90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
The Ethicist: NYTimes' Randy Cohen

Columnist Randy Cohen (NYTimes.com)

In a complicated world, he’s there to untangle your messy questions about how to live a virtuous life everyday. 

From… “Can I bring my own snacks to the movies when the theater says no outside food allowed?”… and, “Do I have to contribute to my arch-rival’s baby shower?”…to  mega-questions like “Am I obligated to tell my best friend her husband is cheating on her?”

Today, “The Ethicist” is in – New York Times Magazine columnist, Randy Cohen.    

-Betsy Stark


Randy Cohen, ethics columnist for the New York Times Magazine. Read his latest columns.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Chris

    If our grown child may possibly have Asperger’s Syndrome (a psychiatrist who never met this child, but who heard about the child’s life and behaviors, suggested this diagnosis), are we ethically required to tell our child’s future marriage partner? Thanks very much! We enjoy your column each week!

  • Chris

    ….(continued from comment by Chris, August 10th, 12:39 am)

    I should add that we’ve never told our child of this possible diagnosis.

  • Joshua Hendrickson


    I possibly have Asperger’s. I’m 40, married, and the father of a 5 year old daughter with autism; my little girl’s teachers, who are trained to recognize this sort of thing, think that I have Asperger’s. I can tell you right now that my wife would definitely have liked to know about my possible condition before we were married!

    When I was growing up I knew I was different from most other kids but I and my parents never suspected there was an actual medical condition behind the behavior. I don’t have any actual diagnosis (it’s pretty pricey to get one, and I haven’t had medical insurance since I was a kid) so I can’t be certain whether or not I am an Aspie, but I must say, studying the symptoms, I feel like a whole lot about myself suddenly has an explanation.

    Asperger’s isn’t necessarily such a bad thing. Most Aspies are happy with their lives and their condition. But it can affect others negatively. My suggestion would be to bring it out into the open.

  • Joshua Hendrickson

    Great topic for today’s show! I know nothing about this guest, but I hope that he really is interested in actual ethics, as opposed to being some kind of moralist.

    I can’t remember who said this–a comedienne, I believe–but I love this quote:

    “I love a moral problem so much more than a real problem.”

  • informed American

    The New York Times is a worthless, liberal rag of a newspaper. It’s subscribers and advertisers are fleeing in droves. Watching this Americanized version of Pravda fail is a reason to celebrate.

  • cory

    Does it seem to anyone else that politically liberal people are concerned with ethics while politically conservative individuals are more concerned with morals?

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    I wonder what Randy has to say about the Jet Blue incident.

    As one who flies a lot I have to say it pisses me off when a passenger gets up and starts taking down bags before flight attendants have given permission.

    Maybe Steven Slater will become the Howard Beal* of flying.

    *I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

  • Sheryl

    Dilemma: I was on the subway sitting next to a family. The father was on the seat near me. Across the aisle was the mother with a daughter around 1 year old on her lap. The daughter was playing with a typical grocery store plastic bag. She was repeatedly putting in on her head. She was not just putting it on though, but she was wrapping her hands around her neck to really enclose the bag around her head. Now I knew she wasn’t going to suffocate right there, but I was concerned that it was a bad behavior to learn. Should I say anything?

    Update: I did say to the father that it wasn’t such a good idea for children to put a bag on their head. He told the mother who stopped the daughter from doing it. The daughter screeched blue murder for the next two stops until they got off.

  • John

    Which is worse for your fellow riders, listening to a screaming child upset that her plastic bag was taken away or a delayed train due to a stupid child suffocating?

  • http://z15.invisionfree.com/Augusta_Alternative John Randolph Hardison Cain

    Okay, here’s my question:

    The NY Times along with The Guardian & Der Spiegel received WikiLeaks documents weeks in advance and published “The War Logs” although a right-wing source claims that The Times did not actually link to the WikiLeaks documents. Yesterday, The Times ran what I consider a disparaging and speculative story on Brandley Manning titled “Early Struggles of Soldier Charged in Leak Case”.

    So, which side is The Times on, the side that says the American people have the right to know the U.S. government and military’s true perceptions of the war in Afghanistan, or the side that claims Bradley Manning is a traitor who endangered American soldiers and Afghan informants?

    Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has come down hard on WikiLeaks. Is the Times practicing damage control regarding its decision to publish news stories about the WikiLeaks documents?

    Please do not equivocate!

  • Samantha

    I am not sure if this is an ethics questions, but here it goes.

    My ex-boyfriend’s mother and I were watching TV in my house. She was staying there to “help” me during the last few weeks of pregnancy. An uninvited guest filled with self-righteousness.
    We were watching a TV show that I picked.
    The scene came on with a black man in it and I hear her say “They are now putting THEM into every show now on TV and they make THEM out to be SO smart!”

    I was aghast! I just looked at her and didn’t say anything.

    Now I know that she is a racist. That whole family is. But, should I have said something like, “Please don’t make racist comments like that in front of me and/or in my house?!”
    She is a grandma of my son and will be spending time with him as he is growing up and I don’t want him to grow up a racist. How do I counteract such remarks in the future?
    Was it worth it to raise the issue then or should I have let it go?

    I feel pretty bad that I didn’t say anything, but I am not sure if it would have mattered. They (she) wouldn’t change their ways and it would have made the atmosphere in the house worse for the remainder of her stay. And I am afraid that they would just stop making such remarks around me, but continue to say things like that behind my back, especially to my son.

    Another incident that I encountered that I probably should have acted on. I was at a farm stand (that I will not return to) standing in line behind 4 people. They were chatting with the owner/cashier about the politics and our new president. Then, the man, looks around, sees me, dismisses me and says something to the extent of not liking the president because he is black. The owner of the farm stand agreed with him and said that she didn’t vote for him either.

    At which point is it ok to say something and how should it be handled? Would you boycott a business if you knew that the owners were racists? What else can we do to eradicate racism? I feel racists able to make comments like these in public and in private and get away with it because no one is saying anything to them.

    Thank you

  • yar

    What about fanning the flames of political partisanship as our society is becomes ungovernable? Our main problem is we currently define community as only those who agree our position. Our country and our world are made up of our neighbors, we must re-learn how to act neighborly. We are not on different teams, unless we divorce ourselves from humanity. Ethical behavior is like common sense, one needs to understand the difference in selfish interest and self interest. The latter helps you sleep soundly each night.

  • g

    Which is worse for your fellow riders, listening to a screaming child upset that her plastic bag was taken away or a delayed train due to a stupid child suffocating?

    Yes, but lets consider the benefits to the humanity as a whole!

  • John

    That makes sense. A train delay is temporary whereas silence is golden.

  • Emily D

    Chris and Joshua, coincidence or not, I spent last night reading about Asperger’s. I lit on a book at the supermarket, read 20 pages on my knees, 50 pages sipping coffee by the cakes counter, and the rest of the evening nonstop at home. The book is “The Best Kind of Different, Our Family’s Journey with Asperger’s Syndrome,” by Shonda Schilling and Curt Schilling, with a lot of inside baseball (Red Sox mostly) and the tale of a family.
    I’ve had my eye on Autism Spectrum for a long time, feeling I had been “taught it” someone; I can shift into it. I have tried to sleuth out whether studies have been done on the children of those with Asperger’s. In short, everything I read matches up to my mother, who had seven children. I recall the bits I heard about her childhood. “Stiff from birth,” according to her mother; “tried to get me to jump off the roof when I was two and I would have died” (a younger sibling), and a grandmother of hers who took her out of school “to travel” for whole years at a time. It is said this mother as a child was “sick” a lot, and she has always read as if it were the only link to anything.
    The values of an undiagnosed and untreated Asperger’s individual take a terrible toll on spouse, extended family, and of course the children. “Values”…
    The book illuminates the reasons we love these people “anyway.” Without the easy “processing” of the complicated signals of social interaction, the intensity of emotion that makes us human gets pent up. Huge sympathy, for instance, spills over. This book points to Abraham Lincoln as a possible Aspie. The syndrome allows (“allows”) an insulation from ridicule, from social buffeting, that in many ways enables transcendence. The book refers to a camp in Boston called YouthCare and goes into detail how such a child can grow and thrive.
    I recall introducing a younger sibling to an opposite-sex friend of mine who, to me, clearly is on the autism spectrum. My sibling thought I was proposing a mate. “He clearly adores you.” I replied, “He isn’t an interpersonal person.” He was “like” someone we all love, our mother, but what that mother’s children now need is a substitute mother, someone who can pick up where plain baby-talk should begin, wordlessly connecting, resonating, responding. How about the dad? He “stayed out of it,” basically, committed as a family man and uxorious but probably very perplexed. I’m sure he got advice but long before modern DSM developments.
    The book explains if we don’t understand, we yell, we spank, the whole family gets dysfunctional. Ethics does then tell the mom in the book: “Bad mom.”

  • Ray

    You may be onto something, cory. Certainly Bill Clinton, John Edwards, William Jefferson and Jesse Jackson, to name a few liberals have little or no concern for morals.

  • Sally Strange

    Ray – Republicans seem to have reduced “morality” to nothing more complicated than what a person does with his genitals.

  • Ellen Dibble

    In a world challenged with suicidally disruptive and destructive climate change, it seems to me the moral challenge to people nowadays, especially in the United States, is to provide some leadership in terms of human sustainability.

  • Anne

    Is it “wrong” to rename an infant to spite the ex and ex in-laws?

  • Erin

    Mr. Cohen, I’m a big fan.

    I recently completed a college course delivered entirely online. All exams were “open note,” and the instructor provided extensive notes of his own for our use. The notes provided nearly all the answers for our exams.

    Here’s my question: was it ethical for students to use the “Find” feature in MSWord to locate relevant information during the timed exams? (The syllabus made no prohibitions, but there’s an obvious advantage to this method when one compares it to poring over hardcopy notes the old-fashioned way.)


  • Jon Stafford

    All ethics are situational. Rigid adherence to black and white ethical “rules” are nothing more than dogma, and a recipe for moral oppression.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I think Aristotelian logic began to shed its light on religious morality (as determined by belief in the Middle Ages) when Peter Abelard around 1000 used Averroes’ (a Muslim’s) translation of Aristotle and starting in Paris began infusing “thought” upon “belief.”
    It strikes me that philosophy, from the Greeks, was an ethical pursuit, and yet it seems to me that a spectacular amount of shall-we-say apperception (unmediated, raw private brain function) goes into any decision. AND THEN it goes to the ethical debate, which whether happening in one head or in a debate, involves How Do I Convey This. Ethics seems to me a matter of dialogue, of social weights, blind justice and so on.
    When I make a decision, I don’t run it through a philosophy book. I care about the social milieu and specific individuals, but there is a moral sense that precedes all that. They say children are born with a sense of fairness. Maybe like the ability to draw, that basic sense can be squelched.

  • Anne

    I must add that I really want to rename the baby (only a few months old, so he is not used to the name yet), but the child was named with the agreement of the ex/in-laws and changing the name without their ‘agreement’ would absolutely piss them off. And they wouldn’t agree to the name change.

    Thank you, Anne.

  • margaret

    What about sick days at work?
    using “sick” days as personal “I need to get things done” days?

  • Gerald Fnord

    This is by definition a moral question, but I was wondering what Mr Cohen thinks of Jonathan Haidt’s (“Haidt” pronounced as “height”) work on the moral foundations of liberal and conservative thought (in the modern, U.S., senses)?

    I think it great, because it 0.) humanises the other side, wherever one is, as it establishes that there _is_ in fact a comprehensible (though not agreeable to you) moral basis well-rooted in some of our traditions, and 1.) explains why we talk past each other so often—our basic assumptions about what matters differ so.

  • John

    Presumably the oyster would fare better being thrown overboard than remaining in the boat.

  • Althea

    I cannot believe you would waste an hour with this “fake ethicist”. It’s interesting to hear his latest spin on drug use. It was this very subject that I listened to him discuss several years ago on a call-in segment on NPR Weekend Edition that made me stop listening to the program.

    A young male wrote in to say that he is a pizza delivery guy who smoked pot all during his shift. The writer asked if this was ethical. Randy Cohen proceeded in a very haughty, sneering voice to tell the writer that HE would be doing to be a pizza delivery guy. And further, he went on to say that he saw nothing wrong or unethical about smoking pot while being on duty as a pizza delivery guy.

    I guess he didn’t see the moral issue of driving while impaired. Would he not classify this as something that is ALWAYS unethical and morally WRONG and could cause huge harm to the driver and others on the road? Why does your program promote such a person??? This man has gotten rich from giving out this kind of ethical advice.

    Thus, I cannot believe you would waste your time on this person. I’m really sad to see that you have.

  • jade

    My ethical question is regard dating a married man? Am I just as culpable as he is?

  • John

    Ethics question:

    Whilst attending a work colleague’s after work b’day celebration @ a restaurant, another colleague arrives late, sits next to me, + requests that I tone down my enthusiasm. I question her request + refuse. Where do I stand ethically?

  • john

    …this conversation sounds like OLD ENGLAND …

    why cant people just shoot?

  • Matt

    Howabout libertarianism vs. socialism?


    I have a silly dilema that it has been bothering me for years and I don’t know what to make out of it.
    I bought a “used” bicycle years ago. “USED” in quotations because it was hardly used. I paid only $60.00 for it since the person I bought the bicycle from was a good friend of mine and he wasn’t using it.
    My cousing took the bicycle one day and broke it (without any permision). It would cost $200.00 to fix it and $400.00 to get a new identical bicycle. My cousing stated that he will pay $60.00 because that is what I paid for it. I think he should have paid the $200.00 to get it fix. We didn’t talked to eachother for a long time over this matter. He never paid anything not the $60.00 not the $200.00. Time has gone by and the bicycle it is sitting in the garage collecting dust and my cousing and I still friends but it does still bothers me when I think about it. haha

  • Van Herridge

    This guy is immoral. He claims that you can enter into a legal contract and then you AREN’T morally responsible. This thinking is why our taxes are going up and a general belief that others should take care of you.

  • John

    He should pay the full cost of what it takes to restore the bicycle to the condition it was when he borrowed it. What you paid for it is irrelevant.

  • Patti

    State aid to the schools in the state where I teach receive funding on the basis of the number of students graduated.

    The head of the school insists that we pass ALL the students. The school keeps track of the grades we award.

    What would you do?

  • John

    The mortgage contract contains a remedy for failure to perform (foreclosure). The bank knew that when it made the contract.

  • Max Stirner

    I’ve long heard that ‘Your right to place my fist ends where my nose begins.” However, I am confused: my fist never significantly interpenetrates your nose, modulo some minor classical and quantum effects that are de minimus, so how don’t I have a right to puch you?

    And, just as many now seem to argue that any wage is all right if that’s the one an employer and employee to which have contractually agreed, why should my right to punch be constrained by your inability to block? Why shouldn’t my right to shoot you in the thigh be constrained by your carelessness in going out without your bullet-proof leggings, OR NOT EVEN OWNING THEM AT ALL?

    That is to say, I perfectly understand the libertarian respect for all interactions not including force or its threat, but don’t see why force and its threat aren’t as approved-of…maybe it’s an artifact of so many libs being what Hank Hill called ‘stickboys’, so they wish to pose the limits of the acceptable at the limits of their abilities—something they deride when people try to use their political power to protect themselves, acting as if they had the same rights as or (en masse) greater than the fine, upstanding, strong-jawed, Galtian individuals who have proved their superiority by being richer….

  • Ellen Dibble

    If you want to consider libertarianism versus socialism, read up on the War of the Roses, the times toward the end of the 1400s in England when Henry VI was “sleeping” (mad) for years at a time, and the general way of proceeding was to go out marauding.
    Some could take advantage of the diminishment of government, but certain women were busy trying to give birth to sons who could lay enough claim to the throne and wield enough authority (fighters) to slay say 20,000 in one fell swoop and really take charge.
    It wasn’t a golden age. Orderly authority, lasting long enough to form real alliances of trust and support, was a foundation yearned for.

  • Ron

    I can not agree with the ethicists response about defaulting on a mortgage contract being ethical. This should not be determined by the standing of the parties, banks vs borrower. There are two parts to this, a loan is made to give the borrower the means to buy a home, and in return the loan will be repaid including interest. The second part is that the loan is secured by a mortgage, which allows the borrower to assume ownership if the borrower fails to live up to their agreement in the loan contract. Just because the contracts define what steps will result from a default does not absolve the borrower from ethical responsibility for stopping payment. I feel that is an ethical breach when one defaults on a loan. Consider any other loan, do you reach the same conclusion? Just because we have bankruptcy laws, does that render all of the actions ethical?

  • Harold MacCaughey

    Mr. Cohen, No one cares that Michele Obama goes on lavish vacations. We do care that she does so, and “lavish” is the operative word, at taxpayers expense. You are incorrect in your assessment that other first ladies went on vacations like Mrs. Obama’s. There has NEVER been a first-lady who has spent anywhere near the taxpayer money that Mrs. Obama has spent, or on such self-serving activities as trips to France and Spain. Tours truly, Harold J. MacCaughey

  • Ray

    Sally….believe me; if William Jefferson wants to put his genitals in the freezer or wrap them in dolla bills, it’s no concern of mine…as long as the freezer or currency are consenting, of course.

  • Jim

    I have to disagree with the it being ethical to walk away from a mortgage. I also take offense with Randy’s whole attitude.

    People walking away when they could have stuck it out and made it work is a major reason that we had the mortgage crisis. Yes, there were mortgages created that were toxic, but the blame for that lies directly on the shoulders of the Wall Street Firms BEGGING the banks to create them so they could be bundled and sold to investors wanting to make a quick buck. Take that attitude forward and suddenly people are walking away from their homes because they feel they shouldn’t have their life style impacted by purchasing a home.

    1. Your neighbor walks away from their home. Sometimes trashing it in the process, sometimes not.
    2. Unkept vacant houses in a neighborhood decrease the values of every house in the neighborhood.
    3. As values drop, you find yourself underwater in your mortgage. Do you walk away?
    4. Someone in your neighborhood lists their home for sale, but since the area values have dropped and there are now foreclosure properties for sale in the area, it won’t sell in a timely manner or for what a normal market value would be. Possibly forcing them to stay in the home or having to do a short sale. Should they walk away?
    5. Values in the town decrease, causing the total value of the grandlist to decrease.
    6. In order for towns to meet their budgets, tax rates are increased. Those people that didn’t walk away find their taxes going up, while the bank owned properties with their decreased values have a lower tax liability. A homeowner finds the new taxes too high – should they walk away?
    7. In order to stay within budget, the town puts plans on hold and/or services are cut and/or employees are laid off and/or town fees are increased and/or the town shops out a bond issue to continue operating which will raise everyone’s taxes down the road. If that laid-off employee lives in town – should they walk away?
    8. There is greater need for State services and homeowner support, causing an increase in taxes statewide or a repeat of the cuts at the municipal level.

    How can it be ethical for someone to walk away from their obligations and force the consequences on their friends/neighbors?
    How can it be ethical for someone to take the easy way out and cause that person that is already working multiple jobs and getting assistance from the food bank to finally lose that home for their children they have been fighting so hard to save?

    Walking away from a mortgage doesn’t hurt the banks. They can write off that loss or they go out of business. Enough people walk away from a mortgage with a local bank and it goes out of business… what happens to all those people that used to work there? What happens to the non-profits that used to receive donations from the bank?

    There are entire neighborhoods that have been lost to foreclosure. Without people that have the strength of will to fulfill their obligations we would be looking at a financial disaster so much worse than could be imagined.

    According to Randy, it may be ethical to walk away from a mortgage, but you know deep down that it is WRONG.


    Years ago, my husband & I were in a tough spot. I had lost my job, we had a new baby, had a house & car payments, obligations we couldn’t keep. We were advised many times to “just file for bankruptcy”. Not something we wanted to walk away from. Walking away wasn’t an option for us, the debts were ours. We made arrangements with our creditors. It took 8 yrs, but paid it off ourselves. It made for a long time with very little, but we did it. I was laid off in Oct 08 for over a year and am now back at work, but we learned early to live with less and are better for it.

  • Sare

    This was an interesting topic, but I disagree with Mr. Cohen’s response to walking away from a mortgage that you personally cannot get a financial benefit out of, but the mean ol’ bank can (or did).
    What about the whole concept of SIGNING A CONTRACT? A promise? An agreement? Where’s the personal responsibility for realizing the risks that you take on in signing into a mortgage agreement- it never has and never will GUARANTEE financial return.
    Just because you won’t get what you feel you’re due out of the situation does not give you a justified ethical right to walk away. It might be the economic solution, but do you really want that at the cost of your integrity?
    The entire idea of “staying true to your word” or upholding oaths or promises you have made with others has been on a slow degrade in this country- why encourage that more? Two wrongs don’t make a right- you should know that by now, Mr. Cohen.

  • Kevin

    This had the makings of an interesting show, but Cohen’s annoying personality ruined it for me. He comes off like a snotty, holier-than-thou jerk. Oh, and thanks for sharing your views on drug laws and how our nation’s vacation policies SHAME you so much when you’re around people from other countries.

    Good grief. Next time you’re around those people, don’t admit you’re an American, Randy. The country will be better off for it.

  • Dore Chien

    Mr. Cohens intelligent and thoughtful insight is much appreciated. However I am not certain I agree with him about putting down “my aunt’s dog”. My dog is 13 months old so I, hopefully, have 12+ years to moil over this very troubling question. In the mean time, I do regret having lopped off his Skittles.

    Hirsute in Wrightville

  • Rachel

    Randy Cohen is really funny. I’m laughing out loud while listening to this interview and it’s making me think about things in a different way.

    To all the jerks bringing up their agenda of politics and going off topic – I am all for censorship in this case and hope they start moderating these posts and weeding all this back and forth crap out. It’s ruining it for the rest of it. Some things – like today’s topic – aren’t about politics.

  • Connie

    A professional has been working 60-hour weeks for 2 years in an organization that has states that the work week is 40 hours—and, indeed, is 40 hours for most of the employees. She plays a very important role in guaranteeing that the work done by the organization meets high quality standards. The organization acknowledges that she is being overworked, but has not yet taken the steps necessary to relieve her of some of her responsibilities.

    The employee’s personal life has suffered, and her health has to some extent sufferered also. The employee has reached the point where the only way to get her life back into balance is to do her job less well—work less, miss deadlines, be less well prepared, supervise poorly, or conceivably make the deadlines but make mistakes. What are the various obligations of the employee to herself and the organization—and the organization’s obligations to the employee?

  • S Osburn

    Thank you for a useful On Point conversation today. It will became a great conversation starter as I continue with my week.
    I had no problem seeing the common sense in Randy’s answers today, but was totally baffled by the logic regarding the question on mortgages. Any of the “would it be cheating if I…” questions were answered by turning the question back around to “you know the answer to this question” based on the words used to describe the situation. (ie “sneaking” food, or “lying” about being sick) Why is it that “shirking” on your mortgage is different? If the opposing entity is of a certain size or position of power, does that grant us a pass to shirk on our obligations? And just because there are penalties included in the contract, does it make it ethical to break the terms?
    In the case of the sick days, the natural conclusion could be that if the employer is big enough, it’s ethical to take the sick day because they have a penalty clause that says I’ll be written up if I violate the rule.
    Was anyone else confused?

  • Matt S.

    I noticed that the ethicist commented about some kind of societal decline that he thinks began during the presidential administration of Ronald Reagan. He seemed to equate anti-statism, or the idea that the scope and powers of the state should be limited, with being less humane or less community oriented. This strikes me as an ideological position not an ethical one. It is not unreasonable to question the State’s role as a tool for building humane, sustainable societal institutions. It is unreasonable to conflate State and community as though they were one and the same. Just as it is unreasonable to contend that reducing the size and scope of the State is an attack on the larger society. The error however is quite common especially in the halls of academe.

  • joshua

    Samantha–Why do you think her opinion, or any racist’s opinion is superior to yours? Speak out! absolutely say something. it is unethical and immoral not to, and it is unethical and immoral for her to spew such trash. She does it because people accept it! She needs to be educated!

    It is your house, your child, your community, your country–and you have just as much right to it as she does, more so becuase she spreads ignorance hate which should be a crime. i would go as far as to say–you cannot see this child–ever if you continue to poison his thoughts. people like that continue to behave that way because nobody calls them out–they may even assume (it is probable) you agree with them. You cant improve anything if we dont confront it, challenge it, and condemn it.

    i would not waste my time on a person like hat-is that really the kind of grandparent you want? Some people have no grandparents. It not absolutely vital that the kid has biological grandparents. i would distance myself, and reach out to like-minded individuals. The kid will have many influences in his life–why is it so important that a racist biological identity be adhered to. it is isn’t. many people are adopted and have no biological relations–do you see them as 2nd class or sub-human–NO–in many cases they have loving kind, tolerant, nurturing parents and grandparents.

    If people just kept silent about slavery we would still have it much to the delight of big business and many politicians. We abolished African-American slavery in America because common people, ordinary people, refused to submit to the evil norm in our culture–movements grew out of the grassroots–not Abe Lincoln.

    Nazis were able to come to power because most ordinary Germans said nothing!

    In the case of the business–absolutely you must STOP dong business with them–and you should have called them out in public whether you are the minority opinion or not. Make them feel shame. make it know that this is not the kind of culture you wan tin America.

    Business ethics is very very important. I boycott Coke, Nestle, Walmart, Big banks, Target, Best Buy–all kinds of business for unethical behavior and conduct. Do you boycott BP–or just accept that they defecated on Americans without remorse and then demanded apologies for our outrage? I hope you boycott BP and reduce your dependency on all fossil fuels. Its the ethical and moral thing to do.

    Never let people feel comfortable with the evil they spread!

  • joshua

    Radical American capitalism is unethical and immoral. Human rights, equality, right to property and public domain is violated continuously, the earth is destroyed, people are dying in the smog of industry–we have a moral and ethical imperative to protect the earth–to protect earth and water is to protect the human race and individual rights.

    Should industry, corporations, wealthy-elite be permitted to poison your water, your food, your air, your space, spy on you and condemn you for their very bias subjective claims to morality?

    i think not. it is fair to say that radical American capitalism violates the constitution, and human rights. Every politician is now violating the constitution against oath.

  • joshua

    If I saw my best-friends wife/husband or gf/bf with a another man/woman–i would tactfully approach the woman/man first possibly at that moment, if possible, and/or got to friend and ask his opinion tactfully what he would want–ask innocent questions or subvert the question in a seemingly unrelated story.

    Maybe they will work it out themselves without realizing I interfered. And the cheating spouse will sweat for awhile after confronting her–I would take great pleasure in that. Its not such a “beautiful marriage” if the person is dishonest. There are many many fish in the sea…is marriage even practical? If the cheating spouse doesn’t think so, than he/she should confront their spouse with this dilemma and be honest about the relationship.

  • joshua

    To the caller that says ethics should be based in nature and nature is survival of the strong–thats not true, thats rubbish-thats the propaganda. how much time have you spent in nature. Do you ignore that ants, bees, termites do everything for the community and individuals are expendable?

    Do you ignore that all mammals nurture and protect their young?

    Do you choose to ignore that there are countless examples of inter-species co-operation, and even friendship, dogs and cats raising each others young, gorillas and wolves raising human babies, on and on and on…friendships between horse and man, dog and man, man and yak, man and cow–these are co-operative relationships. Horses and dogs and cows have been know to save human lives even at risk of their own…it has nothing to do with the strong. That is an unethical evil concept. We defend our nation in times of honest danger because we have a desire to protect individuals other than ourselves. We protect the weak–that is the point of our military creeds-honor, commitment, courage—its not to invade hapless weak nations (but that is what we do).


    its not about opinion, its about what actions do the least amount of harm–what is kindness. i dont want somebody to squish me like a bug–i want to live, so should i drown kittens or exterminate bees and ants because they are smaller than me? How do I know they dont have feelings or morals or a desie to live? I think they do–when I try to kill the ants in my home, they flee desperatley tryign to escape, they sense and smell where others of their kind have been killed and quickly take action to warn others–I observe this.

    The guest used and example of a human and a mollusk on a ship. That really isnt a fair question–the shellfish will be happy to go back to sea–being on the ship is alien and harmful to it–you save its life by throwing it over the side. Better to ask if it came down between my beloved healthy dog and a stranger who I dont like, and nobody particularity likes, or maybe they do, or maybe hes a lazy lout, i will save my dog and throw the stranger over. Why is my dogs life inferior to the man’s? That is a moralist thing to say–even a religious thing to say. In fact it is religion. I value my dog’s life more than an irritating stranger–sorry. Esp, if that man is corrupt, unethical, and a politician or a zealot worshiping a black book. In fact, you could say it is the ethical thing to do to toss that corrupt individual over–in China they have the death penalty for such corrupution as we see everyday in America. I’m starting to think China has more ethics than America. (not really, but…)

  • Greg

    I enjoyed this program, but (along with several other people who have posted) completely disagreed with Randy’s position on defaulting on a mortgage. I didn’t understand how he could tell another caller that taking extra items from the cafeteria line was wrong, but defaulting on a mortgage was OK. In both cases, the person has entered into some agreed upon “contract”. The student paid X$ dollars for a meal card which allowed him to take Y items per visit. In the case of the mortgage, the borrower took X$ (with his house as collateral) and agreed to pay back Y$ in a certain period of time. As long as the terms were legal and agreed to by both parties, both parties should comply. Just because the bank may have allowed a person to potentially over-extended themselves, doesn’t mean that the person is not obligated to pay back the debt IAW with the contract. I thought Randy’s explanation was totally insufficient and (more annoyingly) completely inconsistent with his explanations for other scenarios posed by callers.

  • joshua

    Greg–he acknowledged that the person with a mortgage has a contract, but if it comes to the point where one cannot pay the bill and one has to make a choice–feed my family, put clothes on their back, and gas in the car so I can get to work, if I have a job, if my job wasn’t sent to china, I must do what’s right for my family first, and survival.

    the problem is banks never negotiate–you either pay up in full or we kill your credit–they are often detached, unreasonable, and inhumane. The contracts always benefit the bank–it is not as though you have a choice. Either accept our unfair, ridiculous terms, or go away. It’s time we start making our country in our own human image–not the elite, or fascist capitalistic class warfare us agaisnt them pathos…

    Now, consider the same banks and businesses are affecting, contributing to or causing major job loose in America i think the bank is responsible and should re-negotiate the terms of the loan, or forgive–especially when the banks often exploited uninformed people about the terms, and set unreasonable goals.

    if millions of jobs–that massive sucking sound–are going overseas and the industries that go overseas and outsource get tax benefits and the banks that robbed American people, get bailed out and go on million dollar vacations, the same banks and industries that refuse to pay benefits, pensions, or reasonable salaries–are the cause of widespread enormous unemployment and unemployment because of their policies, conduct, and selfish greed–how can one make his payments? Especially when say this person had all the reason to believe he would be able to keep making payments–but then out of nowhere he is laid off–made redundant–his job goes overseas-with little warning–with NO Respect for the community or the nation then he cant make payments.

    What is a person to do? He has to feed his family. It is not ethical to keep making payments on a house that was swindled in the first place? Is it ethical for the banks to take tax payers money and go on vacation and refuse to give out loans?

    i don’t think so. These industries are radically powerful and unsympathetic–psychopathic, and anti-social. If the banks wont pay back their loans to the people which they didn’t deserve–and they didnt NOT pay them back–then why should we? Why should we pay back school loans?

    We are lied to about the reasons of war–and the world suffers and people die for no reason–NO reason! And tax-payers foot the bill! Is that ethical? Especially when these banks and industrial institutions–the government dont use our taxes for infrastructure or community building such as health care or education? What is the first thing to get cut-education! Environment, Social programs. War always comes first. I dont think that benefits anybody except the elite. is that ethical? When they start acting like Americans and doing the ethical human social thing–I will pay my loans. Until then they are not American. i do not recognize them as legitimate American institutions. Whose interests do they have at heart? NOt yours. NOt mine. NOt America. they go bankrupt, they can’t pay the bills and we bail them out. You have a hard time, because of them, and they say to hell with you mangy dog –die in the street!

    people foreclose not because they are evil lazy gits–they foreclose because they have to survive and feed the family–and that is ethical!

  • joshua

    i disagree with the school diners card program–because it benefits no one–a tremendous amount of food goes to waste–trashed, seldom does it ever go to the needy or the homeless–its just wasted–tons of it.

    I think they can spare the kid his meals.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I was waiting for someone to come draw the bigger picture on the mortgage situation. The banks (and the government with their dysregulation) brought most of this on themselves; to say we aren’t playing by the rules anymore has to consider all of that. If all the mortgages foreclose and we have Recession double dip, triple dip, do we blame the jobless underwater mortgage defaulter? Hardly.
    Or the extra cookies picture. I thought it was a trick.
    There is a difference between law and morality, between contract law and morality. Sometimes one has to think for oneself. Not always.
    Consider you are driving down the road, speed limit posted at 65. Everyone is going 70. State police are out there monitoring, and they are not chasing all 75,000 cars.
    I am wondering if the other 5,000 students on the university food plan are scooping up extra cookies? Where I’ve been at schools, there begin to be standards among students: Everyone gets firsts; if there is plenty and food would otherwise go to waste, other standards apply. This caller may be a lean fellow calling in, tricking up Cohen by not pointing at a bunch of seriously overfed critters whom the rules somehow do not rein in. Over a year, each eats far more than this one with the inflated superego.
    I don’t envy the job of making decisions for others where so many factors might not be “on the table.” I think he has to do it with a huge sense of humor or not at all.

  • Matt S.

    The bankers get free money from the federal reserve as payment for their role as a conduit for the central bank’s money creation scheme. The lend it at interest and make huge profits. In the long run it all comes at the expense of the productive working class who foot the bill for the whole mess through the inflation tax. Which is why they their earnings stagnate while the top 5% rake in vast wealth. So of course it’s not unethical to walk away from a mortgage. You lose the house and your good credit rating, they get their collateral (the house and your down payment). Just as agreed upon.

Sep 3, 2014
This still image from an undated video released by Islamic State militants on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, purports to show journalist Steven Sotloff being held by the militant group. The Islamic State group has threatened to kill Sotloff if the United States doesn't stop its strikes against them in Iraq. Video released Tuesday, Sept. 02, 2014, purports to show Sotloff's murder by the same rebel group. (AP)

Another beheading claim and ISIS’s use of social media in its grab for power.

Sep 3, 2014
In this Fall 2013 photo provided by the University of Idaho, students in the University of Idaho’s first Semester in the Wild program take a class in the Frank Church-River Of No Return Wilderness, Idaho. (AP)

MacArthur “genius” Ruth DeFries looks at humanity’s long, deep integration with nature – and what comes next. She’s hopeful.

Sep 2, 2014
Confederate spymaster Rose O'Neal Greenhow, pictured with her daughter "Little" Rose in Washington, D.C.'s Old Capitol Prison in 1862. (Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

True stories of daring women during the Civil War. Best-selling author Karen Abbott shares their exploits in a new book: “Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy.”

Sep 2, 2014
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., talks with Mark Wilson, event political speaker chairperson, with his wife Elain Chao, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, at the annual Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky., Saturday, August 4, 2012. (AP)

Nine weeks counting now to the midterm elections. We’ll look at the key races and the stakes.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
The Five Midterm 2014 Races To Watch
Tuesday, Sep 2, 2014

The five most interesting races of the 2014 midterm election cycle, per our panel of expert national political correspondents.

More »
Our Week In The Web: August 29, 2014
Friday, Aug 29, 2014

On hypothetical questions, Beyoncé and the unending flow of social media.

More »
Drew Bledsoe Is Scoring Touchdowns (In The Vineyards)
Thursday, Aug 28, 2014

Football great — and vineyard owner — Drew Bledsoe talks wine, onions and the weird way they intersect sometimes in Walla Walla, Washington.

More »