Say you’re an activist who got involved in a nonprofit advocacy group — a gun rights group, an ideologically minded radio station, an environmentalist organization, or the like. You get elected to a board that helps run the group, but you decide the group has lost its way. You then take public action to try to redirect the group, including doing things that might harm the group temporarily in order to try to help the cause in the long term. After all, you’re volunteering because you care about the greater good, not in the success of any particular organization.
So here you are, feeling proud of your crusade, and then — you get sued. For what, you ask? For breach of fiduciary duty, since as a director of the group you legally owe a duty of loyalty to the group, and not to the greater good ….
(Eugene Volokh) This is not a “Chicken Little” story of a disturbing legal trend. It’s a fairly straightforward application of the law, as Volokh goes on to show.
Although lawsuits over such things are pretty rare, this area of law strikes me as a “country cousin” to lawsuits in a different kind of nonprofit: when religious folks who think their denomination has lost its way collectively withdraw, they find that they’ve lost their shirts – the property goes to the “apostates” if the denomination is a strong rather than loose confederation. After all: the loyalty’s to the group, not to the truth as your faction see it.
At the County Fair, 1956, by Charles Darling, from The Writer’s Almanac.
When you read or hear those words “larger” and “more efficient” you may expect soon to encounter the word “inevitable,” and this letter writer conforms exactly to the rule: “We should not try to prevent the inevitable consolidation of the farming industry.” This way of talking is now commonplace among supposedly intelligent people, and it has only one motive: the avoidance of difficult thought. Or one might as well say that the motive is the avoidance of thought, for that use of the word “inevitable” obviates the need to consider any alternative, and a person confronting only a single possibility is well beyond any need to think. The message is: “The machine is coming. If you are small and in the way, you must lie down and be run over.” So high level of mental activity is readily achieved by terrapins.
To confess these days that you think some things are more important than machines is almost sure to bring you face-to-face with somebody who will accuse you of being “against technology” – against, that is, “the larger, more efficient business organization” that will emerge inevitably “to the benefit of the many.”
And so I would like to be as plain as possible. What I am against – and without a minute’s hesitation or apology – is our slovenly willingness to allow machines and the idea of the machine to prescribe the terms and conditions of the lives of creatures.
(Wendell Berry, Life Is a Miracle, page 53-54)
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