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Responsibility

What are our responsibilities to the society we live in? Is it our responsibility to obey the law, or to do what our bosses tell us to, or to follow every regulation or company rule, or to follow the wishes of our elected government? It’s a tricky question. Many people would say that it’s important to follow the law for example, but do we really think every law is fair and relevant? Very few people would. And a lot of worthwhile social change has been gained through civil disobedience. What about in the workplace? If we are employed by a company should we follow its instructions and regulations exactly?

While I do tend to have a somewhat anarchic twist to my personality I also recognise that for people to live together efficiently and peacefully there must be some rules for behavior. So like most things it’s not a matter of one or the other extreme being right, it’s a matter of knowing when to toe the line and when to rebel against the machine!

So what has lead to this rebellious little tirade? A few different things. First there is the continuing Wikileaks controversy and the question of how to treat whistle-blowers in general. And in New Zealand a member of parliament is currently facing censure from his party for making his opinion known even though it is contrary to the party’s official policy. And I just re-read a news story where New Zealand’s maritime union is considering whether to refuse to unload railway wagons made in China which they think should have been made here.

These are all examples where people have done what they thought was right instead of what the law, or the regulations of an organisation, or normal convention dictates. Sure, there are negative aspects to all of the actions I have listed but on balance I think it would be a disaster if this sort of behavior stopped.

My attitude to the law is that I assume it is reasonable but if there are any situations where I think it isn’t I reserve the right to break it and still feel as if I’m a moral person. Of course I would also expect that there might be consequences if I did, but all I’m saying is that illegal and immoral aren’t always the same thing. In fact there are times when following the law (or regulation, rule, or instruction from a “superior”) is anything but moral.

One of my favorite quotes is this: “It is the duty of every patriot to protect his country from its government” (Thomas Paine). I would extend this to say it is every employee’s duty to defend his company or his clients from his management, and it is every human’s duty to defend his fellow humans from all forces ranged against them.

So people like Julian Assange aren’t terrorists, they are heroes. Actually when someone is accused of being a terrorist when he has done something against the ruling elite I just laugh. The word terrorist has lost all meaning because of this nonsense. Anyone warped enough to really believe that Wikileaks is a terrorist organisation is probably so ideologically off the scale that it wouldn’t really matter what you told him. You could probably say Assange is the Antichrist (has anyone tried that yet?) and you would still be taken seriously!

The same applies to members of parliament (and elected representatives in other types of democracies) who are forced to obey their party’s official position even when they think it is wrong or contrary to the best interests of the people who voted for them. Last time I checked we lived in a representative democracy which means we elect politicians to represent us in government. Why are these people forced to do what the party hierarchy tells them instead? Surely that’s undemocratic?

I agree that the situation is complicated in New Zealand where we have MMP. That means that list MPs are voted in as a result of the party vote. Maybe they owe the major part of their allegiance to the party but surely those voted in as an MP for an electorate should primarily do what’s best for that electorate.

So again, those who rebel against the system are usually doing the right thing. Of course it does depend on why they are rebelling. If it’s just to gain some publicity for themselves, or to try to improve their standing in the party hierarchy, or for various other Machiavellian reasons then it’s not acceptable. If it’s to do what the voters want or to achieve something they genuinely think is best for those people then I say great, stand up and do what’s right!

Finally, what about at work? Surely part of the conditions for working in a company or other organisation is that you will follow the instructions of the management? Again, I don’t think so. It’s every person’s responsibility to do what’s right irrespective of the opinions of any other person, who by some process (often devious) might have ended up in a position of power. Of course the management don’t like this and will do all they can to prevent any actions which they disapprove of, so it’s the workers’ duty to find ways to circumvent the system.

I work in a large bureaucracy and I’m constantly working this way (my previous “boss” called me a “free spirit” which I think is a very positive way to put it!) If the senior management knew half the things I do they would be quite “surprised” I think. But I do it for my clients. I do it to get things done efficiently instead of waiting for the slow and inefficient bureaucracy to act. And I do it to avoid giving clueless, unimaginative managers any say in the decision making process.

Am I a bad person? I know that many people would say that I am and should be immediately fired. Just like the MPs who stand up to the party machine should be kicked out. And just like Julian Assange should be executed. Oddly enough, many of these conservatives who support these views are quite religious yet they fail to see that Jesus (if the stories about him have any accuracy at all) was quite the rebel himself. Isn’t that ironic!

Ah, delusions of grandeur are truly creeping into my thoughts now! Jesus, Julian Assange, rebellious politicians, and me! We’re the rebels. We’re the trouble-makers. We’re the ones who keep the system going by working against it. That’s our responsibility.

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