Aug 19, 2022

Welcome To The First Installment Of “The Ed-Thicist”

Moral dilemmas answered while-u-wait

By Ed Goldman

One of my favorite Sunday reads is “The Ethicist” in the New York Times Magazine. Written by Kwame Anthony Appiah—and, of course, co-written by the people who seek his advice in their letters about all manner of moral dilemmas—it’s a nice respite from the week’s news about war, famine, climate change and the latest edicts from the U.S. Extreme Court.

Appiah is one of those rare survivors of a vanishing cult in American life: a genuine philosopher, not just somebody who says, “It is what it is” and we crown him the reincarnation of Thales of Miletus (a guy who was gasbagging with the best of them even before Socrates claimed the franchise).

Edgy Cartoon

All Roads Lead to Dumb

For example, among Appiah’s favorite subjects is something called probabilistic semantics. For comparison’s sake, among mine is wondering where my lap goes when I stand up.

Even so, I’ve long wanted to devote an occasional column to everyday ethical questions readers may have. So welcome to my first installment of The Ed-thicist.

Q: I have never paid my income taxes and never been audited. Should I feel a patriotic obligation to turn myself into the IRS? –Conundrummed in Kansas

A: Dear Connie: What are you, a &$#@*! idiot? About the only thing smart about your letter is you didn’t sign it with your real name. You did, however, mail it to me with a Christmas-themed return-address label on the envelope. Since I can’t get rid of those fast enough, either I’m not going to forward this to the U.S. Treasury. Should you feel my generosity of spirit merits your sending me a lovely gift, you know my address. And remember, I have yours. No pressure.

Q: My late father’s brother recently married my widowed mother, whose sister was my father’s brother’s previous wife, who is still living in a Del Webb 55+ community, if you can call that living. I’m wondering if my former cousins are now my step-siblings and just who is entitled to control the TV remote when we have family movie-streaming nights.

A: This conjures up two of my preferred adages. The first is by the great Hebrew scholar Hillel, who said, “If I am not for me, who will be?” The other is from an old Popeye cartoon in which his frenemy Wimpy disguises himself as Popeye so he can go to Olive Oyl’s home for a hamburger dinner meant to be for Popeye. Well, Popeye succumbs to a bit of identity crisis. He looks in the mirror and rhetorically asks, “If I’m not me, who am I? And if I’m somebody else, why do I look like me?”

In short, you and your lazy family should skip the TV and organize a pickle-ball tourney in your flowerbed.

Q: Excuse me, Ed-thicist. I couldn’t help but notice that your previous answer had no relation to the question you asked. Was that intentional or do you blame Hillary Rodman Clinton for this unfortunate disconnect.

A: Yes.

Q: I am having a serious language issue. At 51, I’m a middle-aged man—if I were going to live to 102, that is—and have left my long career as a college professor to become a greeter at Walmart, which strikes me as more ethical work and doesn’t require me to publish academic articles with topics such as, “The Real Reason People Are Leaving Academics: Academics.” The problem is that when I run into some of my peers who’re shopping at the store and they ask me what on earth I’m doing there, I always respond, “I’m transitioning.” I have since found out what this means in modern parlance and am wondering if I should call every one of these former colleagues and explain myself. (It’s not that if I were “transitioning” I would be ashamed of it, I hasten to add.)

A: I think you should call them, all right—but tell them if they open their pie-holes about you, you’ll tell everyone in their orbit that they shop at Walmart.

Q: Okay, smart-guy: Three men walk into a bar: a rabbi, a priest and a civil engineer. What does the engineer say to the bartender?

A: “Excuse me, I seem to have wandered into the wrong joke.”

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).