The 10 best questions never asked of "The Ethicist."

Dubious and far-fetched ideas.
March 18 2002 2:15 PM

Unasked Yet Answered

The 10 best questions never asked of "The Ethicist."

I write a column called " The Ethicist" for the New York Times Magazine. It is a great job but has this disadvantage: I can't initiate the discussion. The format of the column allows me only to reply to readers' ethical queries. Unless someone writes in and asks about it, I must forsake an issue of interest to me. Frustrating! Below, some questions I never received at the column but wish I had.


1) I am the leader of a large Western nation—you'd recognize the name—one that trumpets its devotion to democracy. In the election that brought me to power, I received far fewer votes than my opponent, but our peculiar rules made me the victor. (It's a wild story.) For me to continue in office is legal, but is it ethical?—G.W.B., Washington

2) I write an ethics column for a prominent national magazine—you'd recognize the name. I'm specifically instructed by my editors to confine myself to ethics and not to take on politics; the paper employs many fine writers to cover that subject. But would it be so wrong to sneak in a few policy questions under the guise of ethics questions? What if a portion of the proceeds went to charity?—R.C., New York City

3) While I yearn for romance and rapture, I find myself with a husband who is dull and stifling; he is a doctor much older than I am. Recently, visiting Rouen to go to the theater, I met an old friend who offers the passion I crave. Would it be so wrong to have an affair?—Emma Bovary, Yonville, France

4) I'm the editor of a Chicago newspaper. To keep my best reporter (let's call her "Hildy") from quitting and running off to Albany to marry an insurance man, I've had the sap arrested on trumped-up charges and tricked Hildy into covering one more story for me; I've got her hiding an escaped murderer right now. In my defense, it's the only way I know to get the story, free an innocent man, bring a corrupt city hall to justice, and save Hildy from a miserable marriage. Plus, I love her. And remember—Albany. So am I all square here?—Walter Burns, Chicago

5) Part of my job is to protect our nation's magnificent national parks. I think the best way to do this is to have lots of snowmobiles driving around in there. No problem from your end, right? And anyway, should you even be writing about politics? What am I asking you for?—G.W.B., Washington

6) Although I'm happy in my current job, having recently received a promotion (I'm the new Thane of Cawdor), that's not enough for my wife who is eager for me to get ahead. I'm not saying I lack ambition, but I am reluctant to do what it takes to climb higher—the long hours, the bloody murders. And yet, don't I have a special obligation to consider my wife's desires? We are, after all, a family.—Macbeth, Scotland.

7) My name is Kenneth Lay. So?

8) Although many people think I'm a big doofus, I get to make nuclear weapons policy for a powerful nation—you'd recognize all the abrogated treaties. I'm thinking of being a little looser about nukes and using them not just as a deterrent but in regular battles. I wouldn't employ such weapons of mass destruction on just anybody but only against a really evil country—you know, one that tried to acquire weapons of mass destruction. OK? Hey, wait a second. This is none of your damn business! You tricked me again!—G.W.B., Washington

9) Everyone regards me as wicked, and it's getting me down. I am typically associated with truly bad company—Gluttony, Pride, Sloth, Greed, Anger, and Envy—and I certainly see why they're considered an unappealing crowd. But I think of myself as a force for life: I get people together; I increase the supply of human happiness. Sure, I can be misused, but if properly applied, I contribute to life's joy. Am I really so bad?—Lust



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