Thursday, July 21, 2005

Can't help getting dirty. . .

I’ve been thinking about something Lacey said last time we got together. She argued (if I remember correctly) that one shouldn’t buy furniture from a man who beats his wife. She thought we are obligated to refrain from cooperating with evil. (Well, I think I put those words in her mouth.)

I like the example. It works well since what makes this man horrible is entirely unrelated to his business. There is nothing wrong with buying furniture, so normally there would be nothing wrong with buying from this guy (unlike, say, patronizing a hit-man). The trouble is that if you buy his furniture, you are making his life a little easier, some of your money goes into his pocket, and, in some small way, you are affiliating yourself with him.

I can understand (and share) your revulsion at dealing with this guy, but I wonder if this position is realistic. Any society, any time you live with others, it seems quite likely that you cannot help dealing with people who are guilty of serious wrongdoing, from co-workers to family members to janitors or CEO’s at corporations that supply things you need.

Do you think it is possible to avoid cooperating with evil, are there some evils you’d think you can cooperate with, or have I misunderstood your position?


Blogger Rachel said...

I like how you used the word "wrongdoing." It brings to light the fact that almost everyone does something wrong, whether it's beating your wife or illegally playing with money or whatever. So I guess the key here would be to separate which kind of wrongdoings you just can't deal with.

Ultimately I am forced to interact with people who do things I disagree with... but for the most part, I won't let it stop me from doing business with someone. (Not to mention, most of the people I do business with, I don't even know... how would I know if the guy I just bought from on eBay is a terrible terrible person??)

On the other hand, if I find out about, say, a company who sends their profits to pro-life or anti-gay causes, I won't do business with them. Though perhaps that is because they are using the money I give them to support causes I disagree with... Perhaps if my money wouldn't get tangled in it, I'd still do business with them...?

This whole thing reminds me of taxes, how sometimes you pay taxes and they go to something you don't agree with...

Ok those are my random scattered thoughts... to tie it all in, I'd say doing business with a "wrongdoer" is inevitable and trying to avoid it would be... terribly terribly difficult. But ultimately I think a person could and should take a stand if it were realistic enough.

Hm, that sounds like "be moral only when it's convenient" which is not how I mean to come off.

Done for now. Expect all my posts to be this confusing.

9:54 PM  
Blogger CSC said...

There is something to Rachel’s idea that we don’t want our money to get tangled up in someone else’s wrongdoing. . . but what. I take it that the basis of Lacey’s intuition is that any money we give to anyone gets ‘tangled up’ in all that they do. Each dollar we give them, even when it is buying something from them, gives them another dollar they can do what they will with.

I can see two possible ways of distinguishing the pro-life company that (pro-choice) Rachel brings up and the wife-beater. First, maybe the idea is that with the pro-life company, you feel that you can have an impact by boycotting them. Many other people are doing it. As a business, profit is their primary concern. If it costs them customers, then they might listen. With the wife-beater, the process doesn’t seem so rational. What is going through his head isn’t exactly clear, but he seems fundamentally irrational and therefore a business boycott seems like the wrong approach.

Second, maybe the idea is something like a public/private distinction. What a business does as a business is public business. That is their face to the world and the one we should respond to, but, in order to get along, we have to ignore parts of most people. We need to treat those parts as private, none of our business, and act like we agree. If I’m right, Rachel would boycott a pro-life business but not a business with a CEO who donated part of his personal income to pro-life causes.

But neither of these is persuasive to me. Losing business might be just the thing to wake this wife-beater up. Seeing that others disapprove might get him thinking. Also, Lacey chose her example well. While some version of the public/private distinction might be necessary, surely domestic violence falls on the public side. Treating it as a private matter (in the sense that others should pretend like it isn’t happening) seems terribly wrong.

So I’m still at a loss to come up with a clear principle for when I should withdraw from others due to their wrongdoing and when I should “agree to disagree.”

10:34 AM  
Blogger Rachel said...

Been thinking about whether I'd do business with a company whose CEO donates part of his/her personal income to a cause I disagree with... Maybe I'm naive about the way these things work, but I'm pretty sure if people boycotted the business, the CEO would get paid less (less profit to go to salaries, though surely s/he'd be the last person affected, right?) and therefore have less or no money to donate, and/or get fired (suddenly you're the CEO who is slowing down business, they don't want you up top any more). If either of those two were possible, then I imagine I might stray away from that business.

This is hard for me to say, though, as I get that "one person won't make a difference" feeling. Then again, that's how I feel about this whole situation.

That's all for now. Anything else will just be scattered writing.

8:39 PM  
Blogger LD said...

I have a small dream of walking away from contemporary culture as a whole, but that idea is so far out there. It does not matter where you live in the United States, you will have to pay someone for the land you benefit from (food, water, shelter). I imagine that it's the same anywhere you live.

So it does not matter how far removed you are from society, you will always be involved in the workings of other men and women who will not have the same values as you do.

In dealing with money, it seems like every exchange of goods benefits something that i disagree with.

If avoiding evil were possible and if that meant a lot to me, I would probably leave Centenary (It's a Methodist college for one!) and my part-time job, but I understand that I will have to give in more than I want to. Eh. What else is there? Instead of making the avoidance of evil my primary goal, I make getting through college my primary goal because I think that a college degree would be more beneficial than renouncing everything and rotting away in the gutter or becoming "another fool martyr."

Perhaps my values will change, maybe the gutter will be more appealing after a while. "No one ever plans to sleep out in the gutter, sometimes it's just the most comfortable place."


9:36 AM  
Blogger schwalke said...

I think Rachel hit on something in her first post way back when: most of the people we do business with we don't even know.

My great-grandfather was a tailor and I bet that many people in Milwalke circa 1900 wore pants made by him or someone like him. I have never worn a pair of pants made by somebody I know. I don't think I've ever recieved a silly sweater knitted by an aunt as a Christmas gift.
So how can we know the agenda of everybody involved with the products we buy? Moreover, what about when the agenda is patently obvious?
The conglomerated farmers that make up Foremost dairy have a clear goal: produce more milk. Now the current technology to produce more milk is probably pretty sinister and goes beyond injecting cows with a bunch of crazy hormones. So if you don't agree with this, should you then stop buying milk from this dairy?
But what about the grocery store that carries the milk? Aren't they in collusion with an evil entity? Should you also boycott the grocery store? And the restaurants who do use their product?
This line of thought becomes sticky very quickly.
I know some people who have stopped buying products made in CHina ever since the monks visited Centenary. But this decision is based wholly on the treatment of the Tibetian Bhuddists, not on the treatment of workers in said country. The latter would require too much research and possibly some guess-work as well.
My step-mother stopped buying Exxon gas after the Valdez crash in the late 80s/early 90s and she doesn't eat veal. These decisions are based on her conscience and are kin to not buying Chinese products or furniture from the wife-beater.
All of these decisions are easy to make in a vacuum, situation by situation.
But how can you adopt a moral code that takes these concerns into account and then apply it to the complicated interrealtions of contemporary existence? You'd have to be superiorly voracious and vigilant. Instead I think people will just pick their battles whether it's Lacey not buying from the wife-beater or Rachel not buying from the anti-gays or my step-mother not buying from Exxon.

6:33 AM  
Blogger CSC said...

Does it make a different if you know that the people you are doing business with are immoral? Surely, we don’t know much about the people we deal with, but maybe we are obligated to avoid those we know are bad. If we continue in full knowledge, then we suffer some guilt by association. (And, sure, we can never be completely clean, but we can do better and worse.)

10:50 AM  
Blogger LD said...

I feel that I have to do business with immoral people everyday, and I avoid them only if there is a decent alternative.

8:08 AM  

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