Complicity takes many forms, as discussed in posts by both Bakchos and me. Many believe that silent complicity is the least culpable, but to my mind if the silence enables the perpetrator of the wrongdoing to continue causing harm, then the silence is of a gross kind. An example of such silent complicity allowing continuing harm is described by Steven Miles generating discussion in both the Lancet and via his book Oath Betrayed.
I’ve given a lot of thought to Bakchos’ post on human dignity and justice in trying to express to others the reasons why I believe in protecting the rights of others.
If society or community has no body, if it is merely the expression, construct or tool of many individuals who each have their own moral responsibility, then the moral responsibility to direct out communities to behave in a just and honourable manner lies in each individual person.
It’s a profound realization, this concept of personal responsibility. Socrates took it so seriously that he was willing to drink hemlock as sentence for heresy against the gods. In reality, Socrates paid the price for pointing out the failings of the democratic Greek state in adhering to the tenets of democracy itself.
What constitutes community or society? Is it singular or a mutli-variate depending on its focus? If the latter, what is the focus of that society?
I argue that society is both singular and multi-variate. Each tribe, province and nation forms its own societal boundaries, built upon the values that form the focus from which all other norms emanate. Those norms will differ between cultures and religions, but the most fundamental similarity that continuously re-appears is that of human dignity, the Golden Rule, to not subject others to treatment that we ourselves would not wish imposed upon ourselves.
Society in this global economy governed by constructs such as the World Bank, the UN, the WHO, is also singular. As soon as one society joins with or accepts aid from a global entity, it must accept that its local focus may require adjustment lest it be mal-aligned with that of the greater blended body. The basis of international bodies such as these is the betterment – economically, physically and psychologically – of all people; each is underpinned by a desire to protect the human rights of the people. The ethos, in concept at least, is that every culture has equal rights. Without the will of a people there is no community and hence, each person has equal right to the protection of the Big Brothers of our global construction.
Socrates was found guilty of failing to believe in the gods of state and corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens. He refused to uphold the societal norms and in doing so sowed seeds of discontent. He could have fled Athens, but felt instead it was his duty, having chosen to be part of the Athenian democracy, to subject himself to its debates and legalities for the sake of the stability that he himself was accused of destroying. Talk about chasing your own Socratic tail in circles! Nonetheless, his argument that it was his duty to point out the failings of his community to itself prevented him from being complicit in the eventual downfall of the Athenian state.
Socrates poses a lesson that has not changed in 2,000 years. Each person, as part of the will that owns our societal constructs, has a responsibility to ensure that it is not corrupted by the very attitudes and behaviours that conflict with the focus of protecting human dignity. At the first sign of corruption it is each person’s responsibility to identify, expose and eliminate the tainted influence. Failure to do so results in harm to others.
Wettstein discusses the concept of silent complicity, arguing that the minimum passive requirement of ‘do no harm’ is no longer sufficient in a globalized world. Rather, in this age of shared finances and backroom deals, active denouncement of wrongdoing should be the standard. She discusses Shell in the Niger delta, already covered by Bakchos in a post last week. The case is eerily similar to that being played out by Freeport McMoRan at the Grasberg Mine in West Papua. Paying for security whilst turning a blind eye to the atrocities performed on the indigenous people may seem as passive encouragement; however when the ex-gratia payments are made, one wonders at the active enablement of the Indonesian forces earning extra money through private ‘contract’ work. To whom does the allegiance lie – protection of the people of West Papua or Freeport? When the Indonesian Government holds a 9% share in Freeport and condones the ex-gratia payments, do they serve the people of West Papua or their colonial interests?
Ernst & Young as auditors of Freeport are silently complicity in the torture and death of people such as Yawan Wayeni. In failing to expose and denounce the ex-gratia payments made by Freeport, Ernst & Young reinforce the supposed acceptability of ‘buying’ protection, when it is well known that the protection is being delivered at the end of a machete or gun. Yes, Ernst & Young may well lose the contract with Freeport if they were to be vocal about the under the table payments, but at least their integrity would rate more highly, especially when they express such pride in their accolades to corporate responsibility and diversity.
The protection of human rights only comes with transparency of records and accountability for actions. Without these two things we feed a cancer that eats at the focus of society eroding the values and denying the original premise to respect human dignity, until one day we wonder how we came to live in a community where atrocities have been allowed to happen on our doorstep unchecked, even consented. The Germans learned this lesson in the hardest possible way.
This is the world we are fostering. These grand bodies and highflying firms are the constructs of people like you and me. They are our tools, our servants. We must be ruled by them only as far as they serve to promote the human dignity of each person. As soon as they cease to do so, we must expose the festering sores lest we be complicit, silent though it may be, in the destruction of society. The denigration of a single person at the expense of another speaks of inequality, of social classes and differing standards depending on status. Ernst & Young has had within its power the ability to denounce the ex-gratia payments made by Freeport to the Indonesian enforcers for the past 12 years, but has remained silent. As such they are complicit in the genocide that is occurring just north of the Gulf of Carpentaria. It seems for all their skiting that political expediency and fiscal expectations hold greater sway for the Big 4 accounting firm than does the protection of human rights.
We are responsible for our institutions. Without us, they cannot exist. We are therefore responsible for pointing out the failures of those institutions within our societies. If we do not, then we cheat ourselves and must accept the consequences, consequences that will inevitably lead to the break down of the society we failed to hold accountable. The saying that people get the government they deserve would perhaps be well expanded to express that we get the society we deserve. That society includes corporations who, without its customers cannot succeed in business. Ernst & Young has an ability to influence the unscrupulous behaviour of Freeport in West Papua and we have an opportunity to point to both Freeport and it’s accountants. As long as the West Papuan people continue to be tortured, raped, attacked, live in sub-standard dwellings, be denied educations and live in fear of their Indonesian governors, we have a responsibility to speak up for them. If pressure can be borne to bear on Joseph Kony by the voices of millions of people spurred on by a single video, then the same can happen for the West Papuans. Ernst & Young could be leading the way, but they are not. This complicity, it’s all about money, but then, that’s business. I’m not sure I want to live in a world where business takes precedence over human dignity. What about you?
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