Reading the business news every morning as is my habit is a depressing experience. Every single day some business person is doing something illegal, immoral or stupid. And often it is not one or two stories but a half dozen.
Is there is a war between the ethical and unethical in the world of business, the news media tend to give the impression of a strongly successful offensive on the part of the vile and the cruel. The pursuit of the profit motive in the not so distant past often involved providing a service or selling a product. Today, you get a real sense of predatory practice.
Feel nauseated yet? Certain companies (I wouldn’t want to tar all banks and lenders.) are lobbying Congress to make sure their ability to charge incredible interest rates to the troops goes unchanged. And the House of Representatives has already tried once and is trying again to nullify these regulations. I assume they’ll trot out the usual arguments about free markets and individual responsibility.
So, when did they decide to do something? – When three deaths linked to their ice cream occurred. And now there are ten dead whose demise may be related to eating ice cream.
So, I ask you two questions.
First, how does our form of capitalism reconcile itself with patriotism? Perhaps, you could argue that business is value free, it’s only morality the dictates of the marketplace. And if that is true than selling pay day loans at very high interest rates is the correct thing to do. The ideas of duty and loyalty to a nation are obsolete relics of a time before the great revelation of free market fundamentalism.
Secondly, how does our form of capitalism reconcile itself with public safety? It is obvious that you can make a lot more money making food in unsanitary conditions. Keeping the premises clean and protecting the food from contamination is expensive, time consuming and often subject to failure through human, animal or insect action. What is more important, keeping costs low or protecting the public?
Here is an actual working example. The company knew that they had a problem for more than a year. That’s a lot of ice cream. So, how important was human safety to the decision makers? It appears to have been low on their list of priorities.
So, let me ask a third question. What human value, be it patriotism, be it the preservation of human life, honor, religion, or even love that cannot tossed casually aside in the pursuit of profit? Under free market fundamentalism, isn’t greed the only quality worth cultivating, the great motivator, the basic rule of objectivism?
The proliferation of pay day loan stores around military bases is not an accident; it is the result of a philosophy that says making money is more important than the welfare of American serviceman. Selling contaminated ice cream for more than a year with the direct knowledge that you are doing it, is not an accident, it is not a miscalculation. It is again a result of a philosophy that put profits ahead of one of the most basic rules of humanity, thou shalt no kill.
So, tomorrow morning, I will get up and there will be new articles, new affronts to morality, new descriptions of stupidity and greed, and sometimes, I look at those headlines, those stories, those crimes and I wonder why I believe so firmly in the right in the face of so much evidence that doing wrong is profitable.
One day, I was teaching about a film, “It Happened One Night.” I was trying to explain the apparently ridiculous custom of showing people driving against a background screen. It looks tacky and breaks your acceptance of the film. It’s the problem with sound. I’ve seen silent films where they took film of people driving in cars and interacting in cars. But sound equipment is bulky. What’s more, the background noise of the automobile and the surroundings play havoc with the recording. So, we have to have a controlled environment. Modern film has access to much more capable equipment and that’s one of the reasons my students prefer to avoid the classic black and whites.
I suppose one of the hardest things about teaching with film is the enormous disparity in understanding between teacher and student. They don’t get jokes, miss symbolism, never seem to look at the background and, worse of all, have trouble staying interested for more than twenty minutes. Their hands drift inexorably toward their electronic devices to check text and e-mail, an electronic reality more important to them than the Joseph Campbell style myths conveyed by film.
The way they talk, touch, perceive love and honor, choose their life goals and what they choose to believe in their version of reality are all shaped and shaped dramatically by these brief hours of concentrated talent. Sometimes they seem to get it and often not. I shouldn’t blame them too much. It has only been in the last few years that I began looking at film in terms of ethics, business ethics in particular. And worse, the films that have been important influences in my own life didn’t become apparent to me until I reflected long and hard while watching films I’d seen in my youth.
I wonder what they think about themselves from what they saw growing up. There were scant few special effects in my time and now they’re present in most films sometimes dominating them to the exclusion of all other factors. Could it be that lives seem humdrum and banal compared to an episode of Transformers? And because special effects take up so much time, do they live lives where conversation and relationships are de-emphasized just as in the films?
I know that for a good number I am planting the seeds of what someday will be a strong knowledge and appreciation of film culture and its significance in our lives. Future success is the rough equivalent of dry bread for dinner. You know it’s probably good for you but you’d rather not eat it.
In the article below, it is revealed that Minecraft will soon have a female protagonist. Instead of always having to play a male, a player can choose either sex.
Apparently the video game world just realized that there are women who play video games. So, let’s see if I have the chain of male cluelessness down – males were surprised to learn that women could talk, write, speak in public, choose their own husbands, control their own property, vote, drive cars, work, operate machinery, play sports, etc. What’s next?
Don’t worry. I’m sure there is a great number of things people in various industries are confident that women don’t, can’t or won’t do. I remember reading a magazine from back in the fifties. They were interviewing this guy who was a chef and they asked him if it bothered him to do what was traditionally women’s work. He explained that he wasn’t a cook, he was a chef and his job was tough and no woman could do what he did.
For many males, maybe all males, being identified however distantly with the female other is frightening and demeaning. Zones of apparent all male participation are comforting if wickedly unfair and ridiculous.
If we are going to practice business ethics, women are not the other – women are part of we, we the decisionmakers, the players, the consumers, etc. etc.
It’s obvious from reading about this mini-revolution in gaming of having female video game characters, that the designers were men who felt that the players in the games they made were also men.
How many times do we in the business of educating people have to see this pattern before realize that it might be better and easier to work on how our students construct a comfortable narrative based on yesterday’s gender identities? If we teach them that males and females are opposites but different perspectives on humanity, we might make better professionals – and better human beings as well.
Minecraft, Temple Run: Video game characters don’t have to default to male.
Fans of Minecraft—especially girls—have long felt frustrated that the only default character available in the popular building game is a man. Now, the game’s programmers have announced that players will get a lady option. The Washington Post describes this new character, Alex, as “a seemingly female character with thinner arms, pinker lips, and a swoop of hair around her neck,” in contrast to default character Steve, “a bulky man with short, dark hair and a 5 o’clock shadow.” Owen Hill of Mojang, the game studio that created Minecraft, explains that this move will better “represent the diversity of our playerbase.”
I have argued that allowing gays and lesbians to be discriminated against in business transactions is wrong and poor business ethics. I have advocated that this legislation be changed before enactment and if enacted to be repealed. In this, I have acted inside the bounds of political activity traditional in this nation. At no point have I advocated violence against any religious establishment.
Nevertheless, people who agree with me and have made similar public comments have been described as “Jihadists” by Presidential candidate, Ted Cruz. A Jihadist? I don’t think I qualify. I am not currently involved in a Jihad, have not advocated violence against anyone over this legislation, and look ridiculous in a burnoose. I personally am a Christian and I am not part of a conspiracy to wage a Jihad against my own religion. I would find that personally divisive.
Being accused of being a Jihadist is not the only insult that people who share my beliefs have received on this issue. According to former Presidential candidate, Newt Gringrich, we are part of a lynch mob. And he backs up his claim, by explaining that people like me have to be deluded because the bill is “exactly the same as in Connecticut.” I believe he is implying that the bill is like the one in many states and the one passed by the federal legislation during the Clinton Administration. That’s a lie.
It’s not a little lie. It’s a giant hulking monstrous lie. As an attorney, I am well aware that adding a single comma can change the intent or the effect of legislation. The Indiana bill contain two entire clauses not in other bills save for the one in Texas. But the Texas bill has a civil rights exception that protects gay and lesbians. The Indiana bill doesn’t. The Indiana bill was designed like a laser beam to hit a single target, gays and lesbians in the market place. The foundation of the bill was in the fact that neither Indiana nor the federal government has legislation protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination. All the other groups, women, minorities, etc., were protected by previous laws. Gays were the only people without cover The new clauses and the absence of a civil rights protection made the legislation dramatically different from what had been passed before. The bill does look similar to the bills passed before but if it walks like duck, quacks like a duck and has dripping fangs as well as razor sharp teeth, it’s not a duck anymore.
That the bill was identical with other state legislation and therefore did nothing new was a great talking point but that doesn’t make it true. No matter how loud or how often a lie is said does not make it reality.
But there was still more, I am not only described as a Jihadist and a leader of a lynch mob, I also lack perspective. According to Tom Cotton, the new Senator from Arkansas and famous letter writer, I lack perspective because, “In Iran they hang you for the crime of being gay.”
No, that’s not how it works. If I point out that a man is starving, and you point out that another man up the street is also starving but that I wasn’t paying attention to his problem – a point has been made. But Cotton’s argument is too distant in nature and form from the situation in Indiana. As an American citizen I can have little effect on the law in Iran. But as an American citizen, in this country, I have both the right and the responsibility to participate in the affairs of the nation. I cannot and will not close my eyes to injustice that I can do something about. And that is where Cotton’s argument fails. However much I may lament the actions of people in other nations, I live here and what happens affects me directly.
Why are the first two criticisms so bizarre? It seems pretty obvious that group of citizens, newspaper writers, politicians and leaders in business are neither Jihadists nor part of a lynch mob. These two criticisms have no connection with any objective reality but they are designed for use. There will be radio shows, television pleas and letters, literally millions of letters, saying this –
HOMOSEXUAL JIHADISTS ARE PLANNING THE DESTRUCTION OF CHRISTIANITY, YOUR CHURCHES WILL BE DESTROYED, YOUR BIBLES BURNED AND RELIGION AS WE KNOW IT WILL CEASE TO EXIST!!
CAN YOU SEND $100, $50 OR EVEN AS LITTLE AS FIVE DOLLARS TO SAVE THE WORD OF JESUS CHRIST FROM BEING WIPED OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH BY THE GAY LYNCH MOB?
And then they’ll talk about this being a critical point in American history and the need to act now, right now, and how sending them money will allow brave men (insert current anti-jihadist fund raiser) to act on their behalf to defend American values.
I’ve seen fund raising letters like these dozens of times; the writing is usually in all caps, although usually the lead statements are in giant blood red letters that virtually scream crisis off the page. How many of you remember the letters sent out charging that if John Kerry won the Presidency, bibles would be banned? That was in the 2004 campaign but these kinds of fund raising appeals are made constantly preying on those who would believe the worst of their fellow Americans.
To me, it seems obvious that the Jihad and lynch mob lines are set-ups for fund raising letters and Senator Cotton was just commenting. After all, you can’t really do much with a “lack of perspective” charge in a fund raising letter.
In conclusion, there is no Jihad, period. There is no lynch mob. And there is plenty of perspective.
What happened was democracy in action. I wasn’t pleased with all of it, but businesses, individuals, and elected officials stepped up publicly and opposed the legislation and it was changed. That is how things are supposed to work.
I participated in that as an American citizen as is my right under the law. And that is just what I am, an American.
(Below are my sources and the quotes I drew from for the above article. jp)
Appearing yesterday on CNN, Senator Tom Cotton (R) urged critics of Indiana’s “religious freedom” law to get “perspective,” suggesting the treatment of LGBT people in Indiana compared favorably to countries where gay people are executed.
“I think it’s important we have a sense of perspective,” Cotton said. “In Iran they hang you for the crime of being gay.”
Newt Gingrich Slams ‘Lynch Mob’ For Opposing Indiana Religious Freedom Law
The fact is, for example, the governor of Connecticut announced he wouldn’t send people to Indiana. Well, Connecticut has exactly the same law. They adopted it 20 years ago. The head of Apple announces that he’s deeply disappointed. Apple sells cell phones in Saudi Arabia, where being homosexual is a death penalty. The level of selective outrage, the opportunity to pick a fight — the news media couldn’t help themselves.
Ted Cruz: ‘Jihad’ Was Waged Against Religious Freedom Bills
“We look at the jihad that is being waged right now in Indiana and Arkansas going after people of faith who respect the biblical teaching that marriage is the union of one man and one woman,” Cruz said during a panel moderated by conservative radio host Steve Deace on Thursday. “We need to bring people together to the religious liberty values that built this country.”
Below my comments is a brief piece of an article in which a minister explains from the pulpit (to be succinct)”This is a man’s world.” The current political reality is that it is still very much in many ways a man’s world, but this minister isn’t arguing political reality, he’s saying that to be “right with God,” a church must enshrine male leadership.
The basic conflict here is simple. If women are human beings with intelligence and judgment and in Christianity, a soul, doesn’t it follow that they should have equal rights and full participation in society? If not, what are they? – something not quite finished or whole? The struggle here is between these two kinds of thought. In my experience, there is only one answer, women are equal to men.
Our minister here is using Christianity as a cover for his beliefs about women and this is historically common, the last defense against civil rights for blacks was religion. It was a line of defense against freeing the slaves. It was used to defend denying women the right to vote, and now this “spokesman” for the Almighty finds justification once again to put someone in their place, in this case half the world’s population.
It is written –
King James Bible Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
I can’t help but think that this sword is too often picked up not in the name of Christianity but to justify personal inclination. When used in this way, religion is a weapon. But I do not understand how a believer in a all-wise, all knowing Deity can believe that women are a lesser vessel. Yes, I’m sure you can find some pertinent verses but we as a society have long ago given up witch burning, selling our daughters as bond slaves, killing disobedient children and executing rape victims for not making enough noise during the assault. (We also charge interest on things – strictly forbidden!) Take a look:
New International Version He lends at interest and takes a profit. Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head.
I’m sure the banking industry would have a difficult time following that command.
So, we as a society have from time to time rewritten our laws and customs to be out of accordance with a literal interpretation of the bible but perhaps very much in line with biblical intent. So, the bible’s use as shield for misogyny is another belief that we will very likely modify as a society as attitudes change.
I have written and still believe that women’s changing status is the most important business ethics issue of this decade. It is an ongoing struggle and I read virtually every single day of women suffering firing, insult and abuse in the work place. While this minister is something of an obvious buffoon, many of his ilk are far more skilled communicators and they have considerable influence. Generally, they don’t speak of women as being inferior so much as needing protection. Thus, discrimination is justified because women need help in a dangerous world and often they need this help in making good judgments about abortion, contraception, etc.
Business is a part of our culture and like other elements is influenced by religion. And that is why I call attention to the use of relion as a weapon against women. But however much I find this use distressing I still find comfort, wisdom and moral direction in the book. I may be accused of hypocrisy in quoting the book in service to my own beliefs while others using quotes face my scorn but this comes from reading the bible as an evolving document not as a word for word set of commands. In this belief I am very much in line with what my denomination believes.
I believe the day will come when society finds it ridiculous that middle aged men (like the minister described below) believed they could make better decisions for women than the women themselves.
Pastor Fails Hard In His Demonstration Of Why Male Leadership Is So Superior
“Don’t you be ashamed you go to a church with male leadership,” Lytells says in the clip of his sermon, uploaded to YouTube by ‘Bad Preachers’. “Every church that’s right with God oughta have a sign: ‘Male Leadership.’ Because that’s the only kind of leadership, both from Adam all the way to the last part of the Bible. It’s all been male. This is a man’s world!”
The Ethics Sage Discusses the Moral Issues in the Film, Insurgent.
(Steven Mintz, the Ethics Sage give his usual intelligent analysis to a film. Please go to his web site and read the whole entry. jp)
Below is a brief excerpt from this work followed by my own comments.
The Ethics of Insurgent of the Divergent Series – Ethics Sage
What makes “Insurgent” a modern play on morality is that Tris encounters a wide variety of moral issues that can best be viewed through the lens of the film itself. Here are some quotes:
“That might be your truth; it’s not necessarily mine” – a textbook summary of moral relativism.
“I’m just one person; I’m not worth it” – spoken when Tris considers submitting to death rather than seeing others suffer, reflecting a utilitarian understanding that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, something I recently blogged about.
“Dark times call for dark measures, but I am serving the greater good” – or, in other words, “the ends justify the means.” We can relate this to the current conflict (war?) with ISIS and ISIL. That is, fighting a war may be wrong but its ends of “degrading” and “destroying” an evil enemy make it justified from a moral point of view.
“May the truth set you free.” Honesty is the best policy and leads to a clear conscience.
Films are a vital tool in teaching business ethics.
While I don’t use any of the Divergent Series in my classes, I’m confident they are useful. Why? Because most motion pictures save for those displaying our modern penchant for special effects over character development almost always deal with moral issues. Some films are more useful than others. For instance, The Wolf of Wall Street glorifies the antics of a criminal. On the other hand, there are films like Desk Set, The Apartment, and Sabrina that illustrate business and class issues, and, not incidentally are some of the greatest films of all time.
Today in class, we used My Life in Ruins to teach Business Ethics. Nia Vardalos may very well have made “The Gone With the Wind” of business ethics films. The film is so crowded with business ethics problems that my students sometimes have trouble writing them down as the film proceeds. That the film is also well-done and funny are added benefits. (Education does not always have to be painful.)
One of the interesting things about using films in class is that those who use documentaries tend to use the same ones (based on my observations and reading other people’s syllabi), while those who use movies vary widely. One of my colleagues sent me her syllabus in which all of her films are very recent whereas my films can go back to the silents (Metropolis). Now, my students give me the impression that making them watch a silent film is roughly equivalent to slowly boiling them in oil. So, that particular one is an optional extra-credit assignment.
Do They Think We’re Stupid? Indiana Republicans Surprised by Backlash?
In studying business ethics, one is exposed to many, many individuals who tell you things that are self-serving and often bordering on falsehood. The smart ones use at least a grain of truth in their statements. But sometimes something is said that is so incredibly false, you are not at first able to comprehend that a human being capable of basic ambulatory motions could make such a statement.
Read the following.
Indiana GOP Leaders Shocked Their ‘Religious Freedom’ Law Is Seen As Anti-Gay
“I don’t think anyone anticipated that the characterization of the bill would be, this denies to services to a specific class to Hoosiers. It does just the opposite. It includes all Hoosiers in the religious freedom standard. And it’s a misperception that it denies services,” said Indiana state House Speaker Brian Bosma (R) during a Monday morning press conference with Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long (R).
Same-sex marriage is the issue that won’t go away, no matter how much the state’s Republican leaders may try to avoid it.
Social conservatives, including some state lawmakers, delivered a reminder of that this week when they said they would pursue “religious freedom” legislation that would allow businesses to not serve gay couples.
And what about the defense, I’m seeing all over the internet that this is just like the other religious freedom acts passed in the federal system and many states –
(Note – Texas has a similar provision but specifically exempts civil rights.) From the article above.
See, this is just a play for the rubes. You copy the language of a commonly passed law but change key wording to give the law a different purpose. Another key point is that Indiana has no law protecting gay or LGBT rights. That means the law has a far greater sweep than the laws it claims to copy.
Now, if you want to oppose gays or anyone else participating in the marketplace by your speech or legislation. You can do that. You have that right. But to act on that opposition and then feign surprise when you’re caught is ridiculous.
If discrimination based on sexual orientation isn’t bad business ethics, not much is.
Jesus would hate you all — and you didn’t build that: The truth about the ultra-rich and their New York Times apologists – Salon.com
IRS data compiled by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saenz and their colleagues at the top incomes database shows how stark America’s shift from a broad-based prosperity model has been. From 1947 to 1973, the average incomes of the bottom 90 percent increased 99.2 percent, compared to 88.9 percent for the top 10 percent, and a mere 7.4 percent for the top 0.1 percent. But from 1973 to 2008, the average incomes of the bottom 90 percent fell 6.1 percent, while the average incomes of the top 10 percent continued rising by another 70.8 percent, and average incomes of the top 0.1 percent skyrocketed an astronomical 706.4 percent.
I’m told from time to time that the slow destruction of the middle class and the de-professionalization of faculty at colleges and universities are the result of globalization. This globalization process is often described like a natural phenomenon like an earthquake or a tidal wave.
But the economic changes over the last fifty years are not the result of “natural” market forces. First and foremost, the market is an artificial construct. It seems to me that the idea of a complex structure with buying, selling, currency, the problems of shipping and safety, and a vast system of law can hardly be described as a natural process in the manner of lions hunting wildebeests. Second, this is policy – cold, deliberate policy. I can list them beginning with the Reagan tax cuts that eliminated the upper brackets. I would probably end with “Citizens United,” a decision that makes sense only through the prism of the Wall Street Journal. The idea that money is a form of speech is ridiculous but worse is the idea directly expressed in the decision that the resulting enormous rise of money in politics would not give the appearance of corruption.
Let’s have a look at the “appearance of corruption.” How about this, or this (Look at the chart of spending on the last election cycles!), or this, or this, or this? How many do you want? Maybe, just maybe, the Supreme Court got it wrong? Maybe incredible sums of money and the ubiquity of the Koch brothers commercials give the appearance that you can buy any election in the United States any time you want if you’re willing to shell out enough money?
Where’s the business ethics here? It’s very simple. You build a better product. You compete in the marketplace and sell your better product. Capitalism in action! But wait, why do that when you can give several million dollars to Congress or better yet a much cheaper State or local government and be subsidized? Building a better product is hard, purchasing influence is easy. Thus the NFL pays no taxes, the oil industry in spite of being immensely profitable gets government subsidies, factory farms produce food paid for in advance by the federal government. None of these is a better product. Can there be any doubt that multiple leagues would produce more and better sports? Does it seem likely to you that oil companies would founder if left to suffer multi-billion dollar profits without government subsidy? And would farming disappear without government aid?
Where’s is innovation in all this? Is football improving? Does the oil industry compete by making a better product or is it committed to an increasingly obsolete business model? How come we subsidize certain agriculural products but don’t subsidize more healthy products?
We can adopt policies which favor a strong, vibrant middle class. We don’t have to give in to every industry demand even if it is backed by enormous political contributions. Sometimes we may fell and justly that this country is being sold out from under us. We live in society becoming more and more an oligarchy of corporate power and the wealthy. But this is not an inevitable process. Other nations have moved in this direction and yet have the soul democracy once again. The American people are a great and good people. I believe in time that a great people will realize that unrestrained greed is still one of the deadly sins to be shunned like the others.
Here is a list of films with business ethics issues. I use these in class. Some are documentaries and some are more conventional movies.
Scandalous women of the 19th century
(Write me a minimum of five sentences using the format in the syallabus to explain whether or not the changes these women inspired in the legal status of women have any relevance in your life today. 8 points extra credit.)
The Charles Boyer character in the film can spend his life with the woman he loves in a state of financial insecurity or marry a beautiful wealthy woman and live a life of indulgence and pleasure seeking. The film is from an earlier era and to them the choice was obvious. What would you choose and why? Is your choice simple and how time do you spend weighing the economic advantages? Could you be happy without financial security?
The three men depicted here are bank robbers. Is the film reasonable – does it make sense in the light of our current beliefs? If you were one of the three men, would you have been willing to do what they did? Are there more important things in life than wealth and ease? Could you name some?
Jane is a plain girl, with no money, no connection to the aristocratic classes and in fact, very little connection to even the gentile middle class. Rochester can marry a beautiful woman of impeccable breeding who will bring money and influence to the marriage. Is this just some silly Gothic novel designed to alleviate the pain of plain women or is it something of an eternal observation about the fulfilled life as opposed to fulfilling the expectations of society?
According to the film, does the heroine cravenly seek money and position? In a nation heavily influenced by neoliberalism, aren’t we supposed to use the free market to maximize our gains – why or why not? Isn’t matrimony just another form of financial transaction? Aren’t men and women objects of investment and return?