David Cliff, Managing Director of Gedanken
David Cliff

Member Article

Dante's inferno and the morality of technological age

“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”

That quote from Dante’s Inferno is becoming increasingly well read, featuring as it does in Dan Brown’s latest bestseller. It’s an extreme statement, but the growing influence of technology on lives and economies across the world does require individual action, not apathy.

Globalisation and technology have developed amazingly over the last ten to 15 years. For good, we see global brands, corrupt political regimes outed, consistent levels of practice and ubiquitous availability of communication and trading platforms that facilitate business worldwide connection. For ill, we see the politics of control, price fixing cartels, the evasion or unethical avoidance of taxes, and the erosion of direct communication and interpersonal skills as we connect with others across large distances with increasingly more threadbare styles of communication.

We also enter ethical and legal minefields as to where transactions actually take place, who owes what to whom, and how to agree and enforce organisations and technology-based communication that knows no state barriers.

We see organisations evading taxes with vast cohorts of accountants and lawyers to assist, only to be forced by public opinion and consumer power into perceiving the moral stance of such acts. Most of the world watched in horror recently, at a video of a kitten doused in petrol and burned alive by children where organisations such as social networks consider this does not offend their violence guidelines, without their understanding of the very fact their media can contribute to the motivation and propagation of such horrendous acts.

Global organisations risk providing an alternative morality based on their business and financial expediencies and market advantage. Where can true democracy exist when the ordinary process of consensus politics is lost to those who have the capacity to connect with the world in ways which circumvent rules of state or even the morality of a culture?

As YouTube’s own terms state: “YouTube does not endorse any content or any opinion, recommendation, or advice expressed therein, and YouTube expressly disclaims any and all liability in connection with content”. A world stage is created, trading off content which has been bizarre, inciting, cruel and potentially immoral, and yet avoids responsibility for the social and other consequences of what it offers.

Politicians appear impotent, or perhaps not so, as we see that grim minority offering a favour dear to the fee-paying lobbyist, or the covert salaried board place that comes via another connection.

It is clear that the public are tired of this, of politicians telling them what they think rather than listening, of adversarial systems of politics where the political agendas of the key parties concerned are not particularly differentiated and subject to U-turns and/or the sudden parachuting in of policies that never saw ink on the manifesto.

E.F. Schumacher – who died before the world wide web was even conceived –said: “We must do what we conceive to be right and not bother our heads or burden our souls with whether we’ll be successful. Because if we don’t do the right thing, we’ll do the wrong thing and we’ll be part of the disease and not part of the cure.”

No perfect political system exists. However, all systems are made less perfect by the apathy of the populous. When it comes to global technology and communication, surely some characteristics of common humankind can be asserted by our leaders. These could include sensible corporate governance, corporate and social responsibility, the protection of children, animals, environmental awareness, ensuring good taste on the Internet, the non-sexualisation of young females, the non-glamorisation of male violence…the list goes on.

This is where the powers of the consumer become so important. Where politicians and their diverse interests and competing priorities fail, the sheer raw endorsement of consumers can make a difference. It was lost footfall that propelled Starbucks into paying some tax contribution into the UK coffers, not parliamentary watchdogs.

In a modern globalised world, responsible individual citizenship matters. Conscientious consumerism becomes a force for good and renews the individual’s voice in a politically uncertain world.

Apathy with our politicians is no excuse. We simply did the wrong thing and became part of the problem. Shumaker went on to say it all: “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage - to move in the opposite direction.” Are we clever and brave enough, I wonder?

And in consumers put all their eggs in one basket, be it Amazon, Starbucks, Facebook, or any of the others, without considering the moral implications of their acts, then the consumers are as culpable as the organisation concerned. We can be apathetic and let things happen, feeling powerless and impotent or, we can act from individual conscience until the sleeping global giants awake to understand morality and conscience. These are internal dilemmas most reasonable people struggle with through their entire lives, and perhaps organisations should too!

David Cliff is Managing Director of Gedanken and Vice Chairman of the Institute of Directors’ County Durham and Sunderland Committee.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by David Cliff .

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