The Ubiquity of Moral Cowardice

Via Twitter, Damian Counsell links to this piece on Harvey Weinstein by screenwriter Scott Rosenburg:

Not to mention, most of the victims chose not to speak out.
Aside from sharing the grimy details with a close girlfriend or confidante.
And if they discussed it with their representatives?
Agents and managers, who themselves feared The Wrath Of The Big Man?
The agents and managers would tell them to keep it to themselves.
Because who knew the repercussions?
That old saw “You’ll Never Work In This Town Again” came crawling back to putrid life like a re-animated cadaver in a late-night zombie flick.
But, yes, everyone knew someone who had been on the receiving end of lewd advances by him.
Or knew someone who knew someone.

And here’s where the slither meets the slime:
Harvey was showing us the best of times.
He was making our movies.
Throwing the biggest parties.
Taking us to The Golden Globes!
Introducing us to the most amazing people (Meetings with Vice President Gore! Clubbing with Quentin and Uma! Drinks with Salman Rushdie and Ralph Fiennes! Dinners with Mick Jagger and Warren-freaking-Beatty!).

In short, nobody spoke out about the mistreatment of their colleagues because they were doing fine. A certain Edmund Burke had something to say about this:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

To borrow a phrase from the feminists, this is not a problem restricted to Hollywood. Only I’m not talking about sexual assaults on women workers, I’m talking about moral cowardice.

I defy anyone who has worked the last ten years in the modern workplace to tell me they haven’t seen a time when a decent, conscientious, competent worker was treated like dirt or hounded out of their position by a self-serving, cowardly management who should never have been put in charge of guarding a pile of wet dog shit, let alone the lives of human beings.

Similarly, I defy anyone who has worked the last ten years in the modern workplace to cite more than three occasions when a colleague of somebody who’s been fucked over has stuck his neck out and openly criticised the management responsible for the mistreatment. I don’t mean expressing sympathy with the guy, nor do I mean making generic remarks about how terrible it all is. I mean marching into the manager’s office and saying:

“Just to let you know, I am seriously unhappy with what you are doing to Fred over there. It is unethical, immoral, and probably illegal, and ought to have no place in a modern business.”

Hands up who has done that? Hands up who has seen anyone do that? Anyone? Nobody? Bueller? Bueller?!

There are reasons for this, of course. People are individuals, and usually have kids to feed and a mortgage to pay. Achieving these two things are usually their top priorities in life, and anything else is secondary – including being happy at work. So colleagues of a mistreated employee may sympathise and want to say something, but will judge it to be in their personal interests just to keep quiet. Why antagonise the management and put yourself on a hit-list when it probably isn’t going to help your colleague anyway? Better  to remain silent.

Only as Mr Burke realised, speaking out against injustice matters for two reasons:

1. Many managers, especially weak ones who want their subordinates cowed and compliant, interpret silence as contentment. Believing their actions are being met with approval, they are emboldened to continue in the same manner. Keeping silent allows bad managers to justify shitty behaviour to themselves and keep their consciences clear. It allows them to go home at night and look their wives and kids in the eyes instead of hanging their heads in shame. I would prefer a manager who has mistreated somebody to be the subject of a short, sharp, and unpleasant confrontation with an unrelated third party which has him unable to sleep that night through realisation that he is, in this instance, a complete c*nt. Speak out and you make them uncomfortable, far more than they let on. Subordinates are under no obligation to give their superiors a comfy ride at their expense.

2. There is an appalling habit of managers, when confronted with an unfavorable situation over which they have presided, to claim “we didn’t know” followed by “if we had known, we would have done something” and followed further by “you should have communicated this to us through the proper channels”. Speaking out at the time robs them of the opportunity to pull this excuse in the future, and forces them to attempt to justify the situation or commit to a demonstrable lie. Again, it will make them uncomfortable. Good.

Of course, if you try to intervene the manager in question is likely to say that it is none of your business, at which point you can fire back that your colleague being subject to shitty treatment is everyone’s business, and it is. Sooner or later, it will be you wishing others had spoken out.

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24 thoughts on “The Ubiquity of Moral Cowardice

  1. I’ve not seen anything in software for 20 years. And I think that’s because (and this was over 20 years ago), shit management (and not even abusive shit management) will find all the programmers leaving.

    The last time was a manager who wanted to rescind a transfer because a woman had gotten pregnant, pulled her into an office, told her he’d changed his mind and she wasn’t good enough for the job. But I only found this out from my friend Paul who had already gone one level higher and dealt with it. It did help that Paul really hated the manager involved.

    Jane Fonda was interviewed on HardTalk on the BBC recently. You know, feminist activist Jane. She said she heard about it a year ago, but did nothing. Various excuses. There’s a woman who is nearly 80 at this point. She’s had her life. She had nothing to lose. She isn’t raising the kids or struggling with the bills.

  2. I think the reason no one did anything is simple.

    These are horrible horrible people, who lie to themselves in a quasi religious relationship with the modern democratic party for forgiveness.

    They didn’t try to right the wrong because they had already done their penance and paid alms in supporting the latest trans charity or whatever.

  3. Sorry to be a pendant, but Burke probably didn’t use that form of words:

    See, I always knew it was Churchill. Or Mark Twain.

  4. I get paid to hold moral cowards’ nerve for them.

    It’s quite depressing at the start of the process and then often very rewarding to see them grow something resembling a nascent spine.

  5. I can’t say that I have seen it in my workplace in the last ten years, the last eight of which is in my current organisation, not saying it doesn’t exist but I haven’t seen it. I am kind of top of the pyramid where I am now and we consider ourselves an open and honest approach and we dish out the abuse equally. We push everyone hard and those that perform make it and those that don’t drop out. Also, companies aren’t democracies and folk that don’t fit in are better of leaving.

    On the Weinstein thing and not excusing his behaviour and noting that he hasn’t been found guilty of rape, so let’s say that he hasn’t raped anyway so far. And lest say that he was only guilty of having a ham shank next to a budding actress, its dodgy but put in context it’s not really that serious an offence if they were free to leave the room. Like I said the other day Rose McGowan would have witnessed far worse with Marilyn Manson the king of the sodomites.

    The good men doing nothing for me is more applicable in politics and military field. Examples being JFK and his condemnation of the military complex and guys like David Irving and Alexander Solzhenitsyn that went from celebrated wealthy writers to pariahs overnight simply because they chose to write about something that the mainstream considered taboo with the courage of their convictions, could I do that, probably not.

  6. I agree with the main thrust of this. There are two bits that are not quite so simple, however. The first is that I have sometimes believed that colleagues were being treated shabbily, but didn’t know if there were deeper reasons for their woes which were more legitimate. Things happened on a “need to know” basis. The anxiety is that had I spoken out, I’m pretty sure that managers would have closed ranks, HR would have been briefed, and I would have been shown to be an interfering zealot who had grasped the wrong end of the stick.

    Second, I don’t know if I agree with this bit:

    “I would prefer a manager who has mistreated somebody to be the subject of a short, sharp, and unpleasant confrontation with an unrelated third party which has him unable to sleep that night through realisation that he is, in this instance, a complete c*nt. Speak out and you make them uncomfortable, far more than they let on.”.

    It might apply to some managers, but I have known several for who the unfavourable opinions of others were a matter of complete indifference.

  7. The anxiety is that had I spoken out, I’m pretty sure that managers would have closed ranks, HR would have been briefed, and I would have been shown to be an interfering zealot who had grasped the wrong end of the stick.

    Regardless of whether you’d got the wrong end of the stick, they’d say it was none of your business for sure.

    It might apply to some managers, but I have known several for who the unfavourable opinions of others were a matter of complete indifference.

    It won’t apply to all, but would to more than you’d think. Managers can shrug off blowback from those they fuck over or their close colleagues, but it’s harder to do it with blowback from other areas of the organisation that aren’t related. What used to piss me off – particularly on Sakhalin – was the way people would be complaining about how a manager is running things or treating people one minute, and socialising with them the next. Unless you’re a complete sociopath, people like to be liked: ostracising shit managers would go a long way to improving them I reckon.

  8. “Examples being JFK and his condemnation of the military complex and guys like David Irving and Alexander Solzhenitsyn that went from celebrated wealthy writers to pariahs overnight simply because they chose to write about something that the mainstream considered taboo”
    Oh dear.
    – Eisenhower, not JFK, warned about the military-industrial complex;
    – bracketing Irving with Solzhenitsyn is, at best, a bit like bracketing Nostradamus with Einstein.

  9. @Stephen

    I wasn’t talking about warning dearie, I was talking about JFK trying to shut them down, best that you stick to brackets.

  10. “I was talking about JFK trying to shut them down”: almost all praise of JFK in office is piss, mere retrospective projection, being based on things he never said nor ever intended.

    What’s the evidence that JFK wanted to shut down the ‘military complex’?

    Back to Tim’s point: people should build up a “get stuffed” fund so that they can afford to tell a boss to go to hell. That’s the counsel of perfection, I’ll admit, but a much better use of the spare bawbees than splurging on cars and other toys.

  11. Dearieme,

    This is known as the ‘fuck you position’, I can assure you, when your working for a large corporation at a senior level, they HATE the idea you can walk away at the turn of your heels, they tried to tie me in so my entire life was run through the company.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdfeXqHFmPI

  12. ” . . . people should build up a “get stuffed” fund so that they can afford to tell a boss to go to hell.”

    It’s been my experience that the Eff You Money myth is just that – a myth.

    If you ask ten people how much money it takes, the answer is almost always something like ([what I have right now] X 2.5.) It’s like the “Free Beer Tomorrow” signs in bars – tomorrow never comes.

    Those who can truly say Eff You to a boss or a job can say it no matter how much they have put away.

    The rest can salt away a million or two and still be waiting to hit that magic number. They’ll never actually catch up to it. Most people just aren’t the Eff You type.

  13. @dearieme – “What’s the evidence that JFK wanted to shut down the ‘military complex’?”

    It’s a matter of public record that from the very beginning of his administration right through to his assassination that he resisted his generals numerous and overwhelming calls for military intervention in each of the CIA created scenarios of Vietnam and Cuba. When he came to office the CIA had by then consolidated its power and was no longer answerable to the President and JKF seeing this first hand promised “to break the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.” Horrified at plans for proposed False Flags he sacked Dulles (who was appointed to the Warren Commission to investigate his assassination) and continually resisted their agitation for military intervention in the situation of imminent and very real high stakes during his dramatic period in office. He through his “Improbable Triumvirate” managed to get Khrushchev back to the table and a very real nuclear test ban was imminent.

    Some key milestones include.

    Indochina wars – he resisted calls for military intervention in Laos in 62.

    Bay of Pigs – he resisted calls for military intervention when the CIA Cubans were defeated on the beach.

    Indochina again resisted calls for military intervention.

    Berlin standoff where he convinced Khrushchev to withdrew his tanks first when Khrushchev first realised how much pressure JFK was under from his military men and this action did avoid a war.

    Cuban missile crisis, was under overwhelming pressure to intervene militarily especially after a US aircraft was shot down, he resisted. McNamara recalls that ti wasn’t until a conference in the seventies that the US found out that the Soviet soldiers on the Cuban ground had tactical nuclear weaponry and were prepared to use it that he released what JFK had saved us all from.

    Then during summer and fall of 63 and despite huge resistance from the establishment laid the groundwork for real and everlasting peace through “The Improbable Triumvirate” of JFK, The Pope and Khrushchev and a rescued the Test Ban Treaty.

    His peace speech of June 63, one of his best, which kind of says it all really, plus the support this speech engendered in the Russian people as the first US President to acknowledged their suffering during WWII and that its people equally had a right to live in peace just as all other citizens of the world had.

    And finally, the speech he was to deliver in Dallas on the night that he was assassinated.

    “We, in this country, in this generation, are — by destiny rather than by choice — the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of “peace on earth, good will toward men.” That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago: “except the Lord keep the city, the watchmen waketh but in vain.”

    So, he was assassinated, the arms race kept going, America entered the Vietnam war, a war that killed millions and completely demoralised the USA a war that marked the start of this current situation of perpetual state decreed wars that we currently find ourselves in. What has unfolded since his sudden departure is a very good example of evil prevailing when good men do nothing.

  14. @David – “they HATE the idea you can walk away at the turn of your heels, they tried to tie me in so my entire life was run through the company.”

    The other thing that they hate is when your golden parachute payout figure is equivalent to the GDP of Latvia if and when you or they do decide to part ways.

    I was in a discussion with an owner director last week about an ex senior employees pay out figure and how high it was, when I mentioned in subtle way that his wasn’t that large when compared to mine. He didn’t say anything at the time but i am sure he thought about it after.

  15. “Bay of Pigs – he resisted calls for military intervention when the CIA Cubans were defeated on the beach.”

    Just to point out he did green light that complete cluster-fuck in the first place, perhaps to be fair you could say he was slightly less moronic than those who came up with the plan in the first place.

  16. Bardon

    “The other thing that they hate is when your golden parachute payout figure is equivalent to the GDP of Latvia if and when you or they do decide to part ways.”

    I’ve heard of these things, but I’ve never seen one in the wild….

  17. @David- “Just to point out he did green light that complete cluster-fuck in the first place”

    Yes he did approve it and took responsibility for it, an early event that he learned a lot about the CIA and military from. There is sufficient evidence to conclude that Operation Zapata would never have succeeded without a US navy air strike (not the planned for private Air America type B52’s that strangely never eventuated either) and that JFK was being lured into a trap where he would have had no choice but to order a military strike on a sovereign nation that they were not at war with.

    See below military communique of the time that suggests that the military were always planning for a direct US military escalation in order to succeed.

    “Our second concept (1,500-3,000 man force to secure a beach with airstrip) is also now seen to be unachievable, except as a joing Agency/DOD action.”

  18. “There is sufficient evidence to conclude that Operation Zapata would never have succeeded without a US navy air strike ”

    It would never have succeeded without the complete support of the entire US Navy and Airforce, you don’t defeat 1/4 of a million armed me with 1500 and a handful of clapped out B-26’s. The whole thing was a nonsense from the start.

  19. I can assure you, when your working for a large corporation at a senior level, they HATE the idea you can walk away at the turn of your heels, they tried to tie me in so my entire life was run through the company.

    I’ve noticed that too, especially with expats. A subject for another post, perhaps.

  20. If you ask ten people how much money it takes, the answer is almost always something like ([what I have right now] X 2.5.) It’s like the “Free Beer Tomorrow” signs in bars – tomorrow never comes.

    Those who can truly say Eff You to a boss or a job can say it no matter how much they have put away.

    Very true, and worth expanding on.

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