For Your Ethics Reading List…

I’ve just ordered “Complicit: How We Enable the Unethical and How to Stop”by Harvard business school professor Max Bazerman. Having read about the book, I’m curious to see if any of his strategies have not already been discussed on Ethics Alarms extensively. I suspect not.

On his website, Bazerman writes in part,

[A]lmost all of us have been complicit in the unethical behavior of others. “Complicit” tells compelling stories of those who enabled the Theranos and WeWork scandals, the opioid crisis, the sexual abuse that led to the #MeToo movement, and the January 6th U.S. Capitol attack. The book describes seven different behavioral profiles that can lead to complicity in wrongdoing…and offers concrete and detailed solutions, describing how individuals, leaders, and organizations can more effectively prevent complicity. By challenging the notion that a few bad apples are responsible for society’s ills, “Complicit” implicates us all—and offers a path for creating a more ethical world.

The Harvard connection is one red flag; another is Bazerman’s inclusion of “systemic privilege, including white privilege” among his markers of complicity in unethical conduct and corruption. He is clearly a reliably woke member of the progressive academic mob, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he has nothing to contribute to the topic.

One of his case studies shows how the company loyalty of Volkswagen engineers blinded them to the emissions scandal’. and how executives at ‘ another is the willful blindness of Purdue Pharma to evidence of rampaging opioid addiction brought that company and its owners billions of dollars.

The book makes the core point that our personal relationships form a complex network shaped by assumptions about power, trust, authority, and loyalty that can and often do undermine our ability to identify and reject complicit behaviors. Speaking up could be awkward or jeopardize friendships and careers. When participants indirectly benefit from unethical behavior or have close personal ties to the main unethical perpetrator, cognitive dissonance and bias make it less likely that the ethics alarms go off. (That’s how I would put it, but Bazerman examines the same phenomenon).

“If we want to be better people,” Bazerman says, “it’s not just about engaging in good acts, it’s also avoiding playing an indirect or implicit role by allowing bad acts to happen. But it’s not that easy to be non-complicit.”

No kidding. I’m hoping that the book is a bit more original and enlightening than that observation. At least with this one he is right in line with Ethics Alarms concepts like ethics chess, the duty to confront, and “Fix the problem”:

“We can all do a better job of thinking about how we would respond when confronted with unethical behavior. I’m not saying you should immediately scream whenever you see potentially unethical behavior, but I am saying you should think about how you might personally respond.”

Here we call that “tuning up your ethics alarms.”

11 thoughts on “For Your Ethics Reading List…

  1. My library offers it. The physical copy is checked out but I am borrowing the E-book version for my kindle.

  2. I will agree that we can all be enablers of unethical behavior. Simply turning a blind eye to what might be deemed unethical is enough to justify that statement.
    The question becomes do we all become “Karen’s” ready to call out everyone we believe is acting unethically or is it better just to work for on one’s own behavior? I believe the latter is more reasonable.

    There will be times when unethical behavior is so egregious that it deserves being called out. I consider the letter signed by the 50+ former intelligence officers unethical that used rebuttable language knowingly designed to have people interpret it in a way to benefit one candidate.

    The problem is that without sanctions for behaving unethically that impose high enough costs you are going to be piss’n in the wind to get people to act in a manner that contravenes their human nature.

  3. Sounds about as deep as the renowned British ethics duo, Jagger & Richards:

    I shouted out
    Who killed the Kennedys
    When after all
    It was you and me

    • Even as a seventh grader, I wasn’t buying the guilt trip Walter Cronkite and Huntley and Brinkly were serving up following Lee Harvey Oswald’s lucky shot fest.

  4. You may feel differently but I think the book is a waste of time and is just using ethics as a cover for Anti-Trump and White Privilege Propaganda. You are not wrong that this site has covered the issue more extensively. It’s also covered it better. You could write a more useful ethics book, typos and all, than this. And I would buy it.

    Complicity is an important subject. I don’t think the author treated the subject as it should have been. Your mileage may vary.

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