Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

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Supposed you had an organization that made a product that was extremely valuable to society as a whole. Now suppose there was a problem with this product. The problem was during the manufacture of this product, one individual had to carry out a task, that over the space of six months was lethal to that person. In other words, one-person in the manufacturing process was going to die every six months in order for this organization to keep producing this very valuable product, this would occur even if they did the job just once. No matter what research was carried out, this manufacturing problem could not be fixed, and the price for this organization’s success was one death every six months. Should that organization continue to manufacture that product? What if the organization was ten people? In other words, every six months, in order for that organization of ten to thrive one of them had to volunteer to conduct that lethal manufacturing step so the other nine could continue to do their jobs. One-in-ten, doesn’t sound very good, does it?

What if instead of ten workers, the organization had 100,000. Every six months one of the 100,000 had to volunteer to conduct that lethal step so that the others could continue their work. What if the organization was 10,000,000? What if it was 400,000,000? At what point do the numbers make sense for it to be ok for one person to sacrifice their life every six months? Do the numbers ever make any sense, is it ever justifiable? At any of those organizational sizes that one person who dies is still just as dead, their life cut short, their ability to experience joy, love, other emotions and experiences cut short. Was it worth it to them?  What if instead of volunteering they were unaware that the job was lethal. Does that make a difference?

This dilemma has long been discussed and argued about and has appeared in books and movies. In Star Trek, The Wrath of Khan (1982), as Spock is sacrificing himself to save the ship he and Kirk have this exchange.

“Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” – Spock

“Or the one.”  – Kirk

But in the sequel in 1984, The Search for Spock, when Kirk disobeys orders and puts the ship at risk for Spock to be reborn he justifies his action by saying,

“…the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.” – Kirk

Has Kirk evolved his thinking? When the USA was founded the government was set up to be slow and ponderous, to be deliberative in it’s decision-making. The reason for that was not that the founding fathers wanted to be inefficient, but rather they wanted decisions, and their impacts, to be carefully weighed before implementation. They set up a multi-step system, with three co-equal branches of government each having their roles to play and without too much power being able to be gathered under one branch. The role of the government, as they envisioned it, was not majority rule, but rather the protection of rights for those who may not be well-represented in society or in the legislative bodies creating laws. That drove, for instance, the separation of church and state, so that no one religion could impose it’s will on others simply because they had the most number of adherents.  The needs of the one, outweigh the needs or the desires of the many. The passage in the Declaration of Independence which states that “all men are created equal” is a nod to this. Even if it is just one person who is different than all others, they are equal in the eyes of our founding fathers, each life just as valuable as any other. This of course was aspirational and in practice we have often fallen and still do fall far short of that ideal, but at least the aspiration is there and it is something we should all work towards together.

When attempts are made to deprogram members of cults or adherents to terrorist groups one method is to show that often the leadership does not behave in the manner that they state their members should be behaving. For instance, you show the leaders, who state that personal possessions are evil and should be turned over, wearing expensive watches, driving fancy cars or flying in personal jets, in other words you point out their hypocrisy. And you point it out over and over. Sometimes it works but often people are very good at accepting only the information that comports to what they already believe and reject those facts that contradict beliefs.

We as a country are currently separating children from their parents on our southern border. In some cases parents are told that the children are being taken for showers or baths and then never returned. It is a scene that is eerily and horrifically reminiscent of Nazi’s telling concentration camp victims that they were going for showers as they were led into the gas chambers. It makes my skin crawl and brings tears to my eyes. Scenes of young children crying for their parents are occurring over and over. These are the facts and they are right before our eyes.

Many of our most senior leaders today are awash in vast oceans of hypocrisy and they want the American public to believe them as they use us simply as a means for political and financial gain. Groups that traditionally proclaim themselves as “pro-family” are strangely quiet on this issue and their hypocrisy grows, as they look to cling to power and influence. This is not what the USA is supposed to be, it is not who I am. We are supposed to be protecting the vulnerable, not inflicting suffering upon them. Each and every one of the children and each and every one of their parents should be protected and they should not be separated. They are not numbers, they are not statistics, they are not pawns in some evil conception of political maneuvering. The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many and one separated child is one too many.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

June 19, 2018 at 9:04 pm

Posted in Ethics, Human Behavior

One Response

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  1. Currently reading Kahneman and googling WYSIATI found your blog. There are so many different realities and authoritarians are so believable. The questions you listed, help expose the issues. Thank you.

    Carrie Serfass

    July 4, 2018 at 12:45 pm


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