Read this quotation from The New York Times today from an ethicist discussing the Patriots, "deflate gate," and cheating in sports:
“This kind of gamesmanship goes on all the time,” said Stephen Mosher, a professor at Ithaca College who studies sports ethics. “It’s certainly accepted as part of the culture that you game the system as much as you possibly can, and if you don’t get caught, it ain’t cheating.”Interesting -- and not just because it is about a sports issue in the news. Think about it: "if you don't get caught, it ain't cheating" could be our cultural mantra.
If you don't get caught, you weren't speeding.
If you don't get caught, those short cuts you took on your taxes are perfectly OK.
If you don't get caught, that she'd you built without your town's approval is perfectly fine.
Perhaps this is not a problem. I'd like to think we'd be bothered by this, but I know we're not -- and I'm just as guilty of these small, seemingly meaningless infractions as anyone.
This raises a question: Does our complicity in these small violations preclude us from being critical of larger violations? Does the extra deduction we might take mean we should accept the larger, far more impactful liberties taken by those with power?
My answer is no, though I think it is difficult to draw a hard line separating what might be acceptable and what should not be. There are obvious no-nos: Chemical companies dumping waste into the environment (essentially cheating by passing the cost of disposal onto the larger society); or an elected official using his power to enrich himself. Cheating on a test or a paper -- by stealing answers, say, or plagiarizing -- is obviously wrong. But there is no prohibition -- almost no prohibition -- against seeking other advantages.
Other issues are not so clear cut. Base runners stealing signs from catchers remains acceptable; using a camera to do so is not. The effect is the same -- stolen signs -- but the means create the greater violation. I understand -- and agree -- that there is a difference, but exactly where the line is drawn is more difficult to explain.
But there is a line and, like the court's response to pornography, we know it when we see it.