While other readings (Ladd 1970) focused on organizations as evil or as putting a barrier around our individuality in order to serve its higher purpose, this reading posits that are only as strong as the individuals making it up (Bender 1992). To Bender, an organization should be considered the sum of its individuals. Along this line of logic, if a majority of individuals within an organization decide to act immorally, then the ‘net’ morality of it will be negative. While Ladd (1970) suggested that institutional immorality would suppress individualism, in the case of the Bender (1992) essay, it suggests that this simply represents a greater barrier over which individuals must climb in order to bring awareness of immoral behavior.
While individuals may be part of an organization that could be considered ‘systemically’ evil, a person has a choice to go against the flow and call out what his or her ‘internal judge’ deems to be morally wrong (Bender 1992). Ethics and morality can be formed from an early age, and certainly impacted by our own life experiences and organizational memberships, but individuals still have the freedom to choose their own path. To borrow from Bender’s analogy, we can choose to not put on a ‘mask.’
Throughout the semester, we have focused on a variety of cases where unethical situations may have occurred. As Bender (1992) mentioned, and as popularized by Freakonomics (2005), humans respond to incentives (e.g. money, power, etc.) that determine behavior. To which incentives should we respond? The answer is never clear, and always situation-specific. Although there are ethical theories that can provide a meaning and context through which we can address ethical problems, in the end it’s the individual who has to make that distinction. We are composites of our life experiences, so our own internal moral compass is constantly being tested, revised, and retested, just like the science and engineering tasks upon which we focus. Our lives, our experiences, and our paths in life are all individual choices. Choice is one thing that makes us human, so in the end only we, as individuals, can choose to be moral.
Bender, K. 1992. The Mask: The loss of moral conscience and personal responsibility. The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity.
Ladd, J. 1970. Morality and the Ideal of Rationality in Formal Organizations. The Monist 54(4):488-516.
Levitt, S.D., and S.J. Dubner. 2005. Freakonomics. Harper Collins: New York, NY.