Tuesday, July 23, 2013

work ethic


You will no doubt be questioning my own work ethic if I simply send you to this very good piece, On 'work ethic', by Peter Womack on the OUP blog. It makes me question mine too, though probably in a different way...

26 comments:

  1. That's an excellent article, and it makes me want to read Weber. The imperative to work hard is fairly widespread in America these days, and I've always been wary of whose interests that imperative serves. It's nice to see that Weber had his own ideas about this.

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  2. Yes, I think these lines gave me the most food for thought.

    "That is, the shared beliefs of employer and employee caused both of them to act in the employer’s interests. ‘The work ethic’ is not the same for everyone: it depends where you are in a system of working relationships. Abstracting the phrase from the system loses that subtlety."

    I should probably read Weber too. Whether I will or not is another question.

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  3. I bought the book today, an edition with a good introduction. I shall try to find some plausible connection with crime ficiton so I can make a post.

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  4. What edition, in case I suddenly develop a work ethic?

    Capitalism and crime? You won't have far to look.

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  5. Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics. And yes, capitalism and crime, like communism and crime, go together, don't they?

    I had never thought of the matter before your post, but coaches and sportswriters who used to say an athlete worked hard will now "praise his work ethic." It's a cliche arguably stupider than most because the great Bill James (the baseball writer/thinker, not the great Bill James the crime writer), among the very few people paid to talk about sports whose work presents evidence of even minimal brain activity, says that one of the defining characteristics of professional athletes is how hard they work.

    Athletes who displayed hustle on the field or were said to play in a gritty manner used to be called "blue-collar" or lunch-pail" athletes. But high salaries for players and the vanishing of the working class have put an end to that.

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  6. On the athlete side, we must really give credit to Peter Womack. The phrase caught my eye because I heard Jeffrey Donovan use it recently when talking about the other actors on Burn Notice. I wasn't skeptical, because I do think the actors on the show do actually have to do a lot of physical work on the show. But really, unless we completely own the output of our own labor, we should all be a bit skeptical of the phrase. I don't really have high regard for people who are lax on the job, but Womack makes me question myself a little. Why exactly should we have a work ethic rather than some other kind of ethic?

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  7. It depends on the extent to which the work one is being asked to do is worth doing.

    This hit me like a thunderclap one year when I was talking with Jon Jordan, who has organized several Bouchercons, about his frustration with complainers. The same words that sound like hollow bullshit in the mouths of managers rang true coming from him.

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  9. I wonder to what extent, if any, the notion that work ought to be fulfilling and fun, and that these two f's can drive one to work hard and enjoy doing it, plays in Weber. I have just started reading the text, which includes this assertion:

    "(W)hat is often forgotten is that the Reformation meant less the entire removal of ecclesiastical authority over life than the replacement of the previous form of authority by a different one. It meant, in fact, the replacement of an extremely relaxed, practically imperceptible, and scarcely more than formal authority by an infinitely burdensome and earnest regimentation of the conduct of life [Lebensführung], which penetrated every sphere of domestic and public life to the greatest degree imaginable."

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  10. I heard Jeffrey Donovan use it recently when talking about the other actors on Burn Notice. I wasn't skeptical, because I do think the actors on the show do actually have to do a lot of physical work on the show.

    But why say someone has a good work ethic when one can say that person works hard? What value do the extra words add?

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  11. I think you can do work you think valuable and still complain about it. At least, I can.

    Yes, what I meant about Donovan is that I realized after reading the article by Womack that he had picked up a buzz phrase.

    I may have to read Weber. That sounds interesting.

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  12. In re complaints, a few years ago at the P&P, the manager said he hated complainers, I laughed and said: "Danny, do you realize who you're talking to?"

    He said: "You complain that standards are too low, not that you work too hard" and other such petty stuff. That was a moment of self-revelation right up there with the Jon Jordan conversation I mentioned earlier. The situation of working for a wasting company in a dying industry places all kinds of interesting contraints on what ethic one ought to have towards one work,

    Weber also travelled to the United States and wrote an essay called “`Churches' and `Sects' in North America,” included in my edition of The Protestant Ethic. The introduction calls him a German Tocqueville.

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  13. The situation of working for a wasting company in a dying industry places all kinds of interesting contraints on what ethic one ought to have towards one work

    This is exactly the kind of question I'm left with after my own work experience. The kerfuffle that ended my time at the bookstore is of little interest to me, but the bigger questions about being asked to be devoted to something that's moribund linger.

    I'm reading An Accident in August right now, and what's striking to me is that in the Paris of ten years ago, the protagonist is timing her day around going out to get various newspapers that come out at different hours. Maybe still true in Paris--it's definitely not true here now.

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  14. Oddly enough, the one editor here who came out and said we should all feel lucky to have our jobs is one of the very few I admire and respect. The first casualty of newspapers it truth.

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  15. I have to say that I am actually not keen on employers or bosses telling me what I should feel.

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  16. Well, I think he was speaking as much for himself as to us. And he wasn't my boss. And he was someone who does real work, as opposed to a top editor.

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  17. It's just something that rubs me the wrong way. It's fine with me if people say, I feel lucky to have a job. I just resent people presuming to see inside my head.

    Another way to say it as a boss, or for me to think about it anyway, because it would never happen is, I feel very lucky to have you working here, considering that we're never going to pay you any more money than we did ten years ago. And that statistically speaking nationally, you're being about four times more productive for the same amount of money.

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  18. Nothing to disagree with there, and I'm generally the last person to defend anything a manager says. The announcement was just this guy's way of saying "Hey. let's cut the crap and get to work," which is hard to disagree with.

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  19. It is. The guy who made the declaration is, with Jon Jordan, is one of the few people to whom I would not respond to an exhortation to work hard by calling in sick.

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  20. As someone who lives in a town that only rewards "uber parenting" which means that the children living here are deemed to not have good work ethics (or good parents) if they go to a progressive school and don't participate in team sports from a young age, I really love the discussion here. Would be nice if society accepted and rewarded something like a "chill ethic" for today's youth.

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  21. I like the idea of the chill ethic. In fact, I'm trying to live it right about now...

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  22. I like the idea of the chill ethic.

    Whatever.

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  23. By George, I think you've got it.

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