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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ah! The Joy of Collective Responsibility

A friend of mine once told me about the futility of Collective Bullshit. He was talking in terms of a boss bullshitting his subordinates collectively. He said, “It is simple, whenever the boss is bullshitting collectively, one needs to just look at some other person in the group and the entire bullshit gets deflected to that person.” In other words, everyone looks at some other person as if that person is the culprit and that way every one can keep his/her own conscience clean.

The same holds true for collective responsibility also. Let’s take, for instance, the Mumbai terror attacks. When the question of responsibility came up everyone right from the Home minister of India, the chief minister of Maharashtra, the deputy Chief Minister and Director General of Police and the Mumbai Police commissioner refused to acknowledge their responsibility. The Home Minister of India had to be forced to resign by the congress part and did so very reluctantly, as did the Chief Minister and his deputy in Maharashtra, who had till then, quite vocally asked what purpose their resignations were going to serve.

When the question of intelligence came up, all intelligence agencies claimed that some intelligence was passed on to the state much before the incident. The state authorities in turn derided the statements saying that even though the intelligence had been received it was un-actionable. As a result we still don’t know who is saying the truth and after so much time has elapsed, frankly, no one could care less as to who did or did not do what. Essentially what emerges is that it was a collective responsibility of many organizations to take action in accordance with their charter and since each one of them failed to do their duty, no one can actually be held responsible. That is what collective responsibility is.

The story is being repeated with the Satyam fraud. So many auditors, bankers, market regulators, bureaucrats in the ministry of Corporate affairs and Politicians at the centre as well as state level were responsible to ensure that such a fraud does no take place. Once the fraud has been detected, oops, declared by the Satyam head honcho Mr Raju, everyone seems to be looking at the other person implying that they themselves were not responsible. Conclusion, no one was responsible for this fraud other than, of course, the fraudster himself.

At times it looks like so many agencies or organizations are raised just to take advantage of this queer phenomenon of collective responsibility. Even though, on the face of it, the different organizations are meant to offer multi layered protection in some cases and at times vertically specialized support system, none of them are serving any purpose other than pursuing a blame game after they have all failed in carrying out their assigned duties. The answer is simple if everyone is responsible, accept it with a pinch of salt and declare everyone innocent. That serves the purpose of all the parties involved as well as the Government.

The pre-requisite of this game is to display tremendous shock and disbelief at the occurrence of the event and act as if the man who masterminded the scam or the attack was much more resourceful and smarter than what those responsible were either trained for or were capable of. Next, blame a sister organization, who is to immediately scoff at the suggestion and throw the blame back at the originator of the blame. The originator in turn is not supposed to talk of the original blame and is only to scoff and deride the counter blame by the sister organization. The sister organization in turn does not respond to the derision and the scoffing and is to blame a third organization, just to confuse the issue further. It goes on for about four to five days which is the empirical time limit for a citizen’s patience who finally says, forget who is responsible, and just take some action. At this instance the Government steps in forms a committee to look into the matter. In most cases the committee members expire before the committee does. It works like a charm every time.

Ah! The Joy of Collective Responsibilty.

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