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Behaving Badly by Eden Collinsworth

Genre: Non-fiction
Publication Date: 4 April 2017
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“What is the relevance of morality today? Eden Collinsworth enlists the famous, the infamous, and the heretofore unheard-of to unravel how we make moral choices in an increasingly complex—and ethically flexible—age.

To call these unsettling times is an understatement: our political leaders are less and less respectable; in the realm of business, cheating, lying, and stealing are hazily defined; and in daily life, rapidly changing technology offers permission to act in ways inconceivable without it. Yet somehow, this hasn’t quite led to a complete free-for-all—people still draw lines around what is acceptable and what is not. Collinsworth sets out to understand how and why. In her intrepid quest, she squares off with a prime minister, the editor of London’s Financial Times, a holocaust survivor, a pop star, and a former commander of the U.S. Air Force to grapple with the impracticality of applying morals to foreign policy; precisely when morality gets lost in the making of money; what happens to morality without free will; whether ‘immoral’ women are just those having a better time; why celebrities have become the new moral standard-bearers; and if testosterone is morality’s enemy or its hero.”

My Thoughts: In many instances, Behaving Badly: The New Morality in Politics, Sex, and Business reads like one of those cautionary stories told by grandparents around the world about the decline in society and how things were so much better in their day. Eden Collinsworth is admittedly somewhat of a technophobe so it makes sense that for someone who remains confused about the prolific use of social media would express displeasure at the rampant use of technology and how it has changed or is changing social mores. For all her bias however, she does an admirable job of obtaining information directly from experts and presents a fair picture of changing morality in areas of finance, business, sex, robotics, and the like.

Ms. Collinsworth stresses multiple times the difference between morality and ethics. Ethics are the constraints and rules provided by external sources that dictate behavior, while morality is an individual’s internal guidelines about right and wrong that help a person decide what to do. While the two are often used interchangeably, they are two different concepts. Behaving Badly is all about morality, which is tricky because what may seem black and white for one person may be more a gray area for someone else. Just like no one person reads the same book, no one person will view any situation in the same light.

Throughout Ms. Collinsworth’ year-long journey, she tackles some fairly big topics and interviews an impressive array of people. For her foray into the morality surrounding monogamy in marriage, she interviews the founder of Ashley Madison. Her research regarding morality in business has her meeting with the editor of the Financial Times and the main whistleblower of the Olympus scandal in Japan. She talks about social media and their constant online presence skewing our children’s perception of themselves. She even talks about the future with ideas like artificial intelligence and DNA selection as part of the decision to have a child. What she uncovers may not be as shocking to readers as she finds it, but she does raise many good questions that have kept me thinking about my own morality to such issues. One of the best questions she raises is the idea of whether technology allows us to behave in a way that we never would have previously considered – like actively seeking to have an affair, cyber-bullying, manipulating your online image, contractual agreements and the breaking of them, and so forth.

One of the most chilling sections of the entire book was the discussion on computers and robots and what that could mean for the future. The fact that scientists like Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and Bill Gates, and thousands of other scientists are part of a petition that warns about autonomous weapons systems (in which the military is heavily investing) and artificial intelligence that will someday make human thinking obsolete is the stuff of nightmares. After these chapters, the importance of books like Ms. Collinsworth becomes crystal-clear.

While Ms. Collinsworth does not find the answers she seeks regarding morality in the twenty-first century, she poses pertinent questions that we should all be asking ourselves regarding technology and what its use means for our future. She also has some great points to make about the casualness of sex in today’s younger generations, how globalization is blurring the lines of business moral codes, and how easily it is to sway someone’s belief system with today’s hypermedia. As we head into the great unknown with one the most morally corrupt presidents we have ever had, what that means for society remains to be seen but Behaving Badly provides you with a great starting point for the discussion that we all need to have about our collective morality and what we want it to be after he leaves office.

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