Obligations

For weeks, the people of Hong Kong have been protesting China’s demand for extradition to the mainland. This would signal an end to the city’s independence. As the conflict rages on – and escalates, many want to help but are powerless. The best they can do is express solidarity online. That’s exactly what Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey did. There’s just one problem – much of the NBA’s growth comes from China. So it’s no surprise Rockets star James Harden and others, started apologizing …to a totalitarian state…in the name of money
 
This must be a clear case of right and wrong, right…? Not even close. It’s merely a window on our own morality.
 
While I am a capitalist and think corporations generally enhance lives by fulfilling our needs and wants, I also think they’re amoral. Large corporations are stateless, amoral vessels for maximizing profit. Even their philanthropy and “woke” campaigns exist to maximize profit or evade risk. Same goes for demands from customers, regulators, NGOs, politicians and media. These are inputs or constraints in their calculation. While executive priorities will vary, the mission stays the same: profit and growth.

[Related: my ongoing Twitter thread of examples of corporate amorality. ]

That means corporations are neither evil, as some argue. Nor are they patriotic conduits of our values, as others would like. If there were more to be gained by denouncing China, like accessing an even bigger market, bet your house that the NBA would bravely stand up to them.
 
What I’ve neglected is our own amorality – and hypocrisy. I started on that path here:

“It’s easy to proclaim virtues when you have nothing at stake — and status to gain. But true morality is a luxury good when your livelihood’s at stake. When your family, reputation, or assets are on the line.” – Our Amoral Compass

I’ve been as guilty as others of judging others’ actions from afar. But actions are products of our obligations — to our kids, spouses, communities, friends, colleagues, nations, fellow humans, customers and employers. Likely, close to that order, implying vastly different levels of sacrifice.

This is why I’ve argued there is no evil. Everyone believes they’re doing their best and fulfilling their obligations to at least one of those constituents.

Everyone thinks they’re doing the right thing – and they are! The only question is for whom? For themselves, their family, state, business, country, god…?? Serving any one party can leave others feeling shortchanged.

People casually accuse Trump or Planned Parenthood or FOX News or “socialists” of being “evil”. Of acting with malice. What if there is no malice? What if there is no evil? What if they’re merely doing the right thing, often with integrity, for someone who isn’t you. YOU aren’t being served.

Seeing people’s intentions through this lens can eliminate some of the harshness and vitriol we see in the world today.

What it can’t eliminate is the possibility that your noblest ideals, manifested, may well be your utopia…and someone else’s nightmare.

– Why There Is No Evil

Problems and tensions arise when we aren’t being served. When someone’s obligations conflict with ours. It opens the door to resentment, accusations, denunciations and labels. HOW DARE THEY!?

That brings me back to China vs. Hong Kong.

It’s easy to denounce what’s happening in Hong Kong on Twitter. To be heroes behind avatars. To denounce the NBA, media giants and others for bending to totalitarianism. 

But what do I have at stake? What am I willing to do about it? What are any of us?

NOTHING.

We’re not sending money or supplies.
We’re not quitting our jobs at P&G or Apple to speak truth to power.
We’re not going there to fight.
We’re not pushing our representatives to go to war over Hong Kong.

Would we even risk not getting iPhones to support an embargo? Doubtful.


Unfortunately, the people of Hong Kong exist at the outer limits of our priorities and obligations.

So… We empathize. We romanticize their struggle. From a distance. 

The craziest part is how normal this is in our everyday lives. We tolerate abusive bosses, suppress our opinions, and ignore unfairness to keep our jobs. To keep our obligations.

It comes down to a simple reality: Life is servitude to our obligations. All contentment depends on it.

Obligations we choose bring satisfaction and joy. Ones imposed or mandated by circumstances feel oppressive.

Either way, a touch of mercy is in order, before pointing fingers at a fellow servant.

Maybe Hong Kong vs. China isn’t a window to our morality. It’s a mirror .

EPILOGUE

Thankfully, the US still has one undeniable moral authority: South Park .