13 June 2011

Post 392: Hell at the Breech

Hell at the Breech by Tom Franklin. ISBN: 9780688167417.

How much are we ethically influenced by our jobs? How often do we do things in our work that we might not do if we had a "choice" of doing them versus keeping our jobs? This question is raised by Sheriff Billy Thwaite when he has to make the decision to uphold the law as it's written or break it in order to serve and protect his people, as he has been hired and is expected to do by his community. Franklin (through Thwaite) states it best here,

"His goddamn badge. Its weight inside his coat was a thing he'd grown accustomed to, a thing he wasn't aware of--like some internal organ going about its silent duty. And like some silent dutiful organ it operated a part of him, did for him certain things he'd not have otherwise done. As if his conscience had become grown about the badge and shaped around it like trees he'd seen with bark grown over metal signs nailed to their trunks, the sign as much a part of the tree as leaf or root." Page 170.

Most of you might be thinking to yourselves that you don't have a job where your personal morals, ethics, whatever get in the way of doing your job. Well, either you're very lucky, you own your own small business and treat your employees extremely well (are you hiring?), you have never thought about it, or you are so corrupted you are not certain where your true values lie. Think about even the lowly line cook. Surely s/he knows that the meat being served at the restaurant is probably not quite as good as the restaurant claims. At the very least s/he is forced to cut corners in order to meet quotas or fill orders within a certain time frame so that the cashier doesn't get yelled at by some asshole customer who can't wait the extra three minutes it would take to make absolutely sure his kid's burger doesn't have live tapeworm eggs.

Even in the library field we run into ethical dilemmas. In fact, I may have run into them more than at any other job I worked, because it is the one profession I've been trained for where they are almost more obsessed with ethics than doctors and philosophy students. We have privacy issues, we have issues of freedom of speech, we have access issues, have to deal with the homeless, the potentially homeless, the mentally ill, the physically ill, various levels of mental capacity and use, various levels of technological abilities, and the issue of which really useful service or staff member to cut in times of budgeting crises (which has been pretty much all the time).

Possibly the least challenging ethical question I was faced with during my day as a graduate reference student: "This student is in a hurry, do I try to show them how to do this on their own, or do I assume they won't pay attention anyway because they're too busy thinking about getting to their class across campus in five minutes?" Some days that question was easier to answer than others and some days I had harder questions, such as, "Do I email this article to someone from one of our databases even though I know it violates copyright law, but gee, our vendors have been steadily raising the cost of electronic journals and well, if they've taken a hefty chunk out of our asses..."

These may not sound like life changing moments, but when you think about how much time we spend at work making those kind of decisions, it can't not affect who we are as people. Some of that ethical fortitude is going to seep out into our "regular" lives and our interactions with family, friends, and strangers on the bus or at the Starbucks. The question is... Should it be allowed to? And if not, how do we even begin to change how businesses are run so that people can maintain their integrity and still do their job without causing too much chaos for business owners? Or do we all agree that leaving our integrity at the door when we sign up with HR is the best possible thing for god and country?*

This review from the Book Reporter was pretty accurate. I still found Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter to be the superior novel, if only for the lyricism of the prose.
LibsNote: Borrowed from a family friend.
*However you choose to define them.

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