On Corruption
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 5/13/02

  I’m not talking about the law enforcement officer who takes a kickback from a drug dealer, nor the politician who casts a vote influenced by who his contributors are, I’m talking about the many ‘invisible’ threads that systematically ruin lives in thousands of small ways thousands of times a day. It’s easy to point fingers at the Ted Bundys or Adolf Hitlers of the world & see how they have ruined dozens, hundreds, or millions of lives. But how about the people who’s own personal corruption assisted the Bundys or Hitlers? Surely someone close suspected Bundy of misdeeds- but they were too charmed to snitch? Or, perhaps, the person who witnessed the 1st or 2nd or 3rd murder victim but did not step forward, did not want to get involved, etc.? These are micro-forms of corruption. & we are all guilty of varying degrees of it. Hitler’s an even more obvious case. How many weak-kneed politicos took the easy way out by not opposing Hitler when he could have been politically ruined? To what degree of culpability is their corruption in the ensuing Nazi genocide?
  But, even those are extremes. How about the teacher who gives a poor student a passing grade because the system discourages leaving students back a grade? Or the co-worker who fabricates ‘evidence’ of misdeeds in order to get another fired or demoted? Or the boss who spouts the need to maintain a ‘corporate ethic’ (an oxymoron, I know) all the while doing highly questionable acts on the Q.T.? Back in the mid-1980s I recall going on a day off from work to the Queens Mall. Parking was like a quarter per 40 minutes & I put in 3 or 4. A little over 2 hours later I get back to my car, with 15-20 minutes to spare & I see a ticket on my windshield. I’m confused as the meter clearly shows me having time left. A ways down the lot I see a PVB (Parking Violations Bureau) officer on her little vehicle. Then I notice that every car, from mine down to her, has a ticket on it- & most of them STILL have time left on their meters. It was obvious what was happening. The PVB officer was writing tickets in hope that a good percentage of people WOULD come back late & not squawk about paying a fine. The New York City PVB was (& probably still is) infamous for their ticket quotas. I was furious & wrote several angry letters to the PVB swearing I would not pay the fine- about $40. After 6 months of battling I get a notice telling me to pay or my driver’s license would be suspended. I wrote 1 final nasty letter, wrote a similar missive to the Daily News, bit my lip, & paid the damned fine. I was really disgusted. Then, the topper: about 2-3 months later I get a letter & check in the mail from the PVB. Apparently a check of computer records showed I, indeed, had had time on my meter. So, all my aggravation was for naught! To what end was the PVB’s interests served by raking me over the coals & threatening me for months?
  I knew someone, once, who told me this tale of getting fired from a job. There had been a series of thefts & their company demanded their employees take a polygraph [lay term- lie detector] test to prove their innocence. This person refused such a test because it’s a well-known fact that polygraph companies make their profit not from administering the tests, BUT from selling the results of tests to employers. They also encouraged other employees to refuse the test. This was rampant in the 1970s & 1980s before most states outlawed the practice of forcing employees to submit or lose their job. Unfortunately, this incident occurred in the 1980s. True to form, this person, a few days after refusing the polygraph test, was fired. The ostensible reason was that they had been discourteous to a customer; also that they had been spreading dissent, & were not a 'team player': codeword for being independent & not a  kissass. The accusation came from a supervisor who had been harassing this person at work. Unfortunately, this person never reported the harassment lest seem like they were a complainer. Other employees were similarly maltreated & fired for similarly bogus reasons. The kicker to the whole incident was that this supervisor was fired several months later after being proven as the thief that started the whole series of events to begin with. To what end were the instances of corruption? OK, the thieving supervisor was covering their own ass, but why did the company show such little concern for this loyal & productive worker, & the others?
  Here’s another scenario that often takes place in corporate life. How many times has someone left a job for the promise of a better job, then quit the old job, found out that the promised job either was not what was promised, or was no longer available? The person is then screwed- they are unemployed & cannot even collect unemployment insurance because they quit, & were not fired from their previous job. Or an especially galling problem online, where wealthy corporations & individuals financially bully small entrepreneurs & websites into giving up URLs, removing true information under threat of lengthy & expensive ‘libel’ litigation. The motive is usually greed or the covering up of prior corruption. Or, back to the corporate world, how about this scenario? The classic whistleblower: an employee endures months or years of management shenanigans & abuse, they file a complaint or grievance, the employee is then subtly & not-so-subtly threatened with job loss, someone in a position of authority ‘coincidentally’ resigns after the charges are leveled, the employee (often after a vacation) comes back to find out that they have been accused of some of the very misdeeds they complained about- after years of being a ‘model employee’ with a spotless record. Either another employee ‘corroborates’ the charge (while accepting management favors) or some ‘record’ (often the easily tampered-with computer kind) is produced as unassailable evidence- despite the very high probability of tampering (often while the employee was away on vacation & could not detect the intrusion into their records), & the circumstantial evidence of such fraudulence. The employee is either fired, or disciplined so that they can later be fired for another similarly bogus offense. Does the employee fight back? Pop culture would like us to believe that truth will out in the end, but any lawyer or human/civil rights advocate will tell you that 99 times out of 100 the whistleblower loses. They either quietly move on & look for better employment, or they fight- where they usually will lose as the company produces more & more ‘evidence’ of the whistleblower’s misdeeds- mysteriously ‘found’ only after they exposed the management’s skullduggery. But even if the employee battles on & wins after all legal appeals have been drained- still the whistleblower loses as their life has been shriveled & consumed by nothing but the need to vindicate themselves. To what reward, then, is the whistleblower entitled to for making the workplace or environment better? Over & again this scenario plays out. But these episodes are invisible.
  But the visible evidence of corruption is manifest. We talk & discuss endlessly & futilely the causes for dissension in the Middle East, & scratch our heads as to why ‘those’ people cannot resolve their longstanding issues, even as we in the West have centuries of looking the other way & repeating the same scenarios I described above. Yes, there may not be literal blood shed over the person who stands up to a corrupt bureaucracy, or the little company that takes on a bigger company that uses its power to unfairly do in the smaller company, or for the steel-hearted employee who gets fired on principle, or the whistleblower who suffers retribution & must decide whether to stay quiet as more & more abuse piles up, or scrap it all & start again somewhere else. But, there is a toll taken on society. It’s easy (& correct) to lob blame against the worker who ‘goes postal’ & injures or kills current or former co-workers. But, never- not once- have I heard ANYONE question the system that pushes these people over the edge. Yes, I’m sure that a small percentage of these folk would have had problems anyway, but I’m equally convinced that were they not in a corrupt system, & under the thumbs of corrupt superiors who use & abuse people like they breathe, that most of these people would not end up exploding- or more often imploding with physical problems brought on by stress, or having a nervous breakdown. &- bottom-line- it is a very unproductive thing to mistreat workers: a GOOD worker is a HAPPY worker! Yet, the exploitation of individuals & situations by the little gray folk in the corner who are the drones that enable corruption to thrive is a problem I have rarely seen addressed.
  Perhaps this is all easily explained by a lack of self-esteem in these people- I doubt it’s that simple, though, because it’s not just the obvious things. Growing up I knew a lot of people who committed all sorts of terrible deeds- BUT, there was an explanation for why these people did the things they did- these were people who had nothing- therefore had nothing to lose in committing misdeeds. But what of the supervisor who was stealing & whose actions brought about the circumstances which led to the loss of employment for many? None of whom got their jobs back after the supervisor’s exposure. Did they feel they had nothing to lose? Or were they just a troubled person? Or, more likely, a power-hungry narcissist who needed to control things? & of the people who doctor records to make whistleblowers seem to be ‘malcontents’ or ‘troubled’ individuals. Well, in a few years all of them will probably no longer be with that particular company- their efforts at brown-nosing rewarded with dismissal, layoff, or harassment of their own. Or they will have moved on after getting disgusted when the company turns their own slime tactics against them. The net result being that the whistleblower’s efforts & the efforts of the company to frame them will have absolutely no lasting meaning- it will all have been for some short-term ‘comfort’ for insecure individuals.
  &, if you think that the things I am describing don’t happen, or that people have recourse- consider that most lawyers will only touch a case if the publicity can benefit them, or if the evidence is so strongly against the company that a legal victory is a certainty. The remaining 95% of ethical individuals are screwed. Also, I have seen these tactics used over & again to defeat & demean people. I am no hyperbolic bleeding heart but the only word that does such actions justice is ‘dehumanizing’. But, that’s par for the course in American society- where we smugly proclaim ourselves the pinnacle of human civilization- all the while countless millions still consider it a major accomplishment of their lives to actually ‘own’ their own home- even as they still pay annual taxes on it.
  Personally, I’m really tired of this endless rat race- your average American works for years on end just to save money so they can go in debt to have the basic comfort of shelter, all the while not being able to have any real say in their existence. The replies come: be an entrepreneur! Yet most of them fail because some corrupt individual(s) circumvent the market & force the little guy (who often has a better product or idea) into bankruptcy. I don’t have a solution myself- save that people should consistently seek to undermine hegemonies wherever they are evident. I know of no successful business or person whose success did not have some stench of corruption oozing out from somewhere. After decades in this game I have decided to try to alleviate my own fears for my, & my wife’s, futures by seeking a career in civil service. Yes, I know- corruption undoubtedly exists there, too. But the difference is that there are immediate positives 1 can make on society by civil service. In all my years, & in all my jobs, in private industry, I can honestly state that there is not a single thing I ever did in any job that positively affected society or any individual for more than a day or 2 after doing it. &, at least there are more protections from corrupt individuals for the little guy in civil service. To those who disbelieve that all I can say is that the only thing worse & more corrupt than Big Government is BIG BUSINESS! Isn’t THAT obvious?

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