Author and columnist Chuck Klosterman is The New York Times’ new “Ethicist,” replacing Ariel Kaminer, who’s returning to The Times’ Metro desk. Adam Martin broke the news today. I used to work with Klosterman at Spin, and we’ve been friends since, which seems important to disclose while discussing such news. I can’t ethically say that’s why he decided to answer my questions, but I can aver this exchange has been edited only to include one hyperlink and an explanation of who “Bill” at Grantland is.
Poynter: I imagine many people are wondering how you ended up in a position of moral authority. But as I recall, you’ve always been adept at rendering judgments quickly. Do you have any specific training in the field of ethics, or are you winging it?
Klosterman: I don’t really see this job in that way. I mean, who is indisputably qualified to tell other adults how to live? My view is that a given person creates an abstract framework for how to exist, and then he (or she) places tangible problems into that framework to see how they fit. I’m not sure what “specific training” would even constitute. I’m qualified because I’m alive and I’m engaged with the world. But I’m certainly not the only human who fits that criteria.
I’ve known you for, geez, about a decade now. Is it ethical for me to try to get an interview with you before anyone else does?
Klosterman: Yes. Although it might be unethical for me to agree.
Doctors I’ve known often complain that people will approach them at social functions and ask about medical ailments. How will you handle ethically befuddled people approaching you on the street, on bars, in non-officially-Ethicist-sanctioned capacity? Tell them to email you and hope for the best?
Klosterman: I always prefer discussing other people’s problems to talking about my own, so this might actually be a lifestyle improvement. And if it somehow becomes a problem, I’ll just wear a disguise. I already own several capes.
Will you continue your work with Grantland?
Klosterman: Yes. I will remain a consultant at Grantland, unless Bill [Simmons, its editor-in-chief] decides to have me poisoned. That’s always his option. It’s actually in my contract.
How did you end up in the gig? Are you intimidated by your forebears in the position or by having your columns ruthlessly dissected online?
Klosterman: The people who did this job before me were great at it, which is probably part of the reason I’ve always wanted this job. It just seems so fun and interesting. I feel very lucky. And I’m sure people will ruthlessly dissect my columns, because that happens with absolutely everything I write. How will this be any different? The Internet rewards obsession. In any form of public life, there will always be some people who love you too much and some people who hate you too much. The key is accepting that none of it is real.