Moral Mazes: On "bureaucratic ethics" (Introduction, part 2).
20 January 2022
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.
"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: