A former professor of mine, Bradley Norris, recently posted a poll on his blog, asking people whether they believe business is good, evil, or morally neutral. After writing a lengthy comment and accidentally deleting it, I decided to explore the topic here.
At the time, I believed that business is something that cannot be boxed in, and cannot be considered definitely good or definitely evil. Thus, I answered ‘morally neutral.’ I believed the answer is superfluous, and depends on what a business creates. Don’t mistake my view to mean that a good business must be altruistic, or a bad one must be lacking altruism. I believed businesses can be good if they create something useful, or if they trim the useless. As you will see, this view wasn’t right or wrong, but simply too far ahead of the question.
Implicit in the question of business as good or evil, is that the businesses under question are private, and made possible through a capitalist system. Business does good in some cases, but other cases have exposed embarrassing and often painful effects of evil and fraudulent activity. If you believe it is fair to say that private, capitalistic enterprise offers both extremes of good and evil in a way that would not be present in state-owned enterprise. Then, perhaps the answer is that business is both extremely good and extremely evil–the wide range of potential outcomes are what make business challenging, exciting, and worth devoting 40+ hours a week of one’s life to.
Separation, diversity– conditions of our existence. Conditions upon which we possess life and consciousness, know right and wrong and have the power to choose between them, recognize truth, have experience of beauty. But separation is evil. Evil, then, is the condition of life, the condition of being aware, of knowing what is good and beautiful.
In context, there are far more shades of meaning and implications for these words. For the sake of our subject, the explicit meaning is the only important one. Huxley sees that separation and diversity are conditions for life, yet also evil because they are the antithesis of unity. Because evil is thus a condition of life, we can perceive the difference between good and evil, and subsequently have the freedom to recognize truth and experience beauty. Truth and beauty are therefore enabled only through freedom.
Consequentially, business must be both good and evil because capitalism exists on the condition of freedom. Furthermore, because of this condition of freedom, people have the right to evaluate for themselves what is good, and what is evil. They have the right to make purchasing decisions based on their personal evaluation. But, more importantly, people have the opportunity to experience truth and beauty created by enterprise that would not be discernable if business were not both good and evil. Because of this truth, businesses have the opportunity to leverage consumer perception– not only by creating things that are useful, but also things valued as ‘true and beautiful.’
What do you create? How do you add value? Do you consider it true and beautiful? Would anyone else? If business as a whole is a spectrum of both good and evil, where does yours fall?