Gruel for the Soul

I asked for a day off next week, for quite an important function – indeed one where my presence is mandatory.
The establishment which pays my salary – some call it a school – first asked me to fill out a form. Quite right. Entirely reasonable. No details of why I require time out is evident for completion.
The Principal – beige and uninspiring – coughed sheepishly behind me today and told me that I would have to write a letter requesting that in his magnanimity, the Personnel Manager might be kind enough to give me the day off, but, of course, could not pay me.
I have rescheduled my groups to another occasion when I am present, thus not a ripple disturbs the chaos of the day.
I remember in the sixties when my father was a personnel director and the unions were more than usually hairy-chested, how he bemoaned the ‘work to rule’ policies and ‘working without enthusiasm’ that resulted. It seems that people here are so accustomed to working to rule that the alternative of an environment where a well-motivated, productive and happy workforce goes above and beyond, simply because they want to, simply does not occur to them. Thomas Gradgrind, above, whose little vessels were arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim, would have been proud.

I’m reminded of a method of working out the sum total of pleasure and pain produced by an act, and thus the total value of its consequences; aka hedonic calculus. When determining what action is right in a given situation, we should consider the pleasures and pains resulting from it, in respect of their intensity, duration, certainty, propinquity, fecundity (the chance that a pleasure is followed by other ones, a pain by further pains), purity (the chance that pleasure is followed by pains and vice versa), and extent (the number of persons affected). We should next consider the alternative courses of action: ideally, this method will determine which act has the best tendency, and therefore is right. In 1789, Bentham envisaged the calculus could be used for criminal law reform: given a crime of a certain kind it would be possible to work out the minimum penalty necessary for its prevention. Spectacularly misleading, uninformed, grandiose in its stupidity. In other words, horseshit. But, it’s the way this place operates. It’s no wonder that this country, so rich in the things of the world, is emotionally and psychologically impoverished to the point of destitution.


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