Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Honour system dishonoured

In 1785 Jeremy Bentham came up with the concept of the Panopticon. The theory was that if you designed a prison where the prisoners would never know if they were being observed or not, but had to assume they were being watched, then the prisoners would self-moderate their behaviour for fear of being seen when being bad and then later being punished for it.

Interesting theory*.

The flip-side to this idea of always being watched I would argue is the honour system. That's where no one is being watched and the onus is on the participants to behave honourably within the confines of the construct in which they're participating.

One of the chapters in Freakonomics covered the concept of the honour system via examining data collected by the bagel man.

The bagel man had a business where he supplied fresh bagels along with cream cheese spreads and a coin jar / box to various offices. The idea was that people would help themselves to the bagels and spreads, and paying the requisite amount. It's the same principle most white collar social clubs have - coin jar in the fridge along with drinks etc. The bagel man however had to resort to an exact change money box because his fail rate went up with looser control systems.

The bagel man had a success rate of payment of around 90% with the exact change money box system. However this dropped during holiday periods, presumably when money was tight. He also noted the failure to pay increased in a particular area of an office environment ... where the higher ranked people sat.

I can see that. To get to a high rank in the white collar world you need a fair amount of self-belief ... or arse-holery in some cases (Casso can speak to that!) I can totally see some higher ranked white collar types being violators of the honour system. I checked my copy - see pages 45-50 for the bagel man story.

Now ... this is where I come in.

We have an honour system at my work for farewells. An envelope with names of people in the org - minus that of the person being farewelled - will cross your desk. The honour system asks that you insert some cash, cross of your name, then pass to someone yet to have their name crossed off.

Three crossed my desk today with two were for people who left on acting jobs a while back, won their acting role as a permanent role, and therefore will not be coming back. The remaining one was for someone that acted in our area for a few months and is now returning to whence she came.

Typically it's a gold coin minimum - which in Australia means one or two dollars as that money is represented by gold coloured coins to that value (I am explaining that for the 2.6 OS people that may read this in the mistaken belief it's a sexy story that will get them off - it won't).

If you really like the person you may go a note - five or ten dollars being typical. If it's a good mate that you espesh love working with, you may even crack a twenty - though that's rare and I think I've only ever done that the one time in my decade plus time under the white collar.

The person who was here for a few months got about a buck worth of silver - mainly because I needed my coins for other things. Besides it's more than likely she will be back, assuming she will win the job she acted in will shortly be advertised and having been an occupant of the chair she has the best chance of winning it.

The other two people - who went away on acting gigs then won jobs and are not coming back - each got ten cents.

Why? Because I didn't like them. One was a grumpy mol who rolled her eyes at me whenever I was in Mikey-flight and, on occasion when she attempted to explain things, got angry at me. The other was a tool that likewise did not appreciate my hilarious in-work antics.

So yes ... I dishonoured the honour system ... but then that's the danger of the honour system when arse-hats enter the equation ... because they sure as fuck do not deserve more than ten cents from me.

*I remember reading somewhere that the Secret Service in the states ordered their agents to wear sunglasses in the future because in his interview after shooting Reagan, Hinckley claimed that he couldn't tell where the sunglasses clad agents were looking and it unnerved him. However the Secret Service claim on their FAQ for 'the kids' it's just to keep the sun out of their eyes... sure it is ... sure it is ...


  1. The only problem with your parallel is that you don't get anything from contributing to the farewell present. With the bagel man, the people who took food without paying were stealing. In your case, you decided to be less generous for people who didn't deserve it. Not the same thing at all.

  2. I humbly disagree. The honour system applies because the envelope trusts you with both the contents and to add to them by a minimum amount - which I violated.

    Mind you if ranty ever leaves then I may actually deficit from it which would be a greater deficit.

    Hey you want to borrow Freakeconomics ? Is good...

  3. We've had a lot of people leaving of late due to org changes. Anyway, I've been pretty good about putting money in ... for people I like.

    The last envelope and card that came across my desk was for someone I despise. So not only did I not sign the card, I didn't put any money in.

    The bloody card kept returning to me because I hadn't signed it. Did I end up signing it? Hell no. But I made a point of putting it back on the desk organiser of the morning tea/card/present while she was sitting there.

    I did't get it back. *evil grin*

  4. You are instantly a white collar hero.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. I'm pretty sure you're only dishonouring the honour system of farewell cards/gifts if the package leaves your desk with less money in it than when it arrived.


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