Friday, January 28, 2011

A question of pragmatic ethics and societal obligations...

I am currently mulling over an ethical question regarding what is now an ex-coworker. Let me give some background.

I work in a field that does not attract the most savory employees. It isn't necessarily designed specifically for criminals and thugs, but it requires little more than a high school education, the ability to pass a few basic tests, and a willingness to smell bad more often than not. I enjoy the hell out of it, mostly because I don't have to deal with people and I get to listen to my iPod all day long.

There is a guy I work with that has been in and out of trouble with the law since before I was hired over a year ago. In his mid to late 50's, he isn't a danger to anyone, and he doesn't have sticky fingers. What he does do is write a lot of hot checks. He also lies when the truth would do him better. It is habitual with him. You really can't trust much of anything he says, because he'll make up stories for no apparent reason. He's like that kid from school that would always get made fun of for making up obvious tall tales, but just couldn't help doing it. This guy just never grew out of that.

This guy lives with his girlfriend in a hotel. Neither his girlfriend, nor her 30-something son, have jobs. The girlfriend and her son are both on some form of government handout, enough to at least help out with the bills. From what I understand, they spend their money at the casino and bingo parlor, leaving him to cover what little bills there are.

So, after a number of run-ins with the law, his hot checks have finally caught up with him. Before, whenever he was arrested, he would use his entire paycheck to bail himself out. He'd also beg coworkers and his boss for money long enough to keep himself out of jail. He never pays anything back, and nobody is now willing to loan him anything. It has reached the point where his paycheck, with all of the garnishments on it, isn't big enough to cover his bail.

My boss receives calls from debt collectors daily looking for this guy. Now that he is in jail, they are apparently going after him legally. His bail has doubled since he was arrested, from all of the new charges that have been filed. Apparently, knowing that he is already being held helps expedite charges against him because they don't have to actually pay anyone to go out and find him.

Today, he was fired for multiple days of no-call, no-show. I have mixed feelings about this. Let me explain why.

1. He should have been fired a long time ago.

While he is decent enough at his job, his legal and financial troubles spill over into the workplace almost daily. Debt collectors are constantly looking for him and they do call his place of work. Additionally, he was caught working without a license a few months ago. This is a big liability for the company because he is almost constantly behind the wheel of a company vehicle. His license had been suspended over some fines he hadn't paid, and he worked for nearly six months without a license before the company found out. He was able to get his license reinstated shortly after it was discovered, but this was only the most dramatic example in a long line of similar problems.

2. Nobody else is going to hire him now that he has finally lost his job.

Felons aren't legally allowed to have my job. They can't meet the licensing requirements. My understanding is that he is currently looking at a felony conviction.

Even if he is able to retain his license and get out of jail, he is not going to have much luck finding decent paying work in his current situation.

3. I'm fairly certain he has some mental issues that need to be addressed.

I'm not a professional, so I'm not qualified to comment on any particular diagnosis, but this guy clearly has some problems that need to be addressed. He has trouble forming healthy relationships, and tries to substitute them with gifts and monetary rewards. This attracts the kinds of 'friends' that healthy people try to avoid. He is the kind of guy that will go blow his entire check on payday buying rounds for all of his buddies at the bar, in the hopes that they'll genuinely come to like him. Such self-destructive behavior is not the action of a healthy person.

5. Without a job, he is going to end up in prison or at a homeless shelter.

This guy is aging with nothing to show for it but mounting debt and legal fees. He has been given multiple opportunities to turn his situation around, with offers of help from both the state and his employers. He has completely failed at every turn.

All of this creates a frustrating situation for society as a whole and for me ethically. I don't feel like I can help this guy, because he has shown no interest in helping himself. He has made every possible wrong decision at every turn. I support social welfare programs, but it is frustrating knowing that those programs are going to be abused by people like him, his girlfriend, and her son. At the same time, if we don't provide those programs, we'll end up paying for him one way or the other anyway. In prison, he will cost 16,000 a year here in Oklahoma. On the street, he is likely to end up dead or committing violent crime in order to avoid ending up dead. None of these are scenarios I find acceptable.

We talk about people falling through the cracks when we discuss a social safety net, but I don't see this situation that way. This person, and those he chooses to associate with, are blatantly abusing the help provided by others; whether that help be by individuals or funneled through state and federal programs.

At the same time, this guy (I can't speak for his girlfriend and her adult son) seems to need some serious life counseling and psychiatric care...which he is not likely to receive wherever he ends up.

I don't have a good solution to these kinds of problems. It raises serious questions for the fields of applied ethics, political science, social psychology and clinical psychology.

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