The Week of October 22nd - October 28th


Words according to Thomas, Co-Founder, Sacrificial Goat, and Creative Director of Raven Vanguard

My idea for today’s Once-over is by no means unique, nor is it even my own. Mark Schaefer ({grow})(, and a number of other well-respected writers have touched upon this same perplexing subject matter recently, and with considerably more insight than I can provide for you given the intended brevity of our Weekly Once-over format.

To the grammarians and linguists in our audience, I know that the meanings of the words ethics and morals are distinguishable; however, those distinctions are not at all related to the gist of my musings here today. Therefore, let’s all assume that these words, in the context of this Once-over anyway, are nearly synonymous.

Generally speaking, for-profit business undertakings indiscriminately exert their distinct forces upon society at large. Whether the accumulation of these effects produces something useful, wrong, evil, or indifferent is undoubtedly a matter of perspective. The nebulous intersection between business logic, business objectives, and present-day morality is unusually complex and not easily understood; one could even say that their reciprocal relationships are fraught with potentially unresolvable contradictions. Moreover, complicating matters to the nth degree, the members of civilized societies have long and unwittingly concealed from themselves the full extent of their subordination to the whims and artifice of commerce. Frankly, within the Western Hemisphere, in particular, the United States, commercial enterprise and trade have historically been built upon a series of often unforgiving exploitative relationships. These truths are categorically unassailable.

Consequently, is it credulous and foolhardy, even asinine, to associate profit-making business activities and the need to create shareholder or investor value with ethics or morality? Is it even possible to draw valid and bona fide correlations between these apparently contradictory and binary worlds? Even if a company were to have a moral compass, how do we begin to go about evaluating it? And then, how do we know if a company is genuinely being authentic in its efforts as opposed to engaging in duplicitous and calculating consumer-centric pandering while in search of the almighty dollar? After all, many business industries and most professions have so-called ethical guidelines. Nevertheless, merely having, or professing to have ethical guidelines don’t pertain to the heart of what I have to say today.

Today’s meditation has more to do with realities and expectations than with anything else. To me, it seems nearly impossible for any large company (let’s arbitrarily determine that any company of 50 or more employees is large) to speak with an intelligible degree of moral clarity in today’s chaotic world environment. How does company management even go about the task of deciding upon a moral or ethical path to guide it and its employees in their day-to-day commercial endeavors, much less monitor the potentially dissenting or antagonistic nature of its employees’ after-hours activities?

The following list of thorny subjects is by no means exhaustive (and its ordering is totally random), but imagine an internal meeting among any group of company executives or managers who are being asked to chart or navigate a course through a labyrinthine maze and hell-fire comprised of gender and race inequality, my god versus your god, insidious forms of extremism, nationwide healthcare, genocide, the limits and extent of personal privacy, colonialism (read as the near-utter annihilation of Indigenous Peoples), immigration, the public disclosure of one’s DNA information, sexuality and sexual orientation, love, death, and the hereafter, ancestry and familial ties, global warming and climate change, or, knowingly expressing misinformation or falsehoods as fact; well, you get my drift because there is an endless supply of fucked up shit affecting all of us every day.

So, how does a business that is honestly and courageously in search of the greater good, and other noble pursuits, even begin to navigate these storm-tossed, treacherous, and turbulent seas, especially when there appear to be countless paths to take? What does a socially aware business look like? Whose viewpoints within any given company determine the course to follow or dictate the direction in which to forge ahead? What and whose parameters or criteria are selected to identify and evaluate the ethical pitfalls facing these companies? Once chosen, why those specific parameters, and not an entirely different set, particularly when the first adopted attributes seemingly lack moral clarity? I don’t pretend to know the precise answer to any of these questions, but I can share with you how we do things at Raven Vanguard. Like most everything else, we choose to do it differently.

Admittedly, because of our smaller size, it is easier for us to speak our mind on these complex issues. Within the thickly padded walls of our Studio, we consider our Weekly Once-overs to be idiosyncratic pronouncements of today’s darkening zeitgeist, where something as simple and as foundational as civility now seems so alarmingly and unreachably distant, at times, even beyond our wildest imagination.

Our primary goal in starting these Once-overs was to give Brooke, Dakota, and Nicky an equal opportunity to make public observations about the world around each of us, and to express their admiration, or grievances, or congratulations, or chastisements of, with, or about our earthly neighbors. In choosing to add the Once-over, Brooke and I also elected to exercise no manner of censorship whatsoever outside of those statements that might lead to legal liability for Raven Vanguard, frivolous litigation, and libel laws being what they are these days.

Brooke and I agreed at our inception that Raven Vanguard would never exceed more than 10-12 people in size. For us, in our industry, and with our vision and goals, this is our ideal size. From a social issues philosophical perspective, we were not necessarily seeking homogeneity or uniformity in thinking between those of us who choose to call Raven Vanguard home. Dissimilarity in attitude and thought is perfectly acceptable to us, even welcome, so long as the individuals we align ourselves with are not radically, fundamentally, or belligerently opposed to us on specific controversial or polemic issues. For us, open-minded tolerance in attitude may be the one true common denominator that defines us as a company, and each one of us as individuals.

Moreover, for us, as a business, and as the people who also stand behind it, it’s all about being able to look at ourselves in the proverbial mirror at the end of the day and know that we did our part in setting the controls on this spinning orb of ours in a way that didn’t disadvantage the person standing next to us, across from us, or humankind in general.

Folks need to unshutter their eyes and take a hard look at what is going on all around them. Soon, this helter-skelter morass we find ourselves stuck in is going to get a hell of a lot worse, and then, before we realize it, explode asunder beyond any means of reconciliation or preservation. Suffering exists in every direction we turn, and in every corner of this globe, it is undeniable, but it does not have to be inevitable. If you long for a return to a state of principled and conscientious normalcy, take action today, or prepare to rue the horrors of what tomorrow is likely to bring.