In a break from my normal habit of avoiding hot takes and only sticking to what is room temperature or below, I wanted to write a bit about the uproar of the week. Specifically, the NBA, that proud bastion of social justice rebellion in recent times, ceding their moral high ground for the irresistible attraction of oodles of Chinese yuan.

Part of the name of this weblog has to do with my intention of capturing ideas being echoed around the blogosphere and there have been many people weighing in on this subject on their blogs. Alan Jacobs took on the subject is several blog posts, like this one.

If nothing else, this whole shameful display should put an end, once and for all, to the ridiculous idea that there is some natural and intrinsic connection between democracy and capitalism. There very obviously ain’t. When shareholders and the bottom line are not benefitted by democracy, then democracy gets flushed down the toilet. American big business has firmly decided for a totalitarian regime and against people who want democratic freedoms. The business of America really is business after all.

The quote, and the piece, are not just centered on the NBA, but also around ESPN/Disney and Apple, as well. After all, many corporations that are making grand gestures for social justice are also heavily entrenched in a totalitarian state that has over a million people in concentration camps.

Along with the increased scrutiny over where these companies choose to exercise their influence come some pretty fair questions about proportionality. Jason Morehead has a nice round up of opinion pieces about how many companies have fought hard for progressive causes suddenly grow mute when much larger human rights abuses are committed in countries in which they do big business.

It’s almost like trusting American corporations to do what’s morally right, not just when it’s easy and results in good PR but also when it’s inconvenient, unpopular, and they risk losing lots of money, is a bad idea. Who knew?

Apple has no problem filing an amicus brief against a cake maker, but don’t expect them to risk a kink in their massive supply chain anytime soon, no matter how righteous the cause.

This issue isn’t even limited to private corporations, though. The state of New York joined the NBA in boycotting North Carolina over bathroom provisioning, while also almost simultaneously making is just short of illegal to boycott other countries for human rights violations. How one state can reconcile boycotting another state over bathrooms while seriously restricting the right to protest, say, people’s houses being bulldozed in another country, I’m not sure I will ever understand. This all happening under the auspices of a constitution that guarantees the right to free speech makes everything even more ridiculous.

Taking a bite out of Apple

Returning to the issue of uneven corporate activism, it starts to get difficult to determine exactly what a conscious consumer is to make of his or her options. Picking up with Alan Jacobs again, who has a post that wrestles with how to handle the ethical implications of Apple’s decisions.

The other axis, that of ethics, is even more difficult. Apple’s Chinese entanglements massive compromise the ethical status of the company, and in more than one way. (Which is worse, obedience to the demands of the Chinese government or the exploitation of Chinese labor?) But Apple also deserves some praise for its commitment to privacy and its truly wonderful work in making its computers accessible to a wide range of users. I don’t know how to make an ethics spreadsheet, as it were, that assembles all the relevant factors — including comparisons to the available alternatives — and gives them proper weighting.

I believe that Apple is a particularly tough case here, because in so many areas (tablets, for example), there are simply no credible competitors. That’s not meant to be a commentary simply on the Apple products themselves, but also upon the ecosystem that exists around them. There is a very real paucity of third party software on other platforms, mostly because people using Android and Windows don’t tend to be software enthusiasts, who are willing to pay for well done products by independent shops.

My wife asked a good question regarding Apple, as we shopped for a new tablet that she can use for work: “How do you hold them to account, when your power is your purchasing power?”