On Absolutes Coming Full Circle

For as long as the Barometer can recall, the mantra, “There are no absolutes,” has been repeated with reverence, deference, and unequivocal conviction.  The facile response has always been, “Well, there are no absolutes except that one that you just offered, to wit, there are no absolutes.”
However, time is on the side of us moral absolutists.  Some complicated developments have begun to bore
a bigger whole in the self-contradictory axiom, “There are no absolutes.”

For example, we are told that torture (think water-boarding) is wrong – an absolute.  Yet, drones are bumping
off al Qaeda members in hit-list fashion. The drones are moving through terrorists as quickly as the terrorists
move up the ranks in al Qaeda’s corporate governless structure.  The sum total of al Qaeda’s succession plan
is, “Next? Who’s willing to be fodder for drones?”Arguably, drones do not involve torture because death is swift.
But, as John Woo notes, drones are not exactly disciples of due process.  Taking people out because
someone gave them a promotion in a group of ne’er-do-wells seems to be something we might fit under the restraint that torture is absolutely wrong. Or perhaps we could go the other way and come to the conclusion that there are
times when torture is justified.  From there we could move into understanding when and how we reached the
justification for assassination as we condemned the Gitmo folks for putting terrorists there on a diet of Ensure.

Speaking of diets and drinks, New York is all a-flutter with the possibility that its 7-11s will lose their 32- and 44-ounce drinks (only if they have sugar).  New York is regulating sales of Big Gulps full of Coca-Cola as states around the country embrace medicinal marijuana sales and use.  To be fair, the sales and use of a drug the Feds still place in felony status are in the name of compassion. Permissible marijuana use and sales address eligible and serious
health issues such as hang nails and paper cuts.

Head to the public schools and you find the cherubs fencing Cheetos to the snack-deprived.  But thanks to Planned Parenthood’s partnership with Los Angeles County high schools, they can get birth control, treatment for STDs, and even morning-after pills.  All without parental knowledge or consent. An absolute ban on snack foods but moral relativism, indeed enabling support, for sexual activity among the young ‘uns.  And all without the emotional support they will need when teen intimate relationships go south.

And on it goes – a company is recognized with a LEED certification for its environmentally progressive building.  Solar power, recycling, and natural light get you a “good company” rating.  Renewable energy use – good, an absolute that protects you even if you use your building to launch an IPO without disclosing that your earnings projections are off because advertising isn’t panning out for your customers.

Moral absolutes do exist, but they are arbitrary and capricious.  They are enforced, but what
is difficult to decipher is why they were chosen as absolutes in the first place. Perhaps the standard is nothing more than, “Well, they are absolutes because they just feel right.”  Ah, moral relativism has come full circle to moral absolutes.


About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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