"The Ethicist" is Randy Cohen's long-running advice column in the 'New York Times.' Each week, Gabriel Delahaye's "The Unethicist" will respond to the same questions as "The Ethicist." But you see: His answers, they may be different!
This week, a resident of California goes down the rabbit hole, and a man/woman in Albuquerque reminds us that while blood may be thicker than water, you can't inherit blood.
Some local fifth graders vandalized our town's voluntarily financed, old and prestigious organic garden. They were caught and did community service, but there is still several thousand dollars' worth of damage. Do their wealthy parents have an obligation to pay for these repairs? — R.S., California
Historically, there are many cultural references for your experience that could prove useful in getting through this difficult time. I'd like to direct you to the movies Jacob's Ladder, The Cell, Vanilla Sky, and the first half hour of The Matrix. What all of these movies share are protagonists whose experience of reality turns out to be the result of mental illness, scientific experimentation, robotic manipulation, or death. What you learn from these films is up to you, but one thing is clear: fifth graders did not cause thousands of dollars of damage to an old and prestigious municipal organic garden because there is no such thing as an old and prestigious municipal organic garden, and if there were it would be valued in the several teens, not several thousands. Also there is no spoon.
Tripping the voluntarily financed, old and prestigious organic garden fantastic.
Furthermore, I'd like to take this moment to remind you of the following: the War in Iraq.
I hope this helps, you shitty person with aggressively misplaced priorities.
My beloved sister, a human rights worker in Central America, has long received financial help from our parents. I earn enough to support a comfortable lifestyle. May I ask them to make a reckoning of their aid to my sister, subtracting it from any bequest they eventually make her, so that overall, she and I receive equal amounts? — Name Withheld, Albuquerque
I'm going to break down your question into its simpler parts so as to better formulate a solution to your problem.
1. Your sister has organized her life in such a way as to forgo the material pleasures of a financially rewarding career track in order to live in a third world country towards the benefit of the native inhabitants of that country.
2. You are a miserly lawyer/middle manager/marketing executive who earns enough money to live your life as you please, but without any of the satisfaction of someone who feels their short time on this Earth to be of any discernible purpose or value.
3. You are, to simply even further, a mildly depressed nobody with a middling income.
4. Continuing: your parents have agreed with the moral sacrifice of your sister's choices, and have concurrently agreed to give what can't really be that much money (it's fucking Central America, a Burger King manager can live like a Burrito King down there) to support these altruistic endeavors.
5. You, in your long, cat-petting hours spent tabulating the family coffers at the empty dining room table that hasn't seen a real dinner in years, have estimated exactly how much they have given her in comparison to how little they have given you because most parents don't feel the need to support the lifestyle of someone who settles into lukewarm economic comfort at the expense of all their ambitions.
6. Being the truly loving daughter/son and sister/brother that you are, you have come up with the breathtakingly venal and hilarious idea of suggesting to your still living parents that upon their imminent death, they subtract the amount that you have figured to the penny from your sister's portion of the estate, because everything should be split 50/50 starting from year one, and if it is not split 50/50 then what was the point of all that energy you wasted acting like a loving sibling/daughter when you could have been out there, working long overtime hours at your unfulfilling job to avoid the thought of how no one will be there to take care of you when you yourself grow old and sick? We all know that was just bullshit to get your hands on the cash, no one's fooling anyone, so let's call a spade a spade and fork it over.
Do I have that right?
I think you can do one of two things. A) Replace your sister's malarial medication with water so that she comes down with a fatal case of Dengue and passes before your parents, leaving the full inheritance of both your parents (who you might as well murder also, just to speed things along) in your damp, clammy hands to spend as you like on cat food and medicine for cats. B) Make the suggestion to your parents that they subtract what they've given to your sister from her inheritance as planned, but in front of a video camera, and send me a copy of the tape.