In my recent “Friday Phone Call” with David Dower, all about infrastructure for the arts, I shared that infrastructure has three meanings or three components: the physical bricks and mortar infrastructure of buildings and studios and light boards; the organizational infrastructure of companies, governments, and policies; and personal infrastructure like the personal symbiosis one achieves between work and that which is not work. Another aspect of personal infrastructure for the arts is (are?) personal ethics. This topic has been on the forefront of my mind since Jonah Lehrer admitted to fabricating quotes by Bob Dylan (following close on the heels of his admission of “self-plagiarism”). Today, Fareed Zakaria admitted to copying part of his Time column from an article in the New Yorker.
Between these two events, I was asked to write a short piece for a trade magazine. I was faced with a dilemma. If I were to write about entrepreneurial thinking and teaching, as requested, should I start from scratch, find new sources, attempt to draw new conclusions, or should I write without looking at previous work, drawing on the body of knowledge I keep in my brain. I chose to do the latter, but only if the following disclaimer be included:
Note: While I have endeavored to write something original, what follows inevitably draws from my earlier writings for Theatre Topics[i], the Creative Infrastructure blog[ii], conference presentations[iii], and Chapter 15 of Lighting and the Design Idea, 3e, co-authored with Jennifer Setlow.
Researchers can circle around the same topic for years (some even for decades) so it is inevitable that phrases and even sentences will appear in more than one article by the same author. In light of recent events, I felt it important to make that obvious to the potential readers of this new article. Lehrer’s self-plagiarism (I’m not even going to touch the fabrication question, at least not here) violates an ethical principle on another level because the New Yorker had paid him for original writing and he provided material that included segments that were not original. He took the easy way to his payday and got caught.
Personal ethics ground our professional choices: our choices about what to submit for publication; about how we treat our co-workers and (especially) our subordinates; about how we (re)present cultural differences; how we grade student assignments. I am influenced in my ethical choice making most especially by two philosophical treatises. The first is Immanuel Kant’s “second formulation” of his categorical imperative, which, paraphrased and simplified, basically states that people should never be treated as the means to an end but only as ends in themselves. (I used this in a recent post about means and ends of policy interventions related to the arts.) The second, and the one that most influences my thinking about diversity in the arts, is Rawls’ Theory of Justice. It’s complicated, but it basically calls for the equality of all individuals and the equilibration of social injustices. His theory is communitarian in nature and antithetical to much of the libertarian thinking that pervades our political landscape.
These ethical constructs work for me because I believe in them. I am not a preacher or proselytizer for them in the specific. What I am an advocate for is consciously adopting an ethical position. If artists and arts managers, and even arts organizations, adopted an ethical position, they would have guideposts for their decision-making, they would be better able to navigate the society that both surrounds them and of which they are part, and they would actuate what Howard Gardner* calls “The Ethical Mind.” Would that Lehrer and Zakaria had done so.
* If you are a regular reader of Creative Infrastructure, you’ll recognize that I frequently reference Gardner’s work, especially his Five Minds for the Future (HBR, 2008) which include, in addition to the ethical mind, the disciplined mind, the synthesizing mind, the creating mind, and the respectful mind.
[i] Essig, L. (2009) Suffusing entrepreneurship into theatre curricula, Theatre Topics, 19(2), 117-124.
[iii] Material related to teaching habits of mind for arts entrepreneurs was presented at the 2011 annual conference of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Milwaukee WI and at the 2012 Higher Education Creativity Conference in Chengdu, China.