An Ethical Question: What Would You Do?

11 04 2011

A couple of weeks ago when we were hiking in Fortynine Palms we saw someone on their way out carrying a small cactus that they had almost definitely illegally removed from Joshua Tree. A call to the ranger station would have probably led to a ranger meeting them at the trailhead with a ticket, and a return of the cactus to its original home.

An Ocotillo Plant In Joshua Tree

An Ocotillo Plant In Joshua Tree

There is a Jewish principle of “judge [a person‘s actions] for the good”, but I’m pretty certain that the cactus had come from the protected park.

What would you have done? Do you think that there is an obligation to report the person or to confront them directly?

posted by yair




10 responses

11 04 2011

I think you were not judging. You would have been reporting. The ranger would have been the judge. It could have been a scientist taking a sample under permission of the park. Maybe it’s worth exploring the difference between discernment and judgment. As a INTJ personality type I often wonder about this. Introverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging.

11 04 2011

Good point on judging vs. reporting, although I’d bet $100 that the guy wasn’t a scientist. (There’s my judging…)

11 04 2011

You could have sent them to me, I have a ton of cactus I’d be happy if someone dug up and walked a way with.

Seriously, it’s such a scary world, you never know if someone is packing and if they’d take offense. Self preservation should be a priority.

I’d have assessed the situation/person and if I felt comfortable mentioned the legal ramifications. I wouldn’t have reported them.

12 04 2011
rach g.

I don’t think you have an obligation to confront the person or to report them. In fact, I think it’s a good thing that you didn’t. Nobody made you the ethical police, and the world would be a far more obnoxious place to live in if people spent their days budding into other people’s businesses and trying to correct strangers.

Even well-intentioned comments can come off wrong. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stopped on the street by total strangers telling me my son is either under-dressed for the weather, or over-dressed, or too much in the sun, or too much in the shade, etc. They mean well but unless they have the full facts of the situation in hand (i.e. my son is extra sensitive to the son so we keep him covered), their guidance is pretty useless.

14 04 2011

I disagree. There’s a big difference between “ethical police” and “police.” If I think that someone is breaking a Federal law by illegally taking vegetation, I don’t become “the police” by reporting them, and their asking me to get out of their business wouldn’t be a good argument against my calling them in. (Just as if I thought that the person may have just robbed a bank.)

That said, I hear you regarding people commenting on your son’s state of dress. Unless you’re clearly endangering him, it’s your business and not theirs.

13 04 2011

The removal of a plant from a national park is almost certainly a federal offense. Many of the plants in national parks are endangered/protected. Even if this specific species is not, it is likely that removing it is still a federal offense. Does an observer have the obligation to report a crime? Yes.

If everyone were allowed to dig up all the plants in a national park at a whim, there would be no plants there for visitors to enjoy.

rach g.: Go read this, and ask yourself if you would report it or not:
Would you consider yourself the “ethical police” if you did? Where do you draw the line? Murder, rape, grand theft, assault? Harassment, vandalism, petty theft? The lines are already drawn, they are called “laws”. Let the appropriate authorities decide if there is a violation or not, and how to handle it, but by all means, report it.

14 04 2011
rach g.


I am familiar with the Kitty Genovese case and I agree that lines have to be drawn somewhere. I just disagree that they should be drawn at the same place as where the laws are. I, for one, am not going to perform a citizen’s arrest on someone driving five miles above the speed limit, illegally downloading music from the internet, or jaywalking.

If someone’s life or well-being is in danger, and I have the means to save them or at least report the situation, then morals might compel me to take action. But I just don’t care enough to get worked up over a plant, even a federally protected one, even a possibly endangered one. You obviously do care enough, and that’s fine. Different folks, different strokes. I stick to my original argument, though, that the the world would be a far more obnoxious place to live in if people spent their days budding into other people’s businesses and trying to correct strangers.

13 04 2011

I’m probably going to be the odd person out here, but I’ll be honest…You can’t do much about stupidity, which we see a lot of on the road. Once we saw a guy hacking down tree limbs at Acadia NP just so they wouldn’t scratch the top of his too-big-for-the-park RV. Honestly, I probably would have reported it if it was convenient but otherwise, since we’re not talking a violent offense, I just feel that what goes around comes around and the universe will take care of that idiot eventually.

14 04 2011

I’ll keep a lookout for your guy in the Darwin Awards 🙂

15 04 2011
da viking

well let’s see — this is government property, and its a national park — hence I own it (as does every other citizen of the US of A). So in reality this individual is stealing from you, me and everybody else. STOP thief…. and yes you should of called ranger Rick and let him/her know what you saw. let’s be truthful here, your are part of the problem, you let someone steal from yourself (and me) and you could have stopped it. Become involved — it’s ur country too.

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