Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

So, I joined a Facebook group.

November 4, 2010

Specifically, a boycott organization group for companies that donate to political campaigns. The group’s called “The People’s Boycott”.

The Citizens United decision gave corporations license to steamroll our democracy with raw cash, and the rest of us have no democratic recourse short of a constitutional amendment that strips corporations of personhood, and, well, that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

In the meantime, I’m going to be doing my little part to drive as many politically-involved corporations out of business as possible. Persons should equate to political power – not dollars. And if someone’s going to use their dollars to weaken my political power, well, then I’d rather they not have any dollars.

So, here’s the link one more time: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_165989556764257

Predatory Business – Payment Plans

July 26, 2010

So a while back, I wrote a bit about how business practices coincided with other vulnerability exploitation approaches. I’ve decided to point out a good case study: Cell phone payment plans.

Really, this applies to any industry in which you’re given the choice of payment option before you receive the product, and particularly before you know what product you even want, but cell phones work particularly well as an example because they function on a sophisticated network governed by computers.

Billing is fairly easy to integrate into cell phone infrastructure – so easy that some companies can update your billing information very quickly, during use of the service. It would be trivial for such a company to have a universal payment plan which charged a small rate for each minute/text/photo/gigabyte of bandwidth/etc, or a universal payment plan which charged a monthly rate for unlimited use of services.

Instead, consumers are faced with a large array of wholly unnecessary choices for varying plans – for what purpose? Well, since we know businesses don’t exactly operate out of the goodness of their hearts, I think it’s safe to conclude that the cell phone companies are making money off of this setup somehow.

I would hypothesize the profitability of such plans come from two sources:

The illusion of choice: By offering options, even if they aren’t meaningful options, a cell phone company can make claims to superior service, particularly superior customer service… which is particularly ironic considering that the second source of revenue from such plans is…
High penalty fees: By offering options to people based on their needs before they make use of the product, cell phone companies can extort extra money from people whenever their needs change.

Here we can contemplate the mindset that produces and tolerates such business practices – practices which functionally predate upon consumers to score extra money, rather than endeavoring to make additional profit through providing a superior service (which, if you listen to an economist, is supposedly how capitalism works).

The mindset that produces such business practices is, obviously, the for-profit business mindset. The idea that the shareholders need to receive their cut of profit and that businesses shouldn’t let piddling concepts like ethics or decency get in the way – an idea that dominates much of America’s economy.

I’m probably more interested in the mindset that has us tolerate such practices and continue to do business with companies that use them. You’d think it’d be insulting for a company to treat us like prey rather than people, and yet we as a people don’t seem to care.

I think, instead, that what’s going on in our society is a widespread application of ‘just-world’ justification – where we find ourselves subconsciously permitting and even forgiving the misdeeds of others – in this case, the exploitative pricing strategies of cell phone companies – by blaming the victims of such predation. “So he’s stuck with a three-year contract for a phone that won’t work in his house?” someone might say, “He should’ve done more research into if his phone would work.” – thus blaming the victim for a problem generated not at all by the victim, but by the predatory contract.

This is not to say that there isn’t something we can each of us do to avoid becoming a victim – just that we’re doing the wrong thing as a culture at the moment. If we each try to play their game, letting them attempt to predate upon us and feeling good about ourselves when we get lucky (because it’s not a person’s fault if, for instance, their circumstances change and they need a different service than in the plan they’re contracted for), then we all remain prey.

I would propose that the way to escape being prey is to stop tolerating corporate predation altogether – if your cell phone company offers unnecessarily complex plans and contracts designed to scam people, don’t do business with them at all. People who prey on others should not be rewarded, even by people who aren’t suffering at their hands at the moment.

On Workplace Morale and Productivity

October 8, 2009

I’ve heard a lot about morale, or ‘esprit de corps’, as a part of my job, but I never really understood the concept until recently.

Recently I moved to a new sub-organization under the same employer, and I know what morale is now.

Where I used to work, people behaved according to high standards of professionalism, were friendly and engaging, and willing to help each other. Discipline was light and didn’t need to be any worse, because individuals complied with directives under their own power, willingly. Individuals were energetic and productive, and the shop accomplished impressive things.

Where I work now, the very idea of professional behavior is a joke, and mentorship is almost nonexistent. Individuals are abrasive and their interactions are caustic rather than constructive. Discipline is woefully light, vitally needed, and respect for authority is low. As such, compliance rates are low and nobody really cares about improving them. Individuals are unfocused and apathetic, and the shop is burdened under a comparatively much smaller workflow.

More importantly, I feel the impact personally. At my previous location, I was eager to face new challenges and accomplish ever-more-impressive tasks. Here, I have to drive myself just to complete the simplest of tasks, simply because I care so much less. My accomplishments feel less significant, the interaction with my coworkers less enjoyable, and my objectives less important.

I believe in the importance of morale now – I am now a convert, having seen it in action, and its’ lack in inaction.

The Necessity of Mortality

August 29, 2009

Think of your parents. Compared to you, how well do they fit in in modern society? Do they know how to use their computers? Do they even have computers?

Now one step further. If you knew your grandparents, how about them? They ever own a computer? Or maybe they stick out in a more noticeable sense – maybe they don’t believe people should marry outside their race, for example, or that <enter religion or lack thereof here> is evil and Unamerican and all its’ adherents should be exterminated, or maybe they hold a number of wildly fictional beliefs about the world around them.

Now lets go back to great-grandparents. Maybe they lived with, and were okay with, slavery, or women not being able to vote. Maybe they thought the world was six thousand years old or that space was a painted shell around the earth or something like that (Okay, I admit, I’m exaggerating a bit for effect).

My point here is sometimes, people learn things they can’t unlearn. Our ability as human beings to relearn as the world and our society changes around us is limited, and we tend to leave our elderly behind, as our children will leave us behind in turn.

Within a couple generations, we’re likely to discover a way to attain clinical immortality – that is to say, diseases will no longer be able to kill us, and we may also overcome the process of aging itself.

Now, that introduces problems, of course – the earth can only hold so many people, for instance. But I think the biggest problem with that would be cultural.

What if, in America, all our great-grandparents were alive to vote in this last presidential election? Would the black or female candidates have had any chance? If we went back another generation or two, we’d need to ask if black people or women would even be able to vote.

Since the start of history, human culture has progressed continuously. And one of the primary motivators of that change – perhaps the primary motivator, and certainly a vital one – is that old people die.

Without old people dying, essentially getting out of the way for better-educated, slightly wiser future generations to take the reins of civilization, we would almost certainly stagnate.

This is a problem made worse by the fact that the first individuals likely to benefit from immortality are the ones who most need to die for society to proceed – wealthy, powerful, influential elderly.

A demographic of society which since time immemorial has resisted change, for themselves and for all of us, until the day they die will no longer be dying.

This is a problem compounded by other complications of immortality – what if our solution to overpopulation is to severely restrict the birthrate, causing the elderly to by far outnumber young people with fresh, new ideas? There might not even be any change for such a methuselah population to resist.

Mind that, when I refer to the elderly, I’m not referring to our parents and grandparents. They’re very unlikely to see clinical immortality.  Younger generations alive now – we are the ones most likely to be the oldest generations to experience immortality.

I see a few different possible scenarios unfolding for such a future:

  • The Methuselah Scenario: Mankind attains clinical immortality and deals with the subsequent sustainability problem by severely restricting new births. The elderly hold the overwhelming majority of economic and social power in civilization, and have hundreds of years to indoctrinate the youthful minority into the exact same civilization. Our progress as a society slows to a snail’s pace as the elderly are still replaced through attrition, but only the very slow attrition of tragic catastrophe.
  • The Olympian Scenario: Enough youths are born to form a notable subculture. These individuals are creative, energetic, and increasingly spiteful of the immortals who continue to control economic and social power. Eventually they reach their breaking point and attempt to impose a new order on society by any means, likely through violence as they lack the power to do it any other way. Eventually such a group succeeds and replaces the elderly that a new group of youths rails against, and the cycle repeats indefinitely if civilization is lucky.
  • Planned Obsolescence: Maybe we’re just not built to be immortal. People weary of life arrange their own deaths whenever they feel ready to take that step, and clinical immortality only works out to be a significant age increase. Society continues to progress, perhaps a bit slower than before, but not at an intolerable rate.
  • Future Generations Just Deal With It: As a civilization, we also figure out a way to relearn and/or reeducate ourselves sufficiently such that our brains become culturally sustainable across both young and old generations. I don’t see any living generation pulling that off, but maybe I’m just not being imaginative enough.

It could well be in our power to place our collective hands upon the march of human history, and with our undying strength, force that march to halt. Should we be allowed to let that happen?