One of the things which constantly amazes me about everyday life is how often I actually have to make a moral call. Of course, ethicists all over the world are lecturing poor little first-year undergraduates right this minute about how ubiquitous ethical beliefs and decisions are, but seriously? Sure, my whole life is structured around some value system (one hopes), but somehow my life seems too boring and routine-ified for there to be that many moral decisions in it. I don't have kids or a marriage, I don't make policy decisions, except when I'm voting. But that apparently doesn't stop the damn ethical issues from pouring in between the sandbags of social norms. Still, that's not the part that's making me whiny. I'm whiny because the issues are so damn minor -- like pathetic ethical papercuts. And I'm even whinier because the right answers are mostly not clear to me. Which extends the papercut metaphor (and we know I love to squeeze my metaphors until they go superconductor), because the damn things hurt way out of proportion to their ludicrous tinyness.
The particular difficulty I have is punitiveness. What makes something a punishment, rather than not? And if something is a punishment, what warrants it?
As a result of sadistic and largely contingent factors, I have to submit my dissertation by April 30, which is in 68 days. This may or may not be feasible, but suffice to say that my time is now at a super-premium. Which may or may not be a factor in the moral structure of what happens next.
Today, I had three hours of teaching scheduled, which in my university happens one-on-one with undergraduates. One of these students failed to show. This means that today, I wasted around two hours of my unbelievably precious time.
God, how I would love to rant myself textually hoarse over this, because my raw nerve-ends are pinging with rage like severed powerlines flipping over the road splintering sparks off the tarmac. But let's pretend I'm calm and rational.
The student is just a flake. She's plain forgotten, nothing else to it. There's no malice in it. If I am to bill for the time she wasted, I have to tell someone in authority that she failed to show. That person has to pay me for teaching that the student didn't end up getting, so this means she'll get an earful. That seems punitive to me, and in one way I don't want to punish her just for being a flake. But on the other hand, if I do not invoke this arguably punitive consequence, then I am the only one to whom negative consequences accrue -- in the first place, I wasted my time, and consequently I don't get paid, and I have to expend more time and energy rescheduling the appointment she missed, and yet further energy on the teaching which should have happened today, but didn't.
I hate the feeling that it's her or me. I want to be able to be compensated for the fact that my time was wasted without there being the implication that she behaved badly.
Except, of course, she did. But she didn't mean to.
The appeal to intentions has been made to ludicrous ends around here lately -- there was a case of plagiarism which was dropped in the face of an "I didn't mean to" defense. To this I say -- WTF? No way, sunshine. Ignorantia legis neminem excusat, end of story.
But when I've been screwed over because the student is just, well, a bit hopeless? I can't cast the first stone. But it looks like I'm going to anyway.