One of the reasons I still take a newspaper every Sunday is that it’s a regular test of my curiosity. Do I care to read that story about how the CDC came to the decision to suspend the Johnson & Johnson vaccine? Or am I willing to continue my pattern of being pretty ignorant about the science of COVID, and secure in my feelings about it?
Unlike the Internet, the newspaper does that: It gives you a sense of how much there is to know, and forces you to physically turn the page without reading it, thus admitting to yourself and your God: There is a great deal of objectively important shit I don’t know anything about, and am too lazy or otherwise preoccupied to read up on. (The entire war in Syria, for instance.) That’s a good thing to remember about yourself. Keeps you humble.
The New York Times is the Sunday paper I read. Some weeks I read a lot of it, and it takes hours to get through; other weeks I have fewer shits to give. But every single Sunday, the very easiest section to skip past is the regular ethics column, in the NYT Magazine. That, too, seemed like a lack of curiosity on my part, until I realized the reason I didn’t want to know the answers that “The Ethicist” had to offer was that the questions are so dumb!
Those questions are either blithely answered through the haze of a Bloody Mary buzz “yes,” “no” or “who gives a fuck?”—or they’re as impossible to answer as the much larger, more troubling question: “What sort of propeller-head, on the horns of a dilemma, thinks to write a letter to The New York Times?!”
I was inspired to ask some more difficult questions I’ve faced in recent years, days, and minutes—bravely, on my own!—that I’d like to see “The Ethicist” try to answer:
• If I think an extended family member or family friend’s very young child is butt-ass ugly inside and out, should I refrain from saying so to my wife, thus legitimizing a shameful private thought into a social reality? Or should I share it with her, to avoid creating or perpetuating a pattern of love-strangling Victorian propriety between me and my beloved?
• If I post a super cute picture on Facebook about my dog, shouldn’t I include a line admitting that I’m not even going to bother noticing who “likes” it—and specifying that I’m only in it for the numbers?
• If I run across a searing feminist post like this McSweeney’s masterpiece titled, “Alternatives to Resting Bitch Face,” am I obligated to forward it to feminist friends and family members, knowing full well that they will love the piece but surely forget I was the one who sent it, and then use it to sharpen their knives against my partriarchy-representing ass?
I had a boss once who said that some people prefer an ethical question to a real one.
Not me, boy.