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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Business of Business

The forces that move us, that guide us through our daily lives are seldom fully appreciated: the wishes of a parent absorbed into what we consider our own personality, the rules posted on street signs, the shadowy motives that percolate out of our cells and many more.  Not being a total idiot, I was aware of social pressure and had experienced the displeasure of 'superiors' in the academic work place, but I had, before the following incident, never confronted the displeasure of the business world when someone with power really wanted to get you.  After the several months over which this incident played out I had gained a new respect for the power of ‘superiors’ when there was no restraint of human concern or feeling for the pain and suffering delivered, when all that mattered to them was the result.

Many years ago I was teaching in a small private school. About midyear I walked in on the Head Master and two parents changing the grades and making up courses for the transcripts of two students.  That afternoon the Head Master and one of the parents asked my opinion of what I had seen.  I replied to the effect that it troubled me and was a serious violation of academic values (I didn't say so, but realized that it was also illegal).

Within days the rumors began that I was an alcoholic and a child abuser, certain parents began to complain about me.  Up to that point I had been a star; a former university teacher, good with students, hard working. I taught every class hour with no prep period; the other teachers had covered certain required activities so that I could prepare science labs, etc. The help suddenly ended and I was overwhelmed with work. 

Two of the other teachers took me on as a special project.  They had not liked me much before, but now were openly critical and hostile in meetings and at other times. I was called to the Head Master's office almost every day to answer some charge.  Sometimes a parent was there.  I began to see a pattern, 4 families were doing this.  One of the students whose transcripts were changed (even classes from a previous school) was taken from my class.  I was instructed that I was to sign off on any grade that was requested. 

I had become a pariah in a matter of only a few days.  Parents not connected with the 4 families began looking at me with suspicion.  Students knew something was wrong.  I never knew what accusation would be made next, only that there would be another and another and that there was no answering them.

I gained weight.  I had been running 3 to 6 miles almost every day, but stopped.  I couldn't sleep.  At one point I drove home; stopping the car, I actually could not find the energy to get out.  I had to mentally think through the process.

I am ashamed to say that all thoughts of going to the State Department of Education were washed away in the minute by minute need for personal survival.  In the following year (I had quit teaching and was developing my own business) I was told by one of the marginal actors, what I already knew, that it was a put up job to frighten and silence me.  One of the major players, who had been ‘a friend,’ told me that it wasn't personal, I was just not a “team player.”  At a deep level I am still afraid of those people.

If these wealthy powerful people (one sat of major boards of directors and was on the board of regents of a major university) were willing to try to drive me to ruin, what would they be willing to do for even greater issues than school transcripts?  This has been, for me, a guiding benchmark in political evaluations.

My story is not interesting in itself, but for the fact that the vast majority of the people in this country don’t think this way.  What initially amazed and confused me was that these people knew exactly what to do, just who to tell what, just how to “get” me, or anyone.  There was the rumor de jour and never a source, never leaving a trace; but that is what a “attack machine” is about. They were so accomplished; that must have been how they ran their businesses; Crushing “problems” like bugs was just the way things were done.

I have often wondered how widespread these kinds of assaults are.  I’ve seen them with some frequency on small scale, and for personal gain, in education and on the huge scale of national political dueling.  But how much malfeasance is hidden, how much crime, by such cost effective efforts as personal destruction; just how far do these things go in real life?


Michael Dawson said...

"The secret of great fortunes without apparent cause is a crime forgotten, for it was properly done."

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. For the record, it's not as well-organized or thought out as you assume. It's actually an act of desperation by people who are ruthless, cunning and vengeful, but it's not smart.

Most of these kinds of attack upon personal integrity are all the same. It's casting their vile seed upon the waters and do it often enough to garner support.

It is this support which makes it "real" to you. Stupid people will quickly join the crusade for reasons I won't get into. They keep it alive and promote it.

You'd be surprised at how haphazard this social network actually is, the one you perceived as well-thought and organized. This is very unlikely.

James Keye said...


I have told this unflattering and embarrassing story to offer the idea that quite ordinary and essentially innocent actions can put, by chance, almost anyone in the way of the unscrupulous. Also, the questions at the end are not rhetorical.

I understand your primary answer, that there are simply a significant number of weak-minded and functionally mean-spirited people who both initiate mistreatment of others or who will, without much inducement, support such mistreatment. I do not disagree.

But I am suggesting that such behavior is institutionalized in much of what we call business, that the combative model is shot through business like the supporting framework of a building – not seen so clearly on the surface – and is really an important part of its operating plumbing.

If this is the case, then many of the suggested ameliorations for our social and economic ills are just foolish banners hung over the deeper issues of concern that must be understood and challenged.