The reverberations from the Milo Yiannopoulos controversy and the reactions to commentary on it will echo through the BlogoSphere for some time. I’ve already gotten some, and needless to say, the responses have been...mixed.
In my previous piece on the subject I omitted to address the justice of what’s happened to Milo since his remarks became public knowledge. There’s a reason for that, and it’s the same as the reason I don’t bother to note that the sky is blue and water flows downhill: the injustice of it should be obvious to anyone with three functioning brain cells. But as with many other public contretemps, omitting to express an obvious truth will often be taken (by persons desperate for an excuse to vent their bile at you) as an implicit endorsement of the opposite view.
Shameful, really. But what can you do about persons determined to destroy you who’ll seize on any smallest crack in your defenses? Why, that’s one I can answer even at this hour. You can:
- Ignore them;
- Counterattack and destroy them.
This piece will be a bit discursive, so you might want to put up more coffee. Grab a muffin or something to wash it down.
Organizations will always possess a dynamic that arises from their nature. For example, the dynamic of government is to seek ever more power and scope, which is “why the worst always get on top.” (Cf. Friedrich Hayek) Organization dynamics will flow from what the organization prioritizes: money, notoriety, votes, or what have you.
Within an organization’s priority scheme will be a set of subsidiary priorities believed to connect directly to its main priority. For example, commercial organizations tend to value publicity for their wares, and usually to a lesser extent for themselves as well. However, the Qaddafi Principle (“I don’t care what they say about me in the papers as long as they spell my name right”) does not apply uniformly to all commercial organizations. Size, geographical scope, demographic targeting, and other factors play their parts.
Note in this connection the recent efforts by giant enterprises BP and Koch Industries to promote themselves as benevolent forces. BP, of course, has the Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico oil spill to “live down.” Koch has been the target of left-wing detractors and slanderers for decades. In both cases, upper managements decided to wage a counter-publicity campaign intended to offset the negative press their enterprises had received. Whether those campaigns are achieving the desired effect, I cannot say.
The inverse approach – an attempt to distance the organization from whatever specific persons or events have been used to defame it – is just as common as the one above. More often than not, such an approach is applied prophylactically, to head off anticipated negative attention. That’s what’s happened in the case of the Conservative Political Action Conference, Simon & Schuster, and the Breitbart organization.
The desire of such organizations to head off bad press is understandable. Moreover, it has been determined empirically that the effective courage of a commercial organization (much like the effective intelligence of a committee) varies inversely as the square of its headcount. (Cyril Northcote Parkinson’s essay “Directors and Councils or Coefficient of Inefficiency” is highly illuminating on this point.) That’s why I termed their reactions inevitable in my earlier piece.
That, however, doesn’t make those reactions just.
A man’s moral posture is defined by the following considerations:
- What he requires of himself;
- What he forbids to himself;
- What he requires of others;
- What he forbids to others.
It really is that simple. Even in effectuation it remains simple, for a moral posture does not demand minutely specific responses to particular stimuli that are uniform across all of us. One can only do what he can do. The same applies to organizations.
However – and here we must be most emphatic – in any commercial organization there will be a pinnacle position, the President or Chief Executive Officer, who is capable of imposing his will upon the organization when he so desires. This person, more than any other, has the responsibility for enforcing moral norms upon his company. It follows that moral defaults, no matter who in the company might be the proximate cause, ultimately become his responsibility:
- If a subordinate refuses to do what the company’s moral strictures demand, that subordinate must be disciplined.
- If a subordinate commits an injustice against someone, that subordinate must be disciplined and the injustice redressed.
The best organizations with which I’m acquainted have been relentless about those things. Perhaps the best known is IBM, whose CEOs have maintained a watchful eye over its employees ever since the founding of the company. The Watsons, Senior and Junior, never allowed an injustice of which they were aware to go unaddressed. That ethic permeates the company today.
It follows that the grotesque injustices done to Milo Yiannopoulos by CPAC, Simon & Schuster, and the Breitbart organization should have been prevented by the CEOs of the responsible organizations. It seems that the opposite was the case. That comes as close to unforgivable as any managerial sin I can imagine.
“There’s no merit to discipline under ideal circumstances. I’ll have it in the face of death, or it’s worthless.” – Hober Mallow, in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation.
The final question is what might be required of Us the Patrons of the relevant organizations. That’s fairly simple: whatever we can do to reprove them for their sins. Some possibilities:
- Letters to CEOs;
- Adverse publicity;
- Commercial boycotts.
That’s for those of us “outside” those organizations. Their employees face different incentives and constraints, and I will not presume to instruct them.
To sum up: If you fail to uphold your moral standards when under pressure, you don’t really have moral standards. That goes for organizations as well as for individuals. Justice is a moral imperative for a society that seeks to endure. The rest is left as an exercise for the reader.