10/9/07

The Yarmulke Discount Scam

Here is the offending text from "Yarmulke Ruse" in the Ethicist column of the Times Magazine 11/26/06:
I stopped patronizing a mail-order company when it began including editorial content about Jesus in its catalog, finding that inappropriate. I now plan to visit a camera store owned and staffed by Orthodox Jews. Although I am an observant Jew, I do not regularly wear a yarmulke, but I’m considering doing so in the hope of preferential treatment, maybe even a discount. Hypocritical? Ethical? --R.K., New York

Answer:

What’s most lamentable about your scheme is not its hypocrisy — although there is that — but its deceit: you would present yourself to be what you are not, someone who regularly wears a yarmulke, an object of religious significance. What’s more, in ethics, intent counts, and yours is simply to cadge a discount, to be what genuine yarmulke-wearers might describe as, if not a ganef, certainly a shnorrer.

As far as tactics go, I’m skeptical that a discount for the Orthodox is on offer. And that’s as it should be. To give a price break to co-religionists is no different from imposing a price hike on nonbelievers. Ads boasting “Baptists Pay 10 Percent More” would not be appealing marketing or, for that matter, legal.

You might argue that what you propose is no more deceptive than acting courteously when you really feel antisocial. Dr. Johnson called politeness “fictitious benevolence” and was all for it: “It supplies the place of it amongst those who see each other only in publick, or but little. Depend on it, the want of it never fails to produce something disagreeable to one or other.” But politeness merely withholds the expression of your feelings, a matter of style; it does not falsely proclaim your beliefs, a matter of substance.

I myself would never wear a cat costume to a pet shop hoping to entice the animal-loving staff into offering me a discount on a squeaky toy. I might wear it socially, but that’s between me and my therapist.

UPDATE: R. K. went to the store bareheaded.
What is wrong with this question and answer? Just about everything.

Here's what I see wrong with it.

1. "I stopped patronizing a mail-order company when it began including editorial content about Jesus in its catalog, finding that inappropriate." By including this sentence the Ethicist implies that there is an ethical issue to this decision. He does N O T discuss this point -- he just leaves it out there. It has no purpose in the query that follows -- other than to portray Jews as chauvinistic and biased against religious Christians. It would have been nice to see some discussion by the Ethicist of whether it is ethically correct for Christians to use an electronics catalog to promote their religious agenda. I'd like to see what an Ethicist has to say about using a discount electronics catalog to promote religion. I think it is wrong and stupid -- like shooting yourself in the groin. Bottom line -- by including this sentence, the Ethicist has set up anyone who decides anything based on religious preferences as an ethically challenged bigot. I say to the Times: correct this man before he violates all canons of journalistic principles again.

2. "Although I am an observant Jew, I do not regularly wear a yarmulke, but I’m considering doing so in the hope of preferential treatment, maybe even a discount." Look Mr. Ethicist, he IS an observant Jew. There is nothing hypocritical or deceitful about it if he chooses to appear in this store with a yarmulke. And for sure there is no element of thievery ("ganef") or begging ("shnorrer"). This fellow is at worst taking a SHORTCUT to tell the salesmen that he is an observant Jew. And I can assure you that this is of NO AVAIL. I have a relative whose BROTHER is a manager at J&R and HE can't get a discount!

3. What is unethical about saying anything to receive a discretionary courtesy discount? We are not talking here about someone who claims falsely to be an employee or a member of the military or a clergyman or a member of the AAA. We are talking about the act of negotiating a better price for a purchase. The Ethicist seems to have lost all contact with reality here. THERE IS NO ETHICAL DILEMMA.

4. "To give a price break to co-religionists is no different from imposing a price hike on nonbelievers. Ads boasting “Baptists Pay 10 Percent More” would not be appealing marketing or, for that matter, legal." WHAT? What in the world prompts you Mr. Ethicist to go off on this tangent? Religion is not at issue here. Electronics is a highly competitive market segment. Discounting is common, price matching is common. It would be moronic to encourage a person to pay more for an item than he ought to. In fact, by inhibiting the buyer from using any and all acceptable means to obtain the best price in the market, the Ethicist is violating ethical norms. Again -- the discount we are discussing -- if any -- is a discretionary mark up or mark down. If the Ethicist inhibits you from getting the best deal -- he is simply abetting a sketchy practice of sellers adding ADP to a price -- ADDITIONAL DEALER PROFIT to what should be a lower market price.

5. "But politeness merely withholds the expression of your feelings, a matter of style; it does not falsely proclaim your beliefs, a matter of substance." Look, we said it clearly. You don't understand what wearing a yarmulke is all about. If a person says he is an observant Jew and then he walks into a store wearing a yarmulke there is no false pretense here. When he spends the rest of the day NOT wearing a yarmulke, that we might discuss as an ethical misrepresentation. But not this. Ethicist, you don't have a clue about this, do you?

6. "I myself would never wear a cat costume to a pet shop hoping to entice the animal-loving staff into offering me a discount on a squeaky toy. I might wear it socially, but that’s between me and my therapist." You surely ought to schedule some extra therapy sessions. You have just compared wearing a yarmulke to wearing a cat costume. If that is what you think - get thee quick to a therapist. It's a kooky thing to say, it's a stupid thing to say, it's an antisemitic thing to say. And again, you ought to be chastised for saying it.

7. And finally, "UPDATE: R. K. went to the store bareheaded." This is not an update. Why? Because you did not tell us whether or not he received a discount.

End of the story: This writer speaks for the NY Times and considers this case to be an ethical dilemma. And then he discusses it in highly questionable manner. Boy are we in ethical trouble!
UPDATE - The Ethicist replies to our criticisms:

Thanks for the interesting note. We do disagree about pretty much every point you made. I'm afraid you raise far too many questions for me to take up ... but I would like to make just one brief comment: I do not, as you assert, speak for the NY Times. Mine is a column of opinion in which I speak only for myself. My folly, if any, cannot be laid at anyone else's door.

RC

- repost from 11/26/06

2 comments:

David said...

Thank you. Cohen needs to be called out more often.

Bryce said...

"To give a price break to co-religionists is no different from imposing a price hike on nonbelievers"

I suppose Cohen bristles at the Torah portion which says it's fine to charge a non-Israelite interest, but not an Israelite.