Have you ever made a request only to be bluntly turned down with the comment “sorry, but those are the rules”? Part of this phenomenon has already been covered in my comment on the Nuremberg Trials. In this post, however, I wish to discuss rules from another point of view: why do people wish to blindly accept and carry out orders?
I have consciously chosen the somewhat provoking title Rules for the Weak, but it is actually straight to the point. Thinking of business, some would say rules are there only to protect Capital and make sure the labor worker is exploited – breaking the abundance of rules leaves the worker totally in the hands of the manager or owner of the firm.
I don’t believe this view or “exploitation theory” is totally wrong, there are surely both managers and owners making up rules simply to make the lives of people working for them miserable. This does not, however, explain why people choose to work where there are rules – and especially not why quite many people choose to rely on the rules to escape personal responsibility.
Of course, the latter point can be interpreted as a choice made under the systematic threat of state capitalism where most sound alternatives have effectively been precluded from the market. Also, the fear of punishment might very well make people “blindly” adopt whatever rules available to protect themselves from possible harm.
These are all good points, and in the contemporary economic system – whether you call it a “free market,” “state capitalism,””state socialism,” or whatever – I would say they are valid arguments. But even though they are valid, I don’t think they explain the magnitude of the phenomenon.
The opposite view offers another explanation to why people “hide” behind rules: the rules of businesses are simply there to protect the working men and women from taking on responsibility for decisions they do not have mandate to make. The strict following of “procedure” is thus protects the worker – management indirectly takes responsibility through formulating rules that employees have to follow, and thereby alleviate workers of responsibility they don’t want and cannot take on.
I would personally think this is how many managers think – they make rules in order to control what is going on in their organizations. They may not always do it to protect the workers (rather, they might do it to control their actions), but the chain of actions isn’t hard to believe. It probably explains, at least in part, why there are rules for workers and employees to follow – and perhaps even why employees refer to the rules rather than try to find the best solution in the particular situation.
However, there is reason to believe the adoption of rules isn’t one-sided and one-way. It is not only the case that people are forced or lured to “blame” the rules. The rules aren’t used in everyday business only to control or protect them. It is also the case that people choose to abide by rules and regulations and readily refer to rules as a way to avoid taking personal responsibility. This is not only the case in business while carrying out one’s work, but also in private interaction.
People like to hide behind rules and regulations. They find satisfaction in evading personal responsibility – especially if they at the same time can can make someone else worse off.
This is not a general rule for “everybody,” but there are quite a few people gladly taking on positions where they get the “power” to make decisions that affect other people but don’t have to take responsibility for the effect of these decisions.
It should now be clear that I am not talking only about a phenomenon among workers and people in “weak” positions. Rather, I am talking about a human phenomenon that has nothing to do with the person’s situation or social status. A wide variety of people are part of the same phenomenon; they gladly make decisions that they know they will never be held accountable for. This is especially common in politics – politicians is the only group of people I can think of in which almost every member acts this way.
Back to the title of this post: the word “weak” does not refer to the direct situation in economic or social terms. I do not mean weakness as in absence of power or absence of influence. It does also not mean weak in the sense “not strong” or “not intelligent.” Weakness, rather, is here meant as a state of mind and feeling of confidence. As I have written elsewhere:
Only people not able to grow tall from their own efforts and achievements seek to subdue their fellow man; only people not being able to find comfort in their own mind seek to silence others; those who are unable to produce their own wealth aim to confiscate the wealth of others.
The same kind of people find strength in making other people weak, they enjoy making other people miserable – at least if they themselves can avoid personal responsibility. This is a state of frailty in body and mind, a lack of self-confidence, a weakness.
This is where the previous post on the Nuremberg Trials comes in. In the Trials each and every individual was held accountable for his or her actions – no matter if they were ordered or if they were threatened to carry out their actions. Acting means gaining responsibility for you action, and the converse is equally true: not acting makes you responsible for you inaction. This was the morality that was guiding principle in the Nuremberg Trials (it was at least the principle used by the victors of the war to legitimize continued killings of the losers).
Whether this was the common view on morality in the 1940s or not, this view has no doubt been diluted since then – not many would acknowledge this morality or principle steadfastly. The number of “weak” people, in the sense discussed above, is increasing and the number of principled proponents of individual responsibility is decreasing fast.
I personally hold the state responsible for this undermining of private morality. The state feeds off disconnecting action and responsibility. Where action does not cause responsibility the state claims power to “correct” disequilibrium. And the state continuously asks the citizenry to increase its powers so that it can take responsibility for people’s actions. The state ardently asks to be of service – to alleviate people of their responsibility.
But responsibility, even though it often is made to sound like a curse, is synonymous to liberty. Where there is no responsibility there can be no liberty – where no one takes responsibility for their actions, no one can experience the liberty to make choices. If no individual is held accountable and responsible for his actions, every individual’s range of possible actions is necessarily restricted.
It should thus not be surprising that the number of people “hiding” behind rules rather than standing tall and taking responsibility is increasing. The numbers are most likely increasing at the rate our liberties are restricted. And the state is growing at the same speed, always asking for more.
And it is a slippery slope: as soon as an individual is relieved of his or her responsibility, situations arise where someone else has to pick up the bill. This unfairness and injustice is used as a catalyst for the state – as soon as such injustice arises and becomes known the people will face the following:
1) someone will call for the state to “help them out,” and
2) the state will ask for powers to “make sure” such injustice will not arise in the future
Many will, of course, agree that such injustice is unfair and awful and must be avoided. Most will sympathize with the former and see the latter as a “solution.” The result? A society in a position even further from the liberty–responsibility equilibrium; a society facing more frequent and more severe injustice; a society with a larger state.
The trend is very clear and society has moved in only one direction throughout the 20th century: towards limited responsibility and restricted liberty. I have called this century of world wars The Endarkening, an era of anti-reason, anti-rationality, and anti-liberty. This era has no doubt continued in the 21st century.
The number of people “hiding” behind rules, regulation, and procedure is increasing – and it will continue to increase. The number of times you face someone totally unable to understand you or your situation, while blankly and bluntly referring to “the rules,” will also increase. They may be weak, but they are in a position of power and they intend to use it, it is the only way they can feel strong – through subduing you and making you subjected to their “good will.”
This is not a phenomenon that is limited to a few – it is everywhere and growing: The person “unable” to help you out because they were supposed to have closed “a minute ago;” the twenty-something guy in the convenient store refusing to sell a six pack of beers to a 77-year-old who refuses to show ID; the construction company not taking responsibility for substandard “death trap” buildings because the followed “the law;” the food producing corporation selling poisonous food but following FDA regulations; politicians getting rich from screwing the taxpayers while following the “moral code.”
The actions and situations are different, but the principle is the same. These are weak minds at work, finding ways to elevate themselves at others’ expense. They find pleasure and fulfillment in seeing others suffer while avoiding responsibility through blaming faceless “rules.”
The rules are for the weak, but not in the sense it is usually understood. The rules are not established to protect people in need of help and support. No, the rules are there for the weak-minded to avoid having to take responsibility for their actions – the rules are there for them to elevate themselves at our expense. They need to rules to feel superior, to me “super-human.”
Why? They cannot stand the thought of being one of us, the same as everybody else. And they are prepared to do whatever it takes to get the high of a sense of power, to be taller through pushing others down, to replace the feeling of discomfort with an artificial sense of being needed. Even if it kills the rest of us.