Is Scott v. Napolitano unheard of by design?

This gets into the land of tin foil hatters, but it’s worth a gander. Scott v. Napolitano looks like an important legal decision, but it has gotten little news coverage and has no place in the popular lexicon. I doubt that one American in a hundred has heard of it. I’m not sure that I’d ever heard of it two weeks ago, and I certainly couldn’t have recalled a thing about it had I been asked.

Employers have a strong interest in keeping Americans in the dark about the Scott ruling and its implications; the question is whether they’ve been alert and proactive enough to actively try to keep it hidden from the proles. It’s odd that it took me several hours of concerted online searches for information about the lawfulness of employee medical history questionnaires to notice any mention of Scott v. Napolitano, and it’s odd that what information I did find was mostly in obscure trade publications aimed at lawyers and human resources “professionals.” On the other hand, third-page Google returns might as well be buried at sea for the amount of exposure that they get. The search algorithm may be nefarious, or it may just be sloppy, and we, the people, may have allowed our research skills to atrophy.

Scott indirectly threatens the federal legality of a number of shitty, predatory recruitment and personnel practices. As it is written, it appears to vigorously limit the latitude of federal law enforcement agencies to question employees about their medical histories. This is a pretty big deal: as a rule of thumb, if there’s a creepy, revolting question that law enforcement background investigators can think to ask their applicants, they’re allowed to ask it. As basic manners go, it’s the Wild West. In what may be the only civic reason to live there, Maryland state law bars non-law enforcement employers from administering polygraph tests. Polygraphs are intractably creepy, and their ubiquity in law enforcement speaks volumes about the low-trust dystopia that law enforcement is, although Norm Stamper has a good point about their usefulness for measuring vital functions like sweating, respiration, and heart rate. The fact that a federal judge has limited the authority of the Department of Homeland Security to demand information about the medical backgrounds of its employees is a major win for employee privacy rights; this is an agency that isn’t normally bashful about telling the courts what to do.

The courts can be expected to grant less latitude to private employers to pursue fishing expeditions against their employees. Few private employers have a viable argument that their operations are sensitive enough to require intrusive background investigations and unremittingly scrupulous background standards. Many of those that do are morally marginal. Dog-of-war private militias come to mind, the kind that in the nineties were staffed very disproportionately by South African military and paramilitary veterans and have lately come to be staffed by a ballooning contingent of Americans. This isn’t to say that the background standards demanded of these men include the least bit of moral rectitude: the Americanization of these outfits suggests that the Bureau of Prisons should really get around to clearing out penitentiary space for our old boys. Rather, it’s that their recruitment standards are exacting about boot-in-the-ass hardness. Many police departments use similar, if less extreme, recruiting standards; a few, including the SDPD and the Secret Service, genuinely try to select for a strong but morally grounded temperaments, but a whole lot more use the intrusive screening process to hire guys who would be long shots at Starbucks because they would flat-out scare the store manager. Banks and casinos insist, with some cause, that they need complete investigative latitude to prejudicially screen out applicants who might not be trustworthy handling large amounts of money. The problem with this argument is that both industries are effectively in the business of scamming and robbing their customers. Banks often have the additional aggravating factor of asserting a preening self-righteousness in canceling or refusing the accounts of sex workers and political criminals on moral grounds while simultaneously managing the high-volume international financial operations of criminal syndicates that they know to be in the business of smuggling drugs, arms, or counterfeit and adulterated merchandise, poaching endangered wildlife, wholesale gunpoint extortion, or the trafficking of desperately poor economic migrants in life-threatening conditions.

The thing about organizations like these is that even if their actual operations are morally compromised, if they were reformed into a state of probity and good discipline they very much would need to impose exacting standards of rectitude on their employees. A properly disciplined mercenary army needs to be able to drum out the constitutionally violent, even if the notion of a properly disciplined mercenary force is a pie-in-the-sky fantasy worthy of trolley time with Mr. Rogers. A well-run police department cannot hire and promote the dregs of society, or even people who are perfectly decent but not mentally and physically tough enough for the job. Casinos and banks deal with volumes of petty cash that really aren’t all that petty; harboring embezzlers in high-volume cash handling positions would introduce chaos in a matter of hours. Maybe it’s important to run credit checks on applicants for these positions in order to screen out those who are likely to embezzle out of financial desperation. Maybe it’s important to run credit checks on police applicants to screen out those who are likely to commit extortion or solicit bribery under color of authority in order to make ends meet.

On the other hand, the fastidiously upright ideal may be less ideal than the congenially crooked norm. C. S. Lewis was certainly of such an opinion. An organization may end up in the death grip of self-righteous wonders who think that their own shit doesn’t stink. If no other part of a company can expect a hostile takeover by preening, censorious hypocrites, HR can. And that’s where it becomes not just likely but inevitable that the moral calculus used to hire or reject applicants will come fully detached from observable reality and float away into a stratosphere of utopian but arbitrary and selectively enforced ideals.

This is how burger joints end up running credit checks on applicants for nonmanagerial fry cook positions. They might be needed to man the cash register at times, and the till might swell to five hundred or a thousand dollars on a busy day before a keyholder can switch it out, and the cashier might be a thievish little shit. Maybe business will be too slow to warrant a deposit run that day, but the cashier will be the kind of really petty embezzler who pilfers a dime here and a dollar there. Never mind that this possibility, along with the possibility of occasional brain farts while making change, is why businesses that handle cash usually run end-of-shift till audits. You’re talking to an old Hersheypark food service carny here; I worked under some dipshits on the fry line, but none of them were don’t-audit-the-till stupid. I basically know how these places work. Bare-bones generally accepted cash accounting practices will detect most sticky-finger cashiers over the course of a few days. Most of these people are idiots who get greedy, itty bitty Icari who fly too close to the sun. If they were competent thieves, they wouldn’t be stealing from a fucking Burger King cash drawer to supplement a fry lineman’s salary.

But let’s say for the sake of argument that their embezzlement stunts work from time to time. What ever can their employers do? How about fire them with cause for embezzlement? Dude, you were stealing from the till; you need to leave. It sucks that food service management sometimes comes to that, but I can’t say it’s the only thing that sucks about the fry line. At least I was a piker at the bottom of the totem pole who had no sunk cost in the greasemongering trade. If drumming out the workplace thieves who occasionally insinuate themselves into positions of petty cash is such a horrendous managerial duty, maybe there are other lines of work that involve absolutely nothing that anyone would want to steal. Living under a tarp in the State Game Lands with a John the Baptist wardrobe, a couple of tin cooking pots, and a knife set probably wouldn’t be an irresistible invitation for other people to jack one’s shit. Of course nobody who can hold down a management-track McJob makes any effort to live like that. It’s totally fucking crazy, fit for the kind of people who talk to birds.

A lot of the carrying-on about due diligence in fry cook recruitment and the like is not nearly as aboveboard as it may appear. It isn’t so much prudence as it is petty tyranny. Lecturing applicants about the moral solemnity of honest cash handling in positions that were historically held by teenagers who wanted some summer walking-around money is really just a coarse managerial-class social control. It’s not like dipshits or druggies who fell off the wagon embezzling petty cash is the bestest thing evarr, but expressing bottomless indignation at the slightly-greater-than-zero prevalence of small-time workplace embezzlers is a classic White Whine. It sucks, but there are well-established protocols in place to detect and stop such workplace criminality, and there are serious professional consequences for workplace thieves, like being booted to the back of the line the next time a cashiering position opens up at Arby’s.

Administering personality tests to prospective fry cooks has nothing to do with the actual restaurant management. Owners and managers whose objective is to actually operate a business don’t fuck around with that sort of bullshit. Many of them simply don’t have the time. Besides, anyone in management who lacks the rudimentary social intuition to detect egregiously unfit employees (e.g., ones who are incorrigibly hamfisted on the sandwich line or unable to balance their tills) will run a business into the ground on short order.

That said, the administration of these tests is excellent for high-functioning sadists and psychopaths. There is a personality type, more properly called a personality disorder, which enjoys making subordinates obey the rules simply because they are the rules. This same type very often gets great satisfaction from deliberately and maliciously violating duly enacted laws and regulations for the sake of violating them, no matter how reasonably drafted and implemented they are or how compelling a reason they have to exist.

This type of person ends up very disproportionately in middle to upper line management or human resources. These are people who have exceedingly little interest in their employers’ core businesses or in overseeing actual day-to-day operations. By their reckoning, maintaining the actual productivity of core business operations requires too much work and offers too few opportunities for narcissistic aggrandizement. If they wanted to be involved in core business operations rather than political wankery, they’d have angled for work in core business operations. Their decent and competent colleagues do exactly this, after all. The latter often try to stay put in core business because they’re appalled by the wielding of long knives that dominates the managerial and executive operations of their workplaces.

This is why nobody ever does any fucking work at Dunder Mifflin. A couple dozen jackoffs are nominally running a paper supply company, and in the one productive moment out of a thousand, one of them is fleetingly shown on the phone, presumably with a client, while the rest of them make “that’s what she said” comments. This is not economic activity. Michael Scott is not a fucking economic actor. Holy shit. It’s one thing to have a few minutes of this crap now and then, but workday after full workday of it would run an organization headlong into Chapter VII liquidation. If there’s a productive economy at an organization supporting this political wankery, the politics are a form of parasitism; if there isn’t, they’re a prelude to Into the Wild-style organizational starvation, although it’s certainly nicer to starve in an air-conditioned cube farm than in an unheated, disused school bus out behind that yonder river.

*****

Understanding this parasitism helps articulate the inchoate feeling I’ve long had that there’s something not quite right about the moral panic over workplace sexual harassment, that it’s really an oblique, tacit attack on something else. This is separate from the truly weird psychosexual context of this moral panic, in which a number of parties clearly take pleasure in the notion of women being helpless, vulnerable, and irresistibly sexy in the face of male behavior that is often no worse than a bit louche.

This is one reason why the focus is almost invariably on the bougie white meat. If the celebrated victim of one of these leering attacks isn’t white, it’s a certainty that she acts white enough to contend for an anchoring position on NPR. Nobody’s worried about the sexual harassment of farm hands, hot mess tweakers, streetwalkers, female prisoners (or male prisoners, for that matter), Irish raunchies from Northeast Philadelphia, in-your-face Badlanders, ghetto-ass bitches of 103rd Street (a very other crowd with no lower bound on their public manners, straight outta not quite Compton), saucy Dominican chicks from the barrio, or anyone else who knows how to stand up for herself instead of acting like a helpless damsel in distress because eww he just looked at me all gross. The white knights here are looking for women who aren’t totally embarrassed to be white-knighted; they may be unctuous, but lemme tell you, them guys ain’t dumb. Maybe get a blister on your stinky finger….never mind.

The key thing is to find high-class women who aren’t all that confident or socially well-adjusted (if they were, they wouldn’t be fazed by some douchebag checking out their booty, like they showed on that VA sexual harassment training video–notwithstanding that we, the audience, were the ones who were supposed to be fazed by it, since chica was looking the other way and couldn’t see mofo take his peek) and then put them into career-track office jobs that can be construed as high-stakes, i.e., ones whose loss would be a professional blow to an idled employee because they aren’t about being elbow-deep in chicken blood for $8.50 an hour at a time when there are other butchering operations in the area that could use some help right away. There are various ways for a woman to not be quite childish enough or flighty or coquettish or ill-at-ease around men to be a sexy victim of sexual harassment, but, to paraphrase Potter Stewart on the callow hotties who do make the cut, one knows them when one sees them, and one would also like to more intimately know them in the King James sense. (At least that’s one Englishman who wasn’t indecent around the ladies, or so I’ve heard. Because, as a custodian once told a friend at Heathrow, “You know you want to suck down a fag. Follow me.”)

The more mature and normal around men a woman is, the less alluring she is as a victim of petty workplace perv. There’s hardly any time for this shit at real businesses with real business to conduct, because sexual harassment would get in the way of business. (I’m told that Calvin Coolidge had equally coherent thoughts on American business, minus the hawt parts.) There’s a lot more time for it in office environments with haphazardly defined workloads and scopes of work. Smooth workplace parasites, of course, will find ways to make time for sexual nonsense on the job: hence their scarceness in farm jobs, which require a shitload of grueling physical labor.

What a predatory office fuckhead really wants, of course, is a job with no set-in-stone responsibilities, a high tolerance for smoothly worded excuses, and total latitude to pursue political horseshit at the expense of actual work. That is, Dunder Mifflin. Office predators thrive in environments that thoroughly alienate their decent and competent colleagues. A morally grounded employee with a real skill set will find it impossible to get anything done in a sclerotic, politically hamstrung organization where all decisions have to be run by cohorts of obvious bullshit artists. Even an employee who is emotionally stable and resilient enough not to be the least bit unnerved by all the bullshit can get totally fed up with it. No amount of poise on the part of a company’s non-bullshit artist employees will keep its office morale from being wrecked by politically powerful scumbags.

Here’s how this fits into sexual harassment, as she said: By the time some well-groomed office dirtbag has the political power to be distressingly sexually inappropriate with colleagues or subordinates on company time, he also has the power to behave in a distressingly inappropriate fashion to anyone at or below his own level. If a sexual pest has any political power at his workplace, he’s almost certainly engaged in a baroque assortment of execrably bad behaviors towards those around him. These are guys who like to strut around and flex, just to show who’s boss. For them, sexual harassment isn’t just about sex or just about power; it’s about both. Being a leering, handsy shithead gives them a glorious eight-hour alpha boner.

If a workplace is run by men of this caliber (and the lion’s share of this sort of trouble probably does come from the men), the staff will notice that something is wrong. They may not be able to put a finger on it, but they’ll know that they’re drinking from a poisoned well. No amount of Orwellian propaganda to the contrary will eliminate this sinking gut feeling. A campaign of happy horseshit may win back their conscious hearts and minds, but the toxic environment will continue to affect them on a subconscious level. The subconscious effects will only become stronger if management refuses to admit that there are ethical and political problems at the office. Managers of troubled workplaces come to a fork in the road, and they take it. They try to paper over all the trouble on their watch (often because they personally caused it) by decreeing their companies to have good order, good morals, and high-trust workplace cultures. At the same time, they indulge in Brezhnev/Ceausescu-spectrum outbursts of positive law to suppress dissent, because only a crazed traitor would have a problem with the way things are done around here.

A key thing to understand about the United States (we really aren’t a very self-aware society) is that we have a coherent, widely understood language for the discussion of sexual eccentricities but not one for the discussion of class problems, and that this is very much by design. Our betters have been gaslighting us for our entire history as a country going back to Jamestown and Plymouth. First it was slavers, joint stock company charlatans, and clerical busybodies; in the nineteenth century, they were joined by Hamiltonian technocrats and robber barons, and then by a secular claque of progressive busybodies. Meanwhile, an official national mythology was scrupulously cultivated, one in which our actual leadership came from Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, a hagiographically fictionalized version of George Washington, the American Gothic sourfaces, the Little House on the Prairie crowd (warning: gratuitous Dennis Lynn Rader content), and that nice reticent young working-class fellow who got up the courage to be painted by Norman Rockwell addressing the New England town meeting.

Some of this stuff, like Washington and the cherry tree, is about as credible as Romulus, Remus, and the she-wolf. Bring Christian Nation revisionists into the fray, and the stories go from dubious to downright bizarre. Franklin and Jefferson were incorrigible horndogs? Big fucking deal, although Tommy Boy really should have had the decency to hire townie hookers instead, and, yeah, we still haven’t recovered from the race-based corruption of blood thing. Thanks, Tom. But by many accounts, often published in Colorado Springs, these guys were all great Christians. They don’t tell us about how Washington was Christian enough to deliberately stop receiving communion in his old age, Jefferson was Christian enough to excise all the paranormal parts of the Bible (if memory serves, he did so with a razor, although I may be communing with King Friday at the trolley stop in this matter), and many of the remaining founding fathers (a Coolidge anachronism, by the way) were Unitarians or discreet agnostics whose lukewarm professions of faith would get them smeared beyond electability in many American jurisdictions today.

As a group, Americans aren’t nearly as crazy as we should be, given our bizarre national history and the even more bizarre efforts of influential historians (secular mainstream, Christian Nationalist, and otherwise) to sanitize it. It is considered extremely politically incorrect in most circles to squarely face the horrific class depredations that were historically visited upon ordinary Americans by slaveholders and robber barons; it’s considered even ruder to admit that these depredations continue to this day at the hands of police, prosecutors, prison officials, bankers, and bigshot corporate shysters. Accusing one’s fellow of sexual perversion, on the other hand, is somehow considered polite. Just look at Dateline and SVU. Look at the proliferation of sex offender registries and their aggressive application to ex-cons who clearly pose no threat to the vulnerable.

For office politics, the upshot is that it’s much easier to get a sympathetic hearing for accusations of sexual impropriety than for accusations of general moral impropriety. It’s rare to have any recourse against an office being perverted into a Glengarry Glen Ross nightmare of long knives. It’s hard to get backup from anyone in a position of authority to stand up to predatory, gratuitously abusive hotshots. Say, Mr. Baldwin, are you familiar with the old Prague tradition of defenestration? Nice view you have here; shame if you weren’t able to enjoy it. “He patted me on the ass in the hallway” works much better, since it allows those with personnel authority to pretend that the aggression was solely the result of sexual perversion and had nothing to do with the assertion of raw power. By the time the shithead was bold enough to pat a colleague on the ass in the hallway, he was probably bold enough to routinely commit various other workplace torts and gross breaches of professionalism against anyone who didn’t scare the shit out of him, but these varieties of workplace misconduct don’t count; only perv does. If accusations of sexual harassment are the only way to get leverage against vicious, immoral predators in capricious, lawless workplaces, accusations of sexual harassment will proliferate. The sexual gratification that leering third parties get from these accusations is a mere fringe benefit.

*****

The American workplace is deranged. The cultural resonance of the pathetic political games depicted on The Office doesn’t speak to the sinful nature or some other universal truth about the imperfection of the human condition; it speaks to grave problems with American corporate culture, many of them idiosyncratic to the United States or to some larger but still limited swath of the former British Empire. Aussies can be rude as hell, but they have an egalitarian streak that would floor Americans, and Kiwis are like Aussies but colder, or something like that. I don’t get the feeling that the Germanic peoples of Continental Europe, Walloons, Latin Swiss, Poles, or Czechoslovakians act like that in professional settings. I wouldn’t entirely put it past the Russians on account of some randy nonsense that I witnessed on a visit to the offices of Iduschie Vmeste, but even that was wholesome, if utterly immature. The Japanese salaryman certainly has a different, more culturally appropriate way of abusing his colleagues and subordinates, since cultural propriety need not be a form of propriety at all. The ramshackle regime of bullshit artistry at Dunder Mifflin would probably be entertaining even if it had no cultural resonance for its audience, kind of like a story for Bougie about North Country white trash who fellate their landladies in lieu of rent, write checks on the accounts of their senile common-law spouses, and burn down their trailers for the insurance money. It’s one thing to snicker at such a maudlin tale and say, oh my God, I can’t believe people actually live like that, it’s so fucking crazy. It’s another, more troubling, thing to watch it and say, fuuuuuck, man, that’s my life right there.

One thing we’re really good at as Americans is assuming that the idiosyncratic pathologies of our national culture are actually human universals. If you’re a foreigner and you’re alarmed by weird aspects of American culture that don’t have to do with our barbecuing tradition, it’s probably because the things that alarm you are truly, objectively horrific and should have been banished from my land decades or centuries ago. For example, our federal system of government, unlike its Swiss, German, Belgian, and Canadian counterparts, is routinely construed by our federal courts to constitutionally grant brutal or corrupt state governments utmost latitude to put to death convicts whose guilt is blatantly in question. This is not a cultural or political idiosyncrasy; it’s thoroughgoing dereliction of judicial duty in service of the pure evil of rotten county and state governments, a dereliction of duty on par with the Mounties or the Carabinieri knowingly allowing cannibals to go on headhunting expeditions in neighboring villages. One can see how we had a civil war over slavery, and be surprised that we’ve had only one so far. One thing that can be said in defense of the state prisons at Angola and Corcoran or of Florence Admax or of the erstwhile judicial black hole at Guantanamo Bay is that these facilities, unlike Auschwitz, do not have infrastructure devoted to the wholesale slaughter of their inmates. If you’re thinking that this isn’t much of a defense, it’s because it isn’t. These facilities are horror shows. Also unlike Auschwitz, these facilities have at no time been stormed and liberated by occupying foreign armies. This is because we’re a morally refined nation.

Wow! Such city Much hill Very winthrop!

Wow.

The Godwinian metagloss on this analysis is that Hitler loves me and is my most loyal intercessor among the angels and saints for comparing degraded American workplaces to violent American prisons and in turn comparing American prisons to the most notorious of the Nazi death camp complexes. A more reasonable metagloss is that the United States has by far the highest incarceration rate on the face of the earth today, that it incarcerates racial minorities in gross disproportion to their proven criminality, and that conditions in many of its prisons are in gross violation of domestic and international human rights standards. This horrific state of affairs has come to pass since the 1970’s, at the same time as labor protections for American workers have been progressively eroded. Correlation isn’t exactly causation in this case; instead, both forms of degeneracy arise from roughly the same root evil in the national zeitgeist. In a number of cases, the worst of this evil isn’t even an especially popular sentiment: the degradation of workplace protections, liftoff of inequality levels into low-earth orbit, trashing of the public sphere, judicial imprimatur for asset forfeiture, refusal by the authorities to enforce duly enacted labor laws, reintroduction of debtors’ prisons and for-profit prison labor, perversion of police agencies into bandit gangs, and the War on Drugs have all been doggedly maintained by viciously corrupt special interests in the face of significant public opposition. Much of this redux of the Bloody Code and rotten borough regulatory capture is not in fact what the electorate ordered. A congressional catfish like Nancy Pelosi or waver of the bloody shirt like Saxby Chambliss doesn’t have to gaslight even a quarter of the electorate to win an election.

Then there’s the matter of the United States having a controlled press. There’s hardly a country on earth whose government does not surreptitiously interfere in the press, including EU members, but there’s a somewhat more special quality to the creeps who have been interfering in the Anglo-American press over the past few decades, and even more so in the mainstream American press specifically. Maybe it’s an inherent problem with imperial superpowers, since the Soviet government and its satellites engaged in similar domestic propaganda and the Kremlin does so to this day.

The CIA has spent its entire history trying to subvert constitutional government and the free press in the United States, and crooked business interests have been doing so for much longer than the CIA has existed, but even in quarter century or so that I’ve been old enough to pay attention to American news broadcasts, the quality of their production has slipped noticeably. The residual Big Three oligopolists of the late eighties seemed to have a certain self-respect contingent on their not making asses of themselves with blatantly shoddy news reportage or production. This self-respect is largely missing today. Even since around the turn of the millennium, when I was in my late teens and definitely old enough to appreciate the quality of production, I’ve been noticing national news broadcasts resorting to more and more cheap production shortcuts. These shortcuts are some indication of the contempt in which the news networks hold their audiences. The quality of the lower-end “news” programs, of course, has gone straight into the shitter, with grotesque embarrassments like user-submitted viral video programs narrated by panels of giggling twenty-somethings who act like management told them not to bother inquiring about SAG membership. Believe it or not, Dateline NBC was a serious, reputable news program into at least the mid-nineties, only incrementally sliding into its present-day quagmire of murder and perv.

One way to look at this is to say that Americans watch too much TV. This analysis is a bit daft, but not entirely so. A lot of our television programming is execrable. The problem is that our newspapers and magazines aren’t necessarily an improvement. The major weeklies are thoroughly atrocious, much of USA Today is dumbed down to hell, most of our local dailies unethically pass off public relations copy as “staff reports” because they’re too cheap to pay for their own material, and the New York Times retains the revolting likes of Tom Friedman and Nicholas Kristof as columnists.

Thank God we have internet samizdat. In this regard, we’re in a position that would have amazed disaffected Soviet citizens. I don’t think the internet is really going to waste; its sheer storage and transmission capacity allows it to provide vital, timely political and policy information to huge numbers of people at the same time as it provides high-definition pornography to the lonely and the lecherous, viral videos of cats being cats and young children being brats to the immature, and clickbait garbage to every goober on the plantation. This is why I spend so much time writing this stuff, vox clamante in deserto or something, even if I look at more internet porn than John the Baptist could ever imagine. I’d get more page views if I wrote garbage about a doctored photograph of a young wife’s lover hiding out under her bed, but at least some of the time I’d like to live in truth.

That, and I get completely fed up with seedy gaslighting schemes by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and the complicity of my peers in our own brightsiding. The post-recession job market is an unrelenting nightmare that has ensnared me and millions of other Americans. Honestly, I’m one of the luckier victims of long-term unemployment; if things are so often bleak for me, they must be unimaginable for the truly down-and-out. Then I go on Facebook and find a bunch of OMG this is so cool I was just on an all-expenses-paid vacation to Aruba for top salesmen at my company and next month I’m going on my honeymoon to Cozumel. Wow, your C Class should totally hang out with my 2001 Civic next time it’s in Rancho Cordova. So I watch all these acquaintances and meta-acquaintances get a hundred likes for an engagement announcement or margarita still life from Miami Beach or a dozen likes for some bit of daft posturing about abortion (lifehack: hate to break it to you, but it’s with us to stay, just like Jesus said about the poor), and meanwhile I get the feeling that the stuff I’m posting, much of it actually substantive, is getting deep-sixed by one of Zuckerberg’s real-time feed algorithms, and that if it isn’t, dipshits will start dropping like flies off my friend list because I’m the only one refusing to put on a game face in the semi-public company of thousands of first- and second-degree contacts.

No, asshole, it’s because shit isn’t entirely groovy around here. Facebook isn’t a fucking LinkedIn playdate. If it is, you’re wasting a resource that could be put to some good use, Zuckerberg be damned. I’ll be damned if I’ll let my free speech be chilled by the inference that a claque of game-face bullshitters is about to bitch me out for harshing their mellow. Crystal Harris can do her fun stuff without me. Ultimately, I really don’t mind most of the stuff I come across on Facebook that is merely stupid or kooky. What bugs me is the censoriousness, the preening, the moral posturing, the abject fishing for compliments, the barely concealed schemes to flatter employers and prospective employers by being an overbearingly anodyne piece of shit. A lot of people devote their Facebook presences to the appeasement of others who have absolutely no business peeking around their social media profiles. The solution to your being scandalized by the edgy things that I post to my own Facebook wall is to kindly fuck off, mate. (I’m talking to “you” in a nebulous catholic sense here. Look, it’s nearly half past three in the morning; don’t hate.)

What’s disturbing is that my merely taking such a hard stand over the sanctity of my online recreational spaces seems to be regarded in some circles as having all the social and civic dignity of dropping trou and taking a shit on the altar in the National Cathedral. There are reasons why I don’t send my bosses or most of my colleagues Facebook friend requests. These reasons more or less involve keeping my personal life free from unwarranted intrusions by workplace busybodies and keeping irrelevant aspects of my personal life the hell out of the workplace.

*****

 

Check it, we’re full circle back to Scott v. Napolitano, even if it should have taken a few thousand fewer words than it did. (They probably didn’t tell you in school that it’s harder to write a good short essay than a good long essay. This is because the teachers had enough trouble slogging through a thousand words of your sophomoric fluff, let alone ten thousand.) The fundamental problem with hoovering up lots of information just for the sake of knowing stuff is that mere knowledge is not the same thing as wisdom. This is the kind of thing that would make heads explode at HR: too much knowledge into too little mind causes high intracranial pressure, in some of the most glorious, if fictional, physics ever.

Let’s say that your wife has taken a lover. Option 1: She’s spending evenings with Two-Time Tommy at the Rodeway Inn, but you think she’s working late at the office; she’s affectionate enough when she comes home, and you aren’t totally crestfallen about the extra time that you get to spend playing Angry Birds while she’s gone. Option 2: You learn about her affair and freak out. But what did you really learn? Was it of any use? She’s still putting out for the other guy, and now you’re all upset and thinking about divorce. Did the adultery wreck the marriage, or was it your discovery of the adultery? What, you’re now shutting her out sexually because she’s been unfaithful and you’re butthurt? Gee, that’s smart. If you really play this thing right, Keith Morrison can narrate your very own spousal murder special. Of course NBC wants you and your wife to be petty, possessive hotheads; maturity, magnanimity, and discretion in marriage would tank their ratings.

This is even more true of employers digging up dirt on employees. In most cases, there is absolutely no expectation of enduring employee fealty to an employer, let alone a contractually binding agreement to this effect. A manager insinuating that there is such an enforceable duty falling on the employee is probably just trying to decree a bogus ex post facto rule by fiat, a cheap bluff backed up by nothing more than private intimidation. What an employee does off the clock is generally of no concern whatsoever to an employer. If the employee’s after-hours behavior becomes a problem at work, it’s no longer just a personal problem. This is not, however, why employers insist on preemptive personality tests, drug screening, background checks, or medical history investigations. Employers that administer such protocols for legitimate reasons (e.g., for airline pilots) are exceptions that prove the rule. Making prospective fry cooks or orchard roustabouts jump through these hoops is nothing but a naked power grab, its purpose to crudely transcend the host society’s laws and allow the employer to become a law unto itself.

It isn’t the only one. Look at Uber, threatening to blacklist its “independent contractors” if they make comments critical of their work conditions to passengers and telling them that it’s against company policy for them to register their cars as commercial vehicles for hire, as mandated by state motor vehicle regulations. Consider the rampant extent of wage theft in menial retail and food service jobs. Consider all the hiring managers who sign off on I-9 documents that they believe to be bogus because they’d rather hire illegal immigrants than make workplace conditions or pay remotely attractive to Americans. Look at the state of slumlord housing and the unlawful tenancy conditions that are inserted into rental agreements.

Scott v. Napolitano and the abuses it was designed to correct are just the tip of the iceberg. If Americans could be counted on to know our rights, the people who run this country would have hell to pay.

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