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  1. That you find this shocking is all-too-familiar to me. Ever since I whistleblew, albeit reluctantly, I have been ostracized, shunned and treated as prey by everyone – including so-called progressives and all manner of bloggers.

    It is in the keeping people as abstract objects and using their suffering as entertainment, sensation and site traffic generators that also contributes to this.

    Pity is also porn for the pitier, as it also treats the victim as an object – an “other” which is treated as lesser, inferior, less than human and definitely inferior.

    What you are pointing out is the underlying framework of “society” in the US: predator and prey.

    It’s just that some of us have already been picked clean and are dying invisible in plain sight.

  2. Annie:

    I’m sorry you’ve been through all this. I once had a situation where I had to make the call between allowing my firm to act immorally towards a client, or blowing the whistle. I blew the whistle, and paid a great price. But my soul is still here and still kicking. I don’t think that would have happened had I kept my mouth shut. In the end, you’ll regret the consequences, but I doubt you’ll ever regret the action.

    I’m very surprised that Bonesparkle would write this. I would think this is the kind of situation he would enjoy.

    I’d like to present an alternate take on all this. I agree that Jones is not unethical unless she lies about these things. If she’s up front about competing for the job and people want to do that, well, that’s a verbal contract of sorts where both sides know the score. If she wants people to work for less right now, then she will pay the price down the road when the economy turns around and people leave for other firms in droves. She has harmed her reputation in the PR and business community, I suspect, and the price she will pay is likely to be quite a bit heavier than the money she has saved her business.

    The “moral” side is more difficult. I’ve been noodling a model where everyone falls out on a continuum with “selfless saint” at one end and “complete sociopath” at the other. I do think cultural norms tend to push the mode on this line one way or another, and that certain kinds of people are more attracted to one side than the other. Hey, I’ve worked in PR. No offense to the good practitioners, but that’s an industry that tends to attract scumbags like Southerners to grease.

    The upshot is that I don’t buy the idea of self-interest rightly understood, or the more modern term “enlightened self-interest.” People who screw others do it because it makes them feel good. People who help others do it because it makes them feel good. Sociopaths vs. saints, if you will.

    • I’m very surprised that Bonesparkle would write this. I would think this is the kind of situation he would enjoy.

      Bonesparkle enjoys self-inflicted stupidity. And yes, Ms. Jones is fucking her reputation in ways she clearly isn’t bright enough to understand, so when the check comes due I will be in the front row with an industrial-sized barrel of popcorn. But I despise victimization and moral predation.

      I’d like to present an alternate take on all this. I agree that Jones is not unethical unless she lies about these things. If she’s up front about competing for the job and people want to do that, well, that’s a verbal contract of sorts where both sides know the score.

      At one level this is true enough. But let me offer a counter-example that is identical in principle. Say I have no moral fiber at all and $500 to burn. I seek out a homeless guy, tell him I’m going to give him a chance to earn $500. I lead him to a crowded city mall, where, in front of scores of sickened onlookers, I tell him that I stepped in dog crap. I’ll give him the money if he’ll lick my shoes clean.

      Are your example and mine different in degree – certainly. But we’re testing a principle here, and you can’t do that in the gray area.

      The “moral” side is more difficult. I’ve been noodling a model where everyone falls out on a continuum with “selfless saint” at one end and “complete sociopath” at the other. I do think cultural norms tend to push the mode on this line one way or another, and that certain kinds of people are more attracted to one side than the other. Hey, I’ve worked in PR. No offense to the good practitioners, but that’s an industry that tends to attract scumbags like Southerners to grease.

      The upshot is that I don’t buy the idea of self-interest rightly understood, or the more modern term “enlightened self-interest.” People who screw others do it because it makes them feel good. People who help others do it because it makes them feel good. Sociopaths vs. saints, if you will.

      I’d agree, but I’d also argue that you sidestep the point. You’re right – there’s no such thing as altruism. Whether we’re screwing people out of their retirement or ministering to the poor in Calcutta, we’re doing it because it gratifies us in some way.

      The ISSUE, though, is that the national pathology I’m talking about has tilted the scales so that more and more of us are sliding toward the Milken/Madoff/Jones end of the continuum.

      You’re looking at things through an individual lens, I think, whereas I’m looking at the collective disease.

  3. When you think about it, all work is a commodity. Subject to the immutable law of supply and demand, real wages rising when times are good, and falling when times are bad. Two years ago, one could secure an entry level job at McDonalds in my area for $2.00 over the minimum wage. Now, the same jobs are going for $0.25 over the minimum wage, if you can get it. Same job, same requirements, same productivity expectations, for less money. Without resorting to making judgment about the merits of whether wages should fluctuate according to market needs, the fact is that in the real world they do fluctuate and not always with an upwards bias.

    Jeff

    JS is right, if Jones didn’t lie, then she wasn’t unethical.

  4. JS, philosophically I believe that everything everyone does is for selfish reasons. Everything. I guess that means that, along your continuum, I’d say that everyone’s stuck somewhere on the sociopath side.

    Motivation and outcome are separable to me, and I choose to focus on the outcome (and means to achieve it) rather than the motivation.

    Jeff, is truth is the only yardstick by which you measure ethics?

  5. Brian,

    I’m not that cynical about people, mainly because science has replaced philosophy, here. I think most people are in the middle, moving a bit from side to side as circumstances and cultural norms, or subcultural norms, change their environments. It’s no longer conjecture that doing nice things for other people stimulates the brain’s pleasure center for most normal human beings. If that’s what you mean by “selfish reasons,” then I mostly agree, but my “selfish” sits on a base of what brings pleasure and what brings pain (or what avoids the most pain, in many cases).

    And, there is behavior that is unmotivated by anything except hard-wired instinct, like place-preference for example.

    Certain industries tend to draw the sociopaths: advertising, PR, finance, business management, law enforcement, crime, certain areas of the legal profession, and a few areas of medicine come to mind. It’s no surprise to me that someone who runs a PR firm would act in this manner, and even less a surprise that she would fail to see the long-term consequences of her actions. Near-sociopaths are like that.

  6. That’s exactly it, in fact. Seeking pleasure and the avoidance of pain is how I define “selfish,” which is why I say everything everyone does is selfish.

    While I don’t have the broad experience with different industries that you have, I’ve noticed something similar over years of observation – certain kinds of people are drawn to certain careers and certain industries – bankers have one stereotypical personality, journalists another, engineers another, and so on. This is why career stereotypes work – they’re broadly accurate as a representation of some sort of average personality type. There will be some people who are exactly like the stereotype and others that are diametrically opposed to the stereotype (and who still enjoy their chosen career anyway), but the stereotype is still broadly accurate.

  7. Brian,
    Truth is always ethical and outright lies are never ethical. Deception is not always unethical, as one does bluff in a poker game, game of sport, and in business. I’d say that truth would be a major part of ethics as would be honor and keeping one’s word sacred. Acting in self interest is ethical and virtuous. I could never understand why people will laud a selfless person over a self interested person. It seems that some segments of society has it’s priorities mixed up. I’ve often wondered why they hold Mother Theresa in higher esteem than the entrepreneur, who in his own self interest creates a company to get rich. His company might end up adding 20,000 jobs to the economy, giving tangible benefit to society, not the metaphysical benefit of the selfless person.

    It’s not unethical to pay people less during times of declining business cycles. Common sense would dictate that if you could get the same job done, cheaper, that you would take the more economical route and reallocate the saved capital to better uses. In the real world, people do this all the time when they buy goods and services. Wal-Mart is a good example of this. Also, if you get your shirts done at a cleaners, and a new cleaner opens up across the street that offers to do the same job with the same quality at a lesser price, what would you do? Is it unethical to leave a long standing business relationship that you’ve been paying a higher price for someone who will do the same job cheaper?

    In the real world, we’ve been watching the events with the big three automakers and the bailouts. Is it ethical to reward and reinforce the bad behavior of Detroit through bailouts?

    Jeff

  8. So would you say then that truth (not necessarily candor, as the opposite of deception) is a necessary precondition to ethical behavior, but that some actions that are honest could also be unethical?

    Ethics varies from sphere to sphere – that’s one of the differences between ethics and morality, which is supposedly stable across all of life – so I’d say that some people would say that leaving the cleaners you’ve been supporting for years and years is unethical. Others would disagree, and I’d say it falls into one of the infinite gray areas that involve all discussions of ethics and morality. Personally I’d say “it depends.”

    As for the bailout of the carmakers, I’d say yes, but with caveats. In general I agree with you that reinforcing stupidity is a bad idea, but as a pragmatist I have to go with what hurts the fewest and provides the greatest benefit. The question I’m struggling with is whether the bailout was the best way to do it – I’m not at all convinced a bailout was the best way, over the short or long term.

  9. Brian, honest actions could be unethical if a person was duped. Honest actions can be unethical if they involves matters of the heart, such as having perfect candor with your best friend while cuckolding his wife.

    I noticed how you mentioned the “cleaners you’ve been SUPPORTING for years….”
    That statement just answered the moral question.

    We have two different definitions of selfishness. I define it as acting in one’s self interest, not necessarily seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.

    Jeff

  10. @ JS: I haven’t “been through” anything – it’s my ongoing existence. It’s not past tense. It’s extant.

    A DrSlammy:

    Why do you create a hypothetical when real life examples abound? Say for example, where I was promised a habitable room in a house in exchange for cleaning it. It belonged to a clinical psychologist and her teenage son, and both are hoarders. I literally cleaned with my bare hands, not having any ability to purchase gloves and personal protective equipment, dired menses and feces on the floors, rodent droppings in food and throughout the kitchen and bathroom, backed up plumbing and flooded toilets, bathtubs and sinks.

    The habitable room never was proffered as there was waist high garbage, broken furniture and other detritus that the hoarder refused to take to the trash. She deliberately went through all of the trash and garbage bags, and unpacked them, then brought trash back into the house. I returned one day to find all of my belongings strewn on her weed-ridden yard, and she had locked me out of the only shelter I had. I wasn’t paid, and the police told me she was entirely within her rights, and that I was trespassing, while the neighbors got an eyeful and an earful – of me being paraded about as an animal. The state psychology licensing board confirmed that her license had lapsed but refused to take any action against her. In her home, there were many patients’ case records strewn about. I had collected them and placed them in closed cover file folders, but had no ability to store them appropriately. This was all pointed out to the psychologist and the licensing board representative.

    I don’t know why you all keep referring to this as an academic abstract exercise. It’s common practice, and you just haven’t been prey yet.

    Open your eyes. Or at least get close enough to what’s happening that it becomes real and not some entertaining game in ethics.

    To me, you all are unethical. To me, you are all inhumane and predatory. You are just debating using innocuous terms instead of as naked self serving interests. The outcome is the same – you keep the “other” at ten-foot-pole distance and you are aware of the problem but intentionally decline to intercede and to help.

    The victim remains so by your hand, too.

    • Annie:

      First, I think you’re talking to Bonesparkle, but I’ll answer anyway. I’m sorry you’ve been victimized and that you’re in pain, but as a rule when bad things happen the worst thing you can possibly do is lash out at those WHO ARE ON YOUR SIDE.

      A little perspective is in order.

  11. And how does one help you, Annie? We’re publicizing this – that helps you. Knowing about your particular case and giving you a place to publicize your grievances helps you. Voting for politicians willing to address this, writing letters to the editor about things like this, supporting the people and organizations who support you – that all helps you.

    What would you have us do, Annie? Break the law ourselves, or do everything in our power to change the laws and the organizations who should have supported you but didn’t?

    You cannot hold someone responsible for failing to help you and people in your situation if the rest of us don’t have knowledge of the situation.

  12. You “support” every business you choose to conduct commerce with, even if you choose to “support” their lower-priced competitor tomorrow. You’ve chosen to act a certain way, and that indicates your support, no matter whether your motivation is price or loyalty.

    I propose that one’s self-interest is always toward pleasure and away from pain, and so your definition is identical to mine.

    Is it ethical for a company that has promised their employees a pension and health care into retirement to renege on that promise due to changing market conditions? Or is it ethical to continue paying retiree’s pensions and health care even though it will mean less capital for the company?

  13. Annie, for someone who has decided every expression of empathy or sympathy is pornographic pity, you certainly indulge in it on your own behalf. If you don’t want your story talked about, stop telling it. If you think you can read the minds or know the life stories of every writer or commenter on here, you are not only self-pitying but delusional.

    You bitch when your story is told using specifics and whine about being used; you bitch when your story’s elements are discussed in a wider sense and whine about talking instead of acting. This, importantly, is also an area of which you are completely ignorant – which people here belong to labor groups? Which have worked in shit jobs and been treated like objects? Which have protested, sat out, been ostracized, been fired for telling the truth? You think you’re the only one who’s cleaned up shit and blood and vomit and gotten no thanks for it? Grow the hell up.

    Nursing is not the only essential job with entrenched bigotry and institutionalized abuse. You are a grown woman who made a difficult choice and is now paying the price. I have no pity for you whatsoever, but I might be more inclined to investigate and act upon the wrongs you describe if you weren’t such a sinkhole of maudlin self-righteousness. Once you get past the anger, you might be of some use in reforming your profession. Right now, you’re the worst kind of poster child – and I do mean child.

  14. Dr. Slammy:

    The dog crap example is a useful one, but what if the person offering the bum the chance to earn $500 told him that it would depend on whether he licked dog crap off the shoe better than others? Hey, at some point, all of this becomes unethical if the power relationship gets too out of proportion. For instance, It’s common, nowadays, for children in Afghanistan to work from sunup to sundown, then yield their bodies to their employers at night, for two meals a day. One could make a theoretical argument that the children accepted the deal, but it’s Hobson’s choice at that point, and just because one has the power to exploit doesn’t mean it’s ethical to do so.

    Brian:

    OK, if you define selfish as “seeking pleasure,” why did you reject my model? Clearly, someone who is closer to the “saint” end of the scale would tend to act in highly social ways for pleasure. I never suggested he or she wouldn’t? Why the argument? And why depend on philosophy when science has settled the issue?

    As for “types” frequenting certain industries, I agree wholeheartedly. Where I may disagree is that I cannot, for the life of me, remember someone who didn’t fit a type who was actually happy in a job associated with strong stereotypes. For instance, all the engineers I’ve known who were also into the arts, poetry, humanities, and what have you were miserable working around engineers.

    But perhaps I just never met enough of them.

    Annie:

    Well, I’m not sure what you’d have me do. I already tilted at my personal business ethics windmill at great cost to myself and family (temporarily). The way I see it, Annie, you did choose to work in a profession that attracts scumbags, and it’s not surprising that one of those was your boss. Hey, I should know. I once headed up the investor and media relations function for a Fortune 500 company, and Burson-Marsteller was my outside agency. I know the types, and while there are a few nuggets among the tailings, it’s mostly tailings. Right?

    I’m sorry for your pain, and I’m sorry you were exploited by someone who went back on the deal with the room-for-cleanup. Hell, I once rented an office from an architectural firm that booted me out after only three months. By then, I had changed my phone, Yellow Pages listing, business cards, stationery, and you name it. I had a lease, but it didn’t include ongoing noise, having my car keyed, my mail stolen, and all the other things done to drive me out. Were they scumbags? Yep. But that’s the way things are. Some people are scumbags. It is what it is. When I can, I try to see that there are some consequences for their actions, but that’s a fairly rare thing.

    If I were hiring, I would love to see your resume, but I’m not. I don’t see what I can do for you, other than offer sympathy, and if you think our debate on ethics makes us part of the problem, we’ll just have to disagree.

    • The dog crap example is a useful one, but what if the person offering the bum the chance to earn $500 told him that it would depend on whether he licked dog crap off the shoe better than others? Hey, at some point, all of this becomes unethical if the power relationship gets too out of proportion. For instance, It’s common, nowadays, for children in Afghanistan to work from sunup to sundown, then yield their bodies to their employers at night, for two meals a day. One could make a theoretical argument that the children accepted the deal, but it’s Hobson’s choice at that point, and just because one has the power to exploit doesn’t mean it’s ethical to do so.

      You’re asking the wrong question, I think. Remember, my issue goes to a deep-seated social pathology. So the correct question is “what if the person with the $500 to burn did something affirming with the money instead of using it to demean and dehumanize?”

      If one is a “liberal,” that money could have been given to the homeless man. Or he could have been taken to a store and bought warm clothing. Or the money could have been donated to a local homeless shelter.

      If one is a “conservative,” that money might have been given to the homeless man in return for the performance of legitimate work that benefited the community. Or it may have taken the form of a small micro-loan, which a poor but enterprising person could have used to start a small street vending business.

      Take your pick.

  15. This is where a thorough appreciation of Dilbert comes in handy. Call it “stupid employer tricks”. In a tight labour market, I note that employers are introducing all sorts of painful and unpleasant procedures that they wouldn’t get away with normally when they’re more worried about keeping capable staff.

    The best we can do is send these stories on to Scott Adams so he can make fun of them.

  16. JS – Now that we’ve got some definitions sorted out and I know where you’re coming from better, I find that I don’t disagree with your model at all. As you said, both sides can seek pleasure/avoid pain, the difference being finding pleasure in helping others vs. finding pleasure in helping yourself. And I’m cool with that.

    To quote Gilda Radner (I think), “Never mind….”

  17. Brian said,
    “is it ethical for a company that has promised their employees a pension and health care into retirement to renege on that promise due to changing market conditions? Or is it ethical to continue paying retiree’s pensions and health care even though it will mean less capital for the company?”

    Most companies put the boilerplate phrase in the fine print of their contracts that benefits can be changed or eliminated at any time. Although most presume that “This would never happen to my company,” as recent events have shown, pensions and benefits are at risk. When a company tells you in the contract that they can fuck you(they probably will), it is up to you to play a good defensive game. One should not rely on only a pension or the promises of something in the future. It is essential that people take a more pro-active responsibility with their thrift, savings, financial planning, and futures. Leaving your future up to some corporate entity is just tomfoolery….especially since they told you that they reserved the right to fuck you.

    But answering your question, the ethics are a wash as the person was informed up front that theor future benefits were at risk and went into the employment contract with their eyes open. Ideally, the company should pay the retiree the full amount of pension and benefits. Practically, it’s almost impossible to cover completely the retirees. Look at Detroit as an example. The sheer weight of retirees benefits are a drain on the companies. Look at GM for example…they’re the worlds largest HMO that happens to have a car manufacturing business on the side.

    Jeff

  18. I agree completely that anyone who relies on company-offered pensions and similar goodies these days is just looking for trouble down the road.

    Thank you for explaining your position on ethics. It appears that you feel that, so long as you don’t outright lie, and so long as something is spelled out in advance in a contract, that makes everything thereafter that is done in accordance to the letter of the law/contract “ethical.” Implied contracts aren’t binding, and neither are verbal agreements if there’s also a written contract in force – the written contract takes precedence.

    Is that an overstatement on my part?

    (Just a warning – don’t ever let yourself fall into a situation where you’re providing a good or service to the federal government. Legally, verbal agreements of the “yes, we can do that” variety are as binding as any written contract. Which is why every meeting I’ve ever been in that had a government customer in it also had a contracts lawyer involved. Not pleasant.)

  19. Brian, In the past, I learned that verbal contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. I’m surprised that the government will take a verbal contract, with all their attorneys at their disposal,

    The only exception to the verbal contract being worthless is at an exchange where a simple nod of a guy in the pit might mean he bought or sold 20 million dollars worth of something. Those contracts are binding by exchange and federal law, and no exchange member welshes on a buy or sell, despite the potential personal harm. I could tell you stories of my mistakes and bad trades all done verbally that would boggle the mind.
    Brian, I wrote the piece linked below last November about the market and verbal contracts, and it segues right into what we’re discussing.

    http://masteroftheuniverse.wordpress.com/2008/11/27/tales-from-the-pit-2/
    Nobody in the trading business would call my action unethical, in fact most traders applauded the perfect stuff trade, but I wonder what y’all would think…I’d appreciate feedback from those outside the business.

    Now, here’s something that I did that was totally unethical and illegal, but was helping a friend make money.

    http://masteroftheuniverse.wordpress.com/2008/07/24/why-i-dont-take-investors/

    I had good intentions, helped a friend out big time, made him lots of money, and still got screwed. Tell me what you think.

    Jeff

  20. “Leaving your future up to some corporate entity is just tomfoolery….especially since they told you that they reserved the right to fuck you.”

    Except, in an advanced society, an industrial society, vast members of the population must work for corporations because a) that’s how things are made cheaply (economies of scale in production) and b) there simply aren’t enough other things for enough people to do to make a living.. large numbers of the population must work for “someone”. In fact, that’s part of what drives capitalism.

    So, what’s being touted is “you’re stupid for living in society”.

    Clearly, if it’s a necessity of a functioning society and healthy economy for the masses to basically be employed by “someone”, then that “someone” should have rules imposed on them to make sure they aren’t abusive to those fundamentally forced to work for them.

    “Most companies put the boilerplate phrase in the fine print of their contracts that benefits can be changed or eliminated at any time.”

    And for those that didn’t, the “business friendly” government said “whatever, just tell them to go to hell.. we’ll let you fail to fulfill your contractual obligations because it will be hard on your business.. never mind what it will do to those humans you’re screwing over so you can afford that nice new jetliner to fly off to golf outings disguised as real business”.

    So, is it “ethical” for companies to violate their contracts? with the backing/protection of government? then to waste that “saved money” on perks for the top dogs?

  21. Savanster….it’s a shame you never made it to the big leagues or even got up to the plate. Your misery is palpable, and it’s not the misery of empathy, but the misery of personal failure. I feel sorry for you and hope you can find solace.

    Class envy, or envy of any kind will eat you up. They don’t call it one of the seven deadly sins for nothing.

    Jeff

  22. One people wanting to live free of abuse from another people isn’t envy. I don’t envy rich people, I simply want to ensure they don’t make it easy for themselves to abuse me while they “work for their riches”.

    I think some other guys had the same idea in the mid to late 1700s..

  23. Being a self employed business owner myself, I see this all the time in other businesses. My reccommend doing some research on the person and company you are working for and wanting to work for. If you work for a pathetic person who has no morals or respect for others, how to you expect to be treated?
    I have always followed a rule of thumb with my co-workers (yes co-workers not employees) – “never ask of them if you are not willing to do it yourself”.
    Now on the flip side of this statement, if I am willing to do something and you are not and your results are sub-par, than I have a right to handle the situation as I seem fit.
    Associate yourself with people who respect others and you will live a better life and be happy for it.

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