the answers clearly seem to be YES! Although I believe that much of our thinking about the adversarial ethics should extend to fans, I believe there is a strong case, particularly in college sports, for drawing a distinction between fun, competitive cheering and derogatory or mocking jaunts aimed directly at the personal lives of opponents.

[For a follow-up post, taking the historic Duke-UNC game of 9 Februrary 2011 into account, click here.]