The Dord of Darien

Musings from the Mayor of the Internet

Violence in the workplace

A few weeks ago, one of my co-workers filed a complaint with the labor board against my employer. The exact details of the complaint I won’t go into here for reasons of privacy (I’m not precisely authorised to talk about it, you understand); suffice to say that there was a certain policy in my workplace that the employee in question did not like, and said employee — instead of talking to my employer about it, or perhaps — perish forbid! — getting a job someplace else that had more acceptable policies — petitioned the government to force the employer to change this policy. So there are a few things I’d like to say about this.

First off is the smug but correct observation that violence redounds upon the perpetrator; the overall effect as of this writing is that the old policy has been replaced with a new policy which is vastly more draconian and which the employees like much less, but which does not run afoul of the technical point of regulation that caused a problem with the old policy. So it’s the old story: prepare for unforeseen consequences and all that.

The more interesting point — and now that I’m done being smug, I’ll get to it — is that, yes, this most assuredly was an act of violence. To threaten somebody with harm unless that person complies with your wishes is called coercion, and it is violent, antisocial, and — dare I say it? — evil. It makes no difference if the weapon you threaten to harm your target with is a fist, or a knife, or a gun, or a government, the effect is the same: you have just imposed your will upon another person under duress. Consider now the original situation: your employer has a policy you don’t like. In fact, let’s role-play, since this is a nerdy web site and that; let’s assume that I offer you ten dollars to mow my lawn. In this context, I am now your employer, at least for the duration of and in the context of my lawn getting mowed. So far, so good, right? You mow my lawn, I give you a sawbuck, everybody’s happy. Now try this one. The next week, I offer you another ten dollars to mow my lawn again, only this time I tell you I don’t want you to mow within two feet of my apple tree. If you do mow closer to the tree than that, I won’t pay you a dime. Is this itself a violent infringement upon your person? Surely not. You’re free to walk away from this deal if you don’t like the terms, or to try to negotiate with me terms you find more acceptable. Now let’s say you do accept that deal, and then you discover after you’ve mowed the whole lawn that the unmowed circle around the tree is only eighteen inches wide — you’ve run afoul of that pesky policy of mine. So when I tell you I’m not going to pay, you put a gun to my head and tell me to fork over the ten bucks.

I think we’d all agree that this is a violent act. We engaged in a free exchange under terms we both freely accepted at the outset, but then you used the threat of bodily harm to compel me to accept different terms ex post facto. The dynamics of the situation do not change if the gun is in somebody else’s hand, either; if you have your brother come over and hold a gun to my head, you are still committing violence. If it’s your aunt Petunia, or your hired goon, or some guy off the street you offered to split the ten dollars with, it’s still the same. And it is the same if the gun belongs to somebody in a government suit. The only thing that changes is that you can skulk around in the shadows and not admit that you were the one who sought a violent solution to a peaceful disagreement. By which I mean: it’s easier if you’re a coward.

And don’t preach any nonsense at me about how the situation is any different if the government makes its onerous "regulations" in advance. It is not. First of all, unilateral decree is not generally considered a valid agreement. If I stand at the entrance to Best Buy and tell you that, if you buy a Wii U, I will punch you in the kidneys, and then I do it, am I absolved of responsibility because I told you in advance it was going to happen? Obviously not. Again, nothing changes just because the bully in question has a hat with "GUVVERMENT" written on. But even if that did change anything, it is also the case that the laws and regulations are literally impossible to know to their full extent, and, even if they could all be known, they are often contradictory and nearly always unclear; they can be interpreted to mean whatever their enforcers want them to mean at the moment of enforcement. Books have been written on this subject by more learned men than I, so, as my main man says, you don’t have to take my word for it. Government "regulation" is clearly not a freely-negotiated agreement, and there is no moral impetus to obey it (though there is the obvious practical impetus of not getting murdered to consider).

The really sad part about this whole affair is that, with only one exception — your humble narrator — every employee at my workplace hails this petty thug as a great hero for standing up to somebody who never did us any harm but unreasonably expected us to honour an agreement we freely entered into. Truly the indoctrination runs deep. Is this truly a model for reverence? Somebody who uses force to take what he wants from somebody else? I think we can set our sights a bit higher than this.

Actually, I lied. The really sad part is that the office chatter has now turned to the subject of getting compensation from our employer for all the times we obeyed this policy in the past. But don’t worry; I’m sure somebody will solve that problem soon enough, too. We just need to figure out whose gun to use this time.

December 11th, 2012 Posted by | Liberty | no comments

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