Yesterday, Apple introduced its first app(lication) for the iPhone to feature full frontal nudity. This was subsequently banned later that day (or perhaps earlier this morning) for what appear to be two contradictory reasons. The devloper of this “Hottest Girls” app, on his website claimed that he asked for the app to be removed, saying
“The Hottest Girls app is temporarily sold out. The server usage is extremely high because of the popularity of this app. Thus, by not distributing the app, we can prevent our servers from crashing. Customer satisfaction is more important to us than profits. Those who already have the app will still be able to use our app. To answer the question on everyone’s mind: Yes, the topless images will still be there when it is sold again.”
While Apple itself claimed:
“Apple will not distribute applications that contain inappropriate content. The developer of this application added inappropriate content directly from their server after the application had been approved and distributed, and after the developer had subsequently been asked to remove some offensive content. This was a direct violation of the terms of the iPhone Developer Program. The application is no longer available on the App Store.”
Which brings up an interesting question: which is the better reason? Is it better that a business stop a practice for customer service (read in, “long-term profit”) or for apparent moral considerations? Are both aspects equally laudible or detestable? Should a business be allowed to discriminate on any basis it chooses or must there be some “meta”-reasoning behind it, that is, are some reasons for doing the exact same action better than others and does this make a difference?
To explore this issue, consider the opposite, if it were only actions that mattered: intentions are irrlevant. As appealing as this might be on the face of it, would you really find a lovable, “can’t-get-anything-right” serial killer who, lacking the strength to properly strangle his victims, instead gives them soothing massages? Or what about a woman, who, though she never says anything in public, hates black people more than anything in the world and prays to God (who she fervently believes in) that He slaughter every single one of them? More to the point, we implicitly do believe that the normative reasoning behind certain actions are important, even if not exclusively important. Getting a birthday card from somone is nice, but in our minds can become tainted if we later learn that the person who gave it to us only did it so that we would mow his lawn in return.
But neither do we think intentions are all that matters. Actions do matter. Hugging a bunny is sweet, but crushing it is awful, even if the intent was the same.
Now that we have established that intentions to account for something, we must establish if it is at all possible to rank them. It would be absurd to say “this intention is twice as good as that one” or even to ascribe something like 1.7 gintents (the units of good intention) or 4.5 bintents (bad intentions). In fact, I am not entirely sure one could even compare gintents to bintents or even compare bintents to themselves, could one really be able to say this bad intention is worse than that bad intention? Perhaps, but for this present discussion we will limit ourselves to gintents. But since we held that you can’t rank something as two gintents above another, we seem to be at an impasse. However, this is only if we consider the cardinal nature of our ranking system (where, 2 is greater than 1 and 6 greater than 5.9, based on the numbers themselves). If we, instead, consider our ranking system as one of ordinality (where an amount B is greater than an amount A because it occurs after it) then we have no problem. Even if we do not know how much greater B is than A, simply knowing B > A is enough.
So is customer service > moral considerations? Does it matter? I claim it does matter, but that we are still unable to solve it. We are unable to because one can simply be morphed into the other, even though they can be treated as distinct and separate things. This may be unclear, so for example, consider the case of Sally who works at a customer service desk at Big-Mart. Big-Mart sells guns, which Sally opposes on moral grounds. If a customer comes up to her and asks her where the guns are located, then she is feeling the very real difference between moral considerations and customer service. What should she do?
Well, she works for Big-Mart and her job is to provide for customers. One way she does this is by following certain moral rules (e.g. “don’t yell at the customers” or “don’t lie to the customers” or “be nice to the customers”) which increase both her happiness and the happiness of those she serves. Another way she does this is by giving the customer what they want, for instance, answering questions about bath salts or toilet bowl cleaners, which usually involves little to no moral weight. But now in our example she has to choose between those morals and thos responsibilities.
Or does she?
What is it about “doing your job” that makes it a responsibility? The fact that you are under a contractual obligation between yourself and others which you are free to break (and suffer the consequences of) at any time. What’s so special about your morals? The fact that you are, in effect, under a contractual obligation between yourself and others which you are also free to break (messy issues of “free-will” aside). What I am getting at is that though morals and responsibilities are in reality different, in essence they are the same. And this is where the dilemma arises.
But then again, this may just boil down to angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin argumentation, though I sense there is more to this. If we are unable to decide who comes first, the customer or ourselves, then why have moral convictions at all? This debate is important if but for the simple fact that the distinction between ourselves and others is an inherent classification that all of us already implicitly make (recall our Lady Racist). Our very sense of uniqueness is the foundation for this paradox: who’s more important, us or them?