Does Confining Deplorable Remarks to Your Home Make Them All Right?

The magazine’s Ethicist columnist on public versus private selves and what you owe a prospective neighbor.

Comments: 95

  1. Regarding the "moral superiority" question, what is the ethical question???

    As far as the subject question about whether or not to say it in the home, it should come down to whether or not the children are present. Expressing an opinion to an adult is one thing, but expressing it in a way that might mold a youngster's view is another.

    The public/private test is probably a good guideline for use when children are present, because children and the public can't be assumed to get the context of the comments. Yes, sometimes people say things that aren't fit for public. Sometimes they mean them; sometimes they don't. Sometimes it's purely statistical (some stores do cater to/are favored by specific ethic groups, and I don't mean that in an economic way but rather a fashion way).

    Specific to a spouse's comments - would you rather not know what your spouse is thinking (for better or worse)?

  2. Regarding the prospective buyer of the former blight house, the neighbor seems a little dramatic ("...could not spend more than one second...").

    Mx. Withheld didn't merely commit a lie of omission by saying "I don't know anything", but a regular, full-fledged lie! Much was known, but not communicated. A lie of omission would be if the question was answered truthfully, but relevant information (not specifically queried) was left out.

    Luckily for the potential buyer, the auction winner probably documented the rehabilitation of the house (not sure of what structural issues result from filth), and she probably knew that Mx. Withheld was lying.

    If the house was gutted, removing all the affected sheet rock, carpet, flooring, etc., the filth would be removed, too. If hazmat suits were involved, what was left probably got a good cleaning before any new work was done. The neighbor's reservations about living there are more to do with what had been there, not what is (or might) still be there.

  3. Letter 1: Your home is not some vacuum of moral responsibility where your husband is free to air his racist beliefs, it is your home and your children's home, where his beliefs are as unacceptable as anywhere else, and he should keep his mouth shut and seek counselling.

    Letter 2: You were asked what you knew about the house. I see nothing wrong in replying: "It was a mess, full of dirt and mold, and a puppy mill, but they have had professionals working hard to clean it up, and we look forward to new, responsible owners as neighbours."

  4. I, for one, would never live anywhere or with anyone, where my beliefs, whatever they might be about any subject, would be deemed "unacceptable". You can disagree with them all you want, and we can talk about it, but an 'unacceptable' belief is beyond argument, at least to someone who declares it to be unacceptable. Furthermore, I have no beliefs that are important to me that I am ashamed of or that are too private to speak publicly, which is one of the reasons why I, like Ms. Sears, write such opinions in the Times under my own name. I note that the vast majority of comments all over the Times come from people who do not provide their full names. That simply is not acceptable to me! See how silly a phrase like 'acceptable' can be?

  5. Two and a Half Men, the Charlie Sheen sitcom, had an episode where Alan, Charlie’s brother, gets in touch years later with a girl he knew in high school who had stood him up on their prom date. Alan asks the girl why she stood him up. “Ask your brother.”

    In another episode Charlie has an affair with Alan’s divorce attorney. When Charlie breaks off the affair, the attorney caves on every demand of Alan’s wife in negotiations on dividing the property of the marriage. Alan asks the attorney why she caved. “Ask you brother.”

    An “accurate but brief” response by the second Name Withheld: “Ask the health department.”

  6. "In an effort to discourage such remarks, particularly around our children,"

    This is the real failing of the husband. Recall the song in the musical South Pacific: "You have to be carefully taught... "

  7. The husband sounds like a garden variety republican. So DID mine. Our 40th anniversary is this month (!!!). He now describes himself as an independent, but voted for Clinton. So, there is hope. Do YOUR thing, Girl,
    And live YOUR life. He will come around, or not. Cheers.

  8. I think ethical realtors (at least the ones I have worked with) would tell you that you need to disclose information about what has happened to a house, even if it has been fixed up. This happened to me with a house in Maine with an oil spill from a tank. The spill was contained and cleaned up--local EPA officials were called and monitored it, so it was really taken care of--but that it had happened still had to be disclosed on real estate forms. I'm not sure a home inspection would have shown up anything about this.

  9. For the house questions: if directly asked, state only what you observed, i.e. The major clean-up with the suits. PEROID. Yes, the house will probably be inspected, etc. YOU can't know what the current condition is, or exactly WHAT was done. Right???

  10. #1 - You have somehow tolerated your husband for 20 years. Learn the art of debate. It is his home too.
    #2 MYOB and refer them to the realtor. Anyone can perform due diligence relying on public records, not by asking the neighbors for their subjective opinions.

  11. But would you want someone to tell you that a home you are prepared to spend half a million dollars on had literally been a rat's nest? I would want to know if the walls had been covered in mold or if 1,000 cockroaches had previously resided there.
    And if I were the investor who had purchased the house at auction, I would have torn down the home and built a fresh one, so that I wouldn't have to worry about a neighbor sabotaging any future deals.

  12. Dear Ethicist, You lost me on this one. Your answers don't bring any clarity. Those days are gone. I'll stick with Social Q's and hope for better days for this column. Sincerely, JW

  13. Agreed. I wish Social Q's had a comment section. That would be the best.

  14. "There will surely be a home inspection before the sale is concluded; if serious contamination remains, it should be discovered."

    Sadly, my impression is that it happens every day that home inspections on behalf of buyers miss serious defects -- sometimes of enormous consequence. It would be nice if such inspections were reliable, but no one should take a "clean" inspection as a certainty that the house is safe and sound.

  15. And yet the flip side of that coin is to tell a story to a potential owner that may not be the actual facts?

  16. Also, with the housing market on fire, many sellers are taking cash offers and selecting buyers willing to forego the home inspection.

  17. While I agree that people should feel free to express their opinions in their own homes, I think one element missing from the discussion is the presence of a child in the home. Saying what we believe to another adult is one thing; saying it in front of an impressionable child is another - and children hear what we say, even when we think they are not listening.

  18. Maybe the father wants his children to grow up to have the same opinions and attitudes. It's a problem for the rest of us when they're deplorable. We have a White House full of them now.

  19. I disagree with the answer to the first LW. She objects to prejudicial comments being made to her, and, presumably, in front of their children.She's expressed objections to this, yet her mate persists. She is expected to not only live a lifetime of listening to this, but to accept it as "normal" and to model acceptance of such comments and treatment as "normal" to her children.
    This is different than the home providing a safe place for venting of frustrations, sincere struggling with moral issues, forgiveness for our missteps and
    acceptance of our irritating habits. That can coincide with boundaries.
    It's a form of harassment: her spouse is saying that they can say and behave however his wants, no matter her objections, and no matter the morally repugnant views that are expressed. Everyone is entitled to reasonable boundaries; hers can be to accept that he holds these views, but not to hear about them or tolerate them expressed around her.

  20. The point about respecting boundaries -- which derives from respect for your partner - is one of the most insightful comments here. The problem for the writer - is that if he refuses to do this - this becomes not about "political" differences, but about what this behavior signifies in the relationship

  21. (Presence of children aside) So what you're saying is that he can't be himself in his own home?? Like Appiah said, the problem is not the expression of the attitudes, but the existence of them. Although it sometimes seems like it is simply a business relationship, a spouse isn't merely a business partner or associate. A spouse is your best friend, other half, etc. (or something like that) - acts shouldn't need to be put on. Do you really want to censor your spouse (or you!). That's no way to live.

    If you want to stop hearing those comments, work on changing the attitudes. Challenge the comments, don't just remind him of them.

    Of course, if the only real difference is whether or not the comments are said (i.e. she has similar or analogous thoughts that she keeps to herself), she doesn't have much ground to stand on.

    How would your advice differ if the tables were turned (i.e. the liberal was the one making unwelcome, disparaging comments)? Methinks you would say the husband should just put up with it, because she has the right to speak her mind.

  22. It's about respect, not political views.
    First, If a liberal wants to trim their toenails on the kitchen table or berate their spouse's views, and either activity offends the other partner, it's valid to ask that it's stopped. That's what friends do for each other, too.

    Second, supporting unequal treatment or equal treatment due to race or gender are not morally the same. Giving health care to some people or all people is not morally the's about respect there, too.

    Third:Don't assume. I'm not a liberal, in the neoliberal sense. I'm a centrist who agrees with supporting clean air (Nixon, Clean Air Act), Planned Parenthood (Reagan), Educational equality (Eisenhower).
    All of which is now considered somehow radically to the left.

  23. 2 thoughts about letter 1:

    All too often I am confronted with remarks from relatives, co-workers, acquaintances, etc. that are so deplorable that I feel I just can't ignore them.
    - I simply say, "I disagree" politely if it's a private area or
    - If it's a public area and I think others may have heard, I tell the speaker that what he/she is saying makes me very uncomfortable and I would appreciate if they would stop.

    Another consideration is the children in this situation. They WILL repeat what they have heard at some point. Both parents, especially the dad in this situation, need to consider how they are doing to deal with that. Their kid may get in trouble at school for using certain terms or, as happened in my school, the kid may get into a fight resulting in serious injury. The parents should consider now how they plan to deal with that.

  24. Please explain to me how it is at all ethical to make racist comments in front of children.

  25. It is not ethical to make racist comments in front of children. However, you'd better be certain that the comments being made are racist before forbidding them, and who is to be the arbiter of that? Don B?

  26. Regarding the house, I think the correct thing to do would be to answer truthfully and completely. Describe the house as it was, state the months of effort that went into cleaning it up, and perhaps add "it looks so much more inviting and livable now."

    What if you say nothing and the home is purchased by the questioner who later learns of its past? How will you explain to your new neighbor that you "just didn't want to get involved" when he or she inquired?

  27. That the state of the home before its complete rehabilitation was none of her business. I have purchased and rehabbed many beautiful old historic homes that would have otherwise been demolished. One was the last of its kind on the street. It was purchased from the estate of a hoarder and mold was the least of our problems. You haven't lived until you remove a cat skeleton from a HVAC system. After months of work, my son moved into a house that was virtually brand new. I have also rehabbed homes for my daughters and their small children. Have no commenters here watched Rehab Addict? Its whole premise that these treasures should be saved! Not everyone wants a cookie cutter "new" home. In fact, most people would be shocked if they knew what they buy when they buy "new". If this house passed its building inspection, it is not this neighbors business to warn prospective buyers about anything other than the fact that there is (obviously) a Mrs. Kravitz in the neighborhood. Now, that would be a reason not to buy!

  28. Shep, if the full truth about the house's history if known, most likely the house WILL have a buyer. Both sides of the story should be told. The person who still wants the house, after hearing all the details, will get a great deal. Hiding parts of the story is not the answer.

  29. Anyone remember the disastrous 3-person Ethicist of yore? Boy, this is a lot better.

    Thanks, Prof. Appiah, for the thought-provoking column.

  30. LW#1: There is a First Amendment right to say what you think, and a First Amendment right to criticize someone's statements. But it is a dangerous practice to consider oneself morally superior. It might be better to enjoy your calmer frame of mind, and have compassion for him, without denying he has problems.

  31. I suppose we need to define "racist". Are simple observations, like noting one particular race frequents an establishment more than other races, "racist"?

  32. Let's assume the wife knows racist when ahem hears it. If she says it's racist then it is

  33. Is it racist to observe that the only people who ever want to precisely define racist are white?

  34. Yeah...and out of millions of men, she chose him to marry.

  35. Wait a minute, here. I can't believe that I have to point out the difference between being sent to a labor camp and receiving a disapproving frown, but the former is what could have happened to a Soviet writer who failed to condemn Pasternak, and the latter is probably the worst that would happen to the husband in the first example. What about having the courage of one's convictions? If the husband truly believes what he is saying in private, he should be willing to explain and defend his beliefs in public. Who knows? Maybe he can make a coherent and convincing argument on their behalf, and if he can't, he needs to know that about himself. As it is, he sounds like just another slimy weasel sniggering over his private bigotry while lacking the guts to express it publicly.

  36. Thanks kaleberg. Your answer was right on.
    Using the Soviets as an example was what really got to me about this response.
    There is no equivilance here. Seems like Prof Appiah needs some history lessons on life, death, and exile in the USSR.

  37. Nothing wrong with those comments at home if you don't mind living with a racist elitist.

  38. What is deplorable is of course in the eye of the beholder. However, when we say something, we say it to convey information; deplorable or not.
    If the content of the remark is immoral then the listener has a choice; engage or walk.
    There is certainly nothing unethical conveying information. Unethical may be the content of such information; at home or in public is irrelevant.
    Though the private space may help the speaker to explore the effect or validity of the information. If so, the speaker should preface the intent.

  39. Perhaps the solution to the moral dilemma faced by Name Witheld is prevention: be selective in your choice of life partner. ie: one is the company one keeps.

  40. Since it appears to be snap judgment day at The Ethicist, here are a few:

    - the husband seems like a very mean, racist man who possibly has dementia

    - the wife was nuts to marry him

    - the ethicist is irresponsible saying that the wife is morally superior just because she's not racist; she could steal crayons from small children or something

  41. You overlooked that the Ethicist said that the wife is morally superior "(unless [she] has offsetting moral deficits)."

  42. Re: The house (letter 2) - MYOB

  43. It's not a case of MYOB. She's a person who lives in the neighborhood, she was asked about the house by a potential buyer. She has an obligation as a member of the neighborhood to provide factual information when asked, by someone who might become a future neighbor. It's not like she's walking around in front of the house carrying a sign or something. It would be wrong to just gossip - to spread rumors about things we don't really know the facts about. But that's not what's going on here.

  44. Wow, "it's morally superior to be morally superior?" That's one of the most condescending things I've ever read.

    Just because someone disagrees with someone else does not mean they have the wrong idea. Attitudes categorizing people as "deplorable" helped propel the current president to office.

  45. wow! though there was extensive, protracted and heated debate about:
    slavery, women's suffrage, child labor, etc. these issues are not clear-cut. black and white? i believe in contemporary society it includes: racism, sexism and homophobia. expressions to the contrary don't have to be tolerated even though impossible to control.
    i might not be able to change someone's racist views but don't feel the need to accommodate them either. racists and religious bigots are not "oppressed" as they like to cynically claim.

  46. Regarding the moldy house, there is no reason not to tell a potential buyer what you know. The seller (and the realtor) has a legal obligation to disclose that the house had a mold problem, and the cost of the remediation and potential impact on a resale price should have figured into his decision to buy it in the first place. He chose to take the risk of flipping a house with mold. You have no obligation to hide this information, and would be facilitating a fraud if you did. Would you rather have a neighbor who discovers after the fact that you said nothing?

  47. Again, us mere mortals can't get in a word when newly published but the "Green Checks "prevail. Yes I know that's how the NYT works it but consider the ethics of that in The Ethicist column. Set a proper standard.

  48. Name Withheld unwittingly gave the prospective buyer a piece of information, probably not very useful or interesting. That Name Withheld is a liar.

  49. Exactly. It will be an interesting conversation when the buyer closes on the house, hears about all the problems from other neighbors, and then asks the LW why they lied when asked about the place. Not exactly starting off as a good neighbor.

  50. I disagree about the house. I think that ethically once you were asked you have an obligation to provide the information to the potential buyer. You have no relationship with the current seller and once asked you are now actively withholding information. From a purely practical standpoint, what happens when 5 years from now you find out their child has asthma from the mold? Do you then tell them the seller defrauded them? What about next summer when another neighbor starts talking about the old days at the block party and mentions the puppy mill issue? You have a potential relationship with the buyer and should therefore provide the information on the prior condition and the cleanup..without your editorial.

  51. One of my favorite cartoons from many years ago had the caption, "The smile of the simple and the sure.

    It seems to me we are overrun these days with people who have that smile. People claim moral superiority for themselves, or they bestow it on others who agree with them.

    If your husband says things that annoy you, do you not do the same? Especially given your different political beliefs?

    I really think live and let live is the way to go on this.

  52. The issue is not who annoys whom. The issue is whose views are moral and whose are immoral. "Live and let live" would nevertheless work but for the fact that the parents' views influence the children.

  53. How to conduct a marriage in the face of profound political/social disagreement? The only possibility I can see is a mutual agreement to never allow related topics into the relationship. When two people love each other they should be able to to abide by such a ground rule. To intrude politics or social issues into such an arena is inherently an aggressive, hostile act. The sanctity of marriage requires that the coup[le confine themselves to botany, string quartets and bridge.

  54. LW#1 - The issue is not where the husband spews his comments but that he makes them at all. I think it is a form of abuse to subject another person to offensive commentary. The letter writer must decide whether the husband's "wonderful attributes" outweigh his abusive commentary and decide whether to leave or stay. Life is too short to be uncomfortable in one's own home.

    LW#2 - It is public information that a house is foreclosed and sold at auction so any prospective buyer and agent can follow up for further details. The home inspection will tell a prospective buyer if there are any defects in the home. Neighbors have no fiduciary duty to new homeowners.

    Did Dr Rozin drink a glass of cockroach water?

  55. "I think it is a form of abuse to subject another person to offensive commentary." That's a pretty subjective standard, don't you think?

    "Neighbors have no fiduciary duty to new homeowners." This may be true, but they have an ethical duty to not lie. It's one thing to say "no comment"; it's another to say "I don't know".

  56. RE: the house for sale, if what you said negatively impacted the sale of the house be prepared to be sued, i.e. buyer backs out of contract; even if you spoke the truth.

  57. So you can be sued for telling the truth, but lying is okay? I would think any lawsuit would not get very far, at the very least. With a house that big of a mess---it would be easy to trace the work that was done on it. The neighbors did live in the immediate vicinity, saw what was going on with the hazmat cleaning, and the hoarding, etc., and probably they weren't the only ones in the neighborhood aware of the situation.
    Honestly, I get really peeved hearing about the threat of potential lawsuits when people speak the truth (Yelp reviews come to mind).
    If the future homeowners found out about the previous condition of the house (and no doubt they would eventually--stuff gets around with neighborhood gossip) and discovered their current neighbors lied by omission, that could also be the basis for a lawsuit, imo. In this case, the realtor asked them directly and they basically denied any knowledge of the work done (a lie).
    There are ways someone could tell the truth about the house without going overboard ("it was quite a mess, but it looks like they cleaned it up okay and that's all I can tell you.") and let the realtor do further investigation if they wished.

  58. Re: LW#2

    People assume that because the cleaning was done by people wearing Hazmat suits that they removed all contamination.

    My experience with this is the Hazmat suits are no guarantee the contaminants are gone. Hazmat suits are word by workers to protect themselves from contact with all manner of filth - rodent droppings, mold, animal feces, cockroaches, pesticide and cleaning residue. This does not mean no remnants of these things remain in or around the property. It simply means those cleaning the premises took every reasonable precaution they could while on the premises in order not to be made ill while working there.

    One can hire a licensed professional cleaning crew fairly cheaply who will wear Hazmat suits to a particularly filthy house. These people are like competent janitors. They aren't scientists and should offer no assurances that a home they cleaned no longer contains any environmental toxcins. From the description from LW#2, it sounds like this house was such an enormous health/
    environmental hazard it should have been razed and a new building put in its place. Trusting a buyer who's too cheap to do that would be a good reason not to purchase the property.

  59. When a next-door neighbor mutters that he (or she) doesn't know anything about the history of the house next door, an intelligent real estate agent and/or buyer should take note.

    The ethical challenge here:
    1. If the homeowner is honest and forthcoming, no one will ever buy this house, and his property value may decline (or will fail to rise), despite having a perfectly nice house next door.
    2. If the homeowner is not forthcoming, or is actively dishonest, the house next door has a greater likelihood of being purchased, and his/her home's value is much more secure. However, no matter what the homeowner says, the people buying the house next door WILL find out about the mold and hazmat suits. There is no universe in which this information is not conveyed to them by some meddling neighbor (or neighboring meddler).

    As I see it, the choices are:
    1. A house occupied by people who no longer trust or like you.
    2. An empty house pulling down your property values.

  60. Regarding the house: when asked tell the truth. When one starts to censor for the sake of a higher ethical concern to an unknown seller, one abandons ethical obligations to buyers. Just tell the truth. This can include an "I have no idea what was done, or if its even a problem. Your realtor can find out (or, if it is a realtor being spoken to, "You should find out." It is not a complex or complicated issue.

    I agree with other posters that the husband should expose his views to the light, and whatever the response, he may have to evaluate his thoughts in the harsh light of disagreement (or even bask in the warm light of agreement). Keeping it "at home" only encourages others to be hypocritical.

  61. One of my daughters had a 50 per cent music scholarship to a private high school in Australia, upgraded to 75 per cent in her second year.

    I went to a mother/student evening in her final year. An art gallery owner sat at a table with me. She was practically inhaling champagne all night (sending her under-aged daughter to the bar to get it for her).

    She asked my daughter about her post-graduation plans. My daughter responded that, while she loved music, she wasn't sure if it was the right career for her and that she loved working with children.

    Art gallery mother was outraged because my daughter was a scholarship student and should have been "grateful". She was, and is, grateful, but discovered at a US summer school program in her third year of university that she really wanted to be an early childhood teacher. She changed her major and loves it. She still takes her viola and a guitar to school to play for the children.

    Her scholarship was not wasted; it is now benefitting children of another generation.

  62. A few years ago, when I lived in a senior housing complex, people died in their apartments on a fairly frequent basis, but management always lied about it.
    One time, some prospective tenant came by and asked if anyone had died in that apartment. Sure enough, the management lied about it, but the lady next to the empty apartment piped up and told them straight out that yes, indeed, someone had just died there. Management didn't like that, but too bad, lying to people in that way is unethical.

  63. If the husband has always expressed such opinions, then I wonder why the LW married him; perhaps she has changed? If, on the other hand, it is he who has changed, then perhaps a trip to the doctor? Sometimes dementia can occur early and result in personality changes.

    If it is she who has changed, either in her opinions or her tolerance of his opinions, then she needs to decide whether or not his opinions are intolerable enough to do something about. If they are, then she needs to have a conversation with her husband about why these opinions upset her and ask him to stop. Then she needs to leave the room and the conversation every time he says something like that. When he expresses a more tolerant attitude, then she should encourage that. She should also try to have them spend more time with tolerant friends than intolerant ones.

    Ideally, it would be best to invent a time machine and warn her younger self not to marry him.

  64. I don't often strongly disagree with this column, but having been a child in the home that the first letter descibes, and now a parent, I find the response woefully inadequate.

    Parents DO have an ethical obligation to censor themselves around children, both because of the example that needs to be set, and practically because your private remarks will be public when your child unknowingly repeats them.

  65. I am always amazed at the contortions of mind and soul that some people undertake to maintain a relationship with a reprehensible person. These maneuvers may include pity, compassion, naïveté, optimism, denial, hypocrisy, or cowardice. Sometimes genuine fear for oneself or one's children is the motivation. Whatever the reasons or methods, the result is always degradation, for oneself and one's children.

  66. But do the two instances she cites, neither of which is really proof of any kind of racism or classism (we'd have to know a lot more about what he says in such instances, and she seems to introduce the whole subject by saying what an essentially good husband he is), bring on the ultimate condemnation of the husband being 'reprehensible'? Really? Not just misguided or wrong (if, indeed, he is, and I'm not sure in either case, given the paucity of the information provided), but reprehensible? I hate to bring politics even more into it, but I would love to know what this wife's attitude was where reprehensibility is concerned when Bill and Monica were making it in the Oval Office. And, for that matter, what her husband's attitude was towards that. it might reverse the reprehensibility factor considerably. But 'Realist' is using the term 'reprehensible', not the wife, and she must have some reason for sticking out the marriage for over 20 years. I'd like to know Realist's attitude on the Clinton/Lewinsky question, just to find out what he or she thinks makes for reprehensibility. I'll bet he or she thinks this lady's husband's THOUGHTS are more reprehensible than Bubba's adulterous ACTIONS!

  67. Perhaps a rule for Name Withheld and Mr. Withheld would be not to make remarks in front of the kids that they would be concerned about the children repeating in public. This has the advantage of practicality, as children will repeat what they hear at home.

    When the couple are together, these remarks are an opportunity to learn from one another. The wife is appalled that the husband thinks the scholarship students should get the less experienced teacher, but is she protesting the school for the practice of favoring "legacies" in admissions? If she has made her peace with that common practice, they are not so different. If they choose to discuss these topics when they are alone together, she needs to do the difficult work of defending her position, and she should make him do the same.

  68. In the first one, it's not about political opinions or about who is right or wrong or who has the moral high ground or Communism or dictatorships. It's about communication within a marriage.

  69. If asked, I think you need to tell what you know about the history of the house. That would include the fact that extensive cleaning and repair work has been done. But you're not remiss in sharing your personal opinion that "knowing what you know," you'd never live in the house.

  70. "It's morally superior to be morally superior." Oh please - this is precisely the kind of smugness and condescension that so infuriates many today, encountering any number of people today, whether in person or on social media, who just "know" that they are right, "morally" and otherwise, on everything, from the views they hold to the candidates they support to even the for they eat.

    Yes, certainly some views are off the mark that most of us would condemn them, but, honestly, the husband in LW1 is not exactly a Klansman. Indeed, he may even express some views precisely because of the reaction he encounters - maybe the wife always preaches her particular view and he gets in his digs in this way (remember - we are only hearing one side of the story). Nevertheless, either she needs to make her accommodation or move on.

  71. Good answers this week, Mr Ethicist.

  72. In the print version that just arrived at my home this morning, this piece was cut off midway - exactly where I stopped reading this blather. The problem we have in this country is (a) people harbor these private racist feelings in the first place; and (b) the candidacy of Donald Trump has made it seem acceptable to express them publicly. There is no place for racism in public or in private. An ethicist that says otherwise is not worthy of the name. And to the writer: why did you marry and why do you remain with someone you know deep in their heart is racist?

  73. Is it really racist to link skin color to a store's clientele if, indeed, the store exists to appeal to people of a particular race or ethnicity? Is it really classist to think that people not paying their way through a school should not receive superior educations to those who are paying their way through it (via who gets the student teacher)? The biggest problem this country faces is not the dichotomy of opinion, but the fact that one side (usually the liberal one) labels everyone who disagrees with their perceptions to be bigoted or racist. The other night, on the Yankee Entertainment Station (YES), an English-language station to be sure, I saw an advertisement totally in Spanish (no sub-titles at the bottom). I thought, "Well, there must be a great many Spanish-speaking people watching who these advertisers want to reach", which to this conservative is a reasoned response, but if the reverse had been true and a Spanish-speaking station had done an ad entirely in English to attract their non-Spanish-speaking watchers, I'm sure there would have been hell to pay from certain Spanish sectors. Both situations neglect the question of why a non-English speaking person would be watching an English-language-only station, or why a non-Spanish speaking person would be watching a Spanish-language only station. People have a right to opinions that differ from yours without being labeled racist. In other words, whether they express their opinions or not, they have a right to think!

  74. "A hazmat company was there for x number of months. Ask them."

  75. "Oh and by the way, they found 14 bodies in the basement..."

  76. #1 You are focused on the wrong thing here - your problem isn't your husband won't self-censor his speech. Your real problem is your husband is a racist and you are okay with that as long as he is quiet about it. I suggest you think long and hard about what that makes him and what that makes you.

    #2 I am perplexed about why you would even consider lying to benefit some real estate flipper you don't even know. The truth is generally the best and most ethical idea. If asked directly, answer truthfully and stick to the facts without speculation or gossip like "The woman who lived here before had problems with hoarding and the house was in very bad condition. However, it seems to have been cleaned by a professional cleaning team and the house was gutted". You may wish to give the company's name and your opinion that they did a good job. The truth isn't so hard and it allows you to avoid the angst you are feeling now.

  77. Re the neighboring house, Professor Appiah has it right, imo. One can't be sued successfully for telling the truth, so a concise statement of what you actually know - no speculation or embellishment - is appropriate. However, faith in a building inspector, if a routine inspection associated with a residential real estate transaction, is misplaced. Realtors and such inspectors often collude to facilitate a sale. I would supplement my comments to any inquirer to include a strong recommendation to have at least one independent inspector with no potential conflicts of interest evaluate the property, ideally with a cost sharing arrangement with the seller or bank. All benefit from having bank and realtor know that the neighborhood, represented by the LW, has an active interest in full disclosure re the property.

  78. Here's a thought, say you're not comfortable commenting on a house you haven't considered buying. Neighbors often don't truly know issues or non-issues in a house,what and has not been done, quality of the work etc.

  79. "What’s wrong with your husband’s attitudes is not that he expresses them but that he has them." Both are problematic. Hate starts in the home and this is how it is taught to children.

  80. The best place to learn racism and prejudice is not school, street, neighbors, friends or society in general but at home. The wife should discuss with her husband the type of indelible education he is imposing on his children.

  81. I found the second letter vexing in that the writer, while describing totally intolerable conditions in her neighbor's home, added to those conditions the fact that the neighbor was a chain smoker, as if being a chain smoker was but one step above being a habitual child molester; also, that in Mr. Appiah's response, he did not mention that particular failing as something worthy of reconsideration next to things like dog feces! Haven't we gone just a bit too far when it comes to demonizing people who have a habit we don't like? Both of my parents were chain smokers (I have never smoked a cigarette in my 78 years on the planet) and they were the cleanest, happiest, most liberal-minded people (in the widest sense of that term) that I have ever known. Come off it, Name Withheld, and address it, Mr. Ethicist.

    As for the lady with the 'reactionary' husband, well, maybe he is and maybe he isn't, but it does seem to me that you are condemning him for being honest enough to express his opinions at home but even more so for not expressing them out at the local bus stop. Maybe he just doesn't want his right to free thought (and its concomitant, free speech) exposed to those college kids and administrators (all of them quite Liberal in attitude) who would shut him up via ostracizing, shaming, or just plain physical attack.
    There might be perfectly valid reasoning in his "classist" attitude towards people getting something for nothing while others paying for the same thing get less. No?

  82. I think the neighbor should tell the prospective buyer everything he wants to say. The basic facts, that the house was in poor shape and renovated, are simple and accurate, and may help the buyer when reviewing the inspection report. The elaboration gives the buyer invaluable information about the type of neighbor he's going to have.

  83. The issue to me is how a person can accept her partner's racism and allow it to be shared with their children? Raising issues in a dinner conversation is one thing; harboring racists views is another and harmful.

    What is wrong with the neighbor answering the question truthfully: I went inside the house after it was auctioned and saw black mold, water damage, rotted food, cigarette and feces on the floor. I do not know what was done or what the inside looks like now, BUT since it was sold, the new buyers have spent months with cleaners and workers inside the house.

    This would provide a potential buyer real information and when they hire an inspector, can share the history with the inspector. In California, all of what the neighbor may share is required by law to be disclosed by the seller.

  84. I had a neighbor who had a house like the one described. He didn't own the house when I moved into mine, but came later. He transformed a cute little house into a disgusting shack, filled with garbage, the yard strewn with toilets, sinks, old vehicles, and to top it off he had an easement on the southerly 15 feet of my property which was his only access to the road. Despite the fact that he had a larger lot than me, probably 1.5 acres, his kids would play on the easement and he and his wife would walk their dog on the easement, after which I would take a shovel and throw the dog's gifts back onto his property over the almost 10' fence, in violation of zoning laws, I had to install as I was making myself sick looking at him and his property. He was maybe 45, had a 5 X 5 wife and 2 kids, he was on disability, unemployment, welfare, child services came and once made the wife and kids move out. He woke at 3:30 am and would start his day drinking probably a quart of vodka and smoking probably 3 packs of cigarettes every day. In N.Y. this was a $45.00 a day habit. By 7 pm he was unconscious. I eventually sold my house and moved away but I will forever be more vigilant about who lives next door.

  85. There are three, not two, spaces to consider here. One is public, one is personal/private (i.e. in the presence of one's family), and one is private (in one's own mind). Although we have leeway with what we say at home, different from what we say in public places, there are still people there who have feelings and react to what is said. The man should factor in how his wife feels and what he wants his children to think and publicly say, along with his right to be himself in his home.

  86. It does matter if you speak your mind at home if you're not alone. Those aren't private thoughts if others hear them. Some humans such as my late father carried on a public persona and a private one. I think in the long run it gave him a lot of stress which lead to heart disease. In his final time he told us he really hadn't cared for my mom and us. I asked why he worked so hard to take good care of us then. Without blinking an eye, he said he wanted to make a good impression. He seldom spoke about his feelings, but we grew up feeling safe and loved.
    Words spoken aloud are never private if someone is listening. But maybe there might be a opportunity for conversations with his wife and children to help him with his fears without wading into the moral superiority score keeping waters.

  87. I find the answer to the first question brilliant. "What’s wrong with your husband’s attitudes is not that he expresses them but that he has them." And: "It’s morally superior to be morally superior."

    However, this brilliant answer seems to have confused many commenters. Mr. Appiah did not say, as many commenters seem to think, that it was perfectly acceptable for the husband to make his offensive remarks in the home, and that the wife should just put up with him. That wasn't the question. The question was about the wife's "private-public litmus test" and moral superiority. Mr. Appiah answered it skillfully.

    To those who are outraged that the offensive remarks are sometimes made in the presence of children, please note that their parents "have been married for more than 20 years." It's likely that the children are at least in their teens. They may in fact be grown; it isn't clear in the letter whether they still live at home. Even if they're still teens and at home, they can probably survive Dad's remarks. I grew up in such a home, yet I'm not a bigot! Anyone ever hear of rebellious teenagers?

  88. The letter says she is concerned about his expressing these opinions in front of their children. So presumably the children live at home and it sounds like they might be young enough that their father's statements might make a difference in shaping their attitudes.

    And THAT to me is of the greatest concern. LW1 can choose to ignore her husband's remarks or label them invalid effectively because she is an adult with her own, probably reasonably fixed, set of values. Her children may not be able to do so. They are still in the process of developing a world view. The husband owes it to them not to inculcate them with values that he would not reflect outside his home because the values are not good and fair. And the wife owes it to her children that she do everything to encourage values in opposition to their father's views. That is the real issue and struggle here, not the public/private litmus test.

  89. #1: Teach your children well.
    #2: The actual of the house should be reflected in the market value.

  90. When someone has a 'safe space' in which to express racist or bigoted opinions, that person assumes affirmation of that opinion. They think it's just "political correctness" that prevents expressions those thoughts publicly. In truth, t's human decency that precludes expressing such opinions in public, and likewise, it should correct them in private, even in Archie Bunker's den. Racism and bigotry are simply wrong, and should receive no safe harbor anywhere.

    In the second letter, the neighbor should answer the prospective buyers' questions with full honesty. Remaining mum and expecting home inspectors to catch any lingering problems is dishonest and unethical. The home inspector should be alerted to the potential issues he should be looking for. Imagine if the letter writer is asked, remains mum, and the questioner buys the house and moves in. Later, well-hidden problems emerge, and the house's history is exposed through conversations with other neighbors. Should the buyer then feel betrayed by the letter-writer who withheld information? Yes. Why? Because a lie of omission left the buyer vulnerable.

    It's not the letter writer's responsibility to worry about irrational responses to the 'ick factor.' The responsibility is just to be honest.

  91. As a real estate broker for 25 years, I've seen a lot. My thoughts are less on whatever the neighbor has to say and more about the professionalism, ethics and common sense of the agent. We are obligated to reveal what we know first hand as full disclosure, and, a seasoned, honest agent tells potential buyers that we'll be happy to refer them to inspectors (I prefer licensed engineers) who can answer any questions they may have about condition before a contract is signed.

    If information is offered, for instance hazmat suited workers came in after a hoarder moved out, fine. Good to know. Buyer checks it out.

    But to ask a neighbor, or sometimes a tenant, for this kind of information, who may or may not know the facts, and may have an agenda, seems questionable practice at best.

  92. Why? Yes, maybe if it is an agent, it might be questionable or a bit surprising. The agent should know the history. But, a buyer? I have seen recommendations, in real estate columns, to potential buyers that they drive around a neighborhood where they are looking for a house at various times of the day and days of the week. This way they can see traffic patterns when school buses, cars, etc. are on the road during rush hour, rather than at quiet times like during Sunday afternoon open houses. You can also see if there are really young kids in the neighborhood, for example, if you have kids and that is important to you. You can also see if there are lots of older adults.

    It is recommended to talk to neighbors. When the house next door was on the market people stopped saying they had seen the house but were interested in the neighborhood itself. We have always had good neighbors and I have every reason to believe the house is in good shape. So what is the issue?

    In the case of LW2, I wonder if the person who asked about the house had heard or been advised about something regarding the property before asking around. I would probably rule out a house with that history, which really should be disclosed. Even if the mold is gone, the chemicals may remain behind and I certainly would want to know what had been used and perhaps what others had seen. Due diligence is key. And the agent does not control, nor should s/he, the amount of due diligence a buyer performs.

  93. Any lawyer will tell you that real estate law has the lowest standards of any realm of the law. Realtors shoot hard for their 6.5%. How else to finance the Lexus and trappings of materialism with no professional education or, in most cases, rudimentary knowledge of architecture or engineering or zoning, etc? The realtor "ethics" state that what is KNOWN by the realtor must be revealed to potential buyers. So they work hard to stay ignorant of inconvenient information. This code also explains why sellers are always absent from the property during open houses - the realtors just can't risk to have any ugly truths revealed by a seller. As for building inspectors recommended by a realtor? Talk about COI! On the part of both realtor and inspector. As for using public records to obtain all relevant information, consider that much contractor work, weekend warrior efforts, and plenty of cleanups are done without any knowledge of local govt authorities. And some of what is known got approved by virtue of corruption. The neighbor should concisely state facts, if asked, as per Appiah.

  94. "Does Confining Deplorable Remarks to Your Home Make Them All Right?"
    I recall that during the presidential election the nation had an in-depth discussion of the kind of person who holds one public and one private position on things.
    We saw the results...

  95. Having been a career banker and head of a mortgage lending unit for 25 years has exposed me to a wide variety of certain inadequacies residential homes possess but some are fatal and should be disclosed as such. " a chain smoker, dog feces, rot from food and garbage, mold, spalling (in FL)..." - you can have 1000 hazmat cleaners scrubbing all day long for years but you will never, ever remove the odors of deep-rooted tobacco tars and residues, stop the advancement of (toxic) mold, and/or know how deep these problems run. Loan denied. The real failure here was the City not inspecting and condemning the home demanding it be torn down and a brand new, warrant able structure be built by refusing permits for this purely cosmetic "repair". That said real estate people have commission agendas as well as their inspectors, appraisers, and hype. The neighbor should have told the truth (and bought the property (lot) as a good investment). Loan approved. Realtors despise Latin especially: Caveat Emptor.

    Husband of Hate - 20 years married to this man and just now you are voicing this concern? If a man cannot speak freely in his own home then where? If his wife cannot teach her kids understanding and tolerance using Dad as a prime example of one extreme then what good is she as a teacher? The litmus test is rhetorical. EVERYONE knows it is wrong yet he is entitled to his persona. It is up to him when he expresses himself. Don't we all live in partial glass houses with stones in hand?