Ethical Outrage: No Excuse for This Kind of Behavior

This story in the Washington Post caught my eye and gave me an instant headache. Here is a man who fought to reopen Maryland prematurely, caught the coronavirus, and now refuses to provide information on who he’s been in contact with because he doesn’t want the government to have anyone’s information. This despite the fact that infectious disease experts say contact tracing is key to containing the virus.

People have a right to control their own behavior and exercise their individual rights—but not when it puts others at risk. This is why it’s important to wear a mask indoors with others present. You can put your own health at risk if you want, but a mask protects others. Not wearing one is the equivalent of driving drunk and not caring who you might run down.

It’s hard to believe anyone can be so uncaring, so selfish, so unethical as the gentleman described in this article.

Is there any sane argument in his favor? If you think so, please leave a comment or email me at


Can I Refuse to Wear a Mask?

No, you can’t.

I usually write about complex ethical problems for which there is no clear answer, with the aim of promoting thought and discussion to help you make a decision you feel comfortable with.

But when it comes to wearing a face mask in public to fight the pandemic, there is no gray area. Just wear the damn mask!

The author shows his colors.

Opponents, including a few who have reacted with violence when told to put on a mask, often question the legal authority behind mask rules or cite the First Amendment or some other patriotic sounding tripe about the supposed “right” to do what you want. I’m not going to bother with the legalities here because ethics is about doing the right thing, not the legally required minimum, and there is no doubt that you are ethically required to do what you easily can do to keep the rest of us safe. How this ever became a political issue is beyond my comprehension.

Let’s be clear. You wear a mask not to protect yourself, which is arguably our choice, but to protect others, which shouldn’t be your choice. The problem is you can have the virus and spread it without knowing it, so it’s not about your own safety, it’s about everyone else’s, and it is ethically wrong to endanger others unnecessarily. Period. End stop.

Viral Ethics: Let the Needy Go First

I serve as treasurer of a small nonprofit organization for writers in Maryland, and because of the Covid-19 stay-at-home order, we had to cancel our annual conference. That cost us about $2,000.  At a recent board meeting, someone suggested we apply for money being made available by the local government to assist nonprofits in sudden need. We talked about it and decided not to apply. We have a big enough rainy day fund to cover the loss, we have no employees to worry about, and we’re in no danger of slowing, let alone ceasing, operations. Other organizations clearly need it more.

None of us had to think hard about this; it was clearly the ethical thing to do.

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The Redskins Need a New Name

The NFL season is still more than a month away, but here in football-crazed Washington, the Redskins already dominate the sports pages. And with that kind of coverage staring me in the face every morning, I can’t help thinking anew about the team’s controversial name—specifically, whether its continued use constitutes unethical behavior.
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No Free Pass for Lying Politicians

When we conducted an informal survey last year asking people when it’s okay to tell a white lie, a large majority, 71%, came down hard on politicians, saying it’s wrong for them to shade the truth, even when it’s just a matter of emphasizing facts that support their point of view and ignoring those that don’t.

But lying by politicians remains rampant. Continue reading

Five Ethical Failures in the Sterling Affair

The NBA’s decision to ban Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, is a reasonable first step, but it doesn’t begin to deal effectively with the underlying problems – or even address some of the ethical failures by the too-many actors involved.

Five separate failures immediately come to mind.
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Ethics Gone AWOL at Toyota, GM

I was cleaning out some old files today when I came across a seven-year-old article reporting that top business schools were adding more ethics courses in the wake of the 2007 Enron scandal. The article, by Jeffrey MacDonald in the Christian Science Monitor, went on to quote critics saying the courses wouldn’t do much good. Boy, did that turn out to be true.

What could be more depressing than the twin scandals at Toyota and General Motors?

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