in Ethicist

The Ethicist: 20 December 2017

We Sponsor Refugees. What to Do About Their Patriarchal Ways?

Question:

I am a member of a group that has sponsored a family of refugees from rural Syria… group members signed up all four children — two boys and two girls — for soccer programs…. the parents always made some excuse about why their daughters couldn’t go…. in their family, girls aren’t allowed to participate in programs outside of the home, a decidedly nonegalitarian attitude if there ever was one. Here’s the dilemma: There are those who don’t want to enroll any of the children in future recreational programs because of the family’s highly conservative attitudes toward females. Others feel that this would make the group guilty of imposing its value system on a refugee family and, by extension, just end up hurting the young sons. Who’s right?

Correct answer:

Charity can be a wonderful thing, but beware that sometimes an attempt to do good can have the perverse effect of creating negative externalities on the wider community, and that other people may end up paying – perhaps in money, or perhaps in the form of weaker communities – for your good feelings. This is wrong.

Refugee resettlement is often good, but it can not be treated unequivocally as an unqualified good. When you make the private decision sponsor middle eastern refugees for settlement in the United States, you are taking responsibility for how they will behave. If they behave well and make net-positive contributions to American society, it’s a credit to you. If they behave poorly and degrade American society, you must be held accountable.

Your personal project has introduced behavior that you find disagreeable, and unsurprisingly this has caused a wedge to be driven into the refugee sponsorship group. You and the group as a whole must make amends to the community, and you must commit to cease sponsoring further refugees without guarantees that they will not disrupt the community’s values.

Question:

I am a lifelong runner, and after graduating from college this spring, I am in my first few months in a new city…. On my intercollegiate team, running with no shirt or, for women, a sports bra and short shorts was the norm in hot weather … Since I arrived in my new community, however, I have gotten the sense that this is not a look that people regularly encounter, and I worry that I am making them uncomfortable…. I am not breaking any local indecent-exposure laws, but community norms also have value…. Should I feel an ethical obligation to change my running clothing to something more modest in order to avoid offending the sensibilities of the people I encounter, or is it acceptable to continue to wear what is most comfortable to me based on the weather?

Correct answer:

You’re a grown man. As a rule, when you go into public, wear clothing. If you need me to list the reasonable exceptions to this rule, then you are in fact not a grown man.

Question:

I am in my mid-50s and self-employed, and had a heart attack last year. Fortunately, the heart-attack treatment was covered under Obamacare. I continue to pay for Obamacare, but given that it’s a new year, I am concerned that my follow-up treatment won’t be covered until my $6,500 deductible is reached. I currently don’t have the finances to cover the follow-up treatment: Is it unethical to get it and hope to find a way to pay for it later?

Correct answer:

It is unethical to purchase something without a way to pay for it, because doing so is theft, and it doesn’t become less “thefty” if you’re asking about stealing from a hospital or a doctor. If my reading of the question is correct, the cost of the followup treatment is less than the $6,500 deductible. If that is the case, it should not be too difficult to negotiate the bill down and/or to find a charity that will be willing to pay for some of it.

By the way, for someone who seems awfully enthusiastic about “Obamacare,” it seems odd that you don’t seem to have a problem with a $6,500 deductible.

Question:

I grew up in a typical small town in the South that enshrined the Civil War with a statue of a Confederate soldier beside the courthouse. A childhood friend, who became a professional artist of some note, painted a picture of the courthouse, which my mother bought for me as a gift because of my connection to the artist. The picture has been hanging in my home since the 1970s…. The Confederate statue is not a prominent focal point in the impressionistic painting. I had never paid much attention to it until the current uproar over the actual statues caused me — a raging white liberal on issues of civil rights — to do soul-searching about whether I wish to give such a symbol any space in my home. I am torn, of course, between keeping a gift from my beloved deceased mother that few will ever see besides me and my family and taking it down….

Correct answer:

You are filled with terrible and irrational self-loathing that causes you to put the day’s political fashions over a detail in a painting that you enjoy, that was a gift from your mother, that was created by your friend, that has been hanging in your home for four decades, that is barely even noticeable, that will hardly ever be seen, and that is not even offensive.

This is actual insanity, and if I didn’t already know that people like you existed, I would be sure that you were a troll.

Sell the painting on ebay and donate the proceeds to charity. Then spend the rest of your life in shame.