When someone does something wrong, they often don’t want to admit it. This is not unnatural, as few people wish to suffer if they can avoid it. There are three general categories that determine one’s willingness to take responsibility for one’s choice of actions
• The first is ethical: You simply don’t want to do things that you consider to be wrong, and may well ‘fess up to it, independent of the consequences.
• The second is moral: You fear punishment in the hereafter more than you desire temporal benefit.
• The third is a dollars-and-cents evaluation that says it will cost you less now than if you pretend the product isn’t defective and have to pay later.
Unfortunately, not everyone is an Eagle Scout. And many religious people are able to interpret the scripture of their choice in such a way as to justify bad actions. And sometimes the cost analysis may tell you to do the wrong thing if you believe that the end justifies the means, an ethical view that distorts most ethical ideas. In addition, there are many people who are simply criminals, for whom issues of right and wrong do not apply, and where the benefit that comes if they are not caught outweighs the risk if they are caught.
In addition, each of us can simply make an error of judgment under the pressure of the situation, and watch it spiral out of control as we helplessly watch from the sidelines, too frightened to take control of the situation.
We professionally encounter many situations in which people who have a problem do things that create a worse problem – compounding the error of choice. For example, by most standards having an affair or embezzling funds is bad. The consequences of getting caught are worse. However, killing the person who can expose the affair or the embezzlement puts you in an even worse position. By the same token, running someone down while driving – whether drunk or sober – is bad. Fleeing the scene can make the consequences dramatically worse.
One of the factors that cause things to cascade out of control is refusal to acknowledge the cause of the problem, making any proposed solution unrealistic. This is as true for governments as for individuals, although the consequences are more widespread. As an example, one has only to look atIraqto see how this plays out in real life.
Much of the current discussion is of whether the Iraqis have stepped up to the plate in implementing American-style democracy, and whether we should simply leave if they don’t do their part in a timely manner. (Our personal suspicion is that “a timely manner” means somewhere between A) the time it took the U.S.to get from declaring independence from Britain in 1776 until the last battle of the American War of 1812 (in 1815), and B) the time it would take to convert America from civil law to Sharia law.)
However, the assumption that the Iraqis have failed to do their job, after we went in to help them, does not deal with the problem. In truth we went in – with the best of intentions on the part of the average American – under what proved in retrospect to be the factually false impression on the part of many Americans that Iraq had nuclear and biological weapons. (For a better understanding of weapons of mass destruction in Hussein’s Iraq, we recommend the Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq’s WMD of 30 September 2004, which can be found at https://www.cia.gov/cia/reports/iraq_wmd_2004/index.html.)America’s subsequent actions have been hindered by the culturally false premise that the 150-plus feuding tribes of Iraq wished to abandon their tribal culture and band together to form an American style democracy. And the politically false premise that the majority of money and talent would not flee the country in time of turmoil. And the sociologically false premise that in times of violence there would be a move toward moderation, rather than the extremism which drove the Christian and Jewish populations from the country, and turned the co-existing Sunni and Shia populations so bitterly against each other, much as we saw in the Balkans.
At the point where the U.S. turns from blaming the Iraqis for not keeping to our timetable on things that are important to us (but seemingly not them), to the actual problems at hand, we will be on our way toward a solution.
Corporations are also guilty of choosing to ignore problems. We see this all too often with products that are discovered to be defective or harmful, where a decision is made not to admit to the problem unless caught. These are too numerous, and too well known, to need to be discussed here.
It is, of course, true that the issue of deliberately ignoring the cause of a problem is only a subset of the larger problem of not having enough information to know the cause of a problem (see the November 2004 issue of ÆGIS for an amusing example of this, still with us after 5,000 years). Choosing to deny the root of a problem (as opposed to not understanding it) is, however, an area in which we have some level of control.
The bottom line is that independent of whether you are an individual, a government, or a corporation, you cannot adequately address an issue for which you are responsible if you are unwilling or unable to properly and accurately address its cause. And if you are not willing to take responsibility for the true nature of what is happening, the results are likely to be worse for you than they should be.