Monday, March 21, 2011

Ethics, Morals, the Japanese Nuclear Disaster, the Legacy Media, and You

Unlike most other colleges, business schools actually make a point of talking about ethics and morals, rather than just baldly assuming that students understand them.

It isn’t often that I get to talk about them in macroeconomics, but here is a golden opportunity.

The distinction between ethics and morals is often lost on students (and it isn’t like philosophers make a tight distinction anyway). Some argue that morals are what individuals believe, and ethics is the study of that set of beliefs. Some argue that morals are personal, and ethics are cultural or societal. Let’s make it simple: morals are micro, and ethics are macro.

Which leads me to legacy media coverage of the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan. I assert that it may be moral to be concerned about this, but it is unethical for the legacy media to make it even a secondary focus of their concern. This suggests that it may be immoral to be personally swayed by their coverage.

The issue here is that the legacy media coverage is tantamount to equating a potential disaster with an actual one.

Outside of situations like the current one, we have cases like this crop up in the news every few months: some parent kills their kids because they’re possessed, or an asteroid is going to hit the Earth, or whatever.

Morally, we know precisely what to think of the perpetrators, not because we know the kids weren’t possessed or an asteroid isn’t going to hit us, but because a potential problem has been used to justify an actual one.

My conclusion is then, that a good chunk of the legacy media are ethically ungrounded.

I don’t carry that judgment over to advocates, whose job it is to get people to pay attention to this issue (although I may have an issue with their funders).

I also don’t carry that judgment over to individuals who are swayed by coverage in the legacy media, because your morals are your own.

Now, if your exposure to unethical media coverage leads you into advocacy whose primary compensation is inflation of your own moral position, then I’d say that’s immoral.

FYI: here’s a chart that has been making the rounds on the internet this morning.

1 comment:

  1. So, I'm not sure if anyone else noticed this but I found it funny. At the bottom of the blue section where they talk about the use of cell phones, the footnote indicates that it's only if it's a banana phone.