Log in

No account? Create an account
entries friends calendar profile It's Me Previous Previous Next Next
The Autobiography of Russell
Life from a different perspective
"Just doing my job" is no better excuse than "Just doing what I was told"
There is one point in my last post that I want to touch on further.

When a superior gives you an order that you know is wrong you can still be held personally liable for that action. This is known as the superior orders or lawful orders plea. It was made most famous in the trials after World War II when Nazi officers used it to shield themselves from the things they had done or had also ordered others to do.

I would like to extend this by proposing that we should follow this principle in our every day jobs. To use the defense "I don't agree either, I'm just doing my job" is no better now than it was then. We, as individuals, don't realize the buying power we have simply by voting with our feet. If you disagree with a fundamental aspect of your current employment, such as being required to take candy from babies, then find another job. Don't dally, don't put it off, do it now and put as much effort behind it as you can.

When everyone refuses to work or patronize at a place they disagree with then they will either shutdown or adapt. They'll pay more, have safer work environments, offer more vacation time, change management, sell better product, treat customers better, etc. This is only untrue in situations where the business is given a guarantee of attentive audience, such as a monopoly where they're the only ones who can offer a critical item or the government where everyone is forced to do what they say. It shouldn't take a union or government to make it happen.

If, on the other hand, you choose to work or patronize a business, then you accept responsibility for your actions. You accept any feedback, both positive and negative, that you, both personally and as a group, garner. You have decided your course and will see it through, regardless of the consequences it may create or because of the positive impact it will result in. You may at any time change your mind and your path, but you will still be judged for what you have done.

Current Mood: contemplative contemplative

4 comments or Leave a comment
legolastn From: legolastn Date: April 8th, 2012 05:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
Of course, it turns out "I was just following orders" is a pretty good excuse except in the most egregious of cases, historically and legally speaking.

Also, the problem with the proposition that "when everyone refuses to work or patronize at a place...they will either shutdown or adapt" is the "everyone" part. Soothing one's conscience doesn't put bread on the table, so most people want another job lined up and/or assurances that their actions will have an effect...especially for jobs where seniority/longevity of service is important or in cases where one's income is needed to support other people besides oneself. That's why government, unions, or at the very least a social movement are usually necessary - to coordinate efforts and help people feel they aren't simply slitting their own throats.
zimzat From: zimzat Date: April 9th, 2012 07:22 am (UTC) (Link)
Do you have any examples where "I was just following orders" has worked as a complete defense for someone who knew they were doing the wrong thing? I ask because several years ago I was asked by someone really high up in the company to spam a bunch of people that we didn't have enough data on hand to justify through the CAN-SPAM act, and I knew it was wrong so I refused. I didn't want to be personally held accountable for an action that I knew was wrong.

I was talking to someone else about this last night as well, and I recognize that my response is very idealistic and militant. Not everyone can or will do it, and that's fine too. There is still that the business won't grow very quickly or as much as it could have if it had done "the right thing". As long as there isn't a monopoly involved then someone who does it better can and will come along.

I have no problem with social movements, but unions and governments tend to fall into the "monopoly" side of things, where you either do what they say or it's the highway. And then they get corrupted, or power hungry, or any number of other problems that cause conflict with their original goal of helping people.

Edited at 2012-04-09 07:23 am (UTC)
legolastn From: legolastn Date: April 9th, 2012 09:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, according to the link you provided, WWI courts held German soldiers not responsible, and more recently, the International Criminal Court appears to hold it is a valid defense except for the most egregious cases, such as genocide (there's also the weird Canadian Federal Court case). In more civilian situations I think it tends to hold fairly often as well. And even in cases where people have been held partially responsible, it has reduced the penalty.

I'm not saying it's morally a good defense, just that in some cases it seems to be effective as a defense. On the other hand, considering Stanley Milgram's experimental findings, maybe it should be considered a good defense (if based on a disturbing reality).

I think I understand your point about unions and governments. I think it also applies to some extent to social movements, since they tend to become institutionalized over time. However, describing the problems with a solution doesn't necessarily mean it isn't the best solution, or at least the most likely to be efficacious. It just means there are no perfect solutions.
zimzat From: zimzat Date: April 10th, 2012 07:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's kind of funny, because the one thing I took away from that defense, specifically from the case of specific higher-ups of the German army during the holocaust and a few other select cases I've heard about over the years, was that it wasn't a good enough defense. I still disagree that it's an acceptable defense when the person is shown to know their action was wrong without a doubt, but oh well. Guess that's what I get for only going on a few selectively heard cases and not reading the entire thing.

Social movements don't start out with the kind of instant authority and power that governments and government-blessed unions do, but I agree they can get to that point and also be abusive especially if they get a mob mentality.
4 comments or Leave a comment