Okay. You look at some Scandals, like Flint Michigan, or other things and we run into a serious problem.
For my example, I am going to use the Ford Motor Company Pinto disaster of the 1970s
The punchline of the scandal was that it became clear early on that Ford Pintos had a design flaw in early models that made the fuel tank likely to rupture in a rear-end collision. Ford knew about this, but elected not to enact a fix for this because they estimated that fixing the problem would cost them $137 million while paying off lawsuits would cost them $37 million.
Stuff like this happens all the time.
Here is my premise.
Humans are tribal. We tend to identify with members of our tribe first and outsiders second.
So when the officials of Ford Motor Company were exposed to the facts of the Pinto problem, they had a complete failure of empathy for the people who’d be hurt.
I think they identified more with the abstract entity of Ford Motor Company, than they did with the injured people and survivors of people who died because of the Pinto problem.
Similarly official with the Flint Michigan Government identified more with their Abstract entity, acting to protect it from embarrassment rather than empathizing with children and other people injured by lead in the water.
So – what is this about us, that we’d put Ford Motor Company or the Flint City Government ahead of real, no shit human beings?
I think it’s a matter of misplaced empathy. I think these people subconsciously relate to the Ford Motor Company or the Government of Flint, as though these entities are people, as if these entities are people with much higher social status in their group.
I don’t think the form of a corporation is to blame. I don’t think the form of a city government is to blame, in this case.
I think what we’re seeing is a case where human emotional and social reactions honed by millions of years of evolution is a poor fit for relating to problems between Ford Motor Company and other people.
Note, that the people who made this decision at Ford worked at Ford every day. They went to Ford and did Ford things with Ford people for Ford reasons.
They knew someone was going to be injured, but they didn’t know who. They didn’t know this person, they had no interaction. So for the Ford Executives, Ford as an entity was much more present, real and an active part of their lives, while possible accident victims were more abstract and notional.
I have been hearing about a book called “Thinking, Fast and Slow”
I am digging into it, slowly.
I think that the people who make decisions like the ones I am looking at above are reacting, subconsciously to their Organization like a person. They’ve unwittingly engaged their sympathy and empathy with their group, and withdrawn it from other people who are being actually harmed.
I think that if people were properly educated, they could overcome this system 1 rooted loyalty to their group with a better, but slower system 2 loyalty to a system of ethics that outlawed abstract groups hurting real human beings.
But it seems like no one was aware of this effect and no one knew how it could have such negative consequences.
We’re seeing a lot of this. From Flint, MI to the US Federal Government
to the Pentagon
And the Dakota Access Pipeline
It’s clear that people in organizations all over the world, need the tools (Identifying system 1 and system 2 thinking) and the awareness (To be aware of misplaced empathy and disregarding people who really SHOULD receive empathy) to be able to more effectively choose to do the right thing.
We see time and again, in scandals, usually the breaking of the scandal is an ugly surprise. For many people involved in such a scandal, That’s a scandal at all is a surprise. Then they quickly begin to cover up the bad decisions that have resulted in a serious problem.
Obviously, these people have had a point in time, somewhat earlier – where they came upon a decision to be made. Many seem not to have recognized the gravity of the decision facing them.
When encountering such a decision, these people were unarmed. They did not have the tools, or the awareness to understand that, yes, if you chose to hurt human beings, it DOES suck. The decision came and caught them unaware and defeated their ethical code before there was much of a fight.
We need to arm people against these bad decisions.
And, if people elect to place the well-being of an abstract entity over the well being of human beings – there needs to be a lot of transparency and strong feedback.
But also note. How often do people in a government or a corporation start keeping secrets? How often to they take actions to keep facts, choices, events and actions out of sight of people outside the organization?
Human tribalism is interacting with these large organizations in an extremely negative way.
I’d like to see this addressed. I like to see us try and move away from this tribal impulse, even if it means making a sustained and conscious effort not to do this sort of thing.
Where I hang out, sometimes, they have a saying. “If you keep doing what you’re doing, You’ll keep getting what you’re getting.”
I think that slogan is a great summation of politics at the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017.
We keep doing the same things and getting the same things as a result.