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Posts Tagged ‘Conflict of Interest’

Philosophy of Phantasy Phootball

Adeline’s True Age

Lionsgate have released a trailer for The Age of Adeline . The film ...After miraculously remaining 29 years old for nearly eight decades, Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) has lived a solitary existence, never allowing herself to get close to anyone who might reveal her secret. But a chance encounter with charismatic philanthropist Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman) reignites her passion for life and romance. When a weekend with his parents (Harrison Ford) threatens to uncover reality, Adaline makes a decision that will change her life forever. This Kantian decision, to tell the truth always, irrespective of the consequences, ironically sets her free from the bondage and chains of time.

“Up” in the Air with Nail Houses

After a beautiful life and marriage cut short by his wife’s premature passing, Up (2009) depicts an elderly gentleman’s quest to fulfill his childhood “cross-my-heart” sweetheart promise to move to Paradise Falls in South America. Enter Russell: a young boy who is one “Be kind to the elderly” act away from earning his final badge toward becoming a Wilderness Explorer. Karl Frederickson has to continually choose between fulfilling personal desires and including Russell on his quest. Frederickson winds up discovering that the adventure doesn’t lie in the destination but in the journey. Frederickson’s nail house, which was so important to him at the beginning of the movie primarily because of its memories, gets appropriately left behind in his finding that life is never too late for new experiences. The fifth amendment of the United States Constitution generally protects private property from governmental seizure without “just compensation.” However, eminent domain (compulsory seizure for civil use, public safety, or economic development) allows the transfer of private property for the public interest in exchange for fair market value. Eminent domain represents a skirmish between individual property rights, public property, the common good, and private economic development.

The Constitution has traditionally been quite clear about public use, just compensation, and due process as prerequisites for eminent domain. But during contemporary times, Costco is a “public use”; just compensation is getting pennies on the dollar., and cities have offered owners nothing for their land, doing them “favors” to take it off their hands. So this is the world that we have come to. And how just did we get UP there?

Honor and Redemption in Corporate Espionage

Contributing Author – Monday Morning Business Ethicist

Can Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) find honor and redemption as an industrial infiltrator? In the 11th chapter of a newly published book, Inception and Philosophy, I argue that he can . . . though only in his dreams.

Perhaps Dom has no choice in being a corporate spy and is not responsible for his actions. He may be considered honorable because of his professional expertise, or admirable devotion to family. I root for the “hero” too, but find Dom both unethically and recklessly irresponsible for violating principles of freedom.

Are we not all morally flawed and in need of redemption?

If you enjoy thinking about Inception, you’ll like this collection of 22 edited essays covering the various ethical, metaphysical, and religious themes of the film.  You can find Inception and Philosophy at Barnes and Noble, and sneak a peak at Amazon.com.

A Social ‘Theft’work?

The Winklevoss twins represent two enemies that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made in the process of designing The Social Network (2010). Did Zuckerberg steal the inspiration for Facebook from the brothers’ idea for their website? The answer may hinge on the divisive issue of intellectual property.

The debate centers around the intrinsic right to own non-tangible, creative ideas. According to traditional patent, trademark, and copyright laws, intellectual property represents real ownership of intangible assets. Dissidents like Richard Stallman−a software freedom activist−argue that intellectual property creates a ‘bias’ toward property rights by confusing non-physical monopolies with ownership of physical things.

Regarding the creation of Facebook, courtroom and journalistic evidence shows no formal contract between Zuckerberg and the Winklevosses . . . only interesting and entertaining “dorm-room chit-chat.” A mere week after beginning what Zuckerberg referred to as ‘the dating site,’ he started working on a separate ‘Facebook’ project. Zuckerberg appears to have considered the two as competing for the same users’ attention, but also seems to have regarded them as different in key ways. While Zuckerberg does appear to have intentionally strung along the twins with the goal of making his own project the more successful launch, the Winklevosses $65 million lawsuit settlement seems more than fair−especially considering that the entire dispute took place over two months in 2004 and that in the years since, Zuckerberg has built Facebook into a massive global enterprise.

The Winklevoss twins are demanding that the case be reopened not for money but for honor. If there is no such thing as intellectual property rights, then there was nothing to steal and additional demands represent mere ego and greed. If intellectual property represents real ownership of intangible assets, then the battle between information highway robbery and issues of gentlemanly agreement should return to the top of Facebook’s News Feed.

Update: the Winklevoss suit against Facebook was thrown out by a federal judge in Boston as reported on July 22, 2011.

The ‘Customer’-Physician Relationship

Medicine is subtly shifting from an emphasis on what is ideally best for the patient to an environment where hospitals are marketed from survey results and physicians are instructed on how to encourage customers to check the ‘Excellent’ box when rating their care. The danger in primarily viewing a patient as a consumer is that well known adages like ‘the customer knows best’ can gravitate toward motivations based primarily on the profit motive rather than the apparent benefits of collaboration, patient voice, and better service.

The philosopher Immanuel Kant reminds us to ask whether we are treating persons (customers) as a means to some end (profits) or as ends themselves (patients). When push comes to shove at medicine’s financial margins, decisions tend to lean toward monetary gain. Efficiency and profits are needed components of every venture (even Kant says not to use people as a means only but as a means as well as an end). Yet this move from taking care of patients to customers—while promoting friendlier hospital environments—may be damaging to the health care system in the long run.

The Hippocratic Oath has been condemned for promoting a ‘guild-like’ environment and its ancient author set aside in the hope of adopting the examples of other tightly managed industries (ironically, some business academics call for managers to take on the guild-like professionalism of the medical field). While some combination of treating patients as a means and as an end is probably acceptable, it seems that the customer/consumer metaphor is being adopted wholesale.

To Hippocrates, a physician’s first consideration was to use his/her art for the patient’s well-being—a re-emphasis that can benefit all stakeholders. Otherwise, this move to make the medical environment more patient-friendly has the potential to make it ultimately more vulnerable.

Written in conversation with Cory Wilson, M.D.

“Show Me the Marijuana!”

Californians recently decided against legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Indeed, proposition 19 was on its financial deathbed until billionaire investor/philanthropist George Solos revived the proponents’ efforts with his $1,000,000 gift shortly before the election. In the meantime, opportunists snatched up domain names and bought up cannabis-related stocks. Since last spring, local unions had been organizing marijuana “bud tenders,” greenhouse workers, packagers and laboratory technicians just in case.

It was interesting to note how various constituencies lined up on California’s largest cash crop. The teacher’s union supported the recreational use of marijuana anticipating the ensuing taxes pouring into public schools. Beer distillers and small pot growers were worrisome over the ‘Wal-Marting of weed,’ and sought to wipe out the prospective competition. Law enforcement was mixed: some officers backed the initiative as they desired to diminish the cartel influence and decrease the prison population to focus on more violent offenders. Some were primarily opposed to the recreational use of marijuana on moral grounds. Still other departments were against the proposition because of the prospective loss of a profitable source of income (sales from the seized pot derived from their raids represent a substantial source of the budget particularly in difficult economic times).

The limits of government constraint on individual autonomy (cf. John Stuart Mill) may actually comprise the core issue in Proposition 19. However, there was relatively little evidence of this concern in current political discourse while following the greenbacks. Yet the business ethics question does not rest in simply dividing self-interest from ethics (pace Adam Smith) but in considering the economic benefits as part of a nuanced, principled plan to control a trade in need of regulation. One thing is for certain in that like war and politics−especially in this economic climate−weed makes for strange bedfellows.

Elementary, My Dear Daughter

Our daughter’s summer birthdate forced us to choose whether to begin her educational career (kindergarten) a year earlier or later. I often lamented the ‘early entry’ decision over the years against my child’s objections that any delay would have given her a different set of unknown friends. I argued the extra year would have been better for her physical and emotional maturity.

Through much reflection and ribbing from my spouse, I now realize that the primary reason for waiting was so that I could have our daughter home with us one more year. While there is nothing wrong with this wish, it shows that the entire decision-making process needs more attention.

I wanted to delay the inevitable for these precious elementary school moments of time feel like sand slipping through my fingers.

The days are long but the years go by too fast.

Alex Kettles (former CRU Director, Oregon State University)

MTV’s Rev Run and Justine Simmons have encouraged families to save time by running their household like a business. Organizing the family according to a corporate model would pit our daughter as a stakeholder/employee having a compelling interest in the outcome and her parents as corporate executives. The kindergarten teacher acts as a mid-level manager as we concurrently are tax-paying shareholders of the public school system.

Current stakeholder theory holds that we have a morally significant non-fiduciary relationship with our daughter and that we should consider her needs (e.g. personality type, educational style, teacher qualifications, institutional quality, etc.) as well as our own. Our fiduciary interest demands proper consideration but pales in comparison. Holding my daughter back a year may make her more competitive in the marketplace or as a prospective college student in 12 years but the shareholder thesis that our primary social responsibility in our ‘familial’ corporation is to increase profits (à la an academic scholarship) seems relatively shortsighted.

As a parent or any leader in an organization, some decisions cater to other’s needs; many revolve around our own interests. Surfacing the multiple motivations behind a decision requires time. Despite the inevitable conflict, life often demands an immediate response and does not wait for an all-things-considered thoughtful reply. Fortunately, these crucial relationships are not about getting the correct answers but of managing the competing interests of all parties by asking the right questions about our motivations. Achieving this balance is not simple and may not be possible. Yet considering the various needs of stakeholders ultimately represents a fundamental elementary starting point in organizational management.

Film Recommendations: College Road Trip (2008); Father of the Bride (1991)

Avatar CSR

Critics who tirelessly pan Avatar’s (2010) message as a recycled, retrospective Dance with Wolves-like’ (1990) analysis of the white man’s treatment of indigenous peoples miss the point. James Cameron is not simply creating a descriptive message of corporate social responsibility (CSR) but prescribes a call toward action to stop repeating the tactics from our collective past. He does not seek to hide the brutal treatment of the Na’vi at the hands of a commercially backed paramilitary brigade devoted ad nauseum to the profit motive. Parker Selfridge, the passive-aggressive head administrator of the Resources Development Administration (RDA) reveals Pandora’s bottom line:

This is why we’re here−unobtainium−because this little gray rock sells for twenty million a kilo. This pays for the whole party.

Jake Sully, the self-reflective ex-marine, resigns himself to his role among the Na’vi: a warrior dreaming he could bring peace. Sooner or later though, he has to “wake up.” Jake openly embraces the connection that the Na’vi have with their Pandora home and the contradictions between his own values and actions.

Giant transnational corporations (see Shell Petroleum and the Ogoni) who use the very same tactics portrayed in Avatar to placate their Boards and shareholders continue to threaten and harass indigenous peoples. Usually there is some nuanced benefit derived from the corporation and descriptive ‘diplomatic’ solutions do not wind up solely as public relations window dressing. However, Cameron’s not-so hidden, ought-not prescriptive message in Avatar is straightforward: the treatment of indigenous peoples for sake of the profit motive is unethical and needs to stop.