zondag 28 juni 2015

Corporate Ethical Officer

Following its blameworthy behaviour around a public tender, Dutch Railways has decided to appoint a Corporate Ethical Officer.

You would better not think of getting that job. The splitting off of ‘ethics’ may very well be designed to give the other managers a free hand again, because formally the ethical side will then be covered. Being manager of ethics you will be forced to slow down the other managers in their ambitions, while they, to their feeling, are engaged with the reál work. You will then be the, probably little respected, spoil-sport.

I conceive this measure as an illustration of our tendency in organized life to excessively divide what can actually not be divided. It is questionable whether ethics is separately available, because actually it must be present in everything. Ín the people, ín what you do with each other, and not as an isolated category.

Does this last conviction of mine mean that I end up with the so called ‘virtue ethics’? This is the ethics that incites people to anchor virtues – such as temperance, courage, justice – in their character. With them managers and other employees of the organization would no longer need an external monitoring body because they act virtuously from themselves.

Surely there is something to say for this virtue ethics, at least it is hard to be against it. But I’m not a big supporter, because there is a hint of arduousness around it. You need to constantly work on your character, train your whole life long. Again, one can hardly object to that, but as to me, I would like to have it a little more relaxed.

Besides, how do you measure virtues without immediately entering into the false categories of which the ‘manager ethics’ is also an exponent? If you want to call in virtues in an operational way, the risk is considerable that once again you reduce moral qualities to defined characteristics and places them outside yourself.

It is funnier, and more relaxed, to just stumble upon good relationships, to find them in reality. The problem is, if that good is not to be a pre-defined, fixed category, then it must continually emerge in the situations and configurations that happen, in the relationships that occur. So, less in people and things, but between what happens. There is something surprising and unplannable to that.

But it shoúld be that way, because sharp demarcation of categories often does not convince us any longer. Think only of the ‘manager ethics’.

Also see Defining the world