27 November 2015

Things smell nice in high places

Do skyscrapers exchange knowing glances or raise eyebrows about rats and embezzlement that live and die in their stomachs?

Skyscrapers are inanimate things, yes.  They don’t have eyes, noses, ears, tongues, hands, hearts or minds.  I’ve directed to myself often this question: ‘what if they did?’  The point is that a lot of things happen in high places and not all of it is as pretty as the architecture and the interior d√©cor. 

Things smell nice in high places, don’t they?  The people are dressed well, perfumed, groomed and delicate.  Impeccable is the word that comes to mind when one considers the corporate overall, isn’t this true?  But then again, I’ve lived long enough to know that beauty is skin-deep and appearances deceive, and that what you see is not what you really get. 

It all boils down to whether or not one has the money to purchase the required make-up, perfume, ambience and other frills to cover up a whole lot of bad-smelling and ugly stuff, doesn’t it?  Have you ever wondered why there are so many stories about pickpockets, illicit brewing of alcohol, petty thieving and so on in the newspapers and so little about corporate fraud?  I have often wondered if someone has kept count of the total value of petty crime and compared this with one instance of white-collar fraud.  I would say, off the cuff, that the former would be negligibly small compared to the latter.

I remember writing about a monumental fraud committed by someone who was once considered beyond reproach, highly respectable, titled in fact and a widely seen as a benefactor of and adornment to society.  That piece was killed for a simple and indeed understandable reason: publishing it would have meant an immediate loss of advertising revenue from the many companies this individual controlled. 

Certain things just don’t get reported. They are ‘unpublishable’, like four-letter words. Certain things are hushed up, swept under the carpet hoping that time, the most reliable inflictor of amnesia, will iron out the humps and make for smooth continuity of business-as-usual. 

I believe that all institutions, villages, cities, countries, organizations, political parties, parliaments, ministries, corporate entities and even religious orders have roughly the same proportion of visionaries and dunderheads, people of integrity and shady characters, the skilled and unskilled, the honest and the dishonest, the brave and the cowardly.  And I believe this is applicable to buildings too.  I don’t think there is a single building in this world that is free of rats, free of fraud.  And I can’t put it down to ‘coincidence’ that a lot of these rats go around without having to worry about traps and that most of them, if they get caught to some cheap and ineffective contraption, are immediately released, their wounds treated and sent scurrying away to do whatever they used to do before. 

In short there is a system of complicity in place here.  There is inbuilt security for transgressors, an insurance scheme that will get them through difficult times.  This is not to sat that every now and then a rat is caught, skinned alive and hung by its tail for all to see, but this is mostly for show, what do you think?  It is about saying ‘look, we are not protecting anyone; we can and do catch rats’.  And that example is then transformed into perfume, make-up, ambience etc so that other rats can raid the larder at will. 

What is really interesting is that it is not just the rats that are interested in purchasing perfume, make-up, ambience etc.   They may purchase it, but there are lots of other creatures who are willing to apply these odour-effacing things; just by looking the other way, just being silent.

I am not sure what skyscrapers tell one another or if they really see things and wonder. I would be thrilled if a lot of people exchanged knowing glances and raised eyebrows and more than this, had the gumption to call a rat a rat, to set up traps etc (no offence to the rodent, by the way).    But do we do this and if we do, do we think ‘self-preservation’ first?  Do we play safe?  Do we calculate the ‘practicalities’ and the costs of rat-hunting?  We do, don’t we?  Isn’t this why we leave it to buildings to listen to secrets and are quite happy that the listeners never go public with the knowledge thus acquired?  Isn’t it true that we would rather have one rat squeal (squeak?) on another than dirty our fingers by engaging in rat-hunting?

In a different world, we would call a spade a spade.  We would not only call a rat a rat, we will fault anyone for calling a rat a squirrel or some other cute and furry creature.  We blame politicians, envy the rich, play the victim, whine, pick the easy quarrel and say ‘pass’ when we are given the option of fighting the good fight, of cleaning up that which is emanating poisonous gases, don’t we?  Sometimes I think those who look the other way somehow belong to a species that is inferior to the rodent family. 

We are not born without heart and mind.  We are not born to be cowards.  Inside everyone there is a hero, a remarkable character that sadly is born, lives and dies without ever doing anything worthwhile.  We just leave it to the skyscrapers because what they do or don’t do does not change anything.  We abdicate in favour of the irrelevant.  We deny, then, our right to live in a rat-free society.  We stew in our own juice, therefore.  What a species we are, aren’t we?  I mean, ‘worse than rats’ is pretty low in the evolution chart, isn’t it?  Perhaps we should ask ourselves whether that’s where natural selection has taken us and whether that’s where we shall always be. 

Maybe we should tear down the skyscrapers if only to divest ourselves of the option of deferring the should-be-done to things that will not do it.  Too obscure? Perhaps. Let me put it this way then: there’s a thing called rat fever and if you are not careful it will kill you. 

This was first published in the 'Daily News', November 24, 2009.