One advantage of a previous career in academe is I’ve learned how to reason my way out of an ethical conundrum.
My particular problem is this: I’m joining my lady friends for dinner at Old Powerhouse Friday, but my column (in which I review Old Powerhouse) is due on my editor’s desk Thursday.
The ladies are the same dear friends who helped me research my first food column last fall. You know them as Hattie Rose, Millicent, Patience and Rick.
Our reunion is a milestone of sorts: six months, apparently, is how long it takes friends to get over having their exploits chronicled in the local newspaper.
Truth is, I think my friends secretly enjoyed the experience; that they’re actually looking forward to reading about themselves in Island Flavor. I don’t want to disappoint. But I can’t negotiate with a deadline.
How do I solve the problem?
I fall back on my academic training, which was in the field of ethics, or as we call it today, political philosophy. Not that I was an expert in this field — far from it. I was in faculty support. Meaning, I was an expert in political philosophers.
One way political philosophers make money is by reviewing books for academic journals. Mind you, review writing is difficult to fit into the schedule. Professors already have stacks of things to read, grade, and write.
And journal editors only give them two or three months to write reviews. But the pay isn’t bad, and the byline’s a plus, so most political philosophers do it.
Easy. They write the review without bothering to read the book.
Isn’t this unethical? Especially for an ethics professor!
Well, yes, maybe 3 percent dishonest. But, mostly (97 percent) ethical. Why?
Because the professor writing a review of “The Paradox of Ethics Reflected in the Trial of Socrates” (I’m making this up) by R. Ann Scott (ditto) became acquainted with Dr. Scott’s arguments years before these arguments found their way into the bound pages of a book.
They’ve listened to Dr. Scott’s lectures at association meetings. They’ve debated against her in panel discussions. Perhaps they served on her dissertation committee. By the time they receive a request to review Dr. Scott’s book, they understand her arguments better than she understands them herself!
This is why, when asked “Have you read R. Ann Scott’s book on Socrates?” they can answer in complete candor, “Read it? Why, I haven’t even reviewed it!”
(To be on the safe side, they’ll peek at the book’s introduction before clicking the SEND button. This is the academic equivalent of a makeup check; the reviewers’ way of seeing if, by chance, Dr. Scott mentioned them in the intro.)
Well, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I’ll write my review of ladies evening out at the Old Powerhouse before I actually meet my friends there.
And I can do this because I already know that the ingredients used in my East Asian Rice Special will be flavorful, fresh and artfully presented. I know the restaurant, poised over the Near Island Channel, offers the quintessential Kodiak view — that I’ll glance out the window and see bald eagles soaring, sea lions diving, boats gliding by and sea gulls riding their gentle wakes.
I won’t know until I’m pressured whether I’ll order the miso soup or the salad with carrot dressing, but I know my side will be delicious.
I’ll wish I had a large enough appetite to order sushi, which I love, but I’ll feel fine about passing on the sashimi. Somehow eating raw fish seems atavistic to me. For this same reason, I’ll hope not to see migrating orcas snacking on sea lions.
The worldliest of us ladies, Hattie Rose will wittily relate her recent travels Outside. The most literary, Millicent will tell us about a classic she’s reading. Patience will be exhausted but will seem as fresh as a summer daisy.
Rick, if she’s able to come, will see through the masks each of us wears. Once she has, our conversation and friendships will deepen.
I’m vain enough that, like the professor, I’ve done the makeup check. I can’t hit that SEND button without peeking at the introduction. This is why the staff at the Old Powerhouse saw me Tuesday, devouring a Box Lunch special. It’s my way of reviewing ethically. 100 percent.
Suzanne Bobo is the author with Brittany Tregarthen of “The Road Going: A Mother, A Daughter, An Extraordinary Journey”, available at online bookstores.