This is a wonderful idea. How did it all come about?
It was a fluke. I came up with the idea and then I was like, "All right, I'm gonna do this right now so I can't talk myself out of it." I'd always enjoyed crafting ethical arguments to myself, and trying to figure out if I was doing the right thing. I mean, I don't sit there with my fist clenched, thinking, "Should I punch this guy or not?" But I'll often hear something on the news and think, "Was that right?" And I noticed that I would always have these initial thoughts about an issue and think, "That was stupid, how could somebody do that?" And if I stopped to think about it some more, I found that more often than not, I would change my mind. And this is not something where you have to have specialized knowledge. With ethics, it's really just manipulating the knowledge you already have.
You've written for major television and radio networks -- why are you doing this for free?
Well, there's not exactly a lot of people clamoring to hire someone to write bizarre little essays on ethics. One of the goals of the site is to encourage people to think about these issues, to think more about what they're doing in life, how they're behaving, and if they're acting ethically. But it would be nice if somebody called me up and said, "Why don't you write a column for us?"
Do you think it's ethical to use a blog about ethics to promote yourself?
I could post anonymously, I suppose. But I'm actually opposed to that, because especially with something like ethics, I think it's important to know who's talking to you. It could be a lunatic. I could be a lunatic! It's important to know, first of all, if [I'm] even an American, because ethics change from society to society. And I think it's fair that people know that I'm not a philosopher, and that I don't have a background in ethics. I don't even know if it was offered as a class when I was in college.
Do you think we live in a particularly unethical world?
I don't think people think about that as much as they could, or as much as they should. And I don't think I even do. Since I started doing this site I've started thinking about it more and more, as if there's some sort of police watching me saying, "Hey! The guy who writes the ethics site isn't being ethical!" But a lot of people just do stuff, and don't think about it. Which is fine -- you can't always be analyzing everything you do. But there are things in life that you have time to think about before you do them, and I'm not sure people do that. People just act.
You tackle some pretty serious subjects: the Abu Ghraib photos, affirmative action. Will the Do-Gooder always be so serious?
I'm trying to balance it out, because I really want the site to be entertaining. I don't want people to be slogging through it. The few that I've done have been balanced between really silly stuff and really serious stuff. And the one that's going up tomorrow is an extremely long, ethical analysis of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It mentions some real ethical issues, but it's not serious at all.
I'm sort of a life-long cheapskate, so your essay about the ethics of tipping really grabbed me. Have you ever stiffed a waitress?
I was trying to remember that when I wrote it. I probably have at some point, but I can't remember a time in my adult life when I've stiffed anyone. Certainly not since college.
Have you ever shoplifted?
In all honesty? Yes. And I don't think I've ever told anyone outside my family this. I was 13, and I stole a video game. I got caught, and I've never done it since.
Can you think of a recent example of something unethical you've done?
Well, when it's time for bed and somebody's got to take the dog out one last time, I'll often think -- if I just wait another minute my wife will do it. That's not the most ethical thing to do. And I know it when I do it, and I try to do it less and less, but I still do it. I'm not going to lie about it. She does the same thing!
I see that you're not wearing a wedding band. That doesn't seem very ethical.
That's because I lost it in the ocean and I haven't bought a new one yet. We were on vacation, and over the last year I lost a lot of weight ...