Thursday, February 20, 2014

of termites, reputation, and character

We have drywood termites.

We called in the pest company that wrote the certification prior to our buying this house. The inspector came back out, identified the termites, said he was sorry to bear bad news, and that there had been no visible evidence of them during his earlier inspection, so we'd have to pay to fumigate. He offered a deal to us to fumigate at cost.

I said we didn't feel like this was our problem, since we relied on a certification his company wrote. We didn't buy termites. He said that in his opinion, we wouldn't be able to demonstrate in court that there had been evidence that was ignored, and anyway, that it would have made no sense for him to fail to note the termites, since he would make money on reporting them.

We contacted our realtor, who made some inquiries. The next day she called to tell us the seller and the pest inspector would cover the cost of fumigation. She opined that they wanted to protect their very good reputations. Indeed, when my Loveliest reported the termites to some friends, they immediately asked who the inspection company was, and were impressed to hear they had agreed to cover the cost.

The inspector and seller will have thus preserved their reputations. We won't have to pay for fumigation, but we will have to move out for two days, with our cats and turtle, and move all our food out of the house.

I am a suspicious person, so I did not trust anything but the offer of free fumigation (and only really barely trust that, in fact). Knowing the history of philosophy also makes me inclined to focus on the difference between reputation and character. Reading Plato will do that to ya. And I have just been reading the Apology with my intro class.

Around here, in my experience, businesspeople's (well, really, businessmen's) reputations are built on their stated commitment to Christian values. In my experience, too, this is pretty cheap talk -- never mind that a reputation for being a Christian property investor or Christian pest inspector makes as much sense as a reputation for being a Buddhist journalist or Shinto mechanic.

Have either the seller or the inspector demonstrated anything about their characters? This is a basic problem in the way Plato wrote about this issue. Someone concerned entirely about reputation, who does not give a damn in his or her soul of souls, could still be powerfully motivated to do what looks objectively to be the right thing, for reasons having nothing at all to do with ethics.

Don't get me wrong: I'll take the fumigation. I'll even report on service review websites that they provided it. I don't think I'll say anything about their characters.

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