Moral Mazes: On "bureaucratic ethics" (Introduction, part 2).

Day 3 of our read-along of Robert Jackall's classic work Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers.

So last time I was reading just the introduction of this book and it was knocking me over. Never more so than when I read Jackall's explanation of what bureaucratic work, such as that often found among the managerial class in corporations and organizations, does to people.

Consider:

"Bureaucratic work shapes people's consciousness in decisive ways. Among other things, it regularizes people's experiences of time and indeed routinizes their lives by engaging them on a daily basis in rational, socially approved, purposive action; it brings them into daily proximity with and subordination to authority, creating in the process upward-looking stances that have decisive social and psychological consequences...it creates subtle measures of prestige and an elaborate status hierarchy that, in addition to fostering an intense competition for status, also makes the rules, procedures, social contexts, and protocol of an organization paramount psychological and behavioral guides." (p. 4.)

Basically, if you want the status, you fall in line. This is how you end up with people in corporations telling Jackall things like "What is right in the corporation is not what is right in a man's home or in his church. What is right in the corporation is what the guy above you wants from you."

Does this gross anyone out besides me? And you can tell me "Well, CR, that's just how the system works" all you like. I don't get any less grossed out.

I think this book is blowing my mind because it doesn't seem like Jackall is just describing corporations. It feels like Jackall is describing all of America (and the world too).

So here's the end of the Introduction, and gives you an idea of what is yet to come in this book:

"This book, then, examines business as a social and moral terrain. I offer no programs for reform, should one think that reform is necessary. Nor, I am afraid, do I offer tips on how to find one's way onto the 'fast track' to managerial success. This is, rather, an interpretive sociological account of how managers think the world works." (p. 5.)

And, psst...don't let the boring sound of that "interpretive sociological account" bit deter you. Nothing about this book is boring. Next? On to Chapter 1: "Moral Probations, Old and New."

Want to read our Moral Mazes Read-Along from the very beginning? Here you go:


Citizen Reader Elsewhere: "Tesla's Long History of Silencing Whistleblowers."

Excuse this slight break from our regularly scheduled "Moral Mazes" read-along. I just wanted to let you know that I published another article about whistleblowers at The Progressive magazine last week.

The whistleblower in question is named Cristina Balan, and she has been in arbitration and litigation with Tesla for nearly eight years now. Imagine, with everything else you've got to do, trying to prevail in arbitration and lawsuits against a monster corporation that has all the money and power. For nearly a decade.

Please do read the story if you have a moment and remember to listen to and support whistleblowers whenever you can.

A peaceful Martin Luther King Jr. Day to you. To celebrate, protest something nonviolently. Here's one super-easy way to start: Don't buy a Tesla. 


Moral Mazes: Introduction (1)

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?

Good.

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?

Yes. Yes, it does.

So. What else does Jackall tell us in this introduction to his work? Here are the high points:

  1. (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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!)


Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers, by Robert Jackall

Moral mazesOkay, kids, I know we're all busy and the world is crazed and the last thing we want to do is cozy down in front of the fire with a 300-page treatise on business ethics. I know you don't really have the time to read Robert Jackall's Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers, first published in 1988 and reissued in 2010.

So I'm going to read it for and with you!

Starting today, I'll try and post more regularly than usual with whatever daily gems I get out of Jackall's classic sociological book.

Why am I doing this?

Well, I gotta tell you, for at least 45 years of my life I didn't give "organizational behavior" much thought. I also never gave much thought to organizations in general, or corporations, or how people who work in corporations and organizations get along with each other. This is for one simple reason.

I am allergic to organizations.

If you saw my work area, you'd know I'm allergic to any kind of "organization," full stop. This shocks Mr. CR, because he knows I went to library school and at various parts of my career have been responsible for making sure library shelves and systems are in order (as well as individual books, when I indexed them, because creating back-of-the book indexes is all about bringing order to a text and breaking out its individual subjects so readers can find them in the index and therefore find them in the book).

What can I say? I can understand and follow the Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal classifications. I like reading nonfiction and breaking it down into littler parts that readers can use. But organizing my own mind, home, workspace, life? I'm helpless.

In the greater picture, I mostly dislike organizations and institutions. I don't like their hierarchical structures and their rules and their dress codes and their norms of behavior. I recognize that to some extent we need them, but I do not prosper within them. The only thought I had when touring my son's middle school at Back to School Night was OH MY GOD IT'S A PRISON LOOK AT THE GUN-METAL GRAY WALLS I HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE RIGHT NOW.

Nearly six months later, whenever I look at the CRjr's school, I still break out in a cold sweat. Not least because the other day, CRjr wore his boots and therefore had to pack his tennis shoes--and forgot one shoe. (Yup, that's my boy. Genetics are brutal.) So I drove his shoe over to school because if the elder CRjr cannot run off some of his nervous energy during gym and recess, life is not worth living around here when he gets home. I had to wait half an hour while the office staff called his room and then tried to find him because it was the opening advisory period and some kids were still eating breakfast in the cafeteria. They wanted me to just leave his shoe with them, and they would eventually call him to the office and he could find his shoe on the table of "parent drop-off" items, but I couldn't do that, because I do not trust his office staff. Earlier this year, on the coldest day of the fall, they had set him outside for half an hour on the WRONG DAY for a doctor appointment I'd signed him out for--using their software--so I was not confident they would do their job correctly. I could also not assume that my son would be able to find his shoe on the table, because he often can't find the milk in the refrigerator. (Sigh.) They also won't let any parents into the school, ever.*

That's all more than you needed to know, but you start to see why I dislike large institutions and organizations and companies. And now that I know that, I want to read about why that might be.

And that's why I'm reading Moral Mazes and telling you about it. More to come, but here's a teaser for what the book's about:

"What sort of everyday rules-in-use do people play by when there are no fixed standards to explain why some succeed and others fail? In the words of one corporate manager, those rules boil down to this maxim: 'What is right in the corporation is what the guy above you wants from you. That's what morality is in the corporation.'"

*Please note I waited in the entryway of the school and about a million eighth-graders who are taller than me streamed through the doors where I was. If I hadn't chosen to obey school policy and stop at the office, I could have strolled in with the kids and nobody would have been any the wiser.


Wherever You Go, Just Take Enough Books.

Last weekend I spent a night at my mom's house, as she is getting older and sometimes needs a little additional help.

It actually turned out to be kind of a nice night without the Internet (she doesn't have it at her house) and TV (which I didn't want to watch because I didn't want to be too noisy). Luckily I had planned accordingly and taken enough books. What was in my travel bag?

Edward Snowden's memoir Permanent Record, which I have read before but wanted to read again because, hello, Edward Snowden, I could read about Edward Snowden for a thousand hours and still not get bored.

Terry Brooks's The Elfstones of Shannara, because even us nonfiction kids need a little fantasy every now and then, and it's a good nostalgia read, since I haven't read any Terry Brooks since I was about twelve.

Jane Jacobs's The Death and Life of Great American Cities, because I'm reading it for background info for a novel project I'm working on, and might I just say, goddamn, Jane Jacobs even makes sociological writing interesting.

Kathy Aarons's Truffled to Death: A Chocolate Covered Mystery, because sometimes lately I just need a cozy mystery.

The essay collection Table Talk from The Threepenny Review, because I just subscribed to The Threepenny Review in print and have really been enjoying the short essays I find there. (And, let's face it, I am trying to learn how to write essays because I had a lot of essay rejections this year and I'm desperate to know what I'm doing wrong.)

Daniel Berrigan's Essential Writings, because the actor John Cusack responded to me at Twitter and suggested I read Berrigan and also Noam Chomsky. And when Lloyd Dobler talks, friends, I LISTEN.

Last but not least: Robert Jackall's Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers, because I want to live blog reading this bad boy next year. I'm ten pages in and it has basically explained America to me.

I also wrote in my journal and did some other work and a few hours after she first went to bed my mom woke up and had kind of a surreal conversation with me, in which I learned a few details about my own birth.

Wild times in CR Land. My hope for you this holiday season is that, wherever you are, you have enough books.*

*In other news, title links now go to my affiliate store at Bookshop.org; anything you buy there after entering the site through these links sends a small percentage of the purchase price my way. Thank you!


Bingeworthy British Television, now part of the Willow and Thatch holiday giveaway!

Willow and thatchMorning all, and happy St. Nick's feast day to you. When I was little, St. Nick's was one of my favorite days of the holiday season. On the eve of the day, December 5, my siblings and I got a bag of candies and little treats, always left out on the lawn or a snowbank, and we never, ever saw St. Nick leave it there. Our bag always included a big stick, that then stood in the corner of the living room for a while, just to scare us (although I don't remember anyone ever actually getting hit with it). Mercifully my parents were very nonviolent but they weren't above governing through fear, that's for sure.

Stick notwithstanding, I loved St. Nick's day, and we've continued the tradition with the CRjrs (minus the stick, but with the addition of notes from St. Nick, suggesting "areas for improvement" over the coming year). This year the elder CRjr said to us, "How does St. Nick keep getting that bag on the steps without us ever hearing or seeing him? Does he hide under the hedge?" We laughed and gave thanks for the eldest, who is adorable and also extremely gullible, and we also laughed and gave thanks for our youngest CRjr, who has started to watch us very closely around St. Nick/Santa times and who we think is going to figure out the whole game before his older brother does.

Further bulletins as events warrant.

SPEAKING OF GIFTS! Have you visited the fantastic period drama site Willow and Thatch lately? If not, head over there. They are doing their annual holiday giveaway, and they are offering a copy of my book, Bingeworthy British Television: The Best Brit TV You Can't Stop Watching, as one of the prizes (along with some awesome British telly mugs, all of which I want). Entering the contest for any of the prizes is very easy, please do go check it out!!

Thanks for entering and good luck--I hope St. Nick brings you one of the prizes!


Buying books as presents this holiday season?

I am very, very excited about a new development here at Citizen Reader even though, yes, it is a mercenary development.

I am now a Bookshop.org affiliate, meaning that if you want to buy books from Bookshop.org (and you should--they are NOT Amazon, which is my favorite thing about them), if you buy them through my affiliate link, I will get a percentage of the sale (as will independent bookstores--that's one of the things that makes Bookshop.org so great*).

I haven't made any yet, but Bookshop.org also lets me organize booklists that you can shop from if you're looking for reading ideas, and that I've got to admit that my geeky book soul is very excited about compiling some new booklists there.

So, just in case you are buying any books for anyone (or yourself!) this holiday season, might I humbly request you visit here first and click on the link over in the right sidebar? If you click that, you'll go to Bookshop.org, but you will also see the name "Citizen Reader" at the upper left. That means I will get a percentage of any books you buy while you see my name there.

Thank you so much for considering doing that. And do let me know what books you're thinking of getting for people this year, I love talking books as gifts.

*FULL DISCLOSURE: I enjoy Bookshop.org and have been shopping there for my books for a year now. I have to admit, you will pay more there than you will pay at Amazon. It's true. And I know every little bit counts, and little bits can add up to big bits, so I wanted to be honest with you about that.


American Made: What Happens To People When Work Disappears, by Farah Stockman.

There's a lot to like about Farah Stockman's book American Made: What Happens to People When Work Disappears.

(Okay, except the subject matter. The loss of good-paying blue-collar jobs, and the difficult lives of the people who lose such jobs, is not a fun one. I admit it.)

American madeStockman followed three workers over the course of several years, in Indiana. One was a white woman named Shannon, one was a black man named Wally, and one was a white man named John. She interviewed and got to know them and learned about their work at the Rexnord plant (a plant that made industrial and ball bearings).

Stockman first began researching the plant and its workers in 2017, and decided to focus on the three workers to show not only what happens to people when they lose their jobs, but what those jobs meant to them during their whole lives:

"The more time I spent with Shannon, Wally, and John, the better I understood what the job at the bearing plant had meant to them. It had rescued Shannon from an abusive man, thrown Wally a lifeline out of a dangerous world, and handed John a chance to regain what he'd lost. The machines there might have been old and cranky. The floors might have been coated in grime. The roof might have leaked brown water when it rained. But for the lucky few who'd managed to get jobs there, it had been a place of identity, belonging, and redemption." (p. 14.)

It's a good book, but for me, if you're going to read only one of these types of books (American economy vs. American workers), then that book has to be Brian Alexander's Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town. BUT...there is a place for this book too. It's heavier on the human stories, and definitely lighter on the complex financial shenanigans that go on in American business, although there's some of that also.

Where I got a little annoyed was in the middle, when Stockman admits, basically, that she's a college-educated person who never dreamed globalization could be bad for anyone. Maybe I've read too many of these types of books, but I'm like, really? I'm college-educated and it never occurred to me that globalization would be GOOD for anyone. What must it be like to believe what the economic "experts" tell you? Well, here's how Stockman explains it:

"Then I went to Indiana and started interviewing steelworkers. After I heard Tim the machinist describe NAFTA as a 'sellout job' down at the union hall, I drove back to my hotel room and sat down at my computer, certain that I'd quickly find evidence to prove him wrong.

Every economist I had ever interviewed on the subject of free trade had assured me that it was a boon for the country. Sure, a few people would lose their jobs, they'd said. But on the whole, the nation would be better off. That's what I'd learned in college: if every country specializes in what it's good at--its comparative advantage--things will be made more efficiently, more wealth will be created, and everyone will win. In that narrative, the steelworkers were the unlucky few whose jobs had been sacrificed for the greater good." (p. 186.)

And she goes on like that for a while. It's deeply painful to read. How could someone so smart be so clueless? At least at some point she gets around to saying this:

"There was something deeply disturbing about the way that free trade was being championed by people whose own jobs were not on the line. The more I probed, the more I began to see what the steelworkers saw when they heard fancy people on the news talk about the future of the U.S. economy. 'Our comparative advantage is our knowledge and capital,' declared the men with the money and the college degrees.'" (p. 192.)

Well, no shit, Sherlock. During this entire chapter, I remembered reading Jessa Crispin's book Why I Am Not a Feminist, and how in that book she stated she really just wanted men to figure out their own shit without women having to teach them. That's how I felt here. Come on, "educated" people--figure out your own shit and catch up with the rest of us in the real world, would you?

But overall, I still give the book points for its overall readability and Stockman's obvious time investment in getting to know the people she was writing about.


Happy Anniversary, Knapp Commission Hearings.

On October 18, 1971, hearings began before the Knapp Commission in New York City.

What were the Knapp Commission hearings, you might ask? I'm so glad you did! I just published a whole article about them at The Progressive.

They wishedBasically, the Knapp Commission was formed in 1970 after police officers Frank Serpico and David Durk tried for years to get anybody in the New York Police Department (NYPD) to pay attention to the fact that the majority of its police officers were accepting pay-offs to look the other way on gambling, prostitution, theft, and a bunch of other crimes. The Commission helped bring national attention to the massive problem of police corruption. It focused specifically on the NYPD, but if you read its report, you'll find that a lot of what it suggests as problems and possible solutions would still hold up and provide helpful guidelines for any institution that wants to be less corrupt.

Assuming, that is, any of our remaining American institutions have any interest in not being corrupt.

There's a lot of good nonfiction out there to read about this event and time in history: consider starting with Peter Maas's bestseller Serpico (which, nearly fifty years after it was first published, is still a spectacular read). If you're interested in what all goes on when a "commission" and "hearings" are formed to investigate problems, you might also want to read Michael Armstrong's history: They Wished They Were Honest: The Knapp Commission and New York City Police Corruption. It's a very personal history; Armstrong served as the lead counsel during the Commission hearings.


Must-see Documentary: "United States vs. Reality Winner"

If you know me at all, you know that, in a perfect world, I'd spend the vast majority of my time reading nonfiction.

But did you also know that I used to be a film and TV major (yes, such a thing exists, even though my mother refused to believe it)? And the only thing I like to do to break up my reading time is to watch TV or movies?

Well, now you know.

In recent years, I've also found that documentaries can really give me a greater understanding of some really complex issues. (I'm looking at you, "An Unreasonable Man" documentary, about Ralph Nader.)

This is all a long-winded introduction to the point I'd like to make: If you'd like to see a great movie this week, and you're still not going into movie theaters, please do consider buying a ticket to the Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival and Symposium. Specifically: Watch Sonia Kennebeck's film "United States vs. Reality Winner." If you've heard that name before but have never really understood the facts of Reality Winner's whistleblowing and how she was actually sent to jail for several years for revealing one classified document (that referred to an "open secret" that everyone in national security and journalism circles was talking about anyway)...this is the 90-minute film that will explain the entire complicated situation to you.

I've seen the movie and wish I could see it again and listen to the panel afterward, but I'm running out of time to get stuff done this week and it's only Wednesday. Do you want to see it? I'll gift a ticket to the first person to email me at sarah.cords@gmail.com.