Thought Experiment

Let’s say you work for a very successful medium-sized company that makes highly specialized mechanical instruments.

The company is like most others in the internal squabbles and wishy-washy leadership, so let’s leave that aside for now. That’s just working for a living.

Let’s talk instead about what the company does. They make complicated things. These are intricate parts, maybe made of metal and plastic and ceramic. In and of themselves, these parts are just that: parts. Without context, they’re interesting looking objects rolling off the assembly line. There’s a whole bunch of engineers and designers and receptionists and testers and managers upstairs who have contributed in their ways to getting the product out the door. The products are pretty to look at, even if you don’t quite understand what they’re for.

The company and its competitors—there are a handful of others out there just like them—have no base of retail customers except a few oddball hobbyists. For the most part, this is a B2B operation.

Beyond those mostly insignificant hobbyist customers, 98% of this company’s trade is with monsters. One customer makes knockoff AK-47s and sells them on the cheap to both sides of warring factions in the horn of Africa and to drug cartels in Mexico. Another is a giant defense contractor who uses them to build triggering devices for nuclear warheads, some of which have mysteriously found their way to Pyongyang and Tehran. A few of these widgets are purchased every year by USAMRID. All of these actors are operating legally within the confines of their local laws or in areas where there is no regulation to speak of. But they are all potential and actual agents of terrible destruction, even if it’s not illegal.

Suppose you’re a line level employee at our hypothetical company. What’s your moral responsibility? What about that of a leader of the firm?

This is the kind of thing I wake up thinking about on the darkest day of the year.