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Personal Responsibility in an Era of Institutionalized Evil

We have always had people of conscience. We have always had people of action. What does it take for a person of conscience to turn into one of action?

  When does preserving your own integrity demand that you stand up against something you believe is wrong? Most people know that the majority of whistle blowers have their personal lives destroyed. For every person who refuses to be silent, how many others are there who quietly carry their knowledge of corporate wrongdoing, while following company policies that are morally repugnant? Should the defense that failed in Nuremberg be acceptable on Main Street USA? When is the cost of integrity too much to bear?

  Suppose you work for an insurance company processing claims, and you are instructed by your boss to shred a percentage of all first-time claims? He tells you, “If they really deserve to be paid they’ll resubmit the claim.”

  Suppose you are a bank employee and you are told to accept a large cash deposit without notifying the government?

  Perhaps you work for a power plant and they scrub their anti-pollution equipment at night so that no one will notice they are discharging the pollutants back into the atmosphere?

  What if you work for a company servicing mortgages and when a mortgagee makes an extra principal payment it is the organization’s policy to treat the money as an advance mortgage payment (which would include an interest charge)? You ask your boss and he says, “if the amount is less than two or three mortgage payments most people won’t question the interest.”

  What if your company conducted phony telephone polls that asked people to comment on their reaction to a hypothetical such as, “Would your vote be affected if you knew that Sen. XYZ had a mistress?”(Paid for by the opposing party, of course, and with no basis in fact.)

  But what if the stakes were greater than your job? Imagine that you are a German in the late 1930s with a government job and six children.

Members may want to share personal experiences, discuss the difference between Legality and Morality, comment on the moral conundrum posed by specific issues,  or commiserate about our common human weaknesses when faced with such a dilemma. Or...

Make suggestions for topics at future meetups.

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  • Jyoti M.

    Great discussions !

    May 18, 2014

  • Will B.

    Good discussion with all participating.

    1 · May 18, 2014

  • George

    Cannot attend today.

    May 17, 2014

  • Jennifer A.

    Most likely I don't think I am unable to make this meetup...argh. I am just not well and need to rest up. Sigh, hope to attend the next meetup

    May 17, 2014

  • Jennifer A.

    Hello CJ, how long are our meetups usually?

    May 16, 2014

    • CJ F.

      Our events typically last for two solid hours. 2.5 hours is probably the average length. Frequently interested members will continue the discussion until hour 3 or even beyond. Of course, some people need to leave so by the two hour point the group is almost always smaller and by three hours it is usually just a few diehards. After three hours the discussion is pretty dissipated: more rambling and less focused. It is a public space: you are free to leave or stay as you like.

      1 · May 16, 2014

  • Jennifer A.

    Finally, my first meetup with Greater Philly Thinking Society! I find our intellectual and philosphical ponderings to be insightful and even catharctic. I look forward to it and to meeting others in the meetup.

    May 11, 2014

  • CJ F.

    Lee, how about the example of the Nayirah testimony before the non-governmental Congressional Human Rights Caucus on October 10, 1990 in which a Kuwaiti woman told horrific stories of seeing Iraqis remove Kuwaiti babies from incubators to die in the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War. After the war, her story was revealed to be untrue and she was identified as the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the U.S.

    Her carefully choreographed testimony was heavily promoted by PR firm Hill & Knowlton (paid about $11 million by the Kuwaiti government). This resulted in widespread media coverage which led President Bush to mention it at least 10 times and led the Senate to support military action in a 52–47 vote where at least 7 senators cited the fabricated story in their votes.

    Do PR firms have a responsibility to fabricate evidence to support their clients' interests even when it may lead to war? Should you lie to start a war? Is your responsibility to the Truth and exposing false stories?

    2 · May 1, 2014

    • Lee D.

      CJ, Part of our decline in the past 30 years has resulted from the widespread endorsement of "Realpolitik" by many in our government. We used to occupy a moral high ground but we have repetitively disregarded our ideals to advance our wealth and power. In this case we wanted to preserve our oil interests in the Middle East so the lie was used to mobilize support from those who wouldn't think the destruction and loss of life would be justified to protect economic interests (money in politics again). Those who believe in actions without consulting a moral compass manage often to hide from view.; however, a single employee with a conscience might have anonymously exposed the lie and in doing so saved tens of thousands of lives that were wasted. I personally feel that everyone who knew about it had an obligation to look for a way to undermine what was being done. I don't think anyone can be expected to become a martyr but to the extent of our ability we ought to resist this kind of evil.

      2 · May 7, 2014

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