Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Space Alien's Ethical Dilemma

You editor arrived at the office of the Space Alien Gazette and found it strangely quiet.  Instead of the buzz of reporters, editors, photographers, graphic artists and linotype operators, there was only silence as the Space Alien sadly stared at a graph on a glowing computer monitor.

"What's the matter?"  Asked your editor.  "Where is everyone?"

"I let them go for the day," answered the Space Alien.  "I gave them a furlough day without pay because we are in such terrible financial shape, and they all went bowling!"

Staff of Space Alien Gazette goes bowling!

"How can that be?" cried your editor.  "Our subscriber base is growing and everyone loves the Space Alien Gazette.  Plus, I've heard the circulation departments at the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and even the Chicago Tribune are all a little worried!"

"That's probably fake news!" answered the Space Alien, "but just look at these figures in bright red!  We have to do something and fast!"
The Space Alien ponders the financial position of the Space Alien Gazette

"What do you suggest?" asked your editor, grateful that the Space Alien had studied finance with Bernard Baruch during the Wilson and Roosevelt Administrations,  Q.V., and had, just the other day, enjoyed a breakfast sit-down with Janet Yellin, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank.

The Space Alien meets with Janet Yellen of the Federal Reserve Bank

The Space Alien was all business now, with a list of things to do immediately.  "First we need to get our labor situation in hand.  I suggest you fire all union members and cut in half the salaries of all remaining personnel!"

"But everyone is so happy to be paid with their free subscriptions to the Space Alien Gazette!" cried your editor.

"I suggest you let them have just half as many issues," said the Space Alien, "but this is a crisis and you must do even more!'

"What else?" asked your editor, trying bravely to overcome her panic.

"You need to run for high office." said the Space Alien, "VERY high office!"

"ME?"  cried your editor.  "I've never held any elective office or even run for one!"

"Doesn't matter." insisted the Space Alien.  "You must run for office and be elected!  We can print lots of puff pieces about you in the Space Alien Gazette to make that happen, but we need to make the Space Alien Gazette great again, and this is the way to do it!"

"And then what?" asked your editor, a little miffed at the suggestion that she would need to be promoted in puff pieces, but also hoping against hope that Space Alien would stop for a moment to reflect on the wisdom of this plan.

Space Alien Tower
(easily mistaken for 
Trump Tower in Chicago)  
"Then what?  Don't you see?" asked the Space Alien.    If you are elected to high office everyone will want to subscribe and buy ads in the Space Alien Gazette just to stay on your good side.  Oh, and something else,  you'll have to move out of your home."

"Why?" asked your editor, now puzzled.

"So we can move you into your office here in the Space Alien Tower," answered the Space Alien.

"Don't worry," the Space Alien continued. "We'll bring in a nice bed for you.  Then we'll convert some of our extra storage space into high-priced luxury hotel rooms. Everyone will want to reserve one just to be close to you, because once you hold high office they'll know you can do things for them!   You'll love it!  We'll install a swimming pool and a golf putting green, and people can say they are just taking a vacation when they are really here to get close to you!  We'll make sure our high-paying guests get plenty of favorable press in the Space Alien Gazette,  as well as lots of favors from you, and all of this will definitely help our cash flow - and then ..."

"STOP!!"  cried your editor. "What you are saying is TOTALLY unethical!"



"What do you mean?" asked the Space Alien, with a puzzled look.

"I thought you told me you had studied ethics with the great 18th Century philosopher Immanuel Kant!" said your editor.

"Well yes, I studied with Immanual Kant," said the Space Alien, "and I recall something called the 'Categorical Imperative,' but what has that got to do with this?"

"The 'Categorical Imperative' has EVERYTHING to do with this," said your editor.  "The Categorical Imperative enunciated by Immanuel Kant requires us to consider what would happen if everyone did something we were doing.  So I must ask you, what if everyone did what you are proposing?  What if every newspaper publisher used their newspaper simply to reward their friends even at the expense of truth?  And what would happen if everyone elected to high public used that office to enrich themselves?  What did Immanuel Kant say about this?"

The Space Alien thought deeply about all of this for a moment before murmuring:
"That would be awful if everyone did that!  That would not be at all the Universe I'd like to inhabit!"

Then the Space Alien reached for a well-worn copy of The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals by Immanuel Kant, and opened it to this page:*

What the Space Alien learned from Immanual Kant

"I understand now," said the Space Alien.  "Thank you reminding me of my responsibility to our loyal readers!"

"Well, all right then," said your editor, calming down a bit.  "Let the staff enjoy their day off, and when they come back you can tell them there will be no firings and no pay cuts, and then you can send out for pizza to improve morale!"

"But isn't that just bread and circuses?" asked the Space Alien.

"Maybe so, but we can all work together to save their jobs and add value to the Space Alien Gazette," said your editor, "so that it will continue to be the leading reliable source for alternative facts!   Let's do it the right way, the honest way!"

And they did!


* The Space Alien, being fluent, as previously noted  (Q.V.), in at least 87% of the world's 6500+ spoken languages, refers above to Immanuel Kant's exposition of the kategorischer Imperativ found in his work entitled Die Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten (4:402).  Kant expressed this idea in a number of ways, and here is one of them:
... d.i. ich soll niemals anders verfahren als so, daß ich auch wollen könne, meine Maxime solle ein allgemeines Gesetz werden
... That is, I ought never to act in such a way that I could not also will that my maxim should be a universal law.

This closely resembles the well-known "Golden Rule" exhorting us to treat others as we would be treated.  

The Space Alien always tries to follow this guidance and exhorts loyal readers to do so as well!