Tag Archives: ethics

2019 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 5 (Greeks and Romans)

Welcome to my favorite reads of 2019…Part 5! I TAed this past semester for a class on early Western political thought which means I finally knocked off a lot of Greek writers from my to-read list! However, I will be the first to say that I only understood most of these books because I was taking a class while I read them. Accordingly, while these hit five stars and were favorites of the year, I don’t necessarily recommend just picking them up for fun.

The Histories by Herodotus

Basically, the book where we get the story of 300. Full of facts and legends, it really was an interesting read and fascinating as the first “history book” as we know the term today. I found it surprisingly fun as well as historically significant. 

Clouds, Frogs, Assemblywomen, Wealth by Aristophanes 

Arisotphanes was an Athenian playwright who lampooned the Iliad-like honor culture of Greek society. I read 4 of his plays. They are extraordinarily vulgar, extremely astute, and quite funny. And considering 2,000 years have passed since he wrote this stuff, it is incredible that his poop jokes are still funny. I think Wealth was my favorite. 

Phaedo by Plato

 Plato’s account of Socrates last hours before his death. It is a final look at his philosophy towards life and the philosopher’s call. Brief but impactful. 

The Republic by Plato

An incredibly important book for Western thought and the more I study it, the more I realize how much it impacted the world we know today. I kept pausing to exclaim, “But that’s something C.S. Lewis says!” or “That’s straight out of Saul Alinsky!” or “This is foundational to a G.K. Chesterton arguments!” But of course, it isn’t a book a book that depends on Lewis or Alinsky or Chesterton, but rather the common background for all them. That said, definitely a philosopher’s book. It begs for debate, discussion, further analysis but it doesn’t entirely satisfy because it leaves much unanswered. 

Ethics by Aristotle

I actually read this one twice: first at the beginning of the year while in Thailand then for my class. It definitely made way more sense the second time through. Context does amazing things for your understanding. I particularly liked the section on Friendship. Quite thought provoking. 

The Aeneid by Virgil

I did not like The Aeneid as much as The Iliad, but it certainly deserves credit for historical significance. The Aeneid follows the fall of Troy through the founding of Rome. Tons of hilariously bad passages foreshadowing the glory of Rome and Caesar and whatnot. But also tons of familiar scenes that are part of our modern mythos. So, worth a read. 


Whatcha Reading…? 1/28/2019 Book Update

Back in 2016-2017, I used to do an occasional “Whatcha Reading” update. Basically, when I find myself buried in avalanche of current reads, I like sorting them out on here. 

Now, I know what you are thinking! “BUT WHAT ABOUT THAILAND?!” I promise I’m still here. The thing is, due to certain circumstances, I spent the weekend at home. And really, the most exciting thing I accomplished was laundry. I’ve strained my brain to make laundry an entertaining story, but mostly it involved me lacking the correct change and making strategic visits to the convenience store to get more. Mostly I read. And as I’ve decided to tackle several rather long books courtesy but my new Kindle, a “Whatcha Reading” update is the best way I can describe my weekend.

Without further ado, I present you my current reads: Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas, Ethics by Aristotle, The City of God by Saint Augustine, Pamela by Samuel Richardson, and Letters to a Diminished Church by Dorothy L. Sayers. (And lest you think my reading involves only intellectual works, I must confess I recently finished To Catch A Bad Guy by Marie Astor, Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joane Flunke, and The Cinderella Deal by Jennifer Cruise – all as horrible as they sound.) As you can see, I’m working through the As on my Kindle. 

Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas is 95,666 pages long. I’m 1,520 pages in –  about 1%. I do not plan on finishing it this year…or next…or maybe the year after. But the work played an instrumental role in developing Western thought so I figure it is worth the long term commitment. 

Ethics by Aristotle…I am not sure what I think about this one yet. Obviously, I’m familiar with Aristotle’s theory of virtue as the mean between two extremes. He jumps around quite a bit, however, between personal application of virtue and civic virtue. His explanation of justice I found particularly intriguing. Mostly I feel like I miss as much as I understand. But I find his method of explaining things helps me better understand Aquinas. (Similar formatting of arguments.) 

I purchased my copy of The City of God by Saint Augustine instead of getting the free version and I am amazed the difference a good translation makes. I am not particularly far into the book but I’m quite intrigued. It begins with a seeming history lesson about the barbarians who sacked Rome but did not touch the Christian churches. Amidst this strange beginning, Saint Augustine weaves several points about human suffering. 

Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson was published in 1740 and I’ve been dragging myself through it since last July. Though a remarkable literary achievement for its time, I find the entire work slow and irritating. But I’m also stubbornly determined to finish it since it was a ‘first’ for many literary tropes we use today. (And Jane Austen read it.) 

Letters to a Diminished Church by Dorothy L. Sayers is incredibly good so far. I find it easier to grasp than her work about the trinity, The Mind of the Maker. In this book, she tackles Christian doctrine. She continues to emphasize the creativity of God and the importance of creation for human identity. I’m convinced this one will end up an immediate favorite. 


Chemical Imbalance and the Law

I recently finished Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. In the book, Sinek demonstrates how work environments impact five different chemicals in the human body: Endorphins, Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, and Cortisol. Endorphins mask physical pain with pleasure in times of stress or fear (the “runner’s high”). Dopamine rewards goal oriented behavior with a rush of pleasure when we complete something we set out to do. Serotonin releases feelings of pride and pleasure when we feel like people like or respect us. Oxytocin generates a sense of love, friendship, or deep contentment when we see people we like and trust. Cortisol triggers flight or fight instincts in times of high stress or danger.

Since these chemicals impact the way humans survive and interact with one another, they play an important role in work environments. High stress, competitive environments where employees feel powerless and pressured to produce big or risk losing their jobs produce unhealthy, chemically imbalanced workers. This imbalance applies to CEOs and janitors alike, regardless of perceived job pressure. (In fact, the imbalance likely impacts the janitor more if he feels powerless to change the situation.)

In jobs that emphasize short-term results over long-term relationships, workers depend on their survival chemicals: Endorphins, Dopamine, and Cortisol. This creates an environment where people live in a “flight or fight” mentality and are constantly stressed about meeting high goals and expectations. When Cortisol is released, the body shuts down “unnecessary” systems, including the immune system. This impacts a person’s physical and mental well-being. However, because of Endorphins and Dopamine, it doesn’t feel like a constant barrage. It can feel good and even addicting. These chemicals, however, only mask the damage caused by stress, they don’t fix it.

Further, with work environments that foster uncertainty and anxiety come lowered levels of Serotonin and Oxytocin – meaning people feel less appreciated, content, and socially engaged at work. Where jobs are highly competitive, employees view each other as competitors instead of allies. People feel less comfortable sharing ideas, making mistakes, or collaborating on projects. This impacts not only a company’s ability to thrive, but the individual’s.

A prime example of an unhealthy business environment would be General Electric at the end of the 1980s. At the end of each year, the bottom 10% of GE managers whose divisions contributed least to the company’s share price were fired. If the bottom 10% automatically get fired and you see someone struggling, would you help them out? Probably not. You would be putting your own job at risk.

However, more than isolating employees, such environments also foster unethical behavior. When short-term goals matter above all else, things like honesty, integrity, and compliance fall to the wayside. People focus on survival, and when that behavior gets rewarded, they get a Dopamine hit and continue to behave that way. Spread out over time, this behavior leads to corruption and the eventual downfall of a company.

As an avid reader of business books that emphasize the importance of culture, Sinek’s analysis did not surprise me. It shouldn’t surprise you either. People want fulfilling jobs. Humans weren’t designed for constant, high-level stress. It is easy to recognize bad practices in a business.

Yet this stressful, high-pressure, chemically imbalanced environment reflects the very culture that is expected, even rewarded, in the legal profession.

Want to go “big law”? Think long hours and high stress loads. Want to work in criminal law? Prosecutor or defense attorney, someone’s freedom now depends on you. Want to work at a boutique firm, or even start your own law firm? Gotta make sure you make enough to pay off those heavy student loans. How do you pay those off? You take on more jobs, create a higher stress load, and keep going, going, going. For each client, you must strive for justice. Money is at stake. Freedom is at stake. Your ability, or lack of ability, impacts countless lives.

Is it any wonder the legal profession is rife with alcoholism and ranks third in suicides behind doctors and dentists?

The pressure doesn’t begin once you land your first job: it starts pre-law school. Where you work often depends on where you go to law school. The best jobs go to the best schools. Early on driven, goal-oriented people with a natural affinity for Dopamine stand out and get into the schools. Once in the school, the best employers take only the best students. This is the way of the world. You are now competing against your classmates, and because law school grades on a curve, this isn’t a place where everyone can do well. You either receive one of the scarce As, or you don’t. If there are limited As, are you going to help your classmate get one? Not if it hurts your chances. Goodbye Serotonin and Oxytocin, this is not the place for you.

Law school is 3 years. For 3 years, you can survive anything, right? You can survive finals worth 100% of your grade (STRESSSSS!) You can survive competitive classmates and high interest rates on your loans. You can survive…sure, your Cortisol is firing but your Endorphins and Dopamine tell you it is okay. And maybe it would be okay if it actually ended in 3 years, but that isn’t the way the legal profession works. In the real world, law school is child’s play. But this too will be okay, you’ve learned to cope. Probably through alcohol. Definitely through something addictive. Want to make partner in a firm? Want to save the world? Of course you do. Time to get to work. Hit me with the Dopamine.

What happens in the business world when the wrong things get incentivized? Companies become corrupt and self-destruct. Now imagine what happens when you wrongly incentive a whole profession.

Is it any wonder lawyers get a bad rap? Lawyers are stigmatized as ethic-less and money-hungry. Yet the law is designed as an adversarial system where every case comes with high stakes and in law school we are taught to deal with that pressure through isolation and alcoholism. Culturally, we’ve created a chemically imbalanced environment for the very people we entrust with justice. I am sure there are lawyers and law firms that overcome this. There might even be law schools out there seeking balance. It is still a huge problem, however, and not one that only affects those who “have a personality for the law.” Just take a look at our justice system.

I don’t know what the solution is, or if there even is one. I do know that change needs to happen and it needs to start in our law schools.