An entertaining day at the Ontario Court of Justice yesterday, listening to the legal arguments at the Ford appeal. Those of you following on the Tweeter know all about it already.
Reflecting on the proceedings today, Ed Keenan argues, not unreasonably, that both Alan Lenczner and Clayton Ruby are right in their characterization of our Chief Magistrate. Other observers weigh in, perceptively, on his simplistic approach, his stubbornness, his evident sense of entitlement, and what Mr. Ruby described as his wilful ignorance. Nothing new there, really.
As the ensuing discussion on Twitter suggests, though, we’re left with a thorny ethical question.
From a moral standpoint, which is worse: lying and prevaricating deliberately? Deluding yourself into the belief that your false statements are actually true? Being so out of touch that you genuinely don’t recognize the difference between true and false?
I have to emphasize, for the purposes of this discussion, that I’m not ascribing any of these courses to Rob Ford, or to anyone else. I don’t understand his motives, I don’t know what goes on in his head, I don’t know what his handlers tell him, and I’m not privy to any of those conversations. Only Rob Ford knows what makes Rob Ford say the things he says.
But it’s hard not to see the moral minefield. I’ve never really worked out a comprehensive evaluation of the good and the bad (and in truth, these questions, while they may be sharply crystallized by the Ford ascendancy, are independent of him), but however we shake things out, we’re left with some uncomfortable residue. It’s relatively easy, for example, to condemn deliberate falsehoods. Lying is a bad thing. We’re all taught that from the moment we learn how to walk and talk.
But what is lying? The intent to mislead, to deceive, to withhold information, to knowingly state that which we know to be false? In isolation, it’s easy to condemn that on moral grounds.
But what if it’s not in isolation? What if the lie is intended in the service of a greater good? No, I didn’t tell my friend his cooking sucked. No, I didn’t tell my friend her singing was tuneless and at odds with the rhythm. I value their friendship and I didn’t want to insult them.
And what if the falsehood isn’t considered, but spur-of-the-moment bullshit to which our man subsequently commits himself ever more firmly in the genuine belief that he’s acting in the public interest?
You can see where it goes from there. A whole range of sliding justifications, many of which point, inexorably, to End-Justifies-the-Meansville.
And what if it’s a whole different ballgame, one in which our man genuinely doesn’t know the difference between true and false? If that’s the case (and I’m not saying it is, I’m just spitballing for the purposes of argument), then how can there be any intent to mislead? There’s no basis for moral condemnation any more.
Or is there? Isn’t it just as bad — arguably worse — to be so disconnected that you’re essentially without any moral basis for your actions? As Ed recalls, Jesus urged forgiveness of his tormentors because they knew not what they did, but we’re not apostles, and this isn’t a crucifixion.
Now, I’m not suggesting that Rob Ford does or doesn’t go through these calculations in how he governs himself or approaches his responsibilities. And I’m not getting religion here. I don’t think it’s a prerequisite to the establishment of a moral framework, and I’d also note that Rob Ford’s also shown that he’s capable of decency and generosity of spirit. For the purposes of good governance, we needn’t arrive at a conclusive moral resolution here (and I’m deliberately sidestepping the uncomfortable implications of that), but we can’t pretend the questions aren’t there either.
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