Saturday, January 19, 2019

We Don't Need High Sparrows. We Need Companies to Do Their Jobs.

Many, many articles have been written about Gillette's deeply misguided advertisement/short film; indeed, I almost feel silly adding my voice to the chorus. But upon reflection, I think I might have at least one new thing to add.

First, let's be perfectly clear why "We Believe" deserves the torrent of criticism it has received:

It portrays bullying as a gendered issue. In junior high, I was awkward, nerdy, and not traditionally feminine. Consequently, I was the favorite target of the cattier girls, who made fun of my clothes, my hair, and my love for science fiction. To this day, I thank God that I went through the travails of puberty in the early 90's; if I had been born after 1995, I'm sure this same clique would have followed me into cyberspace, closing all of my avenues of escape. To this day, I also envy my male counterparts; somehow, getting my head dunked in a toilet seems like a better punishment for being Odd than the years of emotional abuse I actually endured. The upshot? Bullying may take different forms depending on the gender of the bully, but it is a human problem, not a male problem.

It implies that rough play makes bullies and sexual harassers. Actually, what rough play does for all mammals - including human beings - is allow the young to understand their physical limits and learn how to control their limbs. If you arrest this natural exploration, then what you get is a flood of patients in pediatric physical and occupational therapy who've been referred for treatment because they accidentally push too hard on the playground or are otherwise unusually clumsy for their age. The conclusion? Boys tussling at the backyard barbeque are doing exactly what they are supposed to do and should not be stopped unless somebody actually gets hurt.

It suggests that only "some" men object to the mistreatment of women. I don't know anything about the people who greenlit this ad, but I suspect they don't have much experience with real red-blooded American men. The men I know would happily string up a Harvey Weinstein if 1) they knew about his slimy exploits and 2) they were assured they wouldn't be punished for letting loose their inner shadow. The men I know have armed their girls because, in their words, "A rapey dude who approaches my daughter should have to fight through a hail of bullets first." So here's a thought: maybe the problem here isn't men in toto; maybe the problem is certain subcultures (like Hollyweird, for example) that poo-poo displays of virile strength instead of channeling them to prosocial ends.

It ignores the good things men do every single day to make our lives worth living. Last time I checked, most soldiers, cops, and firefighters are still men. So are most high-wire electricians and plumbers, and so are most crab fishermen. We owe the safety of our streets, the reliability of our utilities, and even our culinary luxuries largely to men. So until I see large numbers of women volunteering to, for example, spend their work days standing knee deep in shit inspecting a municipal sewer, I think we need to stop blaming men for everything that's wrong with society and start celebrating them for keeping our civilization viable.

So yes: this ad was hot garbage. But now let's zoom out and address a larger issue that Gillette's woke moralizing reflects -- because as we all know, this is not the first time a business has lectured us about the supposed failings of our society. I'm sure my readers remember, for example, Starbucks' ill-fated attempt to offer conversations about racism with their lattes -- or Burger King's recent "chick fries" stunt, which was designed to make a point about the "pink tax" (as if women are forced at the point of a gun to buy the pink razors instead of the cheaper blue ones). Wherever you look, it seems, the elites of corporate America are donning the garments of a new secular priesthood.

Why, I wonder? Are they trying to cover something up? Are they using this virtue signaling to distract us from their flaws?

Last week, I remarked that companies had three basic responsibilities:
  1. Sell a quality product.
  2. Treat their customers with respect.
  3. Treat their workers with respect.
So how is Gillette - and its parent company, Proctor & Gamble - doing on these metrics? My dad and I both use Gillette products and have encountered no major issues with quality -- but since we haven't used any other shaving products, maybe we're missing something. Could Gillette's razors be better? Are its factories cutting corners? And what about P&G's customer service? If you do have a complaint, does the company handle it professionally? And lastly, does anyone out there work for P&G? Are you remunerated well? How are your benefits?

If P&G is hitting all three bars, it's behaving in a perfectly ethical manner and therefore has no need to prove it's "socially responsible" by releasing tendentious ads taking sides on social issues. If not -- well, perhaps fixing its internal problems is a better use of the company's time.

Sound unsatisfying? Fair enough. If you, as a corporate CEO, are itching to do more, have you looked right outside your window? Where are your offices and factories located? Are you a generous member of your immediate community (or communities)? Because it seems to me that cleaning up a nearby park, say, or donating supplies to local schools would be a less obnoxious, less polarizing way to make the world a better place.

As Jordan Peterson counsels, set your own house in order before you criticize the world.


  1. Great article, and I have said this in other forums, this is what is being taught in business school now. I was suffering my way through an MBA program about 15 years ago and the program had more to do with social justice and corporate citizenship than it did to any kind of fiduciary responsibility, supply chain management, etc, completely depressing experience. We are now reaping the fruits of that.

  2. In 3 basic responsibilities you forgot; make a profit.

    1. That's typically a consequence of those three.

    2. Making a profit, I figured, was a given. ;)

  3. Agree.
    Companies also have a duty to make a profit.
    Gillette put that and their employees at risk.