Corporate rebels: Disobedience to complacency and inertia

Corpo­rate rebels cause irri­ta­tion and there­by keep orga­ni­za­tions alive. They act accord­ing to clear prin­ci­ples for the ben­e­fit of their orga­ni­za­tion as what and how it should be ide­al­ly. To this end, they repeat­ed­ly ques­tion the sta­tus quo and thus ulti­mate­ly per­form civ­il dis­obe­di­ence in the organization.

A good per­son is not always a good citizen.
Aris­tote­les

Civ­il dis­obe­di­ence has a long tra­di­tion. Its ori­gins go back to ancient times. Hen­ry David Thoreau’s essay “Civ­il Dis­obe­di­ence” (orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished as “Resis­tance to Civ­il Gov­ern­ment”), in which he explained why he stopped pay­ing tax­es in protest against the war on Mex­i­co and against slav­ery. In doing so, he delib­er­ate­ly and pub­licly vio­lat­ed the law in order to high­light an injus­tice (found­ed with respect to a high­er law) and to bring about a change through this non-vio­lent pub­lic act of protest. Anoth­er exam­ple of an act of civ­il dis­obe­di­ence is the famous salt march of Mahat­ma Gand­hi, who went to the sea with many fel­low activists to col­lect salt and so pub­licly broke the salt monop­oly of the British colo­nial rulers.

Civ­il dis­obe­di­ence is a kind of resis­tance with­in the exist­ing sys­tem and order. It is explic­it­ly not a rejec­tion of the exist­ing struc­tures and does not aim at dis­man­tling the exist­ing sys­tem. Those who prac­tice civ­il dis­obe­di­ence do not stand out­side the order, but delib­er­ate­ly accept a pun­ish­ment for their pub­licly dis­played dis­obe­di­ence. But it is pre­cise­ly through this readi­ness to make sac­ri­fices that his resis­tance authen­ti­cal­ly becomes a mat­ter of pro­found moral con­vic­tion. The hon­est cit­i­zen is there­fore not char­ac­ter­ized by absolute obe­di­ence (where this can lead to in the extreme, it is shown in our painful Nation­al Social­ist his­to­ry in Ger­many), but by what Jür­gen Haber­mas calls a qual­i­fied obe­di­ence to the law and what nec­es­sar­i­ly includes resistance.

Protest beyond the law is not a depar­ture from democ­ra­cy; it is absolute­ly essen­tial to it.
Howard Zinn

What applies to the cit­i­zen and the state on a large scale can be trans­ferred to the employ­ee and the orga­ni­za­tion on a small scale. In the most obvi­ous form, by the fact that peo­ple nat­u­ral­ly do not oper­ate out­side the law, even as employ­ees of an orga­ni­za­tion (which is evi­dent at the moment in the course of deal­ing with the diesel scan­dal at the VW Group). It is not so obvi­ous, how­ev­er, that the duty of civ­il dis­obe­di­ence is also the rea­son for the man­date of cor­po­rate rebels. They do not work against the orga­ni­za­tion, but their rule-break­ing is always aimed at improv­ing the orga­ni­za­tion. They iden­ti­fy them­selves with the orga­ni­za­tion and the actu­al pur­pose of the orga­ni­za­tion, but not nec­es­sar­i­ly with all its inco­her­ent rules or an orga­ni­za­tion­al cul­ture that is per­ceived as a hin­drance. They iden­ti­fy them­selves with this ide­al of the orga­ni­za­tion so much that they con­scious­ly accept an immune reac­tion of the sys­tem and sanc­tions. Their dis­sent­ing think­ing and dif­fer­ent ways of work­ing are there­fore the deci­sive dis­tur­bance to pro­tect an orga­ni­za­tion from com­pla­cen­cy and inertia.

But if the law is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injus­tice to anoth­er, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-fric­tion to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.
Hen­ry David Thoreau

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