Chuck Klosterman is the Ethicist?
Rock critic Chuck Klosterman has taken over the Ethicist column at the New York Times Magazine. An unlikely choice, to be sure. How did they pick the Bearded One? It's as if someone dared them to find an ethicist less qualified than predecessor Ariel Kaminer.
Let's see how Klosterman fields his very first question:
My father recently died. His daughter from his first marriage (which ended several years before his marriage to my mother) has made efforts to stay in touch with me since his death. I have never had a direct relationship with my half sister. She has had a difficult life, missing out on many of the advantages my sister and I enjoyed. I want to be sympathetic to her struggles, but though I’ve tried, I’ve never felt an attachment to her. She has been an intermittent presence and not always a pleasant one. Is it ethical to decide not to carry on this relationship? Or does someone else’s desire for connection, which perhaps comes out of a strong wish to be part of a family, outweigh my personal preference? J.G., NEW JERSEY
Klosterman's bottom line: "[Y]ou are in no way ethically obligated to have a relationship with someone you don’t like simply because you happen to share fragments of your father’s DNA." Thanks, Ayn Rand.
The advice-seeker is asking for permission to cut his half sister out of his life because he doesn't feel attached to her and he'd rather not make the effort. He doesn't say he can't stand her, or that she's a horrible person to be around. He just doesn't feel bonded to her, which isn't surprising considering that he doesn't know her very well.
The letter-writer claims he never had a direct relationship with his half sister, but then he says that she was an intermittent presence in his life. So, she's not a long lost total stranger. Being older, the sister may feel more a part of his life than he does of hers.
If she thinks of him as a brother, his rejection could be devastating, especially so soon after the death of her father. At minimum, the letter-writer owes his half sister continued status as a member of the family.
We all have distant relatives that we aren't particularly attached to, but whom we still invite to family gatherings. Nobody says he has to have a close brother-sister relationship with a woman he barely knows. But then again, how much would it cost him to invite her for Thanksgiving or send her a birthday card?
If the half sister were a cruel or disruptive presence in the letter-writer's life, he'd have no obligation to maintain a relationship with her just because of shared DNA, but that's not how he characterizes the situation.
Severing all ties would be a cruel blow to a lonely woman who has had a difficult life. It costs him relatively little and it would mean a great deal to her. If he spent some time with her, he might even discover that they have more in common than he realizes.
This level of callousness does not bode well for Klosterman's tenure as the Ethicist.