The ethics of ridicule

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By John Pawlak

 My mother was a short woman, under five feet tall, and weighted only 95 pounds when she got married.  In her late years, she had ballooned into what doctors call morbidly obese.  Her doctor said it wasn’t a medical problem.  She simply ate too much.
 Now, I loved my mother and so I decided to “help” her lose that weight.  I commissioned the construction of a 15’x30’ billboard across the street facing her house and had her pictures put on the billboard so that everyone driving by could see how fat she was.
 The billboard said, “Beep your horn to say hello to my mother, the big fat pig living in the house to your left!”
 She would walk outside and see the billboard and hear the people laughing at her.  She felt “shamed” and realized that she needed to lose all that weight.
 My strategy worked!  Mom shed all that embarrassing fat, trimmed down, got healthy, and lived out her remainder years as a slender “decent” person whom I was “willing” to be seen with.
 Go ahead.  Admit it.  I’m a great son, aren’t I?  I mean, is that love or what?
 Uh, OK, this never happened.  My mother was in fact quite overweight.  But for some strange reason, I never did consider the option of public ridicule as a strategy for encouraging her to lose weight.
 That would be stupid, wouldn’t it?  Hurtful too?
 Well, every now and then, I make the mistake of thinking that there’s only so much stupidity that can come out of a person’s mouth.  For a moment, I give humanity the benefit of doubt and convince myself that people can’t sink any lower.
 And then, the moment is gone.  Someone opens their mouth and says one of the most moronic human statements of the decade.
 Into the world of the uber-stupid walks “bioethicist” Daniel Callahan of The Hastings Center (dedicated to the study of “fundamental ethical issues”).
 Mr. Callahan recently proposed a new “ethical” approach to promoting weight loss in America.
 Public shame.  He says that society should actively pursue ways of publicly ridiculing and shaming fat people.
 Now, my vocabulary isn’t stellar and I often find myself looking up the meaning of words.  So I looked up “ethical” and my dictionary says it means “Pertaining to the principles of morality, in accordance with virtuous practice, and honorable conduct.”
 Clearly, I need a new dictionary.  The Hastings Center (in its own words) “draws on a world-wide network of experts, including an elected association of leading researchers influential in bioethics.”
 They certainly must know better than I what is and is not ethical.
 So, let’s make fun of fat people!  Go ahead, spit at them, call them names, laugh at them in public and taunt them for their obesity.
 It’s a sign of love and respect.  It’s your “ethical” duty to shame these people into losing weight!
 Callous Callahan is right about one thing.  Our country does have a serious problem with obesity.  More than a third of adults and a nearly one fifth of children are obese.
 But the Hastings heartless don’t believe there’s sufficient stigma of shame in our society for the overweight.  Amercians don’t snicker enough at fat people in restaurants.  We obviously aren’t making enough hurtful jokes about porkers, roly polys, oinkers, beached whales, jelly bellies, fatsos, blubber butts, and thunder thighs.
 Yes, we should all work harder at ridiculing fat people.  What better way to show you care?
 I doubt that The Hastings Center would encourage us to ridicule mentally challenged children.  Or make fun of amputees. Or to “shame” someone for their color or religion or gender.
 But people do mock and deride overweight people.  So that makes it all OK, right?  And ethical too!
 Mr. Callahan.  Until I read your so-called educated opinion, I had never heard the term “bioethicist.”  I’ve penciled it into my dictionary so that I can remember the definition — “A self-righteous pompous sanctimonious moron.”
 Hey, I’ve got an idea!  Maybe if we all start publicly ridiculing snobbish arrogant megalomaniacs, you bioethicists might start acting like (dare I say it?) “ethical” people?