Justifying the Means

On the November 21 episode of Exponent Ben Thompson and James Allworth discussed the recent bad press that Uber has been getting. Ben makes an excellent point. When Uber flaunted laws1 to establish their business in resistant geographies the tech world cheered. However, now that their “flexible” ethics lead them to take actions that the tech community disagrees with everyone is up in arms. Uber’s initial disregard for the law was lauded because they were seen as Robin Hood figures, upending the current system for the benefit of the consumer. It seemed clear that the ends justified the means. Now it is apparent that their initial legal flaunting was indicative of an underlying moral failing within the company’s leadership.2

The question of whether the ends justify the means is apparent in many current events. Does the flagrant abuse of the Constitution by this nation’s security state justify Edward Snowden’s leaking of classified information?3 Does the desirable and necessary end of more humane treatment of immigrants justify Obama’s contemplated executive actions, which effectively ignore current law? Does the understandable anger in Ferguson justify looting and vandalism? These are the questions we constantly deal with in civil society. Working within an established system of laws is so much less convenient than blowing it all up and starting from scratch, but the costs can be large and are almost always unknown.4

  1. Protectionist, stupid, and arbitrary laws that serve entrenched taxi companies. 

  2. Ben Thompson’s question of what moral framework we are even appealing to when criticizing Uber’s actions was probably the most interesting part of the podcast, and most damning of modern society as a whole. 

  3. In my opinion, yes, the leak was certainly justified. That said, I am not sure what legal repercussions should or should not exist for somebody in Edward Snowden’s position. 

  4. The cost I am most concerned about is the potential for tyranny in societies where we appoint leaders (of any party or political persuasion) to plow through checks and balances because the right way of doing things is slow. See this post for more of my thoughts about efficiency and government.