I imagine most of you have been on the phone with a company that didn’t deliver on its obligations. Maybe the time-sensitive package you overnighted was delayed, the airline lost your luggage or your health insurance refused to cover a bill, and after some back and forth regarding potential remedies, the customer service rep says, “I’m sorry sir, but that’s company policy.”
“Company policy” is invoked to end the conversation, get you to move on and accept whatever remedy (or mere apology) they are offering, no matter how incommensurate with their error. And it often works because wise people learn to direct their energies toward things they can change, rather than things they cannot.
Sure, you have ripped me off, cost me time and money, mishandled something that was important to me, but if a remedy isn’t possible, per your policy, what can I do, shout into my phone for 20 more minutes? I can vow never to use that company again, but it’s a massive conglomerate, possibly a virtual monopoly in my area, and in any event, my business won’t be especially missed. “Fine,” you say, as you hang up the phone, grumbling under your breath and trying to put it out of your mind so you can go about the rest of your day.
This is what happens most of the time for most people, but not for me. What I realized is the “company policy” trick works by exploiting the “pick your battles” and “worry only about what you can control” heuristics that serve people well in most circumstances. They know you have them on the question of right and wrong, fairness and proportionality, so rather than fight on losing ground, they shift to the question of what’s possible for you to do about it.
But let’s consider what this pivot from what’s right to what’s possible has wrought. It’s not just that you won’t get reimbursed for the $4K anesthesiologist bill who was out of network (and did his work while you were unconscious), but runs much deeper than that.
Here’s Cindy McCain, John McCain’s widow, talking about Jeffery Epstein:
Her point is that everyone knew Epstein was doing horrendous wrongs, but they didn’t believe anyone would do anything about it. In a sense, they assumed, via the CIA or whatever powerful organization was so obviously protecting him, his activities were “company policy.” Whether it was wrong was not sufficient. It was not possible for him to face punishment. Until it was.
The illusion of untouchability is a tactic to make you give up. What are you going to do about it? Nothing. A “rational person”, a person who wants to “find peace” will “cultivate indifference to things outside of their [sic] control.” And we don’t just see this frame coming from powerful malefactors wanting you to give up. Via Stockholm Syndrome it has spread to regular citizens, even among those who are awake to disturbing truths about our institutions and policymakers.
“Coerced injections were abominable, but get real, no one will ever go to jail for it,” is essentially the same thing as “Sorry sir, but it’s company policy,” only the call is coming from inside the house. You’ve ceded the fight about what’s right to what’s possible, and even though you’re justifiably angry about it, you not only expect nothing to come of it, but actively discourage others who feel as you do.
Why should you accept a wrong? Why should you concede an injustice? Because it might not possible to redress it? Well of course it’s not possible if you care whether it’s possible! How about fighting for what’s right, whether or not in your narrow-minded crystal-ball-lacking capacity you can predict the future?
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
―George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman
The fight over what’s possible is the trick.
Obviously it’s possible. If we stand up, sue, complain, demand, it will happen. It need not be everyone, not even a majority, just a committed, principled and intransigent minority.
Of course, they don’t want you to do that. A bully wants to intimidate, not get into an actual fistfight on the merits. How do they prevent it? Divide, distract, despond and deride. They shout “Conspiracy theory!” to deter questioning. They don’t care whether what’s alleged is true — they want to make the subject off limits. If it’s not permissible to discuss, then it doesn’t matter whether it’s true. Evidence doesn’t matter because that claim doesn’t have standing to be heard. Summary judgment.
These are the tactics. You are losing because you are blind to them. You buy into the frame.
We must choose an alternative frame: I hear that it’s YOUR policy, but that doesn’t address MY problem. This is wrong, and you stating that you’re in the habit of doing wrong and not addressing it will not make me go away. In fact, it’s going to make me even more resolute because clearly you are not even prepared to defend your conduct. Had you persuaded me that actually I were mistaken, I would drop it. But you are persuading me that I am even more on target than I thought because you are trying to render a discussion on the merits off limits.
Assuming I have persuaded some of you that “Company Policy” is to fool people into giving up meretricious claims by making the prospect of relief appear futile, and that “They’ll never be held to account” is but the internalization of that tactic, you might ask, okay, what *can* we do about it? How do we hold the powerful to account?
Podcaster Marty Bent posed a related question to his guest Tom Luongo on a recent TFTC podcast, and Luongo’s answer was enlightening.
Luongo said you have to keep talking, expressing dissenting views that bubble up into the zeitgeist where they gain increasing influence. The discourse is a complex system — it’s impossible to predict the long-term effects of one’s ideas on it. You could be shouting into the void for months, and one day something you say sparks a better-worded idea in the mind of someone with more reach. Sometimes little things turn out to be big things, the ripple that births a tsunami.
I agree with Luongo on this point. I want people to understand the notion that things are futile does not arise in your mind accidentally. It has been crafted to deter you. And if you are deterred the prophecy will self-fulfill.
But the moment enough people demand and expect accountability, scoff at the idea that humans like you and me, but who just happen to have wealth or social connections, are untouchable, is when justice is possible. The bully just got punched in the face, we see in truth he was always scared and weak. It’s why he became a bully.
But we will not be bullied. “Company policy” will not suffice. We demand an accounting on the merits. And we will get it, so long as we refuse to be deterred by false notions of what’s possible.