Monday, September 24, 2007

The Individual or Organisational Culture?

Free speech is a term all political activists endeavour

to own in the moral high ground stakes.

I've noticed how the White Nationalists, Supremacists, Nazi's and extreme Right use the sacred defence of "Freedom of Speech" to defend their views and ideology. They are not alone in their quest to push their own agenda through such a defence. The Pro-life and Christian activists also complain about their lack of ability to speak out about their views in such a polarised society, and the hard ugly truth is, whether you agree with them or not, they do have the right to an opinion, and the right to express that opinion. The question is, when and where do they have the right to express said opinions? Their homes? Workplaces? Public forums? or not at all? I came across an interesting example where un-popular politics meets the culture of the organisation.You may or may not recall a man named Andrew Fraser, who was a Professor of Law at Macquarie University in 2006. He was forced to retire after making comments about an ethnic hierarchy in Australia. While i do not condone what was said, what has primarily fascinated me about this case, were not comments themselves, but rather WHEN and WHERE they were said. Prof Fraser wrote an email to his local paper The Paramatta Sun. The email was sent from his professional account at the university with (I'm assuming) a university signature at the bottom, and was published with those details. Subsequently, after a long and arduous process, Prof Andrew Fraser was forced disgracefully into retirement, which superficially, may seem like a good thing.

However, fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

The truth of the matter I'm afraid, is that the disgraced Professor didn't hold the party line. He didn't put the organisational culture ahead of his personal beliefs. I know most of you reading this will be thinking - so? I agree with the university in this instance. Ultimately, what it boils down to, is what happens when the organisational culture doesn't agree with what you have to say, or what i have to say? What happens when we don't hold the party line? (Both within work hours and outside of work hours).

Generally, a bureaucracy is based on merit, but is commonly "corrupted" by other systems of power. The result is that most bureaucracies seethe with rumours, power plays, upheavals, takeovers and changing organisational structures. Bureaucratic elites like to collect information about workers, from personal details to comments on job performance. This information can be used to control the workers. On the other hand, information about the elites is not made available to workers. In other words, surveillance is natural to bureaucracies, and much of it is targeted at workers.

Bureaucratic elites have considerable power and, as usual, it tends to corrupt. When possible, elites give themselves high salaries, plush offices, grandiose titles and special privileges. They can exercise power by supporting workers who support them personally and by penalising those who criticise or just annoy them. They can foster fear by intimidating subordinates. They can create havoc through reprimands, demotions, dismissals, restructuring and a host of other mechanisms. Just about anyone who has worked in a bureaucracy has a good idea of the sort of problems that can arise.

A bureaucracy is not a free society. There are no elections for top offices. There is little free speech, and there is no free press for opponents of the current elites. Open opponents of the ruling group are likely to be harassed, demoted or dismissed. This is exactly what happened to Prof Andrew Fraser, and I too have suffered and continue to suffer discrimination in my workplace based on my anarchist ideas and agenda. I consider what happened to Prof Fraser akin to the frog in the boiling water syndrome, the slow boil akin to our slow erosion of freedom of expression. So again, i ask you when and where do ALL OF US have the right to express our opinions? Our homes? Our workplaces? Public forums or not at all?


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