4.2 The good, the bad and the loyal
Read the script of the play Last Call by clicking on the link below. Jot down some ideas on the main issues, you feel, the play suggests.
The play shows, amongst other things, the fierce loyalty that people can show towards an institution like a company, and how that loyalty strongly influences their judgements. Loyalty is giving preference in some way to one group, and, by doing so we are denying another group something that we are giving to the privileged group. This becomes an ethical issue when we start asking, should we be paying attention to this group rather than the other? Is this the ‘best’ group to pay attention to? Are there other more ‘needy’ groups we might perhaps choose to support? Ultimately, we need to give a justification of our choice to support one group over another, and this is an ethical argument.
Another thing the play illustrates is that ethical statements and arguments are an intrinsic part of everyday conversations. Even though there are some really big issues at stake (e.g. people were smuggling data in and out of Uzbekistan in order to support a repressive regime), and there is, of course, a crisis in the company, people's behaviour is not dissimilar to their behaviour in other circumstances. That is, ethics is not something that is just about major human issues, but it is also about the everyday.
It really strikes me that there were all sorts of ‘little’ things in the play that are really ethical issues we are all confronted with on a day-to-day basis, and somehow or other the big issues do not occupy people as much as those every day things. You may wonder whether the everyday things are the ones that matter because they build up into a kind of ‘ethical personality’. It is in the everyday interactions with others that we get to feel what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and I feel that this goes on through the play. Sometimes I was a bit worried about some of the characters, particularly Herrenvolk, who seemed to be a thoroughly ‘bad’ character, and I wasn't quite sure what was going to change him in any way. But I also noticed that he seemed to be a fairly unemotional character, and perhaps there is a clue there.
You might like to read the play more than once to see how your impressions change, and then try the next activity.
Saying that something is ‘good’ asserts something about a final vocabulary or the conclusion of an ethical case. Read through the play once again and try to identify things that are said to be ‘good’.
This is my tentative list, but I may have missed out on things.
When they talk about Steve Jobs, they say a ‘great’ thing is that he is over 30 but is still having ideas. So ‘ideas’ seem to be a ‘good’ thing. When they talk about the workforce in the company, it is ‘skill’ that seems to be really important, people are considered ‘good’ because they have skill. I noted above that the company is seen as a ‘good’ thing. Sara, the PR person, gets told that she should not interfere, so ‘not interfering’ is seen by some people as being a ‘good’. Towards the end of the play, a case is made for ICT being installed for the ‘good of the Continent for Africa’, so ‘ICT’ is seen as a ‘good’. Oddly, there seem to be no particular people or relationships being seen to be ‘good’.
Indeed, Sara is an interesting character that follows a convoluted trajectory. Sara needs to interfere, to find out, because people are not telling her what is going on, and she wants, at least for a while, to find out, possibly to be better informed and perhaps act. In the end she does not, she just goes back to her old job. She is offered opportunities to take the lift, go out the door or go up to the sixth floor. But the pressure is on her to realise what is in her own self-interest, what is ‘good’ for her, personally, or, perhaps, for the many company employees. If she really wants to keep her job, she needs to join the ‘big league’ and become part of the conspiracy. Perhaps the familiarity with the job and the actions that go with it, the practices that go with it, and the people she deals with, everything turns out to be quite comforting. Maybe it should not be, but perhaps it is for Sara as well as for anyone in a similar situation.