“Would You Like to Make an Appointment, or Shall I Summon the Micromanagers?”

In order to see what is so problematic about The Man’s rule worship it is important to consider two points. First, the kind of flaw The Man exhibits is, unlike the pantomime evil of a supervillain like Business, not confined merely to works of fiction. Far from it. While few of us will ever encounter sharks or lasers (and still fewer of us laser sharks), we will most likely all have experience of dealing with one of Lord Business’s other security measures: overbearing assistants like Velma Staplebot. Every large company or organization has its share of those who are obsessed with following certain rules—about making appointments, about filling in just the right forms in just the right way, about who gets to park where, and so forth—to the letter, irrespective of whether these rules serve any wider purpose.

Secondly, it is important to consider that, while the examples I have described above merely have the status of annoyances, when taken to extremes this kind of rule worship can have some truly horrific consequences. Consider, for example, the dutiful mafioso who treats the mob’s code of conduct as taking priority over moral commandments not to kill or maim. Or the heartless official who, like Inspector Javert from Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables, lets an obsession with the letter of the law trump any considerations of justice or mercy. It is characters such as these who show us how an inability to recognize the distinction between moral rules and injunctions of other kinds can sometimes have grave consequences for those who are victims of such misdirected rule worship.

Of course, The Man Upstairs is hardly a mafioso nor even a Javert. The flaw he displays, like most of our human failings, comes in varying degrees, and The Man’s—confined as it is to the world of LEGO construction—is a mere peccadillo. Still, it is important to remember that our human capacity to become special—to go far beyond the limits of what is ordinary, normal, or expected—is not confined to our virtues but applies also to our vices.2


  • 1. Daniel Kelly, Stephen Stich, Kevin J. Haley, Serena J. Eng, and Daniel M. Fessler, “Harm, Affect, and the Moral/Conventional Distinction,” Mind & Language 22 (2007): 117.
  • 2. I would like to thank Sarah Adams and the editors of this volume for useful comments on earlier versions of this chapter.
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