Drawing the line

Partly in reaction to my reaction to Dropbox appointing Condoleezza Rice to its board, my former colleague and guy-I-like Rob Griffiths asked the important question ”Do Dropbox droppers do due diligence?” As he cited my departure from Dropbox in the piece I thought I’d devote some time to an answer.

[Warning: Those looking for an Internet blood feud will be disappointed. Rob’s a smart guy and it’s a smart piece that’s caused me to further examine my motives. Good on him for bringing it up.]

As you’ve undoubtedly read by now, Rob assembled a list of people associated with the military-industrial complex who sit on the boards of Fortune 500 companies. Given that these people may be considered unsavory by some (as they work or support the tools-for-war industry), why not avoid these brands as well? Rob goes on to write:

"Why is Condoleeza Rice any worse than any of the other names on this list? In some ways, the other names might be worse, because many directly profited from their efforts, instead of 'just' being responsible for pursuing Presidential policies."

Here’s my stab at an answer.

The people on Rob’s list are largely in the arms and war business. Indeed, some of the tools they create and services they provide kill people. While I’m generally averse to wiping other people off the planet, it’s sometimes necessary. I don’t consider this country’s participation in the two World Wars an evil act nor the work of those responsible for supporting those wars an immoral one. And I’m not so naive to believe this country could get along without weapons or a defense department.

Ms. Rice, on the other hand, was more than just a worker bee pursuing Presidential policies. In the run-up to the events of 9/11 she brushed off CIA warnings of an imminent attack, she strongly advocated for an entirely unnecessary war that cost countless lives and deeply damaged this country’s relationships abroad, and she was just as enthusiastic about urging the CIA to use “enhanced interrogation” techniques that reasonable people call by its proper name—torture.

In my view this amounts to a person not only dangerously incompetent, but also one deeply out of step with the standards of conduct we have traditionally embraced. 

The causes and companies we choose to support or revile are, of course, very personal. Like Popeye, we all have different tolerances for whats-we-can-stands-and-we-can’t-stands-no-more. In my case I’m willing to give a pass to most of those working in a necessary but sometimes unsavory business. I draw the line, however, at those who would put the reputation and well-being of my country at risk in the pursuit of a corrupt ideology.