A Philosopher's Blog

Can the Dead Walk?

Posted in Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on October 31, 2011
A participant of a Zombie walk, Asbury Park NJ...

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While George Romero introduced zombies to movie goers years ago, the fascination with the walking dead continues to grow like a zombie horde. While it is fun to watch the fictional zombies, it might be wondered whether or not the dead can really walk.

While “science” based zombies are standard zombies of most movies, there is also the classic supernatural zombie. These zombies are driven by supernatural forces rather than mysterious radiation or some sort of super virus. For example, the zombies I use in my Pathfinder campaigns are corpses that are possessed by unintelligent evil spirits of negative energy. Obviously, these zombies are make believe and are almost certainly not the sort of thing that could exist in this world. That said, if there is a supernatural aspect to this world (which seems rather unlikely) then supernatural zombies might be possible. I am, of course, inclined to think that they are not-mainly because of the lack of evidence.

As might be imagined, “science” based zombies would seem to have the best chance of being possible. It is also worth considering the possibility of what can be called a corpse suit. A corpse suit is a dead body that is “worn” by another living organism that moves it about, using it as protection or camouflage. Plants, insects and fungus have (in fiction, including several of my Call of Cthuhu adventures) been cast in such a role. While no known organism does this with human bodies, it does not seem like an impossibility. Of course, this sort of thing would not be a zombie in the strict sense. After all, the dead body is not walking itself but is being manipulated like a puppet.

One common cause of the “science” zombies is a virus or other such agent that re-animates (usually after killing). For example, my own Nightsiders (specifically “Dead Island”-not to be confused with the recent video game that uses the same name and basic plot) features a zombie agent that was being developed as a weapon. While an agent that causes people to act in zombie like ways certainly seems possible (as vividly portrayed in 28 Days Later), these people would not be zombies in the sense of being the walking dead for the obvious reason that they are not actually dead.

As might be imagined, the main challenge with creating the walking dead is getting a corpse to move under its own power. If the body is completely dead, then it would seem rather unlikely that it would be able to do so. After all, the dead nerve cells would not be able to direct the dead muscle cells to fire. Presumably the dead muscle cells could not fire, even if somehow signaled to do so by undead nerves.

One way around this, other than imagining some sort of undead cellular activity that is somehow not life (which might seem a bit supernatural), is to cheat a bit and allow for zombies that are partially alive. If parts of the brain, nervous system and muscles could remain alive (or were re-started after death) then a zombie of sorts would seem to be possible. After all, there could be enough neural guidance and muscle power left to move the mostly dead body around under its own power. This could, perhaps, be accomplished by a virus or bacteria that was rather selective.

Merely having a mobile mostly dead corpse would, of course, still not be quite enough. After all, the sort of zombie we are looking for does more than just lie on the table and twitch. It pursues the living and is presumably driven by an endless hunger for their brains.

Getting that sort of zombie seems rather tricky. After all the zombie would need enough mental functionality to be able to recognize and pursue the living yet be lacking enough so as to be a zombie (which are suppose to be unintelligent). The zombie would, of course, also need the motivation to hunt the living. Mere hunger would, of course, not be enough-otherwise zombies would just eat whatever they could find and would not be totally fixated on humans.

This challenge could be overcome by imagining that the agent that creates the zombie modifies the nervous system in such a way that the zombie behavior is created. There are, of course, diseases (such as rabies) that affect behavior and there are fungi that radically impact behavior (albeit primarily in insects rather than humans). However, there is enough of a precedent to provide a foundation for the imagination. Throw in the hypothesis that the agent was developed for military purposes and it would seem that we have a winner.

Thus it would seem that zombies (of a sort) are possible.  Happy Halloween.

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Random Political Silliness

Posted in Humor, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 30, 2011
A pair of roper-style cowboy boots. Notice the...

Best not to ask why the boots are in the shower...


Last week some of my friends and I were talking politics before our weekly Pathfinder game. While some serious points were raised, much of it was the usually joking that befits pre-game banter. Some examples (accuracy not guaranteed):

Magic Underwear

Dave: “You know the Republicans are in rough shape when the most rational guy at the table is wearing magic underwear.”

Trent: “What does the magic do?”

Mike: “I assume that it provides some defense against craziness.”


Cowboy Boots

Dave:”….cowboy boots.”

Mike: “What was that about cowboy boots? Well, you know that there are only two legitimate reasons for a man to wear cowboy boots.”

Ron: “What are they?”

Mike: “The first is that he works in gay porn.”

Dave: “What’s the second?”

Mike: “That he is an actual cowboy. So, who was wearing them?”

Dave: “Herman Cain.”

Mike: “Did he ride in on a horse?”

Dave: “No.”

Mike: “Interesting.”


999 Plan

Dave: “Have you heard of Cain’s 999 plan?”

Mike: “Yeah, he got it from Sim City. But here is the interesting thing. If you flip his plan upside down, you get 666.”

Dave: “The plan of the beast!”

Mike: “Exactly. And who is the opposite of Herman Cain?”

Trent: “Obama?”

Mike: “Sure, why not. You know what that means?”

Trent: “Obama is the beast?”

Mike: “No, Rosie O’Donnell is. Do the math.”



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Negativity Bias

Posted in Philosophy, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on October 29, 2011
Karl Pribram and colleagues have presented evi...

Hard wired for negativity.

While scientists have only fairly recently gotten around to studying cogitative biases, philosophers have been teaching about them for centuries-typically in the form of various logical errors. However, it is good that the scientific attention to these biases is serving to attract additional attention to them.

Everyone of us is, of course, loaded down with all sorts of cognitive biases. Some scientists even claim that such biases are hard wired into the brain, thus making them part of our actual anatomy and physiology. If so, it would seem to suggest that people might be more or less biased based on the specifics of their hard-wiring. This would help explain some of the variation in people when it comes to being able to reason well.

While we all suffer from cognitive biases (and other biases) we do have the capacity to resist and even overcome such biases and reason in a more objective manner. As this takes effort and training (as well as the will to want to think critically) it is not very common for folks to try to overcome these biases. Hence, bad reasoning tends to dominate.

One standard bias is known as negativity bias. While some people are more prone to focus on the negative than others, apparently we all have an inbuilt tendency to give more weight to negative information relative to positive information. This would help to account for the fact that people tend to consider a single misdeed to outweigh a large number of good deeds.

Of course, people do also have other biases that can lead them to weigh the positive more than the negative. For example, people tend to ignore or downplay negative aspects of people, causes, and things they like and weigh the positive more heavily. This often involves embracing inconsistency by applying different standards relative to what one likes or dislikes (see, for example, how Fox News and MSNBC evaluate various political matters).

Interestingly, this bias seems to occur at neurological level. The brain actually has more neural activity when it is reacting to negative information than when reacting to positive information. Assuming these results apply generally, we are actually hard-wired for negativity.

The defense against this involves being aware of this bias and exhibiting even greater caution in assessing negative information-especially when it involves negative information about something we do not like. For example, folks who dislike the Tea Party will weigh negative information about them more heavily than positive evidence and will tend to make little effort to determine whether the evidence has been properly assessed. The same holds true for folks who dislike the Occupy Wall Street movement and its spin-offs. They will take any negative evidence as being quite significant and ignore or undervalue positive evidence.

This bias does help explain a great deal about how people see political events and assess them.

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The Ethics of Protesting

Posted in Business, Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 28, 2011
This shows two Science Park High School studen...

Image via Wikipedia

This past year has witnessed many protests ranging from those in the Middle East to the latest Occupy protests that are spreading around the world. Most recently Melissa Brookstone of the Tea Party Nation decided to get in on the protesting by calling on America’s small business owners to take the following pledge:

I, an American small business owner, part of the class that produces the vast majority of real, wealth producing jobs in this country, hereby resolve that I will not hire a single person until this war against business and my country is stopped.

This is being presented as an act of protest rather than as being an attempt to damage the American economy more in an attempt to lower Obama’s chances of being re-elected in 2012. Rather than debate this issue, I will, instead assume (for the sake of the discussion) that this is an act of protest. Likewise, I will take the Occupiers as being engaged in an act of protest rather than attributing to them any sinister motives.

In some cases protests raise little in the way of ethical concerns. To be specific, a protest that does not cause any meaningful harm or interference can generally be regarded as morally inoffensive. For example, if a group of people peacefully assemble on private property and make a statement of protest against some perceived injustice, that would most likely be morally inoffensive. However, some protests do cause actual harm or interference and this would tend to make them of greater moral concern.

For example, the Occupy protestors occupy areas and thus interfere with access on the part of other people. Police are often deployed in response to the protestors and this uses up police resources. As another example, people who protest by going on strike or by boycotting a business can do harm to that business (and the employees of that business). As a third example, if small business owners decide to take Brookstone’s pledge, they would presumably be harming the people they would have otherwise hired.

In the case of protests that interfere with others, these can clearly be such that they violate other people’s legitimate rights. For example, if protestors occupy a park, then other people are denied access to do what they would otherwise do. As another example, if protestors occupy a business, they are interfering with the rights of the owner and the employees.  As such, these sorts of protests would seem to require some moral justification.

One rather obvious and sensible standard is that the harm done by the protest should be proportional to the harm that is being protested. It also should go without saying that the harm needs to be real rather than merely imagined or a fabrication. Another reasonable standard is that there should not be a less harmful redress available that could be reasonably expected to solve the problem. After all, if the conflict can be resolved with less harm by these means, that would certainly seem to be the right (and sensible) thing to do. A third standard worth considering is whether or not the harm of the protest is suffered primarily by the target of the protest or by others. After all, protesting a wrong by  primarily  harming  people who are innocent of wrongdoing (or who are less significantly less responsible than others) would certainly seem to merely create more wrongs than it would protest them.

To use a simple example, imagine that a student fails my class because s/he never does the work and then disrupts my office hours and classes with shouts of “LaBossiere is unfair!” This  would seem to be unacceptable. After all, the harm was self-inflicted and would hardly warrant interfering with the education of other students (who had no role in the student’s failure). Also, there is an established process for disputing grades that do not require such behavior.

In the case of protests that are boycotts or non-hiring protests, these would seem to be well within the rights of the individuals involved in said protests. After all, I am under no special moral obligation to patronize a business or, if I owned a business, to employ anyone. As such, these protests would seem to fall clearly withing the realm of being morally acceptable (although there could be some exceptions).

That said, it does seem reasonable to hold that a person could be acting within his/her rights, yet still be acting unfairly and thus perhaps in a way that is at least somewhat wrong. Such protests, it would seem, could still be evaluated by the suggested standards given above.

For example, suppose that people are protesting a business that practices racial discrimination (such as giving minorities worse rates on loans simply because they are minorities). Provided that the protest is aimed primarily at the decision makers and the harm inflicted is in balance with the offense (for example, boycotting the company as opposed to fire bombing their offices), then the protest would seem to be morally acceptable (and perhaps laudable).

As another example, suppose that people are protesting an oil  company that has poor environmental practices. The protestors focus on not patronizing the independently owned gas stations (which follow the rules regarding the environment) that fall under the brand name of the company and end up putting some of them out of business, but this has almost no impact on the parent company’s bottom line. In this case, there would certainly be some very reasonable doubts about the morality of such protests.

As a final example, consider the call to not hire people to protest the alleged war on business and America. Even if it is assumed that such a war exists this sort of protest would seem to inflict the actual harm on the innocent potential employees rather than the alleged perpetrators of the war. To use an analogy, this would seem to be like protesting against a business not by boycotting or protesting that business, but by going after individual employees in the hopes that the protest would someone impact the business.  Also, there is a clear means of redress in regards to this problem, namely the upcoming elections. As such, this sort of protest would seem morally dubious (at best).

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Is Perry a Birther?

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 27, 2011
Perry Event 2/1/2010


Rick Perry was recently interviewed by Parade  and he was asked whether or not he believed Obama was born here or not. The exchange is as follows:

Q. Governor, do you believe that President Barack Obama was born in the United States?

A. I have no reason to think otherwise.

Q. That’s not a definitive, “Yes, I believe he”—

A. Well, I don’t have a definitive answer, because he’s never seen my birth certificate.

Q. But you’ve seen his.

A. I don’t know. Have I?

Q. You don’t believe what’s been released?

A. I don’t know. I had dinner with Donald Trump the other night.

Q. And?

A. That came up.

Q. And he said?

A. He doesn’t think it’s real.

Q. And you said?

A. I don’t have any idea. It doesn’t matter. He’s the president of the United States. He’s elected. It’s a distractive issue.

Not surprisingly pundits and media folks have taken this as evidence that Perry is a born again birther. Karl Rove has taken the matter rather seriously and was extremely critical of Perry, noting that this sort of thing makes him an associate of certain nutty folks.

On the face of it, Perry did seem to be taking a somewhat coy birther position. While he did not assert outright that he believes that Obama was not born here, he clearly seemed to be indicating that he had doubts about the authenticity of the birth certificate. Also, by bringing in Trump and his (alleged) doubt, he also seemed to be moving himself into the birther sphere.

However, immediately after stating that he has no idea whether the birth certificate is real or not, he said that it does not matter and that “it’s a distractive issue.” This seems to be something of a rejection, albeit a very weak one, of the birther view (after all, they regarded it as rather important).

I agree with Perry’s second claim-bringing up the birth certificate is a distraction. In fact, it is more than that-it has the potential to make Perry seem a bit ridiculous given that the birther movement seems to have largely faded away in the face of overwhelming evidence. It also seems like a bad idea to try to play this card-if only from a practical perspective. After all, any gain he might make among the remaining birthers would probably be greatly offset by a losing ground with other folks.

In regards to his first claim about it not mattering, he seems to be right and also wrong (in different ways, of course). He is right that the birther thing does not matter anymore (except perhaps, as something that will damage his chances of getting the nomination).

However, if he actually has no idea whether the the birth certificate is real or not, then this does matter. First, if he has reasonable grounds on which to doubt its authenticity then this entails that he has reasonable grounds to believe that Obama is not legally president and that Obama has been perpetuating a great fraud (and with the support of people like Rove). If this is the case, then this does matter a great deal. Second, if he has no grounds for not having any idea and is simply refusing to accept the overwhelming evidence that Obama was born here, then this indicates that Perry has some rather significant flaws in his rationality and his epistemic capabilities. This, as one would imagine, would matter a great deal. After all, he is running for president and we certainly do not want to elect someone who cannot properly assess overwhelming evidence.

Interestingly enough, Perry seems to have decided to keep flirting with the birther thing and intends to keep it alive to “poke” at Obama. This leads me to infer that Perry is lacking in certain mental faculties, that there is some sort of pranking going on, or that Perry is destroying his campaign as part of the political theater leading up to Romney being handed the nomination. Or something else. In any case, I would suspect that Perry’s chances of getting the nomination are very low indeed.

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The Winterization of Our Discontent

Posted in Business, Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Uncategorized by Michael LaBossiere on October 26, 2011
Vice President Joe Biden L'68

"I'll drop by with my caulk."

Jon Stewart recently did a segment on certain problems with Obama’s weatherization plan. This plan was supposed to accomplish two main goals: create jobs and lower people’s energy bills. This certainly sounded like a somewhat good idea, aside from the fact that, as Joe Biden said, it seemed to be rather lacking in provisions that would ensure the money was used properly and effectively. Crudely put, it seemed like money was being handed over without much in the way of actual requirements.

As one might imagine, when you hand money over to people without having some sort of enforcement system, you are counting on their competence and integrity to ensure that the money is well spent. As might be imagined, there have been numerous problems with this program. Apparently some states gladly accepted the money but produced little in the way of positive results. To be specific, the program did not seem to quite create as many jobs as hoped and even the attempts at winterization and energy efficiency often seemed to turn out to be failures.

Part of the blame obviously rests on the Obama administration. Handing out money without an enforcement mechanism is obviously a bad idea if you expect that the money will be well and properly spent. Of course, the Obama administration was perhaps reluctant to tell the states what to do-as most Republicans will tell you, infringing on state’s rights is a bad thing. However, the Obama administration can be seen as being like a person who gives his relatives a bunch of cash and tells them to use it to hire people to make their houses more energy efficient. True, the person who hands out the money should have better sense-especially if he knows that many of his relatives cannot be trusted with money.

Part of the blame also rests with the state governments. After all, they were supposed to spend the money to create jobs and increase energy efficiency and they seem to have often failed in these tasks. This supports the notion that government often does a bad job but, of course, counts against the notion that turning control over to the states will automatically be better than having matters handled by the federal government. It must also be noted that private businesses were involved in this as well, thus indicating the obvious fact that private industry can be just as corrupt as government (in fact, the two forms of corruption generally go hand in hand).

The problems in the program are, of course, a mark against Obama’s administration. They are also a mark against the state governments that misused the money as well as a mark against the businesses that benefited from this. Somewhat ironically, this also shows that the Obama administration is not an enemy of business-after all, it seems quite willing to practice the time honored pro-business tradition of corruption.

While it is tempting to see this all as business as usual, we should not be willing to accept this. We, as a people, should be better than this. And we can be-but it is up to us to hold our governments and their business friends accountable. In general, we should insist on better oversight in regards to how our money is being spent.

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Money & Motivation

Posted in Business, Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 25, 2011
Wall Street Sign. Author: Ramy Majouji

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been involved in various informal discussions about the Occupy Wall Street movement and one point that I have heard raised on several occasions is that we need to have an economic system in which some people have far greater income and wealth than others. Folks often add that this also means that the government should not raise taxes on the wealthy. The gist of the reasoning seems to be that without the potential to make such money and acquire such wealth (and keep it), people will not have any motivation to work, create businesses, innovate, invent and so on.

As far as working goes, that is obviously not true. Most folks know that they have no chance of having CEO level income and wealth (or even above average income and wealth) and yet they work anyway. One excellent motivation is, of course, need. True, most folks would like to have such income and wealth, but that certainly is not their primary motivation to punch the clock. To ascribe that motivation to most folks would be to also ascribe to them a seemingly unrelenting self-deception or ignorance.  In my own case, I know that I will never have vast wealth or income as a professor and yet I still continue to work. If it became a law that no one could have a personal income greater than $1 million per year (and no, I am not suggesting this), I’d still go to work. The odds are you would too. For the tiny percentage of folks who have a realistic shot at the CEO level of wealth and income, it could be reasonable to attribute to them this sort of motivation. But, they would certainly still work even if they knew that doing so would merely ensure that they could buy food and stuff.

Of course, the really wealthy do not become wealthy by punching a clock. They get that way via other means (and not just inheritance). They might create a business, invent, innovate or market some rare talent (such as acting, athletic, or singing prowess). So, one might argue, while a limit on mega-wealth might not cause people to stop working, it would surely stop people from creating businesses, innovating and so on.

However, this does not seem to be the case. After all, people invent and innovate for reasons other than money. To use the example of Steve Jobs, the folks who knew him well always claim that he was not in it for the money and the same is often said about other innovators. This does make sense-after all, they set out to innovate and it happened to make them wealthy. There are also many other examples, such as Tim Berners-Lee, of people who innovate for reasons other than becoming wealthy. As a final example, consider all the folks who develop open source software-they are clearly not doing that to become wealthy. As such, people would still create things like technology and software even if they could not, for some reason, become super wealthy doing so.

As far as creating and performing go, people obviously do those things even when they do not expect a huge financial reward. Most writers and artists do what they do for the love of what they do (or maybe out of vanity), rather than for the hope of being super wealthy. Athletes who know they will never be a Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods get out there and give it all-knowing they will never be in a commercial selling underwear or Gatorade. In my own case, I know that there is not much money to be made in running and I know that even if there was, I certainly would not be making it (I’m “all-conference” good, not “Olympic good”). Yet, I run six days a week and race as hard as I can. I know that there are thousands of people doing the same.

Now, it might be objected that people will not do these things without getting something out of it. In reply, my obvious answer is that I agree. No rational being would do something if it knew that doing so resulted in no value whatsoever. However, what counts as value is not limited merely to money. As I have argued above, people are clearly motivated by factors other than money and even when it comes to money the main motivation seems to be to have enough for a good life, rather than merely accumulating vast wealth for its own sake.

Obviously there are people who regard accumulating vast wealth as an important goal. There is, on the face of it, nothing inherently wrong with that goal or achieving it. However, when this accumulation comes at the expense of others and causes great harm (such as how some folks profited while the world economy was brought to its metaphorical knees), then there is a problem. I am fine with competition and reward based on merit. To use an obvious analogy, I think that the person who wins the race fairly and on her merits should get the biggest trophy. However, if the person “wins” via foul means and in doing so hurts the other runners, then they should be punished rather than receiving the biggest trophy. I also know that people will still do their best even when there is no trophy at all.

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Example Failure

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on October 24, 2011
Men inspecting wreckage of first Toronto airpl...

Image via Wikipedia

For years I have been making use of a plane crash example to illustrate the moral distinction between killing people and letting people die and the results have always been the same, at least until this past week. Before getting to that, I will briefly present the examples.

I usually open my discussion of utilitarianism by noting that people tend to have utilitarian intuitions in many cases, such as those involving emergency medial treatment. My stock example is as follows:

“Imagine that you are the only available doctor on an island when a plane crashes with six people on board. You have no idea who these people are-they literally fell from the sky. Examining the people, you know that if you try to save the badly injured pilot, you will lose 3-4 of the others for sure. But, if you allow the pilot to die, you are certain you can save at least four of the passengers, maybe even five. What do you do?”

As you might suspect, everyone always says something like “save the five because five is more than one.”

When transitioning to my discussion of rule-deontology, I make the point that sometimes our intuitions seem to steer us away from just the consequences to also considering the action itself. To illustrate this intuition, I change the story just a bit:

“Imagine that you are the only available doctor on an island when a plane crashes with five people on board. You have no idea who these people are-they literally fell from the sky. To save them, you need a lot of blood and you need it fast. Coincidentally, Ted the hermit has come in for his yearly checkup. Ted has no friends or relatives and no one checks up on him. By a truly amazing coincidence Ted’s blood type means that he can donate to all five people. Unfortunately, getting enough blood to save all five will kill Ted. What do you do?”

For years, my students have said that killing Ted even to save five people would be wrong and I fully expected my current students in my class to give the same answer. But, rather than the usual “that would be wrong”, I was met with silence. So, I asked again and two students said that they’d drain Ted. When I said that this was the first class that ever said that, the reply was “times have changed.”

I’m not quite sure what the significance of this might be, but it was certainly interesting.

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Is my Husky a Liberal or a Corporation?

Posted in Humor, Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on October 23, 2011
A copper "bi-eye" Siberian Husky.

Liberal or Corporation?

I have a Siberian husky named “Isis” and I sometimes wonder whether she is a liberal or a corporation.

Like a liberal, she has the following stereotypical traits

  • She expects handouts on a regular basis.
  • She cries if she does not get what she wants.
  • When protesting, she howls.
  • She is not overly concerned with personal hygiene.
  • She will eat some pretty strange stuff.
  • She does not have a full time job and shows no guilt over this.
  • She spends most of her day unconscious.
  • She likes people.
  • She is all for free health care and free cheese.

Like a corporation, she has the following stereotypical traits:

  • She expects handouts on a regular basis.
  • She cries if she does not get what she wants.
  • She stashes her wealth in secret places (buried in the backyard, rather than on in the Cayman islands).
  • She dumps where ever she pleases and expects someone else to clean it up.
  • She does not pay taxes.
  • She is a job creator (“dump cleaner” is one job she creates).
  • She has no qualms about gobbling up smaller, weaker things.
  • She thinks she is a person.
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Tea Party Nation’s Job Plan

Posted in Business, Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 22, 2011

Image by SS&SS via Flickr

Melissa Brookstone recently called on America’s small business owners to take the following pledge:

I, an American small business owner, part of the class that produces the vast majority of real, wealth producing jobs in this country, hereby resolve that I will not hire a single person until this war against business and my country is stopped.

This does, obviously enough, raise some interesting moral concerns.

On the face of it, urging small business to simply stop hiring during a period of significant unemployment would seem to be an immoral action. After all,if a small business  owner had intended to hire someone and then decided not to on this basis, it is rather likely that someone who needed a job rather badly would remain unemployed through no fault of their own. Naturally, some might point out that some people who would have been hired might not actually need the job, but it seems rather likely that if this pledge is taken seriously it would affect people who do, in fact need jobs.

One obvious reply is that small business owners have the right to hire or not hire as they will. If a small business owner elects to not hire people on the basis of Brookstone’s pledge, then they are acting within their moral rights. After all, they are under no moral compulsion to hire people and people cannot, in general, claim that they have a right to be hired by a specific small business. This would, of course, show that the small business owner was acting within his rights.

However, it seems plausible to accept that a person can be acting within his/her rights, yet still be acting in a way that is morally dubious or even wrong. Using the job scenario, imagine that I am a small business owner and I was going to hire the very qualified Sally, an out of work mother of two whose husband was killed in Afghanistan. But, after seeing Brookstone’s blog I decide that I will not hire Sally as an act of protest. While Sally has no right to the job and I have the right not to hire her, I would seem to be acting wrongly-after all, I could help her in her time of need and I have elected to not do so on the basis of what seems to be an insufficient reason. After all, I was otherwise going to hire her and had good reasons for doing so.

An obvious reply is that the act of protest is a morally acceptable action even if it might cause harm. To use the obvious analogy, when workers go on strike, they can harm the business. To use another analogy, when people boycotted businesses for being racist, they could harm the business by denying them income and causing bad press. The people who worked for such a business, who might be innocent of wrongdoing, would also be harmed.  However, strikes and boycotts seem to be morally acceptable and hence not hiring people would also seem to be an acceptable form of protest.

While this is a reasonable point, the morality of a strike or protest seems to hinge on whether the cause of the strike, boycott or protest warrants the harm that might be done to the target and innocent bystanders. If workers are going on strike because the company’s safety policies have resulted in needless deaths, then the strike would seem reasonable.  If workers went on strike for something trivial or based on some grievance that was not even real, then that would seem to be an unjust strike.

If a boycott were put in place because a store had racist policies, then that would seem to be morally correct. However, if people boycotted a store and urged a boycott because the owner was Christian or on the basis of some untrue claim, then the boycott would seem to be morally wrong because harm would be inflicted on not justifiable basis.

In the case of the Brookstone “protest” the justification for not hiring people is that the protest is against a war on the country and business by Democrats. However, while the Democrats might be doing some things that Brookstone and others do not like, the burden of proof seems to be on them to show that they are engaged in a war on business and America and that this protest is justified as a means of protesting. Otherwise, Brookstone’s call could harm people needlessly and senselessly.

On the face of it, if the Democrats are waging a war on business, they are certainly doing a terrible job. Corporations are generally doing exceptionally well and CEOs are generally having a great year. Profits are high, executive compensation is high, and things look generally good for the businesses. However, things are rather bad for the rest of us-unemployment is high, wages are low, and so on.

For Brookstone to claim that there is a war on business seems rather like hearing a morbidly obese person screaming that someone is waging a war on his food and his eating and thus he must call on  grocery stores and restaurants to stop selling food to the thin people who are making war on him.  His enormous girth shows his allegations are a lie, just as the  state of business shows the allegations of the war on business to be untrue.

One might suspect that this “protest” is actually an attempt to damage the economy more in the hopes of lowering the chances of  Obama being re-elected. If so, this seems rather wicked.




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