By Steve Davies
- Understanding Moral Disengagement
- Moral Disengagement in Government
- The Impact on Policy
- The Human Cost
- The Challenge
- Judging Moral Disengagement
Moral disengagement is a huge problem in the Australian Government and its public service. To this day major political parties remain silent on this issue. Labor, Liberal and the Greens are all silent despite the facts and the science.
Moral disengagement is the process by which individuals or groups distance themselves from their own moral standards, allowing them to engage in behaviour that they would otherwise find unacceptable.
The phenomenon of moral disengagement fuels corrupting and abusive behaviours and practices in government. It causes harm to individuals and society as a whole. It is a serious issue that demands attention and action.
Understanding Moral Disengagement
Moral disengagement is a psychological and social mechanism that allows individuals to justify unethical behaviour without feeling guilty or responsible for the consequences of their actions. It is enables people to engage in harmful behaviours without feeling any sense of responsibility.
There are several mechanisms of moral disengagement. For example, using euphemistic language to describe actions, making them seem less harmful than they actually are. Using displacement of responsibility, blaming others for their actions rather than taking responsibility themselves. Minimising the harm caused by actions, arguing that the benefits outweigh the costs.
Moral Disengagement in Government
When moral disengagement becomes the norm, especially among people with power and status, it infects entire institutions.
In Australia media report after media report, enquiry after enquiry showed how morally disengaged the Morrison Government was.
Robodebt, the behaviour towards women within the parliament, conflicts of interest, the abuse of whistleblowers and throwing millions of dollars at consultancy companies. The list goes on and on.
Moral disengagement has been normalised in the Australian Government and its public service. It does not magically go away with the election of a new government.
Open public conversation and government transparency are key steps towards eradicating moral disengagement.
The Impact on Policy
We must act decisively to put a stop to the dangerous practice of normalising moral disengagement in the Australian government. Steps need to be taken to help people to recognise and confront situations where individuals and political factions detach themselves from the moral consequences of their choices and conduct.
By actively screening moral disengagement from all policies and processes, we can ensure that ethical considerations are baked into government.
Imagine the potential of a morally engaged government with a populace of good individuals who do not turn a blind eye to wrongdoing. The key to unlocking this potential lies in breaking the silence and removing harmful practices. It’s time for good people to take a stand and make their voices heard.
The Human Cost
Moral disengagement can have devastating consequences for individuals, their families, public servants and wider society. Australia’s Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme graphically illustrated that in forensic detail.
Robodebt was a scheme that automatically assessed and raised debts against welfare recipients. The data was wrong yet the government proceeded.
This inflicted misery on welfare recipients and resulted in deaths. All inflicted on and industrial scale.
The silence maintained by most public servants and the blind obedience of senior officials are reminiscent of historical atrocities. This behavioural similarity is striking and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
The Royal Commission’s findings displayed the truth that moral disengagement was deeply normalised in the Australian Government. Alarming as it is, the current government has not taken any initiative to address this deeply ingrained concern.
Normalised moral disengagement has severe implications for the community’s wellbeing and the health of government and its public service.
The behavioural mechanisms and practices of moral disengagement are learned and normalised. This perpetuates belief that change is impossible.
Australians have seen and experienced the harm caused by moral disengagement in their government’s policies, behaviours and practices.
It is easily costing the Australian community billions of dollars.
It is essential to take action to eliminate moral disengagement and prevent any future normalisation in government and its public service.
Judging Moral Disengagement
The 8 mechanisms of moral disengagement are a powerful lens for judging behaviours and practices of government. The mechanisms are:
- Advantageous comparison
- Attribution of blame
- Diffusion of responsibility
- Displacement of responsibility
- Disregard, distortion, and denial of harm
- Euphemistic language
- Moral justification
The mechanisms are the behaviours and practices used to stigmatise, distort, deny and mask harmful and abusive behaviours and practices. They are endemic in the Australian Government.
I suggest people view these videos in this order:
Professor Albert Bandura (1925-2021).
Moral disengagement – “an informed public can actually neutralise a lot of this stuff.
Dr. Peter Senge
“… bureaucracy development to the extent it is dehumanised… so in many ways we’ve worked to drive out the empathy, the intuition, the artistry.”
Professor Shoshana Zuboff “Wonderland. Herding people. Behaviour modification. The age of conquest.”
Steve Davies is a retired public servant. His expertise is in the areas of organisational research and people development. He’s always been attracted to forward looking work. He’s a vocal critic of destructive, cruel and backwards looking behaviours and practices.
Over the years he’s spoken in depth with whistleblowers and advocated the use of technology (including social media tech) to empower people to do great things together.
His thinking and work have been heavily influenced by such great thinkers and researchers as Shoshana Zuboff, Albert Bandura and Peter Senge for decades.
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