31 May, 2010

The fear of narcissism

I hate status seekers. I can't stand people who want something just because that'll make them more successful in someone else's eyes. Those people are narcissistic only looking for attention. I mean, it's fine if you want to be a pro athlete, play the piano like Mozart or gather a pile of money like Uncle Scrooge, but if you just want status don't goddamn try to disguise it in some other form! Narcissistic people only care about their own success and not for others' wellbeing. Hence, I don't want to be one of them.

On the other hand, aren't we all just like them? Don't we all want to be accepted by others? Is ethical behavior truly altruistic, or is "being ethical" or "being nice" just one disguise of narcissism, only a method for gaining attention? In the past 30 years money has become the most accessible means of gaining status and prestige. Could it be that ethics and soft values are the new money?

Is it really so that nice people are just as narcissistic as investment bankers? Is it impossible for us not to treat other people as a value in themselves? Are we destined to want their approval and blessing? Is it possible to act without hidden motives?

Bah, I this is starting to feel like a question that's not going to get an answer today. I guess I'll have to swallow my fear of narcissism for a while. Think I'll go home and watch an episode of House, suppose I'm more ethical than that guy. At least I'm nicer.

26 May, 2010

CSR and the amorality assumption

Business is generally not thought as a very moral field. The business of business is business, not ethics. The recent (or perhaps even ongoing) crisis hasn’t actually raised the image of business as a morally sound way of acting. Rather people associate business with concepts such as self-interest, survival of the fittest, “kill or be killed”, fraud, bribery and other dirty tricks. According to a survey made a couple of years ago, only 9 % of Germans trust business leaders. (Jörges, 2008) I wonder what the percentage is nowadays, as the survey was before the financial crisis.

Even though the public largely may regard business people, or at least some of those, to be immoral that may not be the actual case. Business people themselves often think of business as mainly amoral. Amoral means that business is indifferent to moral issues. It means that companies do not have to take ethical issues into account per se, it is not up to them. This statement is usually followed by the explanation that it is the government’s business to define a law system that supports ethical ways of doing business and the companies are responsible for staying within these guidelines. In corporate social responsibility (CSR) this is usually labeled as the laizzes-faire model of CSR. Traditionally CSR models also define other possible models of behavior. The relation to ethics varies from the amorality of the laissez-faire model all the way to the social shaper model in which stakeholders and ethical issues, instead of sales and profits, are the primary concern of an organization. Most non-profit organizations fall into the social shaper category. (Johnson, Scholes, Whittington, 2008)

From a philosophical perspective, however, CSR has its flaws. It still assumes that there is an inherent trade-off between profit-making and ethical behavior. With the exception of the social shaper, most CSR models justify ethical behavior with added value and hence increased profits. In other words, most companies behave ethically not because it is right, but because they earn money. Recalling Kant’s categorical imperative it doesn’t qualify as ethical behavior, because ethical behavior is there an instrumental value.

If the end result is ethical behavior anyway, why care about the principles behind that? I find the answer quite obvious: for safety’s sake. Firstly, if our systems for valuing ethical behavior (such as preserving the environment) fail, companies would start to behave unethically again. Secondly, it is very hard to try to put a price tag on everything. The public image of a company would crumble instantly if knowledge of major unethical behavior would spread. Such knowledge is, however, not very easy to obtain and spread to consumers. There are just too many companies out there, we can’t (or at least I can’t) memorize every fact I’ve read about their labor usage, materials or environmental controls. And that’s where ethics comes into play. When the time of choice between good and bad behavior arises, an ethical person (or company) chooses the right thing whereas the CSR driven one, aware of the information asymmetries chooses the wrong one. And that’s bad for us all.

Johnson, G. et al. (2008) Exploring Corporate Strategy. Prentice Hall/Financial Times.
Jörges, H.-U. (2008). Die Knute der Rendite. Stern 36, 56.

23 May, 2010

The five cornerstones of wellbeing

Today I started to think about things that make me tick, things that make me happy, things that I enjoy. In general, things that bring me satisfaction and enjoyment in one way. I could think of several such things: most sports, philosophy, studies, close friends etc. They all fit this category. But they also are very unlike each other in some ways. Could these be fit into some kinds of categories? After some consideration, I could think of the following list:
  • Affection
  • Physical body
  • Intellect
  • Imagination
  • Playfulness
No surprise really that I considered relationships to be important. I'm sure that everyone knows that relationships to family, friends and especially a significant other are paramount to our wellbeing. But this category goes beyond just those. I feel that the importance here is on our ability and will to share and receive love and affection in general. I include things such as charity work, helping out friends and simply not being a jerk in this category.

Physical body
Ok, probably not everyone agrees with my view of the importance of bodily action. I've always done a lot of sports and feel very strongly the need for physical action. I have to shake that stress off to switch into a state of relaxation. This category encompasses physical action beyond sport, for example playing drums, skateboarding or dancing would belong here.

I need to think about stuff to stay interested. I hate things that are non-challenging and include only following some preset guidelines. I want to use my mind. Intellectual actions are anything from puzzle-solving or philosophy to reading the newspaper or a novel.

I'm a dreamer, that's no secret. I've read countless fantasy books in my youth and are still a big fan of imaginary stuff. Movies, books, poems, music, they all spark my imagination and cast visions of a different future, present or past. It can be useful in many ways: therapy, creativity facilitation or just being simply fun. Which brings me to the last and maybe most controversial category.

I believe that being a child and playing is vital to one's mental health. Some people think I'm an geeky idiot (not necessarily a false statement for other reasons) but I've always loved games, be they board games, video games, roleplaying, boffer fighting or whatever. It's really relaxing, you should try it out sometimes :) Playing is another sort of escapism, really makes me forget about my worldly troubles.