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Posts Tagged ‘Punishment’

Your Employer Will Be Watching

The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen ‘chooses’ to fight in a mandatory made-for-reality battle of have nots. In the real-world, government agencies ask for social network passwords from prospective applicants with little to no resistance. Farces of freedom pervade both arenas of financial inequality.

The young movie heroine notes that even ‘the 99%’ have their pecking order and that weaknesses come with the privileges of money and status: “That the Careers [tributes] have been better fed growing up is actually to their disadvantage, because they don’t know how to be hungry.”

Yet well-off citizens in the two Capitols (with readily available consumer goods) maintain a competitive advantage to resist forms of their respective oppression. Panem children put their names a few extra times in the death lottery to feed their families; applicants on the lower end of the reality spectrum understand what it takes to survive but ‘willingly’ give up privacy rights in the process hoping for benefited positions. These modern human resource games (cf. the Roman Colosseum) illustrate the consequences of socioeconomic inequality in societies with too much time on their hands.

The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the authoritarian measures taken on FaceBook to protect national security and the corporate ethos. Freedom of privacy was temporarily restored by the stopgap of a collectively outraged public. Can anyone stop the consequences of economic disparity found in the Hunger Games and our real world? Does society . . . 5 . . . 4 . . . have time . . . 3 . . . 2 . . .for a sequel? . . . 1

 

Racial Slurs are a Matter of Ethical Context

ESPN’s use of the headline “Chink in the Armor” (describing the New York Knicks’ first loss with Asian-American, NBA point guard Jeremy Lin in the starting lineup) illustrates that ethics, while not relative, is certainly contextual. The cliché technically means weakness or flaw, but the term “Chink” is also a racial slur for Chinese-Americans (cf. using a “niggardly” reference for a selfish African-American basketball player). In the wake of “Linsanity,” puns were proliferating without regulation until a moral mishap forced corporate backpedaling and new industry standards. Former network sports editor Anthony Federico appeared to lack malicious intent with this Medieval phrase. However, the context of his oversight and implicit association of his “incite” shows that bad etymological choices can result in unemployment. The bottom line is that Federico was not fired for racism, but for making a poor editorial decision that potentially cost huge amounts of goodwill with key audiences in the United States and Asia for ESPN and parent company Walt Disney .

Consider Saturday Night Live’s sublime parody on our nation’s double standard on race and political correctness and the Daily Show’s satire on a “Lingrown toenail . . . during Black History Month.” While both sketches contained jokes and insults against Asian-Americans throughout their segments, purer purposes and comedic context provided the needed justified protection for administering racial smears.

Granted many find it unjust when minorities freely use these pejorative terms among members of their own race. Is there a double standard when a Caucasian cannot mention the word Nigga(er) and/or Chink when so many African-Americans do in greetings and in popular music, or when a younger Jeremy Lin identifies himself as ChiNkBaLLa88 on his Xanga account? It isn’t that ethics is relative (right for one group but wrong for another), but rather contextual. Minorities use these monikers with a mutual understanding that the words are not historically loaded or racially charged but accepted with affection and respect as opposed to their original meanings. For some, the co-opting of these derogatory words and phrases represent a way to master what was formerly enslaved. For others, it represents a way to deal with past pain. Whatever the solution, ethical context matters.

Say it isn’t, Joe.

Ten years after the Enron Corporation was exposed for its massively systemic and cleverly-planned ongoing accounting fraud, the moral structure of college football is being shaken to its core at Penn State University.

Prospective institutional cover-up for act(s) of sexual abuse allegedly committed by head football coach Joe Paterno’s former defensive coordinator and charges of multiple subsequent infractions have already brought down Penn’s State organizational leadership and storied football program. Will the Nittany Lion’s devotion to a winning culture and Paterno’s subscription to resilience and ‘enduring adversity’ eventually parallel Enron’s obsession with profit at any cost and adherence to their former CEO’s ‘survival of the fittest’ principles?

The developing scandal emits conflicting emotions: I am torn by the outpouring of support for an 84-year-old legend who has earnestly dedicated himself to building a long tradition of winning with integrity without the infamous scandals often associated with a major college program. I am sad for these young, innocent boys who would not have experienced further horrors if someone in power had pushed the issue. Properly evaluating a rapidly developing news story is difficult; determining the relevant ethical considerations may represent the best next step i.e., the distinction between law and ethics, and the connection of responsibility to leadership.

Corporations like Enron were familiar with the law; they knew how to exploit and profit from it. University President Graham Spanier and Head Football Coach Joe Paterno met all legal requirements and will not be tried in a criminal court. The ethical question is whether they failed to meet their moral duties and obligations as human persons. Even more so—in their de facto roles as leaders, figureheads, and guardians in their community—greater responsibility is often associated with greater privilege. What personal responsibilities do individuals have beyond their specific job descriptions? Is an act of omission as heinous as the sin of commission?

The university has decided in the best interest of ‘business’ to relieve Spanier and Paterno of their responsibilities. Further clarity is needed before passing judgment on whether Penn State shares a similar aura of hubris with Enron. Even without the pride, their indecision produces greater consequences than even the dissolution of a major corporation.

In the business of uncovering the truth in the digital age, this game will have no winners. Prayers, comfort, and support to the victims and their families.

Punishments that Fit the Crime?

Two principals of a defunct investment management firm pleaded guilty to a fraudulent tax scheme that generated $9.6 billion in fake losses. In order to offset capital gains taxes to wealthy clients, the partners essentially defrauded the government of $240 million.

What is interesting from a business ethics standpoint is not their relatively small $7 million fine, reduced prison time, or egregious crime, but the type of consequence handed to them “in the meantime.”

Both men must address students at their former universities—the University of Washington School of Business for Greenstein and the New York University School of Law for Wilk—about business and legal ethics.

It appears the court believes that society or business ethics education has something to gain from their story. Certainly, our culture can benefit from the reflections and actions of reformed convicts: former MCI WorldCom Executive Walter Pavlo and Special Counsel to President Nixon Charles Colson come to mind. I’m sure that many—from a sensationalist standpoint—want to hear from these experts in tax evasion. However, would these ad hoc lectures truly serve as appropriate and fitting “punishments?” What kind of message do they send to future lawyers and prospective entrepreneurs?

Certainly an argument could be made that the business partners made off well financially in the meantime before their indictments . . . and with possible offshore accounts, who knows? What kind of attitudes would seep out underneath their expected warnings and statements of contrition: true remorse, subtle arrogance, or ultimate displeasure at getting caught?

The notion of a forced confession from tarnished alumni just does not seem enlightening. Think of arguments and fights between spouses or kids. Sincere and reflective apologies often require a time out or in this case imprisonment. Another possible purpose, albeit faint, is the malicious intent to humiliate the defendants publicly in front of their alma maters−certainly a strange form of cruel and unusual punishment.

Delivering a mandatory public confession seems premature, but the press could be missing some important facts from this story. A year has passed between indictment and conviction; the defendants and the judge need the benefit of the doubt. If the principals are truly remorseful, desire to tell their story, and their business and law schools are agreeable then by all means . . . but if the lecture is an artifice of the court, and the defendants’ intentions are anything but true, then we should heed Pavlo’s recent blog: “Not Every Felon is Worth Hearing From”−at least not yet.

Thanks to Alexander Sum for pointing me toward this interesting piece.

Exploitation in District 9

In District 9 (2009), the stated public objective for the Multi-National United (MNU) Corporation is transferring 1.8 million aliens to District 10−a relocation camp 240 km outside Johannesburg. The unstated private goal for this weapons manufacturer is discovering how to use the aliens’ inaccessible, technologically-advanced firepower.

Although paralleling Avatar (2010) in form by featuring a corporate-backed paramilitary brigade and a human who becomes “one of them,” the protagonist is pitiful and flawed. Unlike James Cameron’s pièce de résistance, Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 is neither black, white, nor blue. Allusions to apartheid from the South African locale and references toward racism through speciesist language permeate the film.

When MNU discovers that Wikus Van De Merwe’s metamorphosis allows him to wield alien weapons, upper management immediately decides to use this valuable, personal, business artifact against his will. Business exploitation (see Jeremy Snyder’s work on sweatshop labor) is either expressed through a sense of unfairness per economic transactions (as exhibited by the systematic oppression found in the 24 hour eviction notices or market-driven cat food scams) or a lack of respect/dignity as in Van De Merwe’s metamorphosis case. MNU’s anti-Kantian treatment of the project manager as a means only to harvest his organs and replicate his powers repulses the audience. However, If the fate of civilization were dependent on using employee body parts for the greater good instead of an end-profit motive, would a utilitarian argument justifying exploitation be ethical?

In light of corporate exploitation, are employees only inherently valuable by what they can extend or offer an organization? Do they have any personal rights on the clock, or are they completely at the mercy of their employer’s will while paid for their services? It is interesting to note that at the point of Van De Merwe’s highest value to his company, he also found himself most exploitable.