Ever heard the defense “we were only following orders,” which the accused at the Nuremberg trials in 1945–1946 were not allowed to use? This is known as “superior orders,” a plea in a court of law that a person is not guilty for actions that were ordered by a superior officer or official. In German, the phrase is befehl ist befehl, which literally translates to “an order is an order.”
This applies to soldiers as well as the civilian population—including those of us who work in the corporate world.
Remember the story last year about how Wells Fargo secretly created millions of unauthorized bank and credit card accounts that enabled the bank to earn unwarranted fees from customers and allowed Wells Fargo employees to boost their sales figures and make more money?
Are those employees who followed superior orders—knowing that their actions were unethical, immoral and illegal—guilty? Wells Fargo certainly seemed to think so, as it fired 5,300 employees for engaging in these activities. But this was not an organic, spontaneous event. Thousands of employees at Wells Fargo banks all across the United States were ordered to engage in this illegal activity by their superiors.
The CEO of Wells Fargo at that time, John Stumpf, initially claimed he was unaware of the activity, and refused to accept responsibility or step down. Eventually he relented and tendered his resignation, walking away with more than $83 million. Either Stumpf was incompetent and genuinely unaware of the wide-scale illegal activities his employees were engaged in, or he was complicit in these activities and lied about it. Either way, do you think he deserved that $83 million?
Just like the generals who sit safely in the rear ordering their soldiers to murder one another at the front, corporate managers have their underlings do the dirty work. If things go sideways, they can always bail out on a golden parachute. Those of us in the trenches are on our own to take the blame and punishment.
I imagine most of us in the corporate world are not willing to jump on a grenade to save our managers, or even our companies, in the event of a major scandal involving illegal activities. Yet how many of us have acquiesced to superior orders, engaging in questionable tactics, unethical business activities or outright illegal conduct at the behest of a manager or boss?
Given that 5,300 Wells Fargo employees lost their jobs for following superior orders—knowing full well that what they were doing was wrong—I guess we can assume a whole lot of us will do what we are told, keep our heads down and simply go along to get along. After all, the bills aren’t going to pay themselves, right?
I am finding it increasingly difficult to engage in the work I do—not because it is illegal, but because it conflicts with my principles and ethics. Since I began working in the corporate world, my understanding of how the world works and my understanding of myself have evolved significantly. I am not the same person I was back in 1998 when I took my first job in a Japanese company. There is a growing mismatch between my worldview and life goals and the work I currently do to earn money to live—in fact, the two paths have diverged significantly.
I have come to know myself fairly well by now. Looking back, I see a lot of wasted time, poor decisions and foolish behavior, but looking forward, I have a clear vision of where I want to go. In this sense, I am at least on the right path in terms of self-actualization.
Fortunately, I have never been faced with the dilemma of doing something illegal or losing my job during more than a decade spent working in a variety of companies and industries in corporate Japan. That being said, I find that a lot of what I do at present involves bullshit. The nature of this bullshit ranges from the overuse of meaningless business buzzwords and corporate virtue signaling and posturing, to outright misrepresentation and lies. It is these last two that cause me the most consternation.
The 1974 essay by Alexander Solzhenitsyn titled Live Not by Lies is one of my favorites. I strongly urge everyone to read the entire essay, but here are some highlights:
We have been so hopelessly dehumanized that for today’s modest ration of food we are willing to abandon all our principles, our souls, and all the efforts of our predecessors and all opportunities for our descendants—but just don’t disturb our fragile existence. We lack staunchness, pride and enthusiasm. We don’t even fear universal nuclear death, and we don’t fear a third world war. We have already taken refuge in the crevices. We just fear acts of civil courage.
The circle—is it closed? And is there really no way out? And is there only one thing left for us to do, to wait without taking action? Maybe something will happen by itself? It will never happen as long as we daily acknowledge, extol, and strengthen—and do not sever ourselves from the most perceptible of its aspects: Lies.
And the simplest and most accessible key to our self-neglected liberation lies right here: Personal non-participation in lies. Though lies conceal everything, though lies embrace everything, but not with any help from me.
So in our timidity, let each of us make a choice: Whether consciously, to remain a servant of falsehood—of course, it is not out of inclination, but to feed one’s family, that one raises his children in the spirit of lies—or to shrug off the lies and become an honest man worthy of respect both by one’s children and contemporaries.
But there are no loopholes for anybody who wants to be honest. On any given day any one of us will be confronted with at least one of the above-mentioned choices even in the most secure of the technical sciences. Either truth or falsehood: Toward spiritual independence or toward spiritual servitude.
And he who is not sufficiently courageous even to defend his soul—don’t let him be proud of his ‘progressive’ views, don’t let him boast that he is an academician or a people’s artist, a merited figure, or a general—let him say to himself: I am in the herd, and a coward. It’s all the same to me as long as I’m fed and warm.
If we are too frightened, then we should stop complaining that someone is suffocating us. We ourselves are doing it. Let us then bow down even more, let us wail, and our brothers the biologists will help to bring nearer the day when they are able to read our thoughts are worthless and hopeless.
One example of the bullshit and lies I live by to earn money and feed my family involves the corporate promotion of diversity. In Japan, a patriarchal society comprising 98% Japanese people where Japanese men dominate virtually every aspect of life, including all the top positions in government, corporations and banking, diversity is about the last thing you would expect to find in this tiny island nation. Yet, it is a hot corporate buzzword right now, mainly because Japan tends to move in lockstep with the United States and other Western countries.
The reason corporations go out of their way to push diversity is because it ensures their products and services are user-friendly for all people everywhere on the planet. Corporations are more than happy to show their support for gays and lesbians, trans-genders, illegal aliens and burka-clad Muslims because they want as many people to buy their products as possible. The corporate promotion of diversity is a cynical ploy to maximize profits. Japanese corporations do not practice diversity, they merely plaster it all over their corporate communications in a shameless attempt to make a sale.
If sales and profits were all that was at stake, it might not be such a big deal. The fact of the matter is, diversity is being forced on Western nations—and even on Japan—resulting in the eradication of traditions, culture and the native people of those nations. From a corporate bottom line standpoint, eroding differences and creating a dumbed-down monoculture makes it much easier to market products and services and reap greater profits. But what we aren’t meant to focus on is the cost of diversity. There is no benefit for us that outweighs the losses that we will incur. We will be totally wiped out.
In a small way, and very indirectly, I am involved in the promotion of diversity and other anti-human corporate/globalist agendas. I am paid to facilitate the bullshit and lies of corporations and banks and convey the propaganda of advertising and public relations agencies.
How is this different from what those Wells Fargo employees did? Am I just following superior orders? Am I innocent even if the bullshit, propaganda and lies I facilitate end up having real world consequences? Does taking money to engage in these activities make me any less culpable?
How many of us long to shrug off the lies and become an honest man worthy of respect? If following superior orders means the difference between spiritual independence and spiritual servitude, which do you choose?