If we are ever going to get to the core of the bullying we are witnessing among adolescents, gangs, and even terrorists, we are going to have to address the “white collar” bullying that we are all experiencing every day. This ‘white collar’ bullying takes place right under our nose and eyes and in our ears. And it involves every single corporation, organization and institution erected for the alleged purpose of selling, servicing or ministering to the public.
It is very hard to rank the culprits; however, banks, drug companies, insurance companies, fossil fuel companies, auto companies, sports organizations, Olympic drug abuses, specific government “leaders” and governments generally, and even churches are all implicated in the methodology of dominance. And those methods include deception, greed, infantilizing, over-promising and under-delivering, outright lying, manipulation of evidence (e.g. autos to subvert emissions testing, and drug companies to minimize side effects), insurance companies in failing to deliver on commitments.
Let’s not omit the growing number of cases of ordinary insurance consumers who file bogus claims. Supermarkets in Canada have been engaged in price fixing on bread for decades, as just one example of the abuse of power that surrounds us on all sides. We learned this week that even the Toronto Blue Jay opening game featured some 40% of the seats that were re-sold by scalpers, like StubHub, who have a contract to kick back 10% to the baseball club on the re-selling of those game tickets. When will the abuse of ordinary people, people who are not educated on the intricacies of private, political, and profit-sharing schemes that rob us of every penny with impunity, stop? It seems to spread like a dangerous and untouchable toxic virus into every nook and cranny of the dark corners of greedy opportunity, so long as its spirit-killing impact remains undetected.
The history of power, whether secular, ecclesial or corporate, linked inextricably and permanently to a model of masculinity, enhanced by kings/emperors/popes/dukes/lords throughout many centuries, stems from the historic model of military hierarchy.
Political control achieved almost always through the deployment of military power, no matter how sophisticated the weapons, brought the church, the crown, and the leaders of various kingdoms into conflict, without bending the model and certainly without rendering it obsolete. And the model “soldier,” to reinforce the effectiveness of the military, has to be courageous, strong, determined, unflinching and power-driven, both as a submission to the authority in charge, and to enhance the potential opportunities for personal advancement and “leadership”. So, schools too took up the challenges of “making men out of boys” as a matter of the “establishment” enhancing the social, political, economic and status potential of those sons. Even today, military uniforms draped over the bodies of young men serve as a magnet in attracting the “fairer” gender, for the simple reason that those young men are imbued with respectability, responsibility, stability and strength, linked to trust-worthiness.
Centuries of institutional masculine hierarchy has not been replaced by a few years of “evolved masculinity” holding the hand of feminist activism, or even the rise in consciousness of such social media crowds as #Time’sUp and #metoo. In fact the aphrodisiac of power continues to provide polar magnetism in advertising, political rhetoric, salesmanship, and many of the professional careers like medicine, law, accounting and even the clergy. Linked to power, of course, naturally, but certainly not imperceptibly, is the pursuit and acquisition of wealth. Money, dubbed as the “way to keep score” of the game of the pursuit of power, continues to magnetize the career dreams of millions of young men and women. So convincing is this “pot of gold” to those innocent young men and women that North American universities have dropped many liberal arts courses and programs in favour of “career and skills development” programs.
So pervasive is the power and control motive that it finds emphatic expression, not only in physical and emotional abuse, but also in “umbrella” parenting, hovering over every move of their young offspring. Similarly, abuse/bullying occurs when teachers operate as if their classrooms their private fiefdom, and when coaches obsessed with winning turning their practices and games into opportunities to bully their players. Medical schools scheduling their undergrads into extensive duties often mounting the 80-90 hour mark without breaks, as an example of “how it has always been done” and therefore must be continued demonstrate a degree of unprofessionalism and bullying that needs to be curbed. In corporations, too, leadership demands that each supervisee “toughen up” to be able to withstand increased pressure to perform and to produce (in the obsessive chase for profits, dividends and promotions) on the presumed theory that tougher hires will be more reliable, dependable, productive and thereby become jewels in the supervisor’s personal, social, political, career crown.
As one near forty-something put it recently, after accepting a highly demanding job following an occupant of the job who worked up to twenty hours daily, “I knew what I was getting into, but I am not prepared to work the kind of hours purported by my predecessor.” Medical doctors, clearly in short supply, and working, at least in Canada, under a national health care model, are compelled to work “on call” schedules that require emergency room attendance on patients, plus operating room execution of surgeries for those same emergencies, for periods up to a full week, without being able to meet normal rest and sleep requirements of the human body.
Bullying knows no specific uniforms, being evident in the corporate board room, the operating room, the church sanctuary, the athletic field, court and rink, and especially the job market. And all of this neglects the kind of political propaganda that gushes from the mouths of political actors like trump, putin, kim, and others of the least savory class. These "leaders" not only display unbelievable arrogance and insouciance: they also give cover and encouragement to many who have been waiting in the weeds for the opportunity to abuse power on their "victimizers". Political and public abuse of power also fails to mention, but cannot be separated from, the kind of bullying that characterizes too many of the exchanges on social media, frequently leading to self-inflicted wounds and even suicide.
On this Good Friday, we are reminded of another act of brutality, following betrayal for a few pieces of silver, committed against the young Jew called Jesus, by the mob. The theological explanation includes the necessity of this act of murder in order to make the Resurrection feasible, following only by a few days, the triumphant processing on a donkey of that same Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. (Talk about fickle, and unrestrained bi-polarity by the crowd, still baked into the cake today). And while the theological perspective includes the “forgiveness” through the sacrifice and the new life following that forgiveness, the history of the church is covered in the blood of enemies of all stripes including different religions, different beliefs, different liturgies, different political ideologies. The theme of resurrection and forgiveness, seemingly beyond the capacity of most humans, has been so overshadowed by the celebration of the crucifixion of the “untamed” and the “wild” and the “unrepentant” and the “apostate” in the eyes of the church hierarchy, as to render conflict, division, bullying and dominance as the primary legacy of faith and religion.
The pursuit of power, in all of its many nefarious forms, (especially when it abuses the respect, dignity, honour and the person who might be in the way of that pursuit) is endemic to the human condition. Once, while delivering an address to a service club, a speaker referred negatively to “dictators” operating business by bullying their workers. Immediately following the address, the speaker was accosted by an audience member who corrected the speaker: “You meant “drivers” didn’t you?” The speaker retorted, “You call them drivers; I call them dictators!”
Police shooting innocent victims; churches excommunicating those who do not “fit” into the proscribed rules; corporations who believe that they can pull off the most heinous deceit, so long as they do no get caught; political leaders who think their legacy depends on the massing of the most powerful killing machines, as a “protection” of their people, the NRA propagandists who argue for the massive sale and distribution of guns as the legitimate path to a “secure” family, school, and society; the misuse of large numbers as a litmus test for all achievements, including increased sales, increased revenues, increased profits, increased dividends, increased numbers of supervisees (as a sign of power, status, and especially respectability); the revenue from movie ticket sales as evidence of the “artistic value” of the movie, the sacrifice of the mission of any organization, including any government to the numbers, without at least an equal, if not greater significance on the intrinsic value of the organization to both its workers and its clients….these are all evidence of the kind of distortion, imbalance, and self-serving “framing” of the value of the organization in favour of those in charge….As David Suzuki long ago reminded us, in his “voice from the wilderness” on global warming and climate change: “The economy should be working “for the people, not the other way round!”
Evidence of nuanced and highly embedded serfdom, resulting from the bullying of those in power grows daily: the labour movement is in tatters around the world; the geopolitical institutions of collaboration, co-operation and resolve to discover and to implement needed strategies to face the threats and challenges facing the planet and all of humanity depend increasingly on “private capital” and not on public decisions by public leaders to serve a growingly marginalized public everywhere; the abortion of the new technology to serve the nefarious purposes of insouciant and narcissistic mostly men, at the expense of not only their nations’ long-term reputation, but of the more immediate and legitimate needs of their people right now; the glaring imbalance of national budgets that rob public services like health care, education, and needed social services to infuse fiscal steroids into the already bloated muscle of the hard-powered military (Russia just this week tested its latest and most powerful missile, capable of striking North America); the manipulation of evidence, including lying, denying responsibility, using distortion and subterfuge in order to confuse by those in power to serve their personal hubristic ambitions, while providing mounting evidence of the inverse of health moral leadership to their people, including the youth in their nations.
While this may sound to some like a ritualistic “Presbyterian” homily, it refuses to accept such derisive reductionism. The abuse of power, by those entrusted with its levers, at all levels of our contemporary culture is not restricted to putin and trump and kim jung un; they are merely the most obvious and potentially most abusive of the army of dictator wannabees, each seeking and finding more “land” to conquer. The only difference between the “lords” of the Middle Ages and the modern oligarchs is that the currency has morphed from land to dollars, bitcoins, tax-free havens, the surgical removal of public protections by a mere executive order, the scorched earth approach to the removal of voting rights, human rights, and public safety and security from the very threats most of these “leaders” deny for their own purpose.
Terms like “gilded age” and “oligarchy” and “plutocracy” and “dictator” and even “abuse of power” seem limp and like warm dish water, given the extent to which power is being sucked out of the hands of ordinary people everywhere by a class of opportunistic and psychically bankrupt leaders. These self-serving, deceitful, apparent anarchists work hourly and feverishly to seduce a segment of people (those who feel especially angry and starved of recognition and respect) to prop them up in their life-long ambition for self-aggrandizement. Many of their supporting cast are themselves in awe of the bravado and the machismo and the recklessness with which their “leaders” pursue their private agendas.
And the “public interest,” the “public good,” the humanitarian goal of human respect and dignity and even potentially survival, embodied in such relatively simply and relatively easily attainable goals like clean air, clean water, accessible health care, decent and honourable work, and peace and security from nuclear and military and espionage threats….all of these noble and worthy dreams lie on gurneys in too many hallways of too many metaphoric hospitals while patronizing drips of saline bromides drip ever so imperceptibly into their shrinking veins.