It’s become an article of faith among many in the C-Suite of corporate executives that it’s the responsibility of companies today to engage in political activism. Yet the public, by and large, disagrees.
“While 63% of corporate executives “agree unequivocally that companies should speak out on social issues,” only 36% of voters feel the same, according to a poll conducted by the Brunswick Group. [The] organizational impulse to weigh in on any and every social issue is disregarded by audiences, disconnected from what people want, and even diminishing to corporate reputation,” the advisory firm explains. Corporate executives “vastly overestimate” the importance of speaking on social issues…”“Disconnect: Public rejects corporate political posturing, while corporate execs favor, survey finds,” JustTheNews, Nov. 30, 2021.
So what accounts for this? It’s easy (and not wrong) to note that business executives (especially among today’s corporations) are increasingly drawn from the “elite” side of the modern cultural divide. That’s the population of college graduates largely educated (read: indoctrinated and brainwashed) by the critical theory influenced academic curricula of the last two decades.
And what did we expect, after allowing those now taking the reins in our business community to be raised by enemies of freedom on a steady diet of irrationalist and collectivist ideology? That many of them have become “useful idiot” activists for the hateful, dishonest, and actually racist ideology now threatening civilization should come as no surprise. This is merely cause and effect in action, and the responsibility is ours for allowing it.
It’s worth noting, however, that there’s nothing inherently wrong with a certain level of “social consciousness” and activism in the business community. There are times when it can even be crucial. So it’s not necessarily wrong for companies to (usually, gently) encourage and advocate for certain aspirational ideals; it depends on what those ideals are. But business endangers itself, and betrays the public’s trust, when those ideals become not only aggressively corrupt, but disconnected from the values of its customers and its actual mission. And there’s a reason for this.
We sustain those businesses through our economic support. Without that support, they would cease to exist; a business without customers will not stay in business for long. And a part of the implicit compact under capitalism between “the buying public” and the institutions we patronize is a basic regard for the fact that we all live in a pluralistic society, in which reasonable differences of opinion are accepted and respected.
That basic level of mutual acceptance and respect is what allows individuals with diverging personal values to coexist in civil and economic society. It’s what lets us enter a store or make an online purchase without having to research every company’s stand on contentious political or religious issues. It’s what lets us set aside concern that we may be supporting destroyers of our own personal values, and to buy based on the efficiencies of price and convenience rather than restrict our economic activity to a predefined faction of like-minded providers. But all of that depends on businesses holding to a code of conduct that emphasizes a primary focus on their business mission, rather than on political and ideological posturing.
When businesses abrogate that compact, they set the stage for a fracturing of the civil and economic order. They fail to recognize that when they declare fealty to highly unpopular (or at best, contentious) ideological positions, they are effectively declaring war on much of their customer base. That is a choice they have the right to make, absent government duress — and sometimes, it needs to be made. (Think slavery in the 1850s, or doing business with China today.) But there are potentially dire economic consequences to making it — which is why, historically and traditionally, the business community has shied away from that. It’s a cultural “nuclear option” because of the retaliation it will provoke, and one that should not be deployed lightly.
There are major benefits to an economic system in which companies are driven by a primary focus on their business mission, rather than on taking political and ideological stands. Indeed the latter is more the norm in totalitarian regimes, in which kowtowing to political power becomes a requirement of not being shut down by the state. Greater productivity, prosperity, and time-savings result from the economic efficiencies of a more frictionless ability to source goods and services. That is precisely what is endangered by today’s fashionable prostitution to woke ideologies.
So why have companies that have declared war on so much of their customer base gotten away with it up to now? Because the public, over many decades, has gotten used to ignoring partisanship in making economic decisions, and is slow and reluctant to change that mindset. That’s because they’ve lived, by and large, by Calvin Coolidge’s magnificent aphorism that “The Business of America is Business.” The actual quote is a little longer, but it only emphasizes the point: that the American people “are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world.” ((When a quote is not (exactly) a quote: The Business of America is Business Edition.))
That public forbearance won’t last for much longer. Indeed it’s already hardening, as CNN and Netflix (among others) can attest. And that fact spotlights why many so-called “woke” businesses today are practicing a contradiction. Whether through malice, cowardice, or obsequiousness, they want to take positions that placate the woke mob — and simultaneously, to avoid the consequences of offending their customers. They’ve only survived it so far by rationalizing it with a veneer of good intentions, such as that the woke calls for diversity are honest and have anything to do with actual diversity — and by the Sanction of the Victim. When they end up burned by the very fire they choose to play with, they will have no one to blame but themselves.
Sadly, it’s likely too late now to avoid a hardening of America’s culture, and its economy, into opposing ideological factions. And given the aggressive mendacity of the woke ideology threatening today’s world, it’s arguably no longer even desirable. In a conflict between one faction that basically wants to be left alone, and another with the openly declared goal of destroying everything that the first values, it’s hard to see a basis for reconciliation.