Quality vs. values

Manton Reece (advocate for the open web and creator of micro.blog) wrote (italics in original):

[There seems to be] a trend where execs are becoming more public characters — with their random dumb thoughts posted online — at the same time that everything is becoming political. So now we buy products based on our values instead of quality. Sometimes good, sometimes taken too far.

I don’t know what he means by “taken too far”.1

This is where I think I disagree with Reece: Who gets to define “quality”?

To use the example he’s talking about, a car can have many qualities, in the sense of “peculiar and essential character”: It can have an electric motor (or motors), it can be comfortable, it can have a quiet cabin, it can offer a smooth ride. It can also be built by a company whose owner and face2 had a regrettable habit of intemperate anti-Semitic statements.

Here’s the thing: We are spoiled for choice these days. I can go to the grocery store and choose from scores of varieties of potato chip, or sandwich bread, or apple. If I don’t like one, or I change my mind about it, or it starts demonstrating new and unpleasant qualities — say, the Fuji apples have been pallid and bruised for the past couple weeks — I can choose to spend my money on a different apple.

The same even applies to electric cars. Today I can choose from among scores of electric cars! More are being released all the time! Many of them are not great, but quite a few are. “Owned by awful person, who presumably earns a profit when one of these things is sold” is a quality of some cars, and I believe that makes a car low-quality, in the sense of “superiority in kind”, regardless of what other qualities that car might have, or what other people believe about those qualities.

Yes, I am limiting my selection when I do this. That’s good! We need to narrow our choices, or we face analysis paralysis. “Must have a range of at least 150 miles” and “must have physical knobs for climate control” are ways I can narrow the choices. “Must not be owned by an awful person” is another that I choose to include.

I can do this for other things beyond cars, too. I don’t have to watch a comedy special starring a guy who consistently punches down rather than up, or who is a well-known sex pest — there are hundreds of other good ones I can watch instead. I don’t have to listen to an album by a guitar wizard who has become an anti-vaxxer — lots of guitar wizards out there; I don’t need to send my money towards this one.

So I don’t understand why ruling out an electric car — one of scores I can choose from — might be “too far”. I’m not choosing products based on values instead of quality. I’m choosing products based on quality, and I define quality in part in terms of my values.

Edited 12/17/2023: Corrected the spelling of Reece — thanks for the correction, William, and I apologize for the misspelling.

  1. This is actually a rhetorical technique. I think I know, but I disagree. ↩︎

  2. Yes, Ford was an anti-Semite — a particularly gross one — but of course we’re talking about the other guy and his car company. ↩︎