WARNING: This is not a happy post.
Wow. It’s been weeks since we’ve seen a post like this one on the site, hasn’t it? But hey, Starforge‘s draft is now complete, so we can see stuff like this again. My mind feels free.
So, what are we talking about today? Well, to start with, I bounced between quite a few titles when I was thinking on this one. “America: Land of No Free.” “Freedom from Responsibility.” “Land of Freedom from Accountability.”
Among others. I think you get the picture. And a few of you are probably wondering what this is going to be about. Well … if you’re making guesses, there’s a good chance you’re on the right track. So I’ll dive in.
When I was young and being raised, one of the things that was constantly taught and reinforced, everywhere from my parents to (some of) my education was the concept that “actions have consequences.” It’s a basic principle of life: You’re free to choose (or should be) but you cannot choose the consequences. This leads to a sense of accountability and responsibility, a sort of social construct along the longs of “for every action, there will be an equal and opposite reaction.” For example, if you work a job, working harder at said job—producing better quality work, spending more time at it, more effort—should come with the reaction of greater reward for the additional work. One plus one equals two, so one plus two should equal three.
Here’s the problem: Should. Because as those of us that have worked in the United States can attest, rare is the job where working harder sees any sort of reward for your efforts. More often than not, what happens instead is punishment via cutting. “Oh, you were able to do that job in three hours when it takes everyone else five? We’ve assigned you additional work to fill out that five hours. No, we’re still paying you the same as everyone else. Whine about it and you’ll lose your job.”
It’s a problem of consequence. Do your job well, and you’ll receive no reward for doing such. In fact, you’ll be punished. Do your job poorly, but not poorly enough to be punished? You’ll trundle along. Why risk working hard or even well when you’ll only suffer for it?
But this is just an appendage, a symptom really, of the greater problem at the root, of something that affects the entire United States. I would contend it’s the cause of the current sexual assaults problems in so many video-game companies (Activison-Blizzard is facing a lawsuit right now over, among other things, management sexually harassing and employee so badly she committed suicide, all of which was covered up), complete lack of ethics shown by food companies (Tyson Meats is currently appealing a lawsuit over their management forcing employees to work during Covid-19 lockdowns and then management making bets on how many employees would die in each department), and the source of the cruelty evidenced by shipping companies (such as one shipping warehouse forcing employees to work around the body of an employee who had suffered a heart-attack from heat exhaustion).
All of these? There’s a common root cause among them. It’s the same cause that allows CEOs, Board Members, and managers to be pulling down incomes that let them buy a new house a year while the employees right under them work 70 hours a week and yet have to be on state welfare because they’re paid so little. It’s the same cause that allows for forty employees to have twenty managers, most of which just sit in an empty office and talk with the “good old boys club” while two of those employees do all their work on top of their own because said manager doesn’t actually know how … he’s just good friends with the manager above him and that’s why he has the job. It’s the same cause that allows for a manager to run a division into the ground through manglement, ruining a company and destroying hundreds of jobs … only for that same manager to receive a bonus for their “hard work” and go on to do the same thing at another company.
No. Consequences. No accountability. No responsibility.
Why? Because these people have convinced others that they deserve to be above consequences, dangling in front of them the carrot of “If you let me do it, one day you might be able to do it too.”
This post has been a long time coming, but largely because I’ve spent a long time observing the effects of it in action. I’ve watched as incompetent people destroy businesses … only to be rewarded for that same destruction. And then those around them who were hurt by the destruction excuse them for it! “Oh,” they’ll say, “they deserve it. It has to be hard being in charge when a company goes down in flames. They shouldn’t suffer any consequences from this.”
Imagine if we applied this to other aspects of life. Man sets fire to home to collect insurance money. “Oh, they shouldn’t suffer any consequences. It had to be hard to see their house burn down like that.” Even through negligence? Same excuse. “Not everyone can be expected to know that irons are hot. Yes, they plugged it in. Yes, they then set it on their couch. And yes, they then poured vodka on it to ‘see what would happen.’ But that’s all so innocent. They deserve that insurance payout. Yes, for the third time.”
You might laugh or shake your head, but this is the current state of most US business. Don’t believe me? Go look!
Let’s put a company like Activision-Blizzard under the microscope for a second. Let’s see … rampant sexual harassments, to the point of managers passing around nude photographs of employees at parties, or managers getting drunk at work and “crawling” the cubicles to do more? CHECK! How long has this been happening? Since before 2013. What’s the company done?
Given those people bonuses, of course! Sands and storms, look at their CEO, Bobby Kotick, who a decade ago lost a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by the employees of his previous company for the same behavior (and at which point had to be sued by his lawyers because he refused to pay them for losing, despite the case being very clear). And now Activision-Blizzard has been embracing the same behavior. So what do they do?
Lay off a few thousand employees and give Kotick a $200,000,000 end-year bonus.
Yes, you read that correctly. Two hundred million dollars.
Again, this isn’t out of the ordinary anywhere in the US. The idea of “consequence” has gone out the window. Once you know the right people, or make above a certain amount of money, the idea that you should have to suffer the consequences of your actions go right out the window. Man takes over successful company and makes sweeping changes that literally kill it, a story repeated multiple times over the last few decades, and what happens? They’re given tens of millions of dollars for their failure. Bonuses. Rewards.
Meanwhile, the people under them? “Should have got a better job” chortle those defending the manglement. “Those managers deserve that money for their hard work.”
Hard work doing what exactly? Do we reward the railroad engineer who runs a train off the tracks because “Well, he did the wrong thing, but he just tried so hard?”
No. Consequence. No accountability.
Sands and storms, for masses of evidence for this, look no further than the 2020 Covid year. Covid and everything that came with it slammed businesses. In the past, many of those simping for CEOs and board members making ludicrous amounts of money would often cage it with excuses like “Well, its in the contract. The company did well overall, even if it had to fire a thousand employees to stay above water. They deserve that bonus.”
And then Covid happened. Companies didn’t make those goals. Companies had to take trillions in goverment handouts to stay afloat (turns out that despite it being a “standard” of good operating business, almost no US companies had a rainy day fund, having raided it years ago to pay for the bonuses they handed out). Their goals were unmet. And what happened?
Boards voted to overrule the contracts and requirements for bonuses and raises and issue them anyway. Yes, you read that right. And this happened en masse. Companies who took billions in government bailout money and let go massive chunks of their workforce still managed to get all their leadership together to agree that despite not meeting any of their goals, they still deserved the lion’s share of that handout money simply for ‘existing in these trying times.’
Contracts? HAH! Those are for chumps. The board make the rules, and the rule is “We deserve all the money regardless of our responsibility and how we failed to meet it.”
No accountability. No consequence. No responsibility.
“But wait,” you might say. “What about the shareholders? Don’t they have a responsibility to hold these people accountable?” Well, they might if they weren’t on the take. What does the shareholder care about employees committing suicide as long as the board has slipped them another few dollars and whispered “You’ll get more like this as long as you stay quiet?” It’s like expecting the insurance claims adjuster to do anything about the man burning his house down again and again when there are photographs of the adjuster taking packets of cash in front of the burning building. “Don’t account this,” the arsonist says. “Look the other way, and I’ll keep making sure you get your cut.”
Meanwhile, the bystanders, the ones watching as this happens, are talking among themselves saying things like “Well, I don’t think this affects me, and if I don’t say anything I might be able to buy the adjuster off next, so I’ll stay quiet.” They see the freedom from responsibility and consequence and they envy it. They want it.
The arsonist? Sometimes they even look at the bystander and make a shushing motion. “Don’t say anything. Look the other way, and maybe someday I’ll look the other way if you do it.”
And sadly, this works. Even when sometimes the home that the arsonist is burning down is the home the bystander is renting.
“But I’ll let it happen,” the bystander thinks as they look for another home. “Because someday I might be burning the house down, and I want that money!” Worse, they begin to believe that they are owed this money, as someone else got away with it, so they should be allowed to as well if they ever get there. Thus, the cycle perpetuates itself.
The justification varies. Sometimes I’ve heard people explain that “Yes, that’s all unethical, and those deaths are so very sad, but the ends justify the means.” Or “Yes, that’s all unethical, but it’s very hard to be that unethical. Shouldn’t someone be rewarded for that difficulty?”
No. These are all excuses. Awful ones, at that. They’re just justification for a lack of accountability and responsibility, carefully coached to excuse greed. Selfish greed at that.
But there’s another side to this. People will make justifications about burning the house down, but at the end of the day people lived in those houses. People worked at these jobs. And this lack of accountability? It’s being passed down the chain.
I worked a job once where employees were scheduled hours to do set tasks. Under the way business and labor was taught to me as a kid, working hard to complete these tasks ahead of time, showing that you were a capable employee, improving the process, etc, any and all of these would have, should have been rewarded.
But instead, there was no accountability for that. No reward for hard labor. If you got your tasks done early, you’d simply be assigned other tasks. If you worked hard and upped the quality of work, there was no reward. There was no raise. There was no praise. Instead, there was “Well then do this here now.”
Manglement there expected that no matter what, you would just do more for less. Because they didn’t see themselves as accountable to anyone. The employees did a six-hour job in four? Penalize them and send them home, robbing them of those last two hours. Company has seen a record year? Well, manglement certainly saw that in their bonuses. But the employees that worked to the bone making it happen? Threaten them and revoke their annual raises. That’ll motivate them!
Sands, there is no end to the lack of accountability and responsibility from companies and managers in the US. Someone I once knew was told off for working more than the standard number of hours per week because if they kept it up, they’d be eligible for benefits and overtime. The employee retorted that the company had scheduled them for those hours. The response?
Not our problem. Said employee then asked since they had already been scheduled above the number the company wanted him to for the next several weeks, should they leave early.
“NO!” the employer replied. If they skipped out on a shift, that’d bring penalties. When the employee retorted that they were also penalizing them right now for working the hours the employer had set, they were told that was “their problem, not the company’s.”
Thankfully, said employee left the company shortly thereafter. But that story serves to illustrate a complete lack of accountability and responsibility ingrained at the highest (and deepest) levels in companies in the US these days. Holding a manager accountable? They don’t do that. Clearly, the fault lies with the employee.
Don’t believe me? In the process of writing this post, news broke on the Activision-Blizzard sexual harrassment lawsuit that to counter it, Act-Blizz has hired a law firm famous for shaking down employees and busting unions.
That’s right. State lawsuit over all the terrible things management is doing? Hire a firm famous for going after employees. How dare the peasants speak up! Send out the knights, and get to pillaging, killing, and raping! We prefer that to admitting our own mistakes.
After all, we’re important, and therefore cannot be held accountable for that.
And look, I can see how someone might say “Well, I work at one of the rare good companies, so this doesn’t effect me. Why should I worry about it?”
Because it does. This sort of lack of accountability and responsibility is seeping out, like a toxin, into other aspects of our society. Case in point, our last president. The number of times someone told me “Well, he’s a great successful businessman, so …” to which I would reply “And how many of those businesses failed utterly or got by on borrowed money that was never repaid?” only to get the answer of ‘Well that’s not his fault. He’s not responsible for that. Others were!”
“You know … others. They. Them.”
Sands and Storms, look at the Jan. 6th riots at the capital, and the number of excuses people have made for that, from “Well, you can’t hold the people who planned it/told them to do it accountable for what happened” to “Well, they thought they were going to be pardoned, so maybe we should …”
No. That’s not how this works. Or rather, it’s not how it should work. But more and more, I see people arguing for any sort of freedom from responsibility and accountability.
It even effects what I do. Not only have I been told by people that they plan to steal one of my books rather than pay for it (or, you know, get it at a library), but those same people have then given a justification that I am at fault for that decision, not them. They can’t be held accountable for their choice. Maybe someone else, but not them.
I realize this is a pretty grim topic, and that I’ve been very blunt. And this post may have upset some readers who may have felt personally attacked for engaging the very type of behavior described here. And if so, well … No, I’m not apologizing.
Because here’s the real truth of all this: You can’t cheat physics. No matter what, every action will have an equal and opposite reaction.
And what we’re doing in the US? Putting off responsibility and accountability? We’re not escaping the consequences. We’re simply punting them down the road. Like putting all our bills on a credit card and claiming we have a positive income as a result. One day, that bill will come due.
And right now? The “labor shortage?” The massive rising suicide numbers. The sexual assaults happening in the businesses where we’ve decided those in charge don’t need to be held accountable for such behavior? Those are the debts coming due. There’s always a consequence. We may have, as a collective nation, decided that there shouldn’t be … but you know what? We don’t have that power.
Every action. Comes with a reaction. The bill will come due. The debts will pile up.
And they can be devestating. If we as a nation continue on this path, of excusing people because of their money or their status, saying “Well, they can get away with it because …” we will have to deal with the consequences. We already are. Runaway economic inequality. Skyrocketing costs and inflation. Economic instability.
We as a nation wrote those checks. Every individual shares some responsibility—especially those from the era when this mindset exploded, the 70s and 80s—for this happening … No matter how much we want to excuse it.
Now as to what we can do? Well … I can see two things that will help.
First, we need to stop excusing ourselves and take accountability. No more excusing our behavior because ‘Well, the arsonist got away with it.” You know what that is? It’s a race to the bottom. No more excuses. Each of us needs to be responsible, and take accountability for our own actions. Which means accounting for them as well.
Second, we need to stop excusing others. No more letting CEOs off the hook for constant bad behavior simply because “But money.” Or managers. Or anyone. Celebrities, sports stars, whatever. Don’t disassociate yourself from bad behavior but continue to support it. As a shareholder, hold your company accountable. Use your voice. As a sports viewer, don’t just sit back. Stop supporting a team if they support a player who raped someone.
Third, stand up for others that are pushing for the accountability. You don’t have to agree on everything, but you can agree that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and it’s time we as a nation stopped pretending that it didn’t.
Will we manage to fix things before the bill we as a nation are running up comes due? I sincerely hope so.
Because if we can’t, there won’t be a United States by the end of it. Because everyone will have burned it to the ground in the hunt for their share of the insurance fraud. And they’ll be nothing left.
One thought on “OP-ED: A Matter of No Consequence”
I saw a lot of this in my current company over the last five years. Primarily, it involved regular layoffs, roughly once every six months. A lot of guys I knew who were essentially experts at their jobs were booted, and it got so bad that eventually there were certain processes for which we literally have no experts, but we still offer them as products. We haven’t had another layoff in… a little over a year now, I think? But I imagine that’s only because we’ve reached a point of “skeleton crew”. Heck, MAny of my SMEs can’t get to my documents because they’re trying to do the work of five people as it is. There haven’t been any raises in two years, and in the latest company-wide announcement they said they’d offer them as soon as they “figure out how to pay the cost”. Hmm… I wonder how much the guys on top make in a month…
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