Monday, February 27, 2006

The Ring of Gyges

Ethics in business is the source of a troubled heart. On one hand you have business houses (VERY SUCCESSFUL business houses, may I add) that have a philosophy which says "To hell with everything else, business is all about being a profit making enterprise". To them, nothing should stand in the path of their success. Absolutely NOTHING. In a country which ranked 88th on a Corruption Perceptions Index in 2005, I do not need to tell you twice about the kind of bribes that are paid by companies to get into the favorable books of authorities.

Then again there are the house of Tata's and Infosys. These companies have re-defined the way corporate governance is interpreted in India. Time and again have they been lauded with doing things that were ethically and morally correct. Of course, the drivers of such business practices have been at the top, right from Jamsetji, JRD, to Ratan Tata and to the likes of Narayanmurthy.

You might wonder what caused me to write about business ethics and morals on such a fine Sunday morning.

Well, 2 things.

1. The HR project that my team submitted yesterday, which was titled "Ethical Challenges in HR"; and

2. The book "Freakonomics". I have been reading the bestseller for the Book Club review this Wednesday. An extract:

"There is a tale, “The Ring of Gyges,” that Feldman sometimes tells his economist friends. It comes from Plato’s Republic. A student named Glaucon offered the story in response to a lesson by Socrates—who, like Adam Smith, argued that people are generally good even without enforcement. Glaucon, like Feldman’s economist friends, disagreed. He told of a shepherd named Gyges who stumbled upon a secret cavern with a corpse inside that wore a ring. When Gyges put on the ring, he found that it made him invisible. With no one able to monitor his behavior, Gyges proceeded to do woeful things—seduce the queen, murder the king, and so on. Glaucon’s story posed a moral question: could any man resist the temptation of evil if he knew his acts could not be witnessed? Glaucon seemed to think the answer was no. But Paul Feldman sides with Socrates and Adam Smith—for he knows that the answer, at least 87 percent of the time, is yes."

The 87 per cent idea comes from the meticulous data that Feldman had recorded from his business collections where he would just place bags of bagels in offices and leave a small box with a slit on top for people to pay for the bag. On an average, his collections from the box was 87 per cent.

Just two more points:

1. On one hand, Glaucon uses the Ring of Gyges to prove his point that morality is just a social construction, i.e. we would like to project an idea in society that we are morally correct in our thinking; the moment our actions are invisible to society (like when the ring is put on) we would give in to temptation. Interestingly, this idea was also present in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, where the One Ring not only made the one who wore it invisible but also corrupt. Umm...Gollum gollum....My precious !!

2. Here is an interesting twist given by Scott Adams. Trust him to come up with something witty; yet true. It was this response from a regular reader that prompted him to put forward his ideas:

"A co-worker of mine is so cheap that he bought one of the portable electric batteries that you can charge up for emergencies, like jumpstarting your car or running appliances off of during camping trips, and brings it to work everyday and lets it charge in his cubicle. He then takes it home and runs his lights or microwave off of it. He says he is forcing the company to pay him a little extra by taking electricity home. He also tries to time all of his bodily eliminations to occur at work so that he uses company water for flushing etc… to further save himself money and cost the company."

What would you do if you would chance upon the Ring of Gyges?


mini said...

hmm...interesting...ethics...umm..iagree with Glaucon;)..u have stated some interesting stories ...but which side r u on:P?..ur personal views r missing!!

Himanshu Jain said...

nice post.
a debatable topic, as always ;)
Socrates theory very true
I agree with him and Feldman

Scott Adams witty as usual

hey, but as mini said, which side are you on??

P.S. I read Freakomics, A MUST Read for everyone

Shekhar said...

Sorry to disappoint you Himanshu, but if I were to get hold of the Ring, Brad Pitt had better beef up the security around Angelina Jolie... :D

saurav-ko-gussa-kyon-aata-hai said...

I dont think that one could generalise the human psyche of doing all wrong if given the chance of all being all powerful.
It depends upon the passion, upon the thinkin, the persona the cultural-social-personal virtues that a perosn has accumulated thorugh experiences or what he has imbibed from the society.

Give the ring of gyges to hitler n give it to ramanujam...
even in LOTR, gollum possessed the ring but it only resulted in his self distruction and acute degree of possessiveness towards the ring.

Yess.. i do admit in today's time with the whole generation racing against time to satisfy their unsatiable ambitions, ring of gyges is like giving thermonuclear device in the hands of a monkey..

as far as me is concerned.. hmmm.. breaking hostel timings wud be the first thing... getting "devil's delight" n all day in ccd in that couch :-) wud be the other ..

saurav-ko-gussa-kyon-aata-hai said...

apart of these... i dont think ring of gyges is goona be anything solution-to-all-my-problem stuff....
its falling in a bottomless pit..

ya i knw i wud b in that pit of ccd..
but then there are few things in life for which going in the pit is not so bad....

Elwing said...

good blog and stuff.. u think deep... but just a purist's problem.... LOTR was NOT and i repeat the never sort of NOT written by J K Rowling... is J R R Tolkien who wrote tht... may not mean a whole lot to u... but to us fanatics.. sorta matters... otherwise... great blog!

Shekhar said...

saurav-ko-gussa-kyon-aata-hai: You will never give up on that Devil's Delight, will you?

elwing: Oye sorry hai ji, BIG MISHTAKE !! Pata nahi what got into my head. Me too a die-hard fan of Tolkien sahab, fir bhi.... :(

Ok, I'm holding my ears now, and apologies to all the Ring fans across the world.

Himanshu Jain said...

on a lighter side, if anyone who wears the ring becomes invisible, why not the ring itself is invisible at the first place????!!!!!

And if it is especially designed to be visible then when somebody wears it, why it becomes invisible????

Raam Pyari said...

Fellow Martian.....
u cee...some rubbish ticherrz( kindly note the spelling, inko isi naam se bulana chahiye) have made life hell for me.....Lemme rite a left ovr mid sem papr tomm then i'll honour your tag....
Just been online for abt 1/2 na hour since yesterday:((
X( X(
grrrrrrrr...achcha okies no more frustpana....
catch ya ltr..
oh and i almost forgot!
may the lite of planet mars guide you.

Shekhar said...

Himanshu: Err...can you repeat the question? ;)

Moonwalker: Dhaniyawaad !! :D

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