Weekend Comment of the Day #1: “The VW Scandal: Huge Consequences, Simple Ethics Lessons, Ominous Implications”

VW handWeekend comments at Ethics Alarms are typically down about 20% on weekends, but they often make up in quality what they lack in quantity. There were several comments that materially enhanced the posts that inspired them, and I’m going to begin the week’s ethics safari by featuring a few as Comments of the Day.

The first is from Charlie Green on the VW scandal. This is his wheelhouse, and I was hoping he’d weigh in.

This is his Comment of the Day on the post, “The VW Scandal: Huge Consequences, Simple Ethics Lessons, Ominous Implications”

(I’ll have a brief note at the end.)

A similar point was made about the evident contradictions in ENRON’s mission statements. Just as this is an ethics issue, so is it a trust issue, and one I’ve been writing about as well.

The only thing I’d add is to caution against the simplification that these are conscious evil-doers. The truth is always messier.

I’m sure very few employees at VW felt a fully conscious awareness of wrong doing on their parts. That doesn’t mitigate the importance of full on prosecution of leaders, but it does mean we need to recognize the nature of human frailty and group-think, as well as the huge impacts of environment.

Demonization doesn’t work here past a few top people —like [resigned CEO]Winterkorn, who has no excuse for not having known. But this is also a particularly strong case for the proposition that environments pollute moral behavior – it’s not just bad apples.

The best case I’ve seen for this argument is here:
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/25/business/international/problems-at-volkswagen-start-in-the-boardroom.html?_r=0

And a great case for moral outrage not just at individuals but at our overall institutions is today, from the great Henry Mintzberg, here:
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/rob-commentary/volkswagen-corruption-crisis-isnt-a-scandal-its-a-syndrome/article26479332/comments/

To paint this as just a few evil blackhats gone wild is to miss the true nature of evil – it’s endemic in the culture, and that’s much scarier.

I’m back, just to note that Charles’ message is the one that had become the career cause of social scientist Phillip Zimbardo, whose work I have referenced several times.