‘The Ethicist’ tackles Yalies’ issues

Last year, Randy Cohen, the author of The New York Times Magazine column “The Ethicist,” came to hawk his new book at the Yale Bookstore. Despite being wholly unqualified for such a moniker (his training: writing for David Letterman), Cohen commands a wide readership from a surprisingly undoubting audience. Letters come in from all parts of the world — including, wouldn’t you know it, New Haven, Conn. It makes you wonder what might happen if Cohen turned his pen to the endemically immoral place that is Yale University.



I’m a college junior and am currently applying for internships at several high-powered firms in New York. I major in economics and plan to work in investment banking after I graduate. However, I also have a deep concern for social justice, and in my free time I tutor local schoolchildren. I want to make a difference in the world, but I don’t think that I could be happy without the money that an investment banking job supplies. Am I selling out?

ANONYMOUS, New Haven, Conn.

Selling out? Hardly. If selling out means that you’re putting fun on hold to work at things you don’t really care about, then you sold out way back in freshman year of high school. You might feel bad about leaving that teenager without a tutor while you do glorified data entry for sixteen hours a day, but every opportunity has its cost — you must know that, you’re an economics major.

Perhaps you should consider a compromise: work at a stultifying investment firm for ten years, and then, if you’re really successful, when your pupil has flunked ninth grade and you’ve lost the better part of your youth, you can become a professional philanthropist.



As a freshman at a prestigious New England university, I sing in an a cappella group and participate in theater productions. It’s been fierce! I’ve had the opportunity to meet all sorts of people. However, many of these students have become close friends of mine, and I’ve been keeping a secret from them. I can’t bring myself to tell them the truth about myself. Is it wrong to keep lying to people I care about?

ANONYMOUS, New Haven, Conn.

Don’t worry so much. Just because they’re your friends doesn’t mean that you have to tell them every little detail about yourself. Besides, it’s never too early to learn how to hide your true nature. It might not be honorable, but if you want to make it in this world, you had better get used to it.

Wait it out: once you’ve succeeded, you can finally come out (so to speak) with the truth. Maybe you’ll be more comfortable, my little actor friend, when you’ve earned yourself some multimillion-dollar contracts and a couple of Oscars — just like Kevin Spacey.



I’m commander in chief of a large Western nation. I was born in New England and went to a famous prep school and university there. However, I’ve since carefully cultivated an image of a down-home Texan in an attempt to disguise my mediocre scholastic abilities and appeal to the Southern electorate. Is this unethical?

ANONYMOUS, Crawford, Tex.

So you’re trying to distance yourself from your college days: who isn’t? There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of omission here and there. It’s only natural to gloss over our pasts when we present ourselves publicly — the resume business is predicated on it. So you wear a cowboy hat, drive a taxpayer-financed pickup and pepper your foreign policy statements with ultimatums that would make John Wayne cringe. Are you lying? Didn’t think so.



I am the junior senator of a large New England state. While at university I made my friends call me “JFK” and joined a secret society. Now, as a political candidate, I have to present myself as a populist. When I call for an end to elitism, can I do so in good conscience?

ANONYMOUS, Boston, Mass.

Hey, this question sounds a lot like the one I just answered. See above, kiddo.



I am the dean of a prestigious college on the East Coast. However, I have recently taken another job in North Carolina, and I’m apprehensive to leave the place I’ve called home for more than 30 years. Was it wrong of me to leave the school that nurtured me from my days as an undergraduate? Am I selling out my alma mater?

ANONYMOUS, New Haven, Conn.

Hey, you’re a Yalie: anything’s possible. Make sure you start making friends early. Networking’s the key.



Jason Farago is a junior in Silliman College.

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