Discover more from Raids on the Unspeakable
On the bankruptcy of military-industrial corporations and more.
Of all my special interests, one for which I have a particular love is the ‘values’ videos of military-industrial corporations. These are enlightening and somehow hilarious; perhaps funnier if they are producing electronic counter-measures rather than missiles. But these are very revealing of the values which rule today, and are well worth examining in this light.
Values, broadly considered, are reifications of the identifiable moral aspects in a corporate constitution. These are not causal entities but at best reflect actual tendencies. The same rule applies here as Maistre notes of political constitutions:
No constitution results from deliberation; the rights of the people are never written, or never except as simple declarations of pre-existing rights not written, of which nothing more can be said, than that they exist because they exist.
Thus values may exist as actual tendencies or as representations, as in boilerplate web pages; and in the latter these effectively amount to no more than marketing. Whether the value is coherent with the activity of the company or not is here irrelevant except for indirectly. What matters is whether the customer acts as if these are their values when making some decision. The actual values may thus be indirectly effective to the extent that they filter through to the opinion of those that have dealt with the company or heard of others dealings with them. If the general opinion plainly contradicts the values on a website then these representations amount to naught.
Of course, here we might ask—what sort of values are these? Surely Raytheon does not pride itself on its mercy, for instance. Indeed, the relevant values are precisely those which Weber notes of Benjamin Franklin:
Honesty is useful, because it assures credit; so are punctuality, industry, frugality, and that is the reason they are virtues. A logical deduction from this would be that where, for instance, the appearance of honesty serves the same purpose, that would suffice, and an unnecessary surplus of this virtue would evidently appear to Franklin’s eyes as unproductive waste.
By which I mean, as we have already gestured at, the relevant values are, in fact, a single value: utility. This is, moreover, not merely utility in terms of, say, the efficacy of a device or weapons system; it is rather utility in terms of the customer and, hence, demand. Supply necessarily orientates itself to demand, and this means it will position its values so as to create the image—if not actuality—of values corresponding to the customer desires.
Now here, assuming the customer is always right, the utility is plainly considered in financial terms. Of course, this may entail moral aspects insofar as these are legally-enforced; yet so long as the demand is legal, and often perhaps even where it is not, provided it is sufficiently valuable or the likely legal costs are low, then the consideration of ‘values’ is limited to that which serves the customer. This means more or less that the values are internal to the company, that they concern the way a company interacts internally; to the extent that values considered externally are relevant, these will be so primary in terms of their interactions with the customer.
A company which exists only to sell missiles, for instance, is hardly likely to have any qualms about the violence inflicted by missiles; at best they may be reluctant to sell to certain customers, or even be prohibited by sanctions. The corporation exists within the product they sell, and thus their values are usually limited to this as a sole concern. Of course, as in the MBDA Missile Systems video below, this may lead to an apparent absurdity; yet if we consider these are internal corporate values, then it is less so—albeit still very strange.
Still we may ask whether one selling missile systems, for instance, is more or less culpable than one who merely selling the communications equipment involved in this process; it seems natural to think that they would be more culpable, as they are directly involved and do this alone, whereas the communications products may serve a variety of end users. Companies which produce all manner of products are entangled variously in the totality of our civilisation, and it is impossible to separate these to provide for any clear moral analysis:
Who is responsible? No one. There is never anyone responsible. Anywhere. In the whole of our technological society the work is so fragmented and broken up into small pieces that no one is responsible. But no one is free either. Everyone has his own, specific task. And that's all he has to do.
Yet we may see the basic point here simply by noting that it is not immorality but amorality with which we are here concerned; it is that somehow there is a whole system of ‘values’ which seems to be at best indirectly related to morality properly considered. We may consider value, in other words, as a mode of social ordering; and this is essentially a matter of order and only accidentally related to morality. Moral values tend to be entailed in this calculus only to the extent that they are realised as credit and debt—for instance, where they are realised in an enforcible, and enforced, regulation which imposes some cost.
We can see this clearly in the workings of the invisible hand, which operates as an emergent principle of social ordering by way of the more or less rational activity of individual economic entities. Take Milton Friedman’s famous example of the dollar-store pencil, for instance:
Look at this lead pencil. There’s not a single person in the world who could make this pencil. Remarkable statement? Not at all. The wood from which it is made, for all I know, comes from a tree that was cut down in the state of Washington. To cut down that tree, it took a saw. To make the saw, it took steel. To make steel, it took iron ore. This black center—we call it lead but it’s really graphite, compressed graphite—I’m not sure where it comes from, but I think it comes from some mines in South America. This red top up here, this eraser, a bit of rubber, probably comes from Malaya, where the rubber tree isn’t even native! It was imported from South America by some businessmen with the help of the British government. This brass ferrule? [Self-effacing laughter.] I haven’t the slightest idea where it came from. Or the yellow paint! Or the paint that made the black lines. Or the glue that holds it together. Literally thousands of people co-operated to make this pencil.