Science, Cynicism and Sport

Why is the sociological imagination replacing physical science as the current major common denominator of our cultural life?

Physical and biological science dominated as the major common denominator of cultural life over the last few hundred years. With a sense of wonder and discovery, men sought out the “truth” through the physical and biological sciences that could be supported through additional findings and experimentation. Religious doubts had been defeated and science could prove anything at this time, as people looked whole-heartedly toward science to find definitive meanings. The field advanced tremendously to the point that the question was no longer “can we do it?” but rather “should we do it?” The most recent major scientific developments have created more problems in the realm of social affairs than physical solutions. Continue reading

The Importance of Ethics and the Relevance of Cold War Thinkings

1. Is C. Wright Mills’ take on values and threats still relevant in today’s world?

C. Wright Mills’ wrote his book The Sociological Imagination during the heat of the Cold War, and I feel that his take on values and threats is especially relevant to that time period. During the Cold War the media had a large role of stressing how much of a threat the USSR is to the American set of values. The way Mills goes on about the way threats and values work is reminiscent of this particular zeitgeist. In my opinion this system of societal and personal shared threats upon societal and personal connected values is a bit antiquated. In modern times our culture has become increasingly self-centered; our society is almost a Frankenstein version of what Mills’ envisioned. Our personal milieu has indeed been broadened by the introduction of the Internet and other technologies but our ability to leave behind indifference has been dulled. Values exist solely on self, and threats to self are few and far between given the progressive nature of the world today. Technology allows the media to hurl threats at us faster than we can receive them. We’re told we need to save the whales at the same time we’re being told U.S. diplomats are being murdered in North Africa. There’s no longer a singular Cold War to unite a society behind certain values and indifference has begun to reign supreme.

The new Cold War Mentality has apparently appeared in China. Chinese officials are accusing the United States of “Cold War Mentality” after the United States accused China of “cyber-espionage”. Personally I do not feel threatened by the Chinese, nor do I particularly feel threatened by the faceless “cyber-espionage”. There is no longer an animosity or a threat of another country helping a person or society discover their values. I suppose the new threat of our time is terrorism. I’m not entirely sure how this terrorism is productive sociological imagination, however. Yes, Mill’s does touch on the topic of the “threat of war” being able to help one discover or rediscover one’s values but I don’t see how terrorism achieves this. The “rally ‘round the flag” effect, seen before war and after terrorist attacks, could possibly be used to show how individuals and society begin to reassess their values yet this effect is, by definition, very short term. If terrorists value threatening our values then how can either side live in a state of “well-being”?

2. Explain the concept of cynicism in the business world; Go on to explain the benefits and detriments of cynicism.

Cynicism is described as, “a general distrust”, and is ever present in the modern day; the authors of Managing Business Ethics, Linda K. Trevino and Katherine A. Nelson, go as far to call cynicism an “epidemic” within the business world.  The authors point to different recent finance scandals, like the market crash of 2007 and Bernie Madoff, as reason for the spread of this epidemic.  I’d like to add that business’ ever increasing amount ability to become more and more transparent with new technology is perhaps another more abstract reason why such cynicism now exists. The main detriment of cynicism is its ability to stagnate the economy if levels of cynicism become too high. The only way the economy is able to grow is if people are able to trade freely, if levels of skepticism are too high then no one will be incentivized to trade with one another for fear of being duped. The benefits of cynicism though may out weigh the detriments. Without a healthy dose of cynicism, there would be even further incentive for people within the market to cheat. I feel this “epidemic” of cynicism is only a natural reaction to the lack of ethics recently seen. With this “epidemic” of cynicism, one would like to think that the businesses would work hard to attain a better level of trust from the marketplace.

3.  How does C. Wright Mills define the objective of his writings in The Sociological Imagination?

In the conclusion of his introductory chapter, C. Wright Mills clarifies his own personal goals for the chapters to follow. Mills explains that he is interested in discovering social sciences that could aptly be applied for dealing with, then modern, cultural tasks. He goes on to talk of how his theory of sociological imagination has both political and cultural connotations and how he strives to help others possess both political and cultural thoughts. In that, Mills hoped to open up a new dialogue on the social sciences, which was somewhat of a taboo topic in the United States at the time given the confusion the general public and congress had between the social sciences and socialism.

Does better ethics lead to better business?

1) In The Sociological Imagination, how does the author distinguish the difference between “troubles” and “issues”?


According to the author, troubles and issues are different based on who experiences them and the setting that associated with them.  Troubles are considered personal matters, and are experienced in a private matter.  Troubles have only to do with an individual and the current setting they are in.  They have some sort of control over the situation because it pertains specifically to them.  Issues, on the other hand, are problems experienced by a whole group of people or a society.  Issues are a product of a structure’s organization, and many people within a society can feel the burden of these issues.  An example that would separate the two words could have to do with unemployment.  A trouble in this case would be if I personally didn’t have a job and suffered as a result.  It is my own personal trouble.  It becomes and issue when there is mass unemployment, and it is the fault of the organization of society that leads to mass unemployment.  This problem isn’t only occurring within my environment, but rather it is a problem faced by many within the system.


2) In your own words, briefly describe the details that lead to the financial crisis in 2008.


The first thing that really set the 2008 financial crisis in motion was the lowering of the Fed Funds rate by Alan Greenspan.  Lowering this rate made it very easy for people to borrow money at almost 0% interest.  Understandably so, this change caused a lot of people to start borrowing and pumping money into the economy.  These low interests rates are even around today, and you can see companies looking to capitalize by buying back old debt and issuing new debt.  CVS Caremark, for example, just did it themselves so they can be able to take advantage of the currently low rates.  With people having the ability to borrow so easily, they wanted a place to invest their money at the time, and real estate was the big winner.  Real estate was viewed as a rather safe and lucrative investment, and the public at the time was enthusiastic about it.  People were able to borrow equity on their homes, and use the extra cash to purchase more real estate or other expensive investments.  When the value of houses plummeted and people began to have to make the large payments, these people suffered to pay off the new refinanced mortgage they just borrowed.  Furthering the problem, mortgage lenders became way more lax on the rules of borrowing, and began letting people borrow money that really had no right to.  They made the rules and requirements for borrowing money too lenient, and they also let people borrow up to 100% of a home’s value.  With so many people getting mortgages, the banks decided to sell these mortgages to larger banks, which bundled them up and sold them to investors as an investment vehicle.  The public seemed to blindly trust these investment vehicles, and took little time to truly understand the possible outcomes of such an investment.  The crash was very unexpected, and left to a lot of people being affected.  Many of the big players in the US were taking part in these securitized loans and CDS’s, and as a result, the American taxpayer’s money had to be used to bail out a lot of these institutions.


3) Is business ethics really an important factor towards business?


Some people may ask the question whether or not business ethics really helps companies achieve better business.  We have all been in the position where doing the “right” thing does not seem to match up with doing the thing that will benefit you most.  Companies often face the same dilemma, and it is at these crossroads that management needs to make a decision – focus on achieving sound business ethics or do whatever they feel will make the company more money.  Some people may argue that ethics are overrated and unnecessary in forming a successful business, but many would feel otherwise.  In an article by Katherine Bradshaw, a member of the Institute of Business Ethics, she goes on to explain some of the logical benefits of good business ethics, while referencing works that prove her stance on the issue.  She refers to a piece done by the IBE that researched if better ethics actually lead to better business.  The findings in the work titled Does Business Ethics Pay? (IBE 2004/2007), show companies with an ethics code are more admired by their peers, and those companies that actively train their employees on ethics financially outperform their peers who do not.  Trevino and Nelson also agree that better ethics leads to better business, saying “good ethics is absolutely essential for effective business practice.“ (3)

I agree that teaching good ethics in a business has a better chance of that business becoming both successful and sustainable.  Ethical companies appear to be much more approved by the general public, and people who have good thoughts towards a company are more likely to purchase a product or service from those companies.  I am not saying “unethical” companies do not get business, just they the ethical ones give themselves a better chance to get business because there is less negative press around them.  Ethical companies aren’t just looking at the customers; they also have to remain ethical with the suppliers, partners, shareholders, stakeholders, and employees amongst other things.  If a company can stay within good standing with each of these, they will be successful.  In order to stay in good standing, they need to act appropriately and in a way that doesn’t upset the apple cart.  Balancing all of these groups at once can be difficult, and sometimes interests of several parties contradict, and a decision must be made.  Often, shareholders and stakeholders have diametrically opposite desires from a company, but that company needs to choose the best approach for the situation.  Sometimes profits may take a short term hit, but in the long run, operating a company that is completely ethical has a better chance of survival.

Sociological Imagination, Ethics, and the Steroid-Era of Professional Baseball

1) What are the three sorts of questions that the best social analysts have consistently asked? How does this relate to C. Wright Mills’ “sociological imagination”?           

The three types of questions consider society’s structure, standing, and stand-outs.  The first of these questions asks about the particular structure of a society as a whole and its essential components.  C. Wright Mills finds the structure in which an individual belongs to be essential to understanding how they both shape each other.  Using marriage as an example, Mills offers an example of how the structure of some issue in society can be more to blame than the individual who experiences the personal troubles.  Next, where society stands in human history and the mechanics by which it is changing are questioned.  The intersection between history and biography can only be understood by asking these questions, which is essential to possessing quality of mind.  Last, the best social analysts ask what types of men and women stand-out and prevail within that society and within that time period.  This enables the individual a feeling, in Mills’ words, “that they can now provide themselves with adequate summations, cohesive assessments, comprehensive orientations.”  Asking questions regarding these three topics is what typically makes up the classic social analyst.  Having this socialogical imagination enables us to grasp our biography and history in relation to its intersections, providing a much greater quality of mind.

2) Trevino and Nelson say that the most serious ethical scandals result from multiple parties contributing in different ways to join together in the creation of the catastrophe.  What are some of the different parties that came together in forming the financial crisis of 2008, and what pressures led to these actions?  Lastly, were all of these actions unethical, or just a result of common practice?

The first factor that played a role was that borrowing money was cheap.  However, Alan Greenspan’s decision to lower the Fed Funds rate was just a common act driven by the soaring stocks in high-technology companies.  The rise of investing in real estate then became a major factor with such low borrowing rates.  At this point, nobody had acted unethically, but the rating agencies might be the first to blame.  They listed investments in the real estate industry as the highest “AAA” rating, which gave investors confidence that they would at least recover the initial value, if not more, from their investment.  Of course this was a primary cause of the catastrophe, but many factors on Wall Street also contributed.  Highly-paid CEOs and executives, a focus on short-term profits, and bonuses for employees taking great risks, also led to the problem.  These pressures to get ahead and have short-term personal gain are possibly a result of the society in which we now live.  Like Trevino and Nelson said is normally the case, many factors did come together to lead to the end result of the financial crisis.  However, while some factors were clear of any wrong-doing, there were certainly others that could have their ethics called into question after seeing their personal benefit at the expense of many others.


3) Describe a situation in pop culture in which the ideas of the sociological imagination can help shed light on an issue involving business ethics and cynicism.

“I wish I had never touched steroids. It was foolish, and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era.” – Mark McGwire, January 2010

 These words from Mark McGwire, one of baseball’s greatest home run hitters of all-time, really exemplify the attitude many baseball players had during the 2000s in Major League Baseball, “the Steroid-Era”.  He was sorry that he cheated, but then again, doesn’t it sound like he is trying to excuse himself on the grounds that nearly everyone else did too—like his guilt was simply a product of having played in the steroid-era?  Well, his apology did not help him much, as he failed to be voted into the Hall of Fame again this year for the seventh time.  Interestingly though, this year’s Hall of Fame voting was only the third time since 1965 that not even a single member of the ballot was inducted into the Hall of Fame.  With the ballot consisting of many new names, nearly all from the steroid-era of baseball, perhaps the general cynicism of society played a role in voting down a number of player who would otherwise have statistically qualified when being compared to the Hall of Fame’s existing members.  The best sports journalists and analysts of the sport have found themselves in a situation where C. Wright Mills’s idea of the sociological imagination comes into play.


“Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both.”  This quote from C. Wright Mills gives depth to the steroid-era and the players who played during that time.  Clearly there was an ethical issue involved with using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) to increase your performance, and consequently, your future salaries, but it was not all the fault of the players.  The structure of the league was such that testing and enacting penalties for those caught using these PEDs was entirely misconfigured.  It was everywhere in the clubhouses, but team personnel always seemed to turn a blind eye.  The society in which this issue took place is also relevant.  More home runs were being hit, attendance was up at games, TV contracts were going through the roof, and the game of professional baseball, more importantly the business of professional baseball, was stronger than ever.  Finally, the main type of individuals who prevailed in this society of steroid-era professional baseball were those who chose to take part in the cheating.  Not only did it go unpunished, but instead, the decision was often times rewarded.  These three questions that C. Wright Mills says are essential to developing the quality of mind necessary for a strong sociological imagination, should probably be considered more closely by the journalists and baseball writers who will be voting in next year’s Hall of Fame ballot.


Yes, these players acted unethically by taking steroids, but enough with the cynicism.  The game of baseball, now with a better structure, has proven to clean up its image greatly.  However, the shadows cast by the giants of the steroid-era continue to loom large in the media.  Just like the professors Trevino and Nelson talk about in their piece on Managing Business Ethics, there were many pieces that came together to cause the debacle of lost trust in the MLB that resulted from the steroid-era.  Of course the players played a role in it, but when you consider the previously mentioned three questions for the society in which these players belonged to, while also considering the commissioner, salary-driven incentives, and other factors that played a role in creating the catastrophe, maybe some of these players should be elected in to the Hall of Fame.  They were great for the game in the time in which they played.  Their unethical actions, while not excusable, were not entirely a result of their personal character, and therefore, I believe they should be recognized in the Hall of Fame with the many players who came before them who also made similarly massive impacts on the game, and business, of professional baseball.


Business Ethics Questions

1.  How has the ethical landscape changed in the business world in terms of its importance to companies and their employees?

According to Trevino and Nelson, back in the early 90s people were wondering if business ethics was just a fad.  Many companies were just beginning to implement ethics-based training and universities were similarly slow in offering business ethics courses.  However, after nearly 25 years, these authors are convinced that business ethics is far from a fad after witnessing and understanding its importance for successful business practices.  However, now that the issue of business ethics is much more popular, a lot of cynicism about business and its role in society has developed.  Many people believe it’s impossible to achieve the “good-good-good-(etc.)” scenario that the Whole Foods’ founder discussed because there have to corners cut somewhere.  Where Trevino and Nelson are trying to argue, however, is that while some difficult decisions may need to be made by companies, and while others may be involved in unethical behavior, “the business landscape is a varied one that is actually dominated by good, solid businesses and people who are even heroic and extraordinarily giving at times.”

2.  What are the main differences between what Mills would describe as ‘troubles’ and ‘issues’?

The main difference between these two phenomena are that troubles occur within an individual and his or her personal life, whilst issues are matters that affect many people and have many different, complicated viewpoints associated with them.  What I found to be interesting in the description of ‘troubles’ and ‘issues’ is that they can very much pertain to the same thing.  As Mills suggests, topics such as unemployment, war, and marriage all have many ‘troubles’ within them, while also being considered ‘issues’ because of how many people they affect and the controversy that often surrounds them.

3.  Are ethics important enough in professional sports?

After watching the Boston Celtics play the other night, I had the opportunity to complain to all my friends who were also watching it about just how much I hate Kevin Garnett.  The man is a great basketball player, no doubt, but after watching his actions on and off the court for many, many years, I just think he is a bad person.  Even other NBA players, like Joakim Noah, for example, have spoke out about just how dirty of a player he is.  A couple weeks ago, Carmelo Anthony was thrown out of a game for reacting to trash-talking by Kevin Garnett which supposedly included expletives regarding his wife.  After discussing this with my friends, I became irate when one of them said, “But he plays with so much passion.”  OK, so what?  At what cost?  When did being an a**hole just in order to win a basketball game become kind of cool?   What kind of example is that setting for our youth?  In another ethics-related case, I remember reading a couple weeks ago about a certain NBA team using a rookie (who was only 19) to promote buying beer for the fans.  Being a basketball player myself, ethics-related issues in the professional sports world are of particular interest to me because it IS a business, a large one at that, and I too often see sketchy practices like the ones listed above as being too acceptable.  Anyway, it’s something I will continue to look into as the semester goes on.