Moral Mazes: Introduction (1)
12 January 2022
So here we are, reading Robert Jackall's Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers, and I have no idea how to do this "share a whole book with you" thing.
So, like I do everything, let's just jump right in.
As noted in the prior post, Robert Jackall's Moral Mazes is about organizational behavior and what passes for morality in organizations.
When I first picked up this book over the summer, I was immediately sucked into its Introduction by the first line:
"Corporate leaders often tell their charges that hard work will lead to success."
I read that, and I thought, I like this book already.
Here's how it continues on from there:
"Indeed, this theory of reward being commensurate with effort has been an enduring belief and a moral imperative in our society, one central to our self-image as a people, where the main chance is available to anyone of ability who has the gumption and persistence to seize it. Hard work, it is also frequently asserted, builds character. This notion carries less conviction because business people, and our society as a whole, have little patience with those who, even though they work hard, make a habit of finishing out of the money."
And after I read that, I thought, Jesus Christ, I LOVE this book, and I'm only one paragraph in.
Go back and read it again. It's beautifully written and straightforward but the first thing we're all going to have to do is get used, once again, to reading something slightly meatier than the latest viral Twitter post or illiterate texts from our children.
Did you read it again?
Now, I'm not going to type the whole book into this blog, although I'm tempted, because of what I've read so far, I've underlined a lot of it. Because almost everything I read here--written in 1988 and then updated in 2010, so basically ancient--has the ring of perpetual truth about it.
Now that you've read that paragraph a couple of times, look around you in 2022. Does our society still have disdain for those who finish out of the money, even though they work hard?
So. What else does Jackall tell us in this introduction to his work? Here are the high points:
- (Well, this is actually from the Acknowledgments, before the Introduction.) Jackall explains that he is a sociological researcher who does his "field work" in corporations. In his research, he "examines managers' work, the intricate social contexts of their organizations, their striving for success, the habits of mind they develop, and especially the occupational ethics that they construct to survive and flourish in their world." That basically explains what the book is about.
- See above. Americans believe (still, to some extent) that if you work hard, you will succeed. And if you succeed, you will make money. And if you don't, you don't matter.
- Within corporations and organizations, however, people may no longer "see success as necessarily connected to hard work." What then, Jackall wants to know, "becomes of the social morality of the corporation"--rules of everyday behavior--when people perceive that "adroit talk, luck, connections, and self-promotion are the real sorters of people into sheep and goats"?
Jackall further points out that, by going into and observing managers in corporations, he learned about their "bureaucratic ethics," or the moral guide they followed within their workplaces.
Tune in next time for an awesome summary by Jackall of why "bureaucratic ethics" are important to all of our lives.
(Also: Please note I don't want this read-along to just be me reciting the book to you. Please get the book yourself if you can! Chime in with questions and opinions! Ask questions! Make the comment section your playground on which to discuss bureaucratic ethics!)