There is a branch of philosophy known as phenomenology. It is the study of appearances. It is naturally related to another branch called epistemology. This is the study of truth value.
That might all seem a bit too high-falutin’ for you? Put simply it’s about: ‘Is what you see what you get?’ and if it is then ‘How do you know what you see and get is the real deal?’
I want to apply these ideas to, and the questions they pose for, the politics (small ‘p’ politics) of corporations, of government; and their bureaucracies and administrations.
First – a sweeping statement – which I might spend the rest of this article establishing the evidence for: All large organisations are concerned more about appearances than about realities. More: most large organisations are preoccupied with appearances; and for them realities come a very poor second, third or fourth.
The title of this article is a quotation taken from Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ – perhaps his most intellectually pyrotechnic play and drama character. Its words are a challenge made in particular to his mother; but they are also a challenge made directly to the whole apparatus in operation at the Court of Denmark in Elsinore; and Hamlet’s challenge in paraphrase is this:
‘Don’t question me about how I seem – I am truly sullen and sad – but ask yourselves that same question. My father the King is dead and buried less than two months and here is his court celebrating the remarriage of his widow and the crowning of his brother, now my stepfather, as the new King: ask yourselves how that looks to me.’
The message is that everyone is sucking up and going along with the new King and Queen’s ‘business as usual’ jamboree even though, like Hamlet, they ought to be reeling at the speed and ferocity of late events there.
Suppose we take Hamlet’s side in our approach to, say, counterfeited medications. Suppose a medication – a blockbuster – that is, one which earns under patent around a $1 billion dollars a day for its patent holders – suppose this blockbuster is discovered to have been illicitly supplied in large quantities which have entered the legitimate supply chain for the genuine product.
Now we are Hamlet remember. Hamlet is an MD in a respected professional position in a prestigious hospital and Hamlet discovers this infiltration of counterfeited product into the medications he handles. He also sees several persons come his way suffering serious maybe life threatening disorders caused directly by their having been dispensed some of these counterfeits of the blockbuster.
Hamlet is appalled – he becomes a ‘whistleblower’. He attempts to ‘go public’ on this catastrophe – but first, and from a sense of professional etiquette, he decides to inform the patent holder, which normally is the multinational pharmaceutical company that developed the drug.
In true Renaissance Tragedy fashion Hamlet gets his tongue pulled out and his wife is abducted and a finger is sent to him. (I mean this figuratively. In actuality his job, his house, his profession, and his children’s schooling and a few other home necessities might be suggested to him as being in jeopardy should he go ahead and go public). Our Hamlet, not being a Royal Prince of high valour and outrageous principle, likely reconsiders about his going public.
This drama is a parallel analogue to that of Chelsea (Bradley) Manning’s as it played out for real last year.
Every time the guys with the most bucks or with public credibility or with a Baltic kingdom and a bride queen to lose, make sure they apply the screws on the lone wolf or the little guy, the one who has more feeling and genuine heart in him (or her) than their whole administrations put together can muster.
The big guys close ranks, almost like an amoeba surrounding a morsel of food, instinctively, and so stifle any potential leakage or escape route.
Even people who have never read the play know Hamlet dies and does not win the day. But Hamlet, because he is fictional and a hero of sorts brings the whole house of cards in the Danish court down with him
He even harms, kills, several persons along the way whom he had no intention of hurting nor any true animosity against. The security services call this kind of thing ‘collateral damage’. Not murder.
Even in their terminologies these guys can’t call a spade a spade; a vague phrase blunts the impact of the actual deed when named; it diverts the mind to considerations other than the fact of violent inflicted death; it covers over a multitude of sins.
Try a little game – and then I close this one which is alarming enough already I think.
Listen to your regular news provider broadcast. Empty – in as far as you are able – your mind of all considerations and try to listen as say a newcomer to the nation – one who understands the native tongue but who has never spoken or heard it outside his own home nation. Thus you open yourself to catch and observe misunderstandings, nuances, obfuscations, fudges, contortions, affectations and stances; all as adopted by newsreaders in their use and intonation of the language of their bulletins.
Score 1 for a euphemism spotted by you. Score 2 for a single-sided argument spotted by you. Score 3 for a hidden bias spotted by you. Score 10 for spotting a story offered in a calculatedly premeditated and a politically or economically expedient fashion, wholly so as to set you up to respond to it as such.
You are able to go further. Study the grammar and syntax and the arrangement of clauses in the sentences news readers speak. In your imagined foreigner guise again, try to make sense of these almost abbreviated tweets or haiku of (presumptive) meaning. You may allow your persona to be fluent in understanding (say) English, only not practised in or versed in the contorted expressions of this news speech.
Try this workout consciously every day and you get better at it. Not very long from now you will be clearer sighted. You will not know what is really going on – that is too much to expect – but you will be sure that what you are hearing as news bulletins does not reflect it in any adequate manner and you will be sure that you know what is not really going on.