Naming Rites

In the middle of a worldwide pandemic, this debate has emerged on what to call the virus. Some may currently consider racial epithets a trivial issue in light of growing morbidity/mortality rates; but words matter, especially edicts coming from our leaders that contribute to a particular environment and engender lasting consequences, especially during a worldwide crisis.

The President has repeatedly used the term “Chinese Virus,” citing his insistence on emphasizing the truthful origin of the pestilence from Wuhan wet markets. While that assertion is correct, critics, including Trump’s own epidemiologist and director of the National Instititute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci follow World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines and insist on using the term, COVID-19, so at best not to stigmatize a particular region or ethnic group, and at worst, not be racist. 

As a business ethicist, I am constantly called upon to determine whether a given action is moral. Some actions are obviously not, and you don’t need a Ph.D. in ethics to render it so. Calling a person a chink or jap or denying African-American individuals a job or house because of their race is definitely wrong. Other actions fall in a gray area, and we must investigate various components of the action to judge its moral character. To adjudicate a controversial moral act, we must take a look at 1) the action itself; 2) its intent; and 3) the consequences.

The term, “Chinese Virus,” and issues like financial incentives and affirmative action fall in this debatable grey area and thus demand further analysis. Since using this label is precisely what is at question, and discovering an individual’s motivation is so difficult, we must turn to the consequences of the act to shed further light on its moral character.

Upon reflection during these political times and crises moments, we must give extra grace and “benefit of the doubt” to those on the other side of the aisle. I must admit I do not care much for 45; however I must give him credit for not only changing his mind/behavior about not giving the virus an ethnicity, but finally being up front about its nefarious impact on morbidity and mortality … regardless of motivation. A worldwide pandemic is not a normal situation, but it gives neither pretext for the blame game nor the opportunity to needle one another. Stress levels and impatience run high, and everyone is on edge. I don’t envy our nation’s leadership; it’s far easier to criticize than assume their role/position. I thank them for governing during this difficult time. In clicking on Internet links, I have noticed that outside observers, including myself, tend to prejudge an actor’s motivations based on their own respective political persuasion, and then form judgments presuming the actor’s intent. This confirmation bias needs a steady reprimand and counter equilibrium.

However, leaders must also acknowledge that they are persons of influence, who in turn, affect large, respective spheres of influence. There is a good reason the WHO has set parameters on how to label emerging illnesses. These terms set, reinforce, redefine, and have the capacity to harm our neighboring countries and fail to love and respect our fellow citizens. These consequences automatically make associating any virus with any region or race immoral and unethical.

May this scourge end quickly! Grace and peace to you and yours in the meantime.

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Opportunity Cost and the Price of Normalcy

A college friend of mine challenged me to consider integrating my past scholarly pursuits in philosophy and business ethics with my current experience dealing with a long-term illness, and guest lecturing in disability studies. So on that note, this blog post represents the first of many musings outlining the field of economic morality within a life-altering, adjusted lens.

Let us first consider some key terms, definitions, and operational lingo, which will facilitate our conversation in this discipline. The economist, Paul Krugman, asserts that business ethics is NOT primarily a study of money, but of human persons. In the disability community, it is oft mentioned that “It takes a lot of energy to be normal!”

Before digressing on a gratuitous excursion toward defining normal, and whether a handicapped person qualifies, the Opportunity Cost of a given state of affairs are the benefits lost in pursuing mutually exclusive courses of action. For instance, the opportunity cost of my suffering a stroke in October 2012 are all the benefits lost (financial, and/or otherwise in not having the hemorrhagic bleed; likewise, one could also estimate the opportunity cost of NOT having a stroke. These benefits include lessons learned, friendships gained, and the traumatic brain injury’s literal/figurative heartache.

Kudos to Mark Heinzig for the gentle push …

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Crazy Rich Stereotypes

Crazy Rich Asians Trilogy (3 Book Series)In early fall 2018, a film based on the New York Times Bestseller, Crazy Rich Asians, will debut with an exclusive all-Asian cast. Similar to responses to the model minority myth, feedback from fellow Asians has varied. A question needing a response is whether ethnic exposure, however stereotypical or blatantly false, is ethical, or pragmatically superior to exhibiting nothing at all.

See the FaceBook conversation over this topic started under the group, “Progressive Asian-American Christians”

Wakanda is no bull$&@/ country

The Black Panther [2018] is Marvel Universe’s latest comic adaptation , and has garnered much public fanfare / revenue along with high acclaim from cinematic pundits . The film tells the tale of the native, fictional country of Wakanda . . . And, like any decent superhero screenplay, a good narrative should include [ORKA] an Origin / Creation Story, an account of the Royal Kingdom / Lineage, and an epic-concluding Armageddon, or the world’s final battle.

Elements of a Good Narrative

O – Origin / Creation Story

RK – Royal Kingdom

A – Armageddon/ Final Battle

There exists disagreement among surveyors of art regarding interpretation: An Intentionalist View of whether art is to be interpreted by the lens of the creator(s) versus a Subjectivist perspective upon whether art lies in the eye of the beholder.  The strengths of the former position lie in the authority of the creator to determine his/her perspective, and the inherent authority of the driving, creative force(s). The inherent motivations behind the latter view rest in the actual evidence of changing interpretations of artwork over time; the corresponding drawback of the intentionalist position involves the consequence that it makes the meaning of a work quite rigid and static.

Ruth Tallman advances a compromise: A view she labels Multiplism, which acknowledges authorial intentions among equal possibilities of other interpretations.

Saquon Barkley and the Pragmatic ‘Ought’

To Declare or Not to Declare

In college football circles the last few weeks, the primary question surrounding Saquon Barkley’s future had been whether the 21-year-old ought to forgo his senior season at Penn State, and go pro.  With all the hype, you would think that his decision would encompass one of moral/ethical scope. It certainly takes on that tone, when pundits assert that he OUGHT or ought NOT head to the professional ranks.

But it is a mistake to view this athletic ‘ought’ as an ethical or moral act. Rather, the decision, while difficult, is  strictly pragmatic. Barkley has to decide whether to experience and enjoy the Fiesta Bowl with his teammates, while risking injury along with the concomitant reward of millions of dollars due him for five years of work in the NFL (the average running back does not last past his 29th birthday). It represents a pure risk/reward proposition rather than a moral decision.  However private the choice is for Barkley, he does also need to balance  this personal decision with the fact that he is a public figure, and has a duty/obligation to family, teammates, and the Penn State community who has supported him.  As Saquon reiterates, “This decision is not easy nor straightforward.”





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Corporate Ethos from the Top-Down

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick issued an apology and stepped down from his position as Chief Executive Officer after a video surfaced of him getting in an argument with his personal Uber driver and then shortly telling the man that some people don’t like to take individual responsibility.

This incident represented yet another stain on the company in a trail of sexual harrassment, discrimination, and pushing the envelope in legal and ethical boundaries. It also raises the question of how much the individual morality or personal ethics of a leader affects the corporate ethos or environment of the business culture. The ethos, or corporate climate, also winded up having an impact on the entire tech start-up industry itself, as evidenced by the avalanche of sexual harrassment revelations this week. Uber has also been found in violation of intellectual property laws and local/international driving regulations. My college mentor always mentioned that it’s naturally much easier to bring people down (e.g. from a chair) than to hoist them up. So it is with individual morality in an environment of corporate depravity.


Morality in the Wild, Wild Westworld

Many people divide morality up into categories of right and wrong. But this simplistic outlook may represent an infantile ethic.

In the HBO original series, “Westworld” (2016), guests in a futuristic theme park are allowed and encouraged to explore a land without ethical boundaries. However, a more mature moral system comprising nuances and qualifiers layered with categories of good, better, and best may be more realistic . . . an objective world devoid of absolutes, consisting of a continuum of ideals. In this moral landscape, we are neither robots nor androids, but human creations creatively endowed with the capability and privileged power of freedom and choice.

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Tesla Corporation deals with first death involving Autopilot system as Ethical distinction comes into play: Prospective Litigation (liability) versus Moral Culpability (murder indictment))

driverless carThe Tesla Corporation had its first death recently, putting a dark blemish on the nascent driverless car technology, and its vision of an accident–free society. It is indeed interesting to note that the issues holding these driverless cars from the market are NOT primarily technological NOR pragmatic–but ethical.  In  other words, if the Tesla automobile is forced to “choose” to hit someone, whom shall it collide with? It is simple to program the Tesla to slam into a tree versus Tammy Tatreau; but what if the “choice” were between an acquaintance and a second cousin named Tammy? Whom shall the Tesla hit? Who ought to live and/or get hurt? Until the automotive engineers and ethicists answer these questions, it may be wise to refrain from purchasing stock in driverless technology.

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Illegal, Immoral, or Inappropriate Questions?

Eli Apple, highly touted Defensive Back of the Ohio State Buckeyes, and top NFL draft prospect was allegedly asked in an interview about his sexual preferences / orientation — a clear legal violation and inappropriate question in the interview hiring process. While both illegal and inappropriate, the question over Apple’s sthexual orientation is not immoral; i.e., it is NOT a query violating moral  conscience nor a matter of ethical debate.  It is important to understand this distinction:  The act is against the law AND a hiring policy violation; but it is not an instance of transgressing a company’s ethical boundaries, despite one’s personal preferences on the matter.

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Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is a traditional holiday celebrated on February 2, along with a concomitant romantic comedy of the same name groundhogstarring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. According to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog rises from his burrow , spring will come early.  If it is sunny, and the groundhog sees its shadow, and retreats back into its burrow, the winter weather will persist for six more weeks.

I absolutely hated this film, its very mention, even years after it came out. I can still hear the annoying radio wake-up call to this day; it even influenced my initial prejudice against viewing the Edge of Tomorrow (which contains parallel repetitive plot lines.

My family friend / hair stylist urged me to give this movie a second chance (as she adored the flick!). Since I frequently write on redemptive themes, I thought a two hour reinvestment was certainly worthy of a final viewing, so to speak. I hesitatingly placed the DVD on the tray,bracing myself for additional moments of visual torture and  punishment.  Surprisingly I found this particular viewing not only bearable but incredibly sweet, and I’m glad I was “forced” to watch Groundhog Day one more time! Bill Murray’s actions seemed to embody Jack Nicholson’s line from his and Helen Hunt’s romantic comedy . . . As Good as it Gets: “You make me want to be a better man.”

Thank you Andrea Ortiz for making me want to be a better writer!

The Monday Morning Business Ethicist

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