Made by people*


I doubt that I was the only person to pause the podcast just a minute in to ask Siri where she was manufactured.  Maybe it makes me a cynic—I didn’t really believe the story the guy was telling.  But then it turns out that I have reason to feel that way when I have the conversation I had with her.  She was in denial.  Even after I made it clear that I wanted to know where she was manufactured, she again, only tells me she was designed in California (conversation pasted below).  This conversation went on for a few minutes.  Then I realized I was getting mad at something with absolutely no emotions.  We use these things and they make us happy (and frustrated), but technology itself is emotionless.  However, Mike Daisey reminds us that the people who make these things do, in fact, have emotions, and it is time someone takes notice of them.  However, I highly doubt I will see “Made by people” replacing “Made in China” on the back of an electronic device anytime soon.

               It is appropriate that I am writing this on the day that something miraculous happened.  Only in my wildest dreams could something like this occur— I get a text message from my dad.  At 53, he is in his 30th year running his own business, but he is only in his 6th year of knowing how to open his emails.  He does not own a laptop, has a nokia flip phone, and is right there with the big group of senior citizens in central PA who is constantly complaining that our local newspaper is going to an online edition and cutting its paper edition to just 3 days per week.  But tonight, when I opened my phone and read, “What time is Bu gm 2mrw night?” I was kind of in shock.  It made me realize that this world seems to be moving on the technology train on a one-way track, and you can either hop on or be left behind.  It is for this exact reason that I wonder if Daisey’s and other similar reports will ever provoke any meaningful change.

               As great as listening to Daisey was, it was almost as interesting to listen to his audience.  His humor brought deafening laughter.  But more strikingly, his vivid recollections of the hardships, for lack of a better word, that these workers had to deal with had the audience so silent you could hear it.  I would have blended in nicely with that audience.  I can only speak for myself, but I really believe that if more people were made aware of this story, and ones like it, a difference might be made.  The only issue is that Apple and these other companies are continuing to get bigger. But the question I pose is: will growing bigger give them a larger shield to hide these problems behind, or will growing bigger make their problems bigger and more exposed?

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”?

http://www.jstor.org/stable/4149799

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/9669251/Chinese-official-accuses-Washington-of-Cold-War-mentality.html

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.

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.

 

http://www.nbcbayarea.com/blogs/the-cove/Barry-Bonds-Not-Elected-to-Hall-of-Fame-186198441.html

http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/steroid-era-stars-bonds-clemens-sosa-hall-ballot-article-1.1209463