How much power does consumer sentiment really have in defining business ethics?
I’m sure upon reading the title a number of you are going, “how is this relevant or interesting?”, but where there’s a will, there’s a way, and I will find a way to make it both.
The short answer to the above philosophical question is no, inanimate objects in themselves do not possess any moral agency. A chair may be ascribed a good quality for providing you something to sit on, but then immediately switch to being evil when one of the legs give out causing you to fall to the ground and hurt yourself. However, the chair in itself is neither good nor bad.
A vehicle is the second largest single purchase most people make – behind a house – and yet judging by what most people drive they seem to give little care about it. If I had to define the current automotive industry it would be that cars are designed by accountants to please shareholders to be driven by people who hate driving. I feel that pretty much sums up most of what we see four-wheeled related nowadays, which saddens me deeply as a “motoring enthusiast”, whatever that really means.
Furthermore, we see this attitude defining the business ethics of the car industry with the majority of sales from the hideous, inefficient and unnecessarily growing SUV range (and to a lesser extent 4WDs), especially as most of the time these vehicles are on tarmac or city-centres. Most who buy these types of cars would suffice with a small hatchback, seriously. However, does buying one of these SUV/4WD cars – when all you’d really need is a small car – constitute an immoral act?
Electric cars are the new go-to choice for moral motoring especially for people who hate cars. The cyclists of the motorways, the sanctimony of these owners as they show you how much they don’t care about motoring because they’re “saving the environment” and therefore are superior to you. However, I state again, if an object possesses no moral agency, then buying an electric in itself doesn’t make you morally superior.
Nevertheless, us “car people” have our own moral quandaries as we seek to indulge in our passion for motoring while remaining attached to societal trends and the practicality of living. One of the brands that attempts to bridge this gap and seduce car lovers is Volkswagen, with cars such as the Golf GTI being almost the perfect “everyday” car and yet still fun to own and drive and show that you like cars. The argument of “form over function” springs to mind, which has been at the crux of car culture for some time now as there is this inherent impracticality about loving cars and thus, to make these types of cars practical or to include practical cars in the discussion, in a way, may seem inauthentic to the core of auto culture. In other words, is buying a 4-door Golf GTI an immoral choice as a motoring enthusiast and – more to the point – does it render the car itself immoral?
This need to blend automotive passion with modern-day real world practicality has seen the car industry attempt to blend the two together and thus inherently corrupting what originally made it so great. Is it immoral to want this though? As I said before, the majority of vehicles are made for people who don’t like cars and to please shareholders – and not for the ever-shrinking group of motoring enthusiasts like myself – so what power do I have change any of this? Am I therefore acting immorally by embracing an element of practicality into car culture which inherently tarnishes it, but at least some car culture is better than it going extinct?
For me, cars can be art. Cars can take on human personality traits and we can bond with them over experiences. Artistic expression and character give life – not take it away. Love is imperfect and impractical, much like the cars I yearn to have.
Our quest for objective morality continues. Put it this way, God wouldn’t drive a SUV. God wouldn’t drive an electric car (Thor might though). God would drive an Alfa Romeo – and I guess that’s as close to defining an object as morally good as I can illustrate – though He would have to drive it to a garage to fix it first.