Business in Denial

‘We’re just providing what the market, what people, demand.’  ‘The customer is squarely in the driver’s seat.’  Yeah right.  Gosh, shucks, don’t-look-at-me.

One, I doubt that’s true.  I mean, if people really wanted your product, you wouldn’t (have to) spend millions on advertising, advertising to persuade them to buy it.  Supply isn’t (just) following demand; demand is (also) following supply.  Your supply.  You’re in the driver’s seat.

Two, even if it is true, that people do want it, I find it hard to believe that someone with enough whatever to get into positions of power, decision-making positions, would be so meekly obedient to the desires, the demands, of the common people.

Or so helpless: ‘demands’ is such loaded language, implying that resistance, your resistance, is futile, implying that you are without power here.

Or so spineless – as if you have no mind, no desire, no will of your own.

Please, have the guts, the maturity, to take responsibility for your actions.  You have a choice.  You produce/provide what you do because you choose to, because you want to.  If you are acceding to market demands – and I have no doubt that you are – it’s because it’s profitable, it’s because (you think) it’s in your best interests.  You ‘want to make it easy for the customer to do business with [you]’ because business with you is business for you.  Customers are a means to your end of profit.  Otherwise you’d be as interested in poverty management as you are in wealth management.

‘Our shareholders demand high returns.’  Another pass-the-buck denial of responsibility.  One, again, I doubt that’s strictly true.  Did you ask them all?  And was their response fully informed?  Were they aware that their high returns come at the expense of others? (Others’ low wages, loss of employment; others’ high prices, loss of choice through monopoly; environmental degradation; etc.)

And two, even if they do, again, do you have to obey them?  Of course not.  Unless – and here’s the all important hidden (by you, from you) assumption – unless you want the value of your company to be ‘high’ so people will give you money.  There’s that self-interest again.

‘Return on equity is an important measure of our success.’  Not the amount of good one does, not the amount of happiness one creates, no, these things don’t matter; success isn’t even justice, isn’t getting back what one puts out, no, success is how much more one gets back than one puts out.  Self-interest.  Literally, interestFor the self.  It’s egoism, pure and simple.  And childish and dangerous.  I don’t think ‘society as a whole’ is in the vocabulary.  The total inability to recognize, let alone deal with, the moral dimension – i.e., the consideration of others – is frightening.

And the ego knows no satisfaction.  ‘From start-up to growth.’  The life cycle of a business seems to stop there.  At growth.  And more growth.  And more growth.  Excuse me?  What about stasis?  What about decline?  They are part of the entire life cycle.  Only a cancer grows and grows and grows.



Reading about Nipissing University’s Students in Free Enterprise (NUSIFE), which is a group of students who undertake projects “intended to increase the public’s awareness of entrepreneurship and business-related subjects,” it occurs to me to wonder why such an endeavour is undertaken only by business students.

Consider the projects listed below – and imagine…

– “Global Crusaders” educated high school students about minimum wages and exchange rates in five different countries – why not educate them about gender issues in five different countries?

– “Team Builders” led team-building exercises during a weekend program at the YMCA – my guess is that sociology students’ take on team-building would be quite different than that of business students…

– “Junior Tycoons” were high school students presented with a basic business plan – why not present “Junior Diplomats” with a recess plan based on insights from political science, history, and psychology?

– “Budgeting for Mental Health Patients” – how about “Philosophy for Mental Health Patients”?

– “My First Bank Account” – whatever happened to “My First Library Card”?

– “Nipissing East Community Opportunities” received a marketing plan – they could have used an environmental assessment plan…

– “Show Me the Money” was about financial planning guidelines on the web – how about “Show Me the Stars”, astronomy on the web?

– “A Feasibility Study” was presented to graphic arts students – how about presenting them with an ethics study?

Such projects, both by training students to apply their knowledge outside academia and by increasing the visibility of business in the outside world, probably contribute to the strangle-hold business – business activities and business interests – has on the world; therefore, suggesting that such endeavours be undertaken by humanities and science students as well is more than an exercise in imagination – it’s an identification of responsibility.

This particular infiltration of business is so developed that there are actually competitions among universities for their SIFE teams.  Yes, there are poetry and drama competitions too, but poems and plays don’t reach out and engage the community in the same way; they just present to, perform for, the community (except for those cool workplace theatre guerrilla groups).  Perhaps science does a little better – there are, of course, the annual science fairs, but from time to time I also see students out in the field with their lab kits.

This lack of engagement is rampant throughout the humanities curriculum.  We teach our English students how to appreciate and write poetry, but not how to find a literary agent; how to appreciate and write drama, but not how to produce a play.  Philosophy students are great at clarifying concepts and values, identifying hidden assumptions, testing for consistency and coherence; psychology students know all about how our minds and emotions work; sociology students know about people in groups, small and large, in cultures and subcultures and countercultures; history students know what hasn’t worked.  Along with our students of gender studies and native studies and our other social science students, humanities students (the humanities focus on humanity – and who, what, are we talking about when all is said and done?), and of course our science students (what is humanity but one bunch of carbon-based organisms among many), would be great consultants if they had any consulting skills.[1]  But we don’t teach them how to write a proposal, how to contract for business, or how to manage a project.

Until we do these things, our humanities and science students will be dependent on business students as go-betweens and as enablers.  And since business students, by definition apparently, have profit as their motivator, their purpose, and their goal, there is bound to be a certain amount of unfulfilled potential.  Business students are not likely to set up Sociologists, Inc. or History Is Us.  Nor are they even likely to engage the services of non-business students as consultants.

OPAS is another example of the deficiency I’m trying to expose.  It’s a partnership between Ontario universities and Canadian companies, named “The Office for Partnerships for Advanced Skills” with a mandate to “foster more effective relations between universities and companies who hire and maintain a highly skilled workforce” and “respond to requests and develop initiatives that promote increased use of university-based resources including advanced skills development.”  One might be forgiven, therefore, for thinking it was pretty inclusive.  This seems indicated even by the Special Events & Programs (which includes “the Visionary Seminar Series, Industry Sector Symposia, Internship & Reciprocal Exchange Programs and the development of a National Network”) and by the Skills Development statement (which says “In knowledge industries, skills requirements advance and change, creating new needs. OPAS responds to these changing skills needs with solutions designed and delivered by leading university programs across Ontario”).

However, a close look reveals that there isn’t a whole lot of room for humanities and social science; there’s something for science and engineering (an auto parts symposium is listed, as well as a biotech sector symposium), but it seems that the university programs they’re talking about partnering with are pretty much the BBA and MBA.  Their website welcome page confirms this: “In today’s knowledge-based economy, business organizations are faced with the need to address constant changes in operating practices, human capital requirements, and technology.”  That page is pure business buzz (“human capital”?!).  (And there you do see the specification – “business organizations….”)

Indeed, had I visited the OPAS website first, I wouldn’t have been so surprised to discover that the keynote speaker (the only speaker) at the “Visionary 2000” seminar was the CEO of the Royal Bank (how much more focussed on business, profit, money, can you get?).  And the very fact that his talk, nothing more than a Royal Bank promo, was billed as visionary indicates just how much we need to correct this deficiency.


[1] Marc Renaud, president of SSHRC, says “many of the key questions confronting our society fall within the realm of the social sciences and the humanities and our disciplines represent a goldmine of knowledge that can help.  We need to make sure that people outside the research community know about this goldmine, so that it can be put to broader use” (quoted by David Bentley in “Humanities for humanity’s sake” University Affairs).

Men Need to Reclaim the Moral

Something I noticed when I taught Business Ethics, primarily to male students, is that men seem to think ethics is ‘a girl thing’. What? What?! (My god, that can explain everything!)

Men routinely insult other men who express concern about doing the right thing—“What are you, a fucking boy scout?” Note that boy scouts are children.

Worse, men who raise ethical questions are accused of going soft, being weak, being a bleeding heart. Note that these qualities are associated with being female. It’s thus emasculating to be concerned about right and wrong. What?!

Apparently, Mom is assigned the role of teaching the kids right from wrong. And, of course, anything Mom does is held in contempt as soon as a boy hits twelve, so this may partly explain why men eschew ethics.

Right and wrong is also the arena of priests and we all know priests aren’t real men. They’re celibate for god’s sake.

Ethics presumes caring, and real men don’t care. (They especially don’t cry, tears being evidence of caring about something.) They may protest that they can’t ‘afford’ to care; they have to make real decisions about profit and war, and feelings just get in the way. As if ethics is all, only, about feelings. (Where did they get their education? Oh, they didn’t. We don’t actually teach ethics. Except in a few university courses.)

The problem is men run the world. And it’s not going well.

Isn’t it about time men reclaim the moral? If rising above the gendered worldview is too much, then just redefine your terms a bit—and for gawdsake Man up! Consider (and then do) the right thing!

No Advertising in Public Space

I once read a sci fi novel in which holographic ads suddenly appeared in front of you, ‘blocking’ your way, almost continuously, as you made your way down a city street. It made me imagine people paid by perfume companies wandering through the streets assailing me with sample sprays…

I am a strong advocate of prohibiting all advertising in public spaces. There is no justification for the desires of one person, let alone the desire of one person for money, to be imposed on everyone. Furthermore, there are enough alternative venues for advertising (radio, tv, newspapers, magazines, websites, malls), all of which, unlike, often, public space, can be used or not (especially as long as there are advertising-free radio, tv, magazine, and website options), making the use of public space is simply unnecessary.

We should be able to go about our lives without the constant assault on the senses, on the mind, that is advertising. Of course this is an argument made by someone who notices ads, who pays attention to her environment, who thinks about what she sees. For most people, ads are not such an assault, because they’re unconsciously perceived. But then they’re even more coercive, subliminally manipulative, and even more indefensible in public space.

Advertising is not only cognitively coercive, but physically dangerous when it appears on roadsides, especially in animated form, which shameless tries to take drivers’ attention off the road. Would we allow drivers to watch tv, similarly visual content with moving images, while they drive?

An additional argument applies to natural environment public space (forest, field, lake, ocean) which is, to my mind, beautiful (or at least more beautiful than city). In this case, there is the added transgression of the destruction of beauty. It was a sad, sad day when advertising was allowed along the perimeter of the rink and even on the ice during figure skating performances. Years to achieve the perfect lines, sullied by persisting, in-your-face, BUY-MY-SHIT signs we can’t help but see while we try to focus on the beauty. (And it’s not like the sign enhances the beauty. It’s not like the sign itself is remotely beautiful.)

Would those of us who can hear allow a deaf person to make a clamour with cymbals all day long? Then why do we allow aesthetically-challenged CEOs to do the same? Why do we allow our natural beauty to be degraded, destroyed, piece by piece, by those who are, obviously, blind to its beauty? Is it because we don’t recognize the beauty or because we don’t value it (or, at least, don’t value it over the individual pursuit of money). (Seriously? Do we really believe that an individual’s desire for money trumps so much?) (Well, no, the people with the power to make regulations believe that. And they are as aesthetically-challenged. And often CEOs.)


Cellphone Syndrome

Originally written when cellphones first appeared.  Don’t think I’d change a thing.

Has there been a more transparent advertisement of insecurity?

Look at me, I’m so popular!  Everyone’s calling me!  I have so many friends!  Answer that thing one more time when I’m with you, you’ll have one less.

Look at me, I’m so busy!  I have so many calls to make, so many calls to take!  What you have is a total inability to actually enjoy life.

Look at me, I’m so important!  Excuse me, I have to take this call!  No.  You don’t.  You are not a doctor on call.  You are not a top-level executive.  Neither your presence nor your opinion is urgently required.  Anywhere.  By anyone.

Frankly, it’s frightening.  Suddenly all these men are making calls on their cellphones while they’re driving.  Just yesterday they couldn’t even dial a phone while sitting at a desk, they had to get their secretaries to do it for them.

And of course it’s annoying as hell.  Just what makes people think the rest of the world wants to listen to every word of their unbearably inane conversations?  “Hey, Jen.  We’re at the Van Houtte on St. Laurent.  Yeah.  Just ordered.  No.  Not yet.  We’re waiting.  Coffee.”

Of course people have been having conversations in cafes and stores, and on sidewalks and buses, for quite some time.  It’s not an invasion of public space.  Unless the person TALKS LOUDLY ENOUGH EVERYONE CAN’T HELP BUT HEAR.  Then it’s an advertisement of the immaturity of overriding self-importance.

But that doesn’t explain why a person talking loudly on a cellphone in public is even more annoying than two people having a loud conversation in public.  Why is that?  I think it’s because in the case of the cellphone conversation, we hear only half of the conversation.  However annoying the whole conversation would be, half of it is even worse.  It’s like hearing only every second work in a sentence.  (Speaking of which, remember the early “ – ar ph – s”?)  This occurred to me when I heard someone speaking on a cellphone in a language I didn’t understand.  It wasn’t quite as bad.  I wasn’t engaged against my will in a frustrating half-comprehensible experience.

But what’s most worrisome about the widespread use of cellphones is that it indicates not progress, but regress.  We are, in fact, devolving.  Imagine, for a moment, what it would’ve been like to have been the first one in your cave to discover thought, the first one to hear words, inside your head.  It’s a neat and handy trick – not having to say out loud everything that occurs to you.  And one of the more valuable side-effects of being able to think is being able to evaluate – to deliberate, to compare, to measure.  (And to realize that not everything that occurs to you is worth saying out loud.)  But we’ve gone backwards – from “I think, therefore I am” to “I talk, therefore I am.”  (I wonder if cellphone users can read without moving their lips.)

Given the recent increase in attention deficit (what we used to call ‘a short attention span’) (usually in reference to children and other less advanced creatures), the cellphone phenomenon is not surprising: it takes a certain amount of attention or concentration to think – to focus on and follow that little voice inside your head.  It used to be that doing two things at once meant your ability to concentrate was so good, you could divide your attention.  Now it means that your ability to concentrate is so bad, you can’t pay attention to any one thing for more than ten seconds.

(Either that or you don’t care enough to pay attention to anything or anyone for more than ten seconds.)

And maybe cellphones wouldn’t have become the annoyance they are if everyone hadn’t ditched their landline phones.  Because now the ONLY place you can have a phone conversation is OUTSIDE.  Wherever the signal is good.  Whether that happens to be outside someone’s bedroom window or one foot away from a stranger waiting for a bus, well, no matter.  Your conversation takes priority.  To everything and everyone.  Apparently.

The Provocation Defence – Condoning Testosterone Tantrums (and other masculinities)

According to the Canadian Criminal Code (and probably a lot of other criminal codes), murder can be reduced to manslaughter if the person was provoked.  Provocation is defined as “a wrongful act or an insult that is of such a nature as to be sufficient to deprive an ordinary person of the power of self-control is provocation for the purposes of this section if the accused acted on it on the sudden and before there was time for his passion to cool” (CCC 232.(2)).

It is unfortunate that “an ordinary person” is used as the standard for judgment rather than “a reasonable person”.  The ordinary person, in my experience, is not particularly reasonable.  The ordinary person is a walking mess of unacknowledged emotions and unexamined opinions, most of which are decidedly unreasonable.

Furthermore, Read the rest of this entry »

The Right to Life – a given?

What if the right to life was a natural, inalienable human right to age 18, but after that it was an acquired, alienable right?  So you had to deserve it somehow, you had to deserve to be alive.  And you could lose it, by doing any of a number of things…

Needs and Wants

I don’t like living in a global community.  When everything is so interconnected, everything I do (or don’t do) is bound to be at someone else’s expense.  Mere self-interest seems impossible; selfishness is inevitable.

For example, Read the rest of this entry »

Making Certain Words Illegal

Hate speech.  Libel.  Slander.  Threat.  Intimidation.  Blasphemy.

‘Making words illegal violates our freedom of speech!’  Of course it does.  But that freedom, like many others, isn’t absolute.  Our freedoms are limited freedoms.  They are limited by several things (Joel Feinberg identifies six liberty-limiting principles), one of which is the harm principle.  That is, when our action harms another person or society in general, it is limited.  It is illegal.

‘But speech isn’t an action.  I didn’t do anything.  I just said – ’  Saying is doing.  Words are speech acts.  They are acts of speech.  And anyway, if the result is the same, does the method really matter?

‘Yeah but the result isn’t the same.  Words can’t hurt you.’  Well, not physically, no.  But they can cause psychological injury.[1]  And there’s the heart of the matter: should we make causing psychological injury illegal?

Actually, that’s not the heart of the matter.  Yes, we should, and we do.  The crime of torture includes acts which inflict severe mental pain or suffering (CCC 269.1[1]).

The heart of the matter is Read the rest of this entry »

Canada Day – Are you sure you want to celebrate?

Before you get all patriotic and fly your little Canadian flags in celebration of Canada Day and, presumably, of being Canadian, think about it. Are you really proud to be: Read the rest of this entry »