Charlottesville: On the moral case for passing judgement

August 14, 2017

America today is debating the implications of the extremist demonstrations in Charlottesville, and weighing leadership responsibilities for the rioting and murder of a peaceful counter-protester

The unpleasant and unacceptable demonstrations resulted in the death of a peaceful protester, and two police officers acting in the line of duty.

President Trump eventually made a statement which sounded statesmanlike but brought down on himself criticism for his failure to make any reference to the nature of the demonstration.

The objections to this were summarised by U.S. Senator Kamala Harris

From Senator Harris’s statement

As we all now know, this weekend in Charlottesville, hundreds of white supremacists gathered with torches, shouting racial, ethnic and religious epithets about Black and Jewish people, chanting Nazi slurs, waving the Confederate flag and banners emblazoned with giant swastikas. A peaceful protester was murdered. Two brave police officers lost their lives.

And as the country grappled with this tragedy, we were told that “many sides” should be condemned. Many sides.I often advocate that we look at many sides of an issue, walk in someone else’s shoes, and identify and reject false choices.

But there are not “many sides” to this.

“Many sides” is what kept children in this country at separate schools and adults at separate lunch counters for decades.

“Many sides” is what turned a blind eye when Emmett Till was lynched and stood silent when marchers were beat in Selma for “disturbing the peace.”

“Many sides” is what my parents and thousands of others fought against during the Civil Rights Movement.

“Many sides” suggests that there is no right side or wrong side, that all are morally equal. But I reject that. It’s not hard to spot the wrong side here. They’re the ones with the torches and the swastikas.

 

Beyond the moral injunction

The Senator shows the importance of looking at context behind the literal words. President Trump said that all violence should be condemned. No argument with that is there? Until the context is added. Then, the high moral tone of Presidential words requires more precise interrogation. Is he saying that ‘We the people’ are failing to condemn violence against White Supremacists, and that he will help us reach his own moral high ground?

Is this a President who has a track record of seeking to defuse violence, and who avoids condemning those “on other sides”?

And what about Jeremy?

The Spectator found a way of dealing with today’s story by referring to the repeated use of a similar sounding argument by UK labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. In particular, Corbyn is often challenged for his association with revolutionary figures. Corbyn asserts that he wishes to avoid, not promote, violence by meetings with, among others, the IRA leadership decades ago, while they were still engaged in bloody violence against the state. If I follow the logic, the objection is that Corbyn did not condemn the IRA violence, thus showing he is on the side of the IRA.

Enough people voted for Corbyn in June to suggest the case against him in this respect is not a powerful one.

Post Script

Within minutes of my posting the above, news reached me that Kenneth Frazier, the Afro-American CEO of Merck, had quit an advisory council over the President’s failure to deal adequately with the implications of the Charlottesville events. Mr Trump found time to tweet some unpleasant comments about the defection, before offering a moving and complete repudiation of racism in all its manifestations.

So, that’s all right then

To be continued

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Big Pharma’s Philanthropy

June 7, 2011

Drug giants announce a plan to deliver vaccines at cost to the poorest regions of the world. Moral leadership or pragmatic response to protestors?

Tudor Rickards

This week [June 2011] a plan was announced by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Merck, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi-Aventis to cut drug prices through an international vaccine alliance. A week later, Bill Gates and Pime Minister David Cameron got in on the act supporting Gavi.

Gavi

Gavi is a partnership for funding mass vaccination programmes in developing countries. Glaxo CEO Andrew Witty told the BBC about the plan:

If you’re in Kenya or a slum in Malawi or somewhere like that there is no capacity for those people to contribute to [profits to invest in future drugs], so they have to be helped out by the contribution from the middle and the richer (countries).

He struck a balance between the philanthropic benefits of the scheme, and the business model of Big Pharma to generate funds for future investment by maintaining high prices on their proprietary drugs.

Enter Bill Gates and David Cameron

A week later, Bill Gates and Prime Minister David cameron pledged their support to GAVI

The medical plight

The medical plight of many countries is illustrated by the case of Dr Freddie Coker, a pediatrician in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown. Dr Cocker tells of his fight against diseases which result in child mortality rates of 50% which could be saved by drugs if made available.

“I’m very excited. As a doctor, I usually spend sleepless nights trying to see how much I can contribute to reducing the infant mortality rate among under-fives in my country. I’m quite happy.”About 40% of cases we see are due to diarrhoea diseases. The mortality rate can be as high as 50%.”The earlier a child is commenced on treatment, the better the outcome.”


The next step in a long campaign

Students studying leadership will be familiar with the case of Glaxo Smith Kline’s Jean Pierre Garnier (Dilemmas of Leadership, Chapter nine). The case outlines the dilemmas of morality versus profits.

Some call him a humanitarian. He has been awarded the Legion d’Honneur by the French government. He has indisputably taken GSK several rungs higher on the ladder of altruism than any other drug company. But at the end of the day, he says, he runs a for-profit company. And if people are still dying of AIDS in Africa, it is because their governments are ineffective, or do not care. It is not to do with the greed or indifference of the pharmaceutical companies. His vision is clear. He is willing to supply not just antiretrovirals but other medicines poor countries need for epidemics, such as malaria, at cost, he says. Combivir, [a dual combination AIDS drug], sells at $1.70 a day. For a Malawian woman .., it might as well be the price of a flight on Concorde. His answer is twofold: order from GSK in bulk, perhaps for the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, and the price will drop. Secondly, persuade the rich countries to support the Global Fund so that poor countries will have the money to buy GSK’s drugs.

A moral dilemma

Drug companies face a dilemma between two morally right options. The first is to do everything possible to ameliorate suffering through their medical products. The second is to secure enough revenues to invest in the drugs of the future. Big Pharma receives criticisms for its financial model and its marketing methods for influencing the medical professionals. Is this story a case of moral leadership from within their ranks? Or is it pragmatism, and at least partially a result of protests and stakeholder pressures? And in any case, should the ends be welcomed, regardless of the motives?

To go more deeply

News Medical provided a summary of editorial opinion pieces on this story.