Moral Mazes

Moral Probations, Old and New

I

The idea of the Protestant ethic was formed by Max Weber and says that God’s will is systematic work. This provided the moral foundation for capitalism.

Mass distribution and production efficiency requires a new organization in the form of bureaucratic hierarchy.

No major occcupation or profession in our society has escaped the process of bureaucratization (10).

This transformed the labor force into something entirely different than the traditional Protestant ethic middle-class. Even so the Prussian model of bureaucracy doesn’t jive with the American spirit of individualism and informality. A hybrid formed.

This has a profound effect on those in managerial positions and dictates the morality that occurs within bureaucracies.

The Social Structure of Managerial Work

I

Power is concentrated at the top in the person of the chief executive officer (CEO) and is simultaneously decentralized; that is, responsibility for decisions and profits is pushed as far down the organizational line as possible (17).

Objectives are set by higher management in a hiearchy that trickles down to all employees. One’s immediate boss is to be followed at all times and may never be contradicted.

It is characteristic of this authority system that details are pushed down and credit is pulled up (20).

The CEO acts with enormous influence, power, and authority. This leads to a constant interest in the CEO’s every action and word.

II

A new CEO took over at Covenant and brought about massive changes, a so called “shake-up.” Many lost their jobs in “the big purge.”

Smith became a President at placed many of his colleagues in important positions. The first year he met expectations and everything was going well, but the next he could not reach targets (not his fault the economy was in recession).

Smith himself eliminated management to attempt to appease the CEO. The CEO continued to push pressure to eliminate personel during the recession. Smith eventually resigned.

In his place went Brown who was the “CEO’s boy.” Managers frantically worked to try to justify their existence. The environmental staff took a huge hit.

III

these sorts of upheavals and political struggles are commonplace in American business (32).

Managers know that if something changes near the top, this has effects all the way down the hierarchy. These are usually arbitrary and depend on social ties not work.

Every group fights for their ideas to be heard and for company resources Managers fight with one another to be favorable in the eyes of the CEO.

Everything is painted over with the facade of friendliness, and cooperation During uphevals this fantasy is put to rest.

wise and ambitious managers resist the lulling platitudes of unity, though they invoke them with fervor, and look for the inevitable clash of interests beneath the bouncy, cheerful surface of corporate life. They understand implicitly that the suppression of open conflict simply puts a pre­mium on the mastery of the socially accepted modes of waging combat (37).

Managers often form alliances which are made out of self-interested motives. They need to be plugged-in and have their voice heard if they are to be promoted.

The Main Chance

I

Corporations hire people with basic competence, college graduates (41). However, progress up the corporate ladder is often slow going (42). Not everyone has this drive and some people accept their immobility (43). The rhetoric for many (especially at the top) is that their hard work got them there (44). But:

For most managers, however, future chances in an organization, after the crucial break points in a career are reached, are seen to depend not on com­petence nor on performance as such. Instead, managers see success depending principally on meeting social criteria established by the authority and political alignments—that is, by the fealty and alliance structure—and by the ethos and style of the corporation (45).

There is a lot of subjectivity at these high levels (45).

II

Public image is massively cultivated in these areas (46). Whole systems of complex rules spring up around different corporations with respect to attire especially (47). They must keep up regulated behavior (47) especially exhibiting sexual self-control (48).

Working well with others is also perceieved to be necessary, hence many analogies with football (49). Cooperation pays in times of crisis (50). Here are the general rules for teamwork:

  1. Interchangeability with those on a close level, i.e. genericness with no strong beliefs expressed (50).
  2. Putting in long hours, even if this is unnecessary and completely for outward appearances, as is usually the case (51).
  3. Doing your job, non-prima donnas (51).
  4. “Bowing to whatever god holds sway” (52).
  5. No negativity, happy can-do attitude (55).

Uniformity is essential.

One of the most damaging things, for instance, that can be said about a manager is that he is brilliant. This almost invariably signals a judgment that the person has publicly asserted his intelligence and is perceived as a threat to others (52).

Team-play parlance is invoked to quelch disagreement with the status quo.

Someone who is talking about team play is out to squash dissent. It’s the most effective way to tell people who have different perspectives to shut up (54).

To summarize:

a team player is alert to the social cues that he receives from his bosses, his peers, and the intricate pattern of social networks, coteries, and cliques that crisscross the organization... He does not threaten others by appearing brilliant, or with his personality, his ability, or his personal values. He masks his ambi­tion and his aggressiveness with blandness. He recognizes trouble and stays clear of it. He protects his boss and his associates from blunders. When he disagrees with others, he does so tactfully, preferably in private, and then in ways that never call others’ judgments into question. Even in dark times, he keeps a sunny disposition and learns always to find the bright side of bleak news. In short, he makes other managers feel comfortable, the crucial virtue in an uncertain world, and establishes with others the easy predictable] famil­iarity that comes from sharing taken for granted frameworks about how the world works (56).

Leaders are not “team-players,” they are described in social terms (56). Good image and style is necessary here (57).

I don’t have the responsibility for a salesman’s job in this I company, but sell everybody every day. What I sell is me—myself (61).

The specific criteria of style are dependent upon the current trends in higher management at the time (61). To climb the ladder a corporate underling must have a patron to assist (61).

With all the talk of appearances it must be mentioned that actual performance is a necessary, but not sufficient condition of rising in management (62). The arbitariness of these subjectivities, as manifested by merit pay, are scorned by many (63).

Work comes to be seen as separated from reward (64).

Most managers see their work as necessary subjective. It’s just the nature of the job (64).

III

Failure is also deeply subjective (65). Many times this can lead to unpromotability and only leaving the company will resolve this position (66). However, no one comes out and tells an individual they are in this siutation (66). When one falls from high positions, they become a social pariah (68).

Managers tend to view advancement as largely a matter of luck (70). Uncertainty is normal (70).

I guess the most anxiety provoking thing about working in business is that you are judged on results whether those results are your fault or not (70).

Outcomes are seen to be indepedent of personal control (70). Good people can get completely destroyed just by being unlucky (73).

The point is that managers have a sharply defined sense not only of the contingency but of the capriciousness of organizational life. Luck seems to be as good an explanation as any of why, after a certain point, some people suc­ ceed and others fail (73).

But:

Above all, one must learn to streamline oneself shamelessly, learn to wear all the right masks, learn all the proper vocabularies of discourse, get to know all the right people, and culti­vate the subtlties of the art of self-promotion (74).

Looking Up and Looking Around

I

Scientific management techniques are used to make routine management work, preventing critical thinking and rationality (76). Scientific language is used to obscure impulsive decisions (76). Irrationality cloaked as considered judgement comes to be expected (77).

Difficult decision making is eschewed out of fear (77).

The point is that in making decisions, people look up and look around. They rely on others, not because of inexperience, but because of fear of failure. They look up and look to others before they take any plunges (77).

Two principles underly decision-making (78):

  1. Avoid making them (78).
  2. Involve as many people as possible so if things fail you can point a finger (78).

Decision paralysis isn’t because of lack of authority, but because people don’t want to fail especially when large amounts of money are at stake (78). They want to cover themselves (79).

A chemical plant needed a replacement battery and this decision was deferred, out of fear, until it was too late losing the company millions of dollars. The short-term rationality of decision paralysis sometimes compromises long-term goals. This myopia is prevalent in much of American management (82).

They think in the short-term, because they are assessed in the short-term. If they aren’t able to survive the short-term, there is no need for looking to the future. Such an environment discourages farsighted decision-making (84).

When a decision is inevitable, managers say, “The decision made itself.” Dif­fusion of responsibility, in the case of the coke battery by procrastinating until total crisis avoided real choices, is intrinsic to organizational life because the real issue in most gut decisions is: Who is going to get blamed if things go wrong (85)?

II

Blame is to be avoided at all costs (85) and is most commonly directed at subordinates to obscure bad decision-making by upper management (86). Someone is going to be a scapegoat (86).

A system of responsibility tracking would resolve this. However:

An explicit system of tracking accountability would presumably have to apply, at least in the public forum, to top executives as well and would restrict their freedom. Bureaucracy expands the freedom of those on top precisely by giv­ing them the power to restrict the freedom of those beneath (88).

You have to cover your ass (88). You have to protect yourself, which requires politics and connections (89).

III

Moving in the company allows one to “outrun” mistakes, shifting the blame to others (90). Cynically put:

In fact, one way of looking at success patterns in the corporation is that the people who are in high positions have never been in one place long enough for their problems to catch up with them. They outrun their mistakes. That’s why to be successful in a business organization, you have to move quickly (90).

You have to milk your current situation without regard to the far future. For this you will be rewarded (91).

Essentially, when I think of milking a busness, I think of shutting off any capital expenditure and anything that is an expense. And you know what happens when you do that? The guy who comes into that mess is the one who gets blamed, not the guy who milked it (92).

The lower managers, the ones running the plants, have to deal with the heat for this. Sometimes only regulatory agencies like OHSA can force upper management to pay for the necessary expenditures (94).

In fact, however, the manager who “takes the money and runs” is usually not penalized but rewarded and indeed given a license to move on to bigger mistakes (94).

IV

The ethos of management may be summed up as follows:

The code is this: you milk the plants; rape the businesses; use other people and discard them; fuck any woman that is available, in sight, and under your control; and exercise authoritative prerogatives at will with subordinates and other lesser mortals who are completely out of your league in money and status. But you also don’t play holier than thou. This last point is as important as all the others (97).

Within the institutional logic of short-term profit, attempts to redress errors can be fatal to one’s career (100).

Drawing Lines

I

White’s report on the prevalence and danger of hearing loss was ignored by upper management because it was framed as an ethical issue and not as an economic one.

Management was worried that it could have alerted workers to the fact that many were elligible for compensation due to their already deteriorated hearing.

None of the higher managers looked out for White or his concerns.

II

Brady is an accountant who discovers the CEO’s deceptive and potentially reckless accounting practices. There is a clash between his personal morality and the prevailing practices of the corporation to just keep quiet.

What is right in the corporation is what the guy above you wants from you. That’s what morality is in the corporation (109).

Brady (and his proxy) are fired and the memo revealing the fraud destroyed.

III

Wilson is a plant manager at Three Mile Island. After concerns over the safety of the cleanup process, he is overruled by his superiors and has his responsibility diminished.

He loses his job and ends up going public with the information.

IV

Kelly is informed by a technician that a drug which uses their raw material has been tested positive for glass. Kelly notifies the CEO of the company in question, but nothing happens. He doesn’t push any further (121).

Black suggests to a plant manager he should go ahead with the request to build protective dikes for the local fire station. Nothing ever comes of this and the dikes aren’t built (122).

Reed is notified about potentially illegal burying of pesticides. He is eventually excluded from all conversations and is kept in the dark (123).

Instead, when one encounters a troublesome problem that must be addressed, one strips away its emotional and states moral aspects and asks what outcomes would be most congruent with institutional logic and of advantage to oneself and to one’s social network (124).

Sometimes the emotioness objectification of workers that is standard managerial practices is broken by in-person visits (125).

As a rule, however, the various insulations provided by both office and social status prevent such unpleasant episodes from occuring too often (126).

Tucker is an engineer and discovers that a new experimental textile blend has major problems. He notifies his superiors and it is immediately pulled and someone is fired. All reports of the incidence are silenced (128).

Tucker later is informed that workers may be exposed to a potential carcinogen. He fixes the problem, but does not notify the workers (131).

Dexterity with Symbols

I

Managerial work often involves a highly complex system of symbols and euphemisms. There are many purposes for this language. It enables abstract vague reinterpretation to protect higher-ups with plausible deniability. It allows one to be emotionally cut off from the content of the message.

at the request of the food industry, the Department of Agriculture renamed the “powdered bone” increasingly used in processed meats as “calcium” (136)

These terms obfuscate meaning and reduce the likelihood of public intervention.

II

Managerial consultants have their history in two developments.

The first is that of Frederick Taylor who applied the principles of science and engineering to the study of management and business. Many companies embrace this objective study in an attempt to increase efficency and capital gain.

Elton Mayo wanted to determine how one could make workers happy. This lead to corporate sports teams, picnics, etc. High morale is thought to increase productivity.

Management consultants make tons of money while by espousing the latest jargon-filled productivity increasing schemes. This is used to give the higher-ups the appearance of being innovative and to justify their practices. Consultants are often vague in their job because they are endlessly flexible to the desires of the corporate elite.

But then, managers need and desire the mask of objectivity to cover the capiriciousness and arbitrariness of corporate life; consultants want to maintain their occupational self-image as experts. Each group fules the other’s need and self-images in an occupatioanl drama where the needs of the organizations get subordinates to the maintenance of personal identities (144).

III

Inconsistency while appearing consistent is necessary for managers. They have multiple ideologies while dealing with different people and get defensive when others point out inconsistencies.

Managers see themselves as victims of many others groups, environmentalists, the media, consumer advocates, etc. who have their own anti-business anti-science hypocritical agendas. This trend was born in the 1960s and 70s where activists compared corporate practice to business exploitation in the gilded age. The public has grown increasingly skeptical about science and rationality especially of the chemical industry.

Modern corporations also blame consumers and their use of tort law to exploit businesses perceieved to be fat cats.

Managers often claim to be the victims of verbal assault from others who act sanctimonious towards them.

Cotton dust causes brown lung, but corporations can come up with plausible explanations in their defense that jive well with their worldview. Of course the spin is biased in their favor. When do implement fixes to concerns, it is usually not for moral reasons.

Privately, executives admit that without the productive return, they would not have—indeed, given the constraints under which they operate—could not have spent the mone (159).

Managers must learn to distinguish between the constructed reality offered by the official statements of a corporation and what actually goes on behind the scenes.

The Magic Lantern

I

Corporations hire public relation firms to disseminate information and promote their ideologies and ethics.

II

Reichenbach is described as a genius at publicity stunts which help promote usually films through great spectacle. Even if it was ficitional and planted, it was effective. > Reichenbach discovered at an early age the seemingly inexhaustible > gullibility of the crowd and, indeed, its complicity in its own > deception (165).

Ivy Lee advocated for a less deceptive version of public relations as an intermediary between business and the public to promote good practice.

The success of American propaganda during WWI convinced many that public relations could be successful in shaping public opinion.

Since WWII public relations have become ubiquitous. We are constantly being baraged with messages which have been shaped and crafted especially by public relations firms to appeal to the public and promote certain businesses or ideologies.

III

Clients always want certain versions of reality propagated (170).

Public relations agencies are often times must acquiesce to the clients wants. Often times when a new CEO enters, they get rid of the old firm. All events become stories which are crafted to satisfy the corporation.

But as long as a story is factual, it does not matter if it is “true” (172).

Public relations people do not see themselves as in a different profession from journalists. They both deal in stories which do not really inform, but more entertain. They just see their stories and constructions as promoting the free-market values.

Advertising uses direct means while public relations takes a somewhat indirect role (proposed by Bernays) to spin facts and promote business.

When the use of CFCs were in question, the EPA proposed new legislation to limit their production. Under the guise of a coalition of small businesses, large chemical corporations caused public opposition to the effort. This was their “front”.

Often times these front organizations sound scientific and release scientific information which supports business interests.

Men and women in public relations know therefore that, as a rule, science is as science seems (179).

Public relations firms support a kind of truth relativism whereby facts can always support the client and interpretation is everything.

IV

Public relations practicioners are highly skilled at doublethink and recognize this as a professional virtue. It also can make them cynical.

They legitimize their work in a number of ways. They may agree with the interests of their client, appeal to a commitment to a client (as a lawyer does), or look at the social-good of their work. Sometimes it is the virtuosity of the work itself that makes it legitimate.

People often criticize public relations firms.

It makes them very uncomfortable because we remind them of themselves (188).

People often rationalize their actions in a number of ways to convince themselves they did no wrong.

An essential role of public relations firms is to convince managers through rationalization of a particular message. They foster a half-belief in the managers through a pleasant narrative. This process is exemplified in the “rehearsal of legitimations”.

Invitations to Jeopardy

I

Bureacracy undermines classic Protestant work ethic. A drive to hard work (191).

In the bureaucratic world, one’s success, one’s sign of election, no longer depends on an inscrutable God, but on the capriciousness of one’s superiors and the market; and one achieves economic salvation to the extent that one pleases and submits to new gods, that is, one’s bosses and the exi­gencies of an impersonal market (192).

Managers are Darwinian, constantly in a personal battle for survival in a hostile environmental constantly subject to upheaval. The skill to survive, of alliance-making, is called leadership (193).

What matters in the bureaucratic world is not what a person is but how closely his many personae mesh with the organizational ideal; not his willingness to stand by his actions but his agility in avoiding blame; not his acuity in perceiving falsity or errors but his adeptness at protecting others; not his talent, his abilities, or his hard work, but how these are harnessed with the proper protocol to address the particular exigencies that face his organization; not what he believes or says but how well he has mastered the ideologies and rhetorics that serve his corporation; not what he stands for but whom he stands with in the labyrinths of his organization (193).

II

Some of the requirements of management are incompatible with Judeo-Christian beliefs (195). Managers often question purpose and value of their work (198).

Altruism in business, in the form of corporate social responsibility, is always claimed to be for ulterior motives. From a different perspective, this may look plausible (200).

Managers often feel that, however genuine it may be, altruism is a motive that is always denied them by others (201).

Increasing abstractness yields a yearning for concrete work and a belief that one’s job is not important or useful (202).

III

Managerial life requies immense self-rationalization and ambition. This has negative consequences on the manager whose self-obsession and continuous comparison to others yields anger and unhappiness (203).

As it happens, given their pivotal institutional role in our epoch, they help create and re-create, as one unin­tended consequence of their personal striving, a society where morality becomes indistinguishable from the quest for one’s own survival and advantage (204).