Friday, June 17, 2016

Evil And The Corporate Executive

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- Let's continue the line of argument.
- "Thinking in accord with rules and roles leads to seeking power over others."*
- I'm bothered by people like Noam Chomsky and Yanis Varoufakis who tell the truth but not the whole truth, who hold themselves back for political reasons.
- Anything in particular bothering you?
- They claim "institutional factors" cause people who have good intentions to act badly. Corporate executives have to see to it their corporations make profit.
- Isn't that true? And even if it isn't, isn't it Chomsky and Varoufakis' intention in their speaking civilly, let's call it, to keep discussion open and avoid descending into name calling?
- That's what I meant by their political considerations.
- So you think they don't believe in these institutional factors?
- What do you think? Isn't acting knowingly bad in order to profit from participation in a group your definition of evil?
- Yes.
- Exonerate people from responsibility by explaining they are evil!
- Religion does it all the time.
- You're right. But these guys are supposed to be some kind of philosophers. What I wanted to ask you was, do you think it is even true?
- That institutional factors force good people to go bad?
- Yes. Aren't all of us all the time subject to institutional factors?
- Yes. And can't we all be forgiven?
- By priests maybe. Not by philosophers. We have free will.
- We have more freedom in some circumstances than others.
- And corporate executives. How much freedom do they have? That's my question to you.
- If we could find examples where corporate executives could take two different courses of action which led to equal profit, but one was good for others and the other bad, led in fact increased subjugation, more entrenched power relations between people?
- You'd show that the motive isn't profit but power.
- Meaning the power exercised personally by the corporate executives, not by the corporation, which to the extent "it" wants power is only for the sake of profits, and we said profits are equal in this case.
- Do you know any such examples?
- In their corruption of the government it's hard to see corporate executives have any choice. For a few million dollars in campaign donations to politicians they get billions of dollars in favorable legislation, court appointments, etc.
- ROI: return on investment. A thousand to one.
- But what about the corporate behavior in response to the tens of thousand desperate wanderers with no place to go in Los Angeles we've talked much about?*
- What the latest?
- Whole Foods Supermarket has permanently shut down their wireless internet. Bristol Farms is following suit. Ralphs Supermarket did it long ago, though the signal from Target in the same building gets through. Every night for a while Starbucks called in the police to drag out anymore caught with eyes closed. Yesterday RiteAid cleared away everyone on their terrace. Do you think it can be good for business taking the internet away from everyone, providing instead a show of violence against the weakest and saddest in the community?
- All this is happening in Beverly Hills or nearby?
- Yes. Can you tell me what institutional factors are behind it?
- Well, I think I can. It's that ROI. The corporations make this great investment in politicians. That's an institutional factor undeniably. They're never going to stop unless forced to. The tens, or as some say, hundreds of thousand of desperate wanderers with no place to go in Los Angeles are an unavoidable consequence of the great purchase they made of politicians. They can afford a little loss of business clearing the disruption away when Beverly Hills gets to look too much like India.
- Couldn't the amount of profit they lose in their war against the Beverly Hills poor be used to finance community programs to take care of these people? Wouldn't it also be good publicity?
- Ah. There are your two alternatives, one good, one bad, with equal cost in profits. You claim these giant corporations - Starbucks, Whole Foods, Bristol Farms, RiteAid - positively want to drag the bodies of the desperate through their stores, disconnect their customers from modern communication technology. You might say they want to turn their businesses into torture chambers.
- With profits equal in both cases, in the choice between torturing the poor or helping them, they choose torture. That seems clear.
- But isn't it also clear the institution of the corporation pushes the executives to want to torture the poor? Isn't that an institutional factor? The institution of the corporation makes people bad, produces bad character even when the institution itself doesn't require bad conduct.
- Yes. And do you see the consequence? We are reluctant to blame people who want to do good but institutions push in the wrong direction. We blame without reservation people who by character do bad. Here we see people with both bad character and no institutional necessity to act bad.
- But the institutions taught them to be bad.
- We don't excuse people with bad education for their crimes. It's their good education we honor when we consider forgiving profit seeking corporate executives for doing bad.
- So where are we?
- A little closer to plain speaking.
- Saying what? Corporate executives are evil? Some of them at least?
- Just that.

Further Reading:
What Is Blame?
Bloomberg on Starbucks
Eve In The Garden Of Eden
* Indifference Revisited
** Indifference