Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Corporations, People, Ideology, & Ethical Action

A group of friends and I have an email discussion group where we exchange articles we have read and then comment on the topics. The threads are typically lively and intriguing because A) This group of people are intelligent and well spoken. B) This group of people is full of borderline narcissists who believe quite strongly in their own perspectives. (This is meant in the most loving way and I am included.) C)The group has diversity. No, not just in race (though we do). But in thought...many different ideologies held in the group. Although, come to think of it, we only have one strong female opinion. That needs to change. Any females interested in joining such bantering let me know! D) The articles cover provocative matter with much room for contention.

Recently, I posted this article and asked people to respond. Thus far, it has been a lively thread. Of course, I was selfishly motivated to post this article because of its relevance to current political climates and my own strong views. I am pulling an excerpt from the discussion on a topic I had been wanting to write about for some time and it continues in the same vein as some of my previous postings.

To provide context: I threw out the following question after seeing some implicit support of utilitarianism in regards to corporations. One friend specifically listed out some benefits of corporations as shown below. What follows is my critique (rant) about the third point below, as well as explaining some of my views on:

-Ethical action (a lack thereof and need for) by individuals and corporations
-Ideological highjacking of discourse

Check out the article linked above before moving on below. Once you are finished please add to the discussion with criticism or your own perspective in the comment box. I am eager to read different opinions.

-------------------- -------------------- -------------------- -------------------- --------------------

Do corporations provide more "good" than "bad" in the world? I say "world" here instead of people/society/etc. because I want the question to be framed holistically and expanding beyond the obvious realm of goods and services. What I mean by this is that let's try to take into account all of the effects of corporations, including those on humans, animals, environment, culture, etc. From previous responses it appeared that some of you (maybe most, all?) believe corporations do good for a great number of people and as such outweigh the negatives.

David said:

Let's look at what a corporation does for society:
1. Employs people at all levels
2. Pay taxes (providing government jobs)
3. Creates goods that we all need

-------------------- -------------------- -------------------- -------------------- --------------------

3. Creates goods that we all need
I think this is the one for which I have the sharpest critique. Goods that we "need"? This is an utter fallacy produced because of existential blindness that is created through a consumerism culture. That is how far gone from our essence and existence we are as human beings today. We now think we need "goods" to survive and be happy. What goods do we need that these corporations produce exactly? Tim and I had a great discussion when I visited him about the systematic consumption of goods and services in our culture as an attempt to create meaning. We talked of how pervasive this mentality is and how we are all a part of the problem in some small or large way. Instead of creatively constructing meaning for ourselves through our own endeavors and passions, we purchase distractions, whether it be a physical product or service or the new one: media. The scariest part of this, in my opinion, is the widely held perception that these things are not only good for our existence, but a necessary component through and through.

So where do we go from here? It's quite easy to bitch about things (see: Occupy Wall Street, Tea Party) while remaining aloof and dismissive to hypocritical actions, as shown by the photograph posted by David [This photo]. But what can we actually do to change problems we see. Well, that is first predicated on the proposition A: There is a problem with our current nature of existing (in our culture, institutions, and individuals lives). You must believe proposition A to be true, otherwise, on with the status quo. Then on with the things Simon articulated with his reference to the Human Action Model. I do not have a specific theoretical reference, so I will refer to his since it aligns what I am explaining. Once individuals identify a problem, they are going to have a cognition that essentially says "This is a problem. Something needs to change." Now, here is where the psychological study of Cognitive Dissonance comes in handy to explain how humans will act next, once they hold belief in proposition A. We either change our actions, or we change our beliefs so as to align beliefs with action and reduce the psychological stress created from the dissonance.

Let's apply it to corporations and I will use myself as an example because I know it pretty well. I have become "enlightened" about the principle of responsible consumption, that is to act in a way when I consume that is in line with my ethical beliefs. Before becoming aware and educated though, I was not being a responsible consumer. I consumed through whatever means were most convenient and cheapest for me. This is fairly common, I feel safe to assume, for the vast majority of people. But I had a choice when I found a problem with myself: I could change my actions to align them with my new belief in responsible consumption or I could rationalize my actions by changing my beliefs entirely and drastically or creating a protective bubble around my core beliefs (plainly called "excuses"). So I could say, oh screw it, responsible consumption is for liberal hippies, I am allowed to consume whatever the hell I want and it's all here to make me happy and comfortable! That would be a drastic about face, however, it is an option to reduce my dissonance. Or I could create new cognitions that serve as buffers between my core beliefs (I should be a responsible consumer) and actions (I am not always a responsible consumer). This the most often chosen option to reduce cognitive dissonance as it is the path of least resistance for us. We can reduce dissonance without too much change to our core beliefs or habitual actions. It should be obvious, but I will note anyways that the altering of the latter is extremely difficult since they are so entrenched in our habits as well as self-image. Exactly why we rarely change those and instead create buffers (excuses).

A great example here: I despise Wal-Mart and out and out refuse to shop there. Now. However, during my teaching years, I would shop at Wal-Mart when I needed a large amount of school supplies. I still held the same belief. I despised Wal-Mart. I vehemently disagreed with their practices, as well as impact on local economies. But I shopped there because it saved me money on goods I was frustratedly purchasing. How did I reconcile my beliefs with my actions? I created a mental buffer: "I am only going to buy this shit from Wal-Mart when is absolutely necessary...when I have to buy all of these school supplies that I shouldn't even be buying the first place. So since I shouldn't be buying it, I don't want to spend a ton of my own personal money. So fuck it, I will just shop at Wal-Mart these few times. Because I shouldn't be buying this stuff anyways!" Ahh...excuse. Buffer. Saved me some personal anguish over compromising my beliefs. Cognitive dissonance reduction complete. This mental exercise is played out on daily basis, numerous times, and in many contexts by every single person. We are a complex creature full of inner conflict and turmoil. But we are a creature that seeks equilibrium and harmony, so these conflicts and this turmoil often goes on consciously unnoticed, partly because we are so enveloped in our distractions, as well as because our brain is an effing machine and can do these things on auto-pilot. However, I strongly believe the lack of awareness is the creation and solution to our problems here. (Reminds me of Homer Simpson, albeit in regards to a different topic).

Now, let me briefly explain my ethical beliefs regarding consumption so they are clear and to provide context to my examples. I believe being a responsible consumer means that I should consume in such a manner that reduces my carbon footprint (to employ the en vogue term) while supporting (consuming from) businesses who are run by and employ people with similar beliefs. I have found that large corporations are problematic because they are so massive and faceless it is difficult to determine whether or not their practices and beliefs are in line with my own. That is, until I did research and found reliable and credible resources.

Tim mentioned this in his email and here is the resource we are referring to: The Better World Handbook which is accompanied by The Better World Shopper Guide. These resources were created by social science researchers through thousands of hours of research into the practices of over 1,000 companies. Essentially, they were social science professors who were sick of telling their students about the pervasive problems with the world and how little change was being effected and decided to create something that could help individuals create small changes in their every day lives with the hope that if this kind of personal revolution were enacted, substantial and large changes could happen at the macro level. Check these resources out. I was impressed and decided to purchase the Better World Shopper Guide and actively use it to guide my consumption decisions, specifically what kind of products and services I consume and from whom I consume. Also, I have been spreading this message. That, to me, is how we effect change. That, in my opinion, is the cure for the lack of ethical action by individuals and corporations, which is bullet number two.

On to important/intriguing point number three: The ideological highjacking of discourse.

Throughout our thread I did not perceive this overtly and only sense small doses implicitly. I think this one has to do with the bigger picture beyond just our discussions to the general discourse when it pertains to topics such as this. Partisanship is nothing new; it is the manifestation of personal bias, a naturally evolving trait in all humans which is a neutral concept in this context. However, I think our current age displays biases geared in the negative to the degree of prejudice. We are living in times where ideological prejudice is beyond any respectable or even acceptable level. Ideologism (think the racism version of ideology) is running rampant and we are all guilty of it at some level. Some people are on are extreme ideologicists while others are subconcious ideologicists and some just in between (think a spectrum). This is problematic. It has taken discourse hostage and has uncompromising demands. You either agree with me and all I believe and should put into place my policies/ways of being or you're wrong and have no merit to be listened to.
Now all discussions have become one way arguments where each person waits their turn to speak (shout?), formulating their argument while the other speaks (and failing to listen or consider their other perspective). Discussions have simply become dialectical duels. They need to be constructive and consensus building. Here is something I think Occupy Wall Street (and the Arab Spring did) is right about. The horizontal structuring of the assembly and focus on group dynamics is truly revolutionary. All groups and individuals would be well served to read up on it and try employing in their daily lives. The focus is having all voices heard, and I mean actively listened to and considered with a concerted effort towards mutual understanding, and ultimately building consensus so that action can happen. Check it out here.

With that said, we have to get our ideologism in check. The cure to holding any bias in check is personal awareness, coupled with a deep sense of humility (no...not a TFA faux humility). But, I mean personal awareness in that one must first, acknowledge they are riddled with biases, and that it is natural. The key is to become aware of them and try to account for them in the formulating of beliefs, espousing of opinions, and enacting of actions. Secondly, we all must accept we have biases and not try to eliminate them, for this is impossible and against human nature. Rather, we must work to cultivate our biases to as to eliminate those which are harmful to others and ourselves. Education, experience, and good ol' introspection are great combatants to employ here on this front. Lastly, and just as importantly, we all must cultivate, in a very honest and earnest manner, the principle of humility. To have humility is to acknowledge and accept one's own limitations. Human beings are a paradoxical creature. We possess the greatest amount of power, sometimes seemingly limitless, in regards to our intellectual and physical capabilities. However, we remain, fundamentally, creatures with clear physical and intellectual limitations. The latter fact scares the shit out of us and I believe is what drives us towards ideologism, obliterating the principle of humility in the process. We all know we will die. We all know life is precarious. We all suffer. These are facts. No one has all of the answers to the questions of existence. No one can know them. No matter how certain someone may believe in their answers to the "GREAT" questions of life (How did we get here? Where are we going? What is the right way to live?), they do not have THE answer. They may have their own answer, but it is not and cannot be the definitive fact, as in a fact such as the aforementioned facts. So we must remind ourselves of these limitations. We must remind ourselves that others are going through the same conflicted, complex, and miraculous existence and are just as confused about the ontological and existential questions of life. We must remind ourselves that we share this in common and consequentially ought to show empathy towards fellow human beings. Now, I always fear that I when I propose this to others it will be dismissed cynically as naive. I am not under any illusion that this world will be some kind of peaceful utopia full of hunky dory people of all strides of life; however, I do think that each of us can significantly improve our own lives and all those within our sphere of influence if we give credence to these conditions of humanity. I certainly believe this would improve all discourse, trivial and essential, and especially on contentious topics, such as the one we engage in right now.

No comments:

Post a Comment