Ruminations on the Rules Inside Parochial Organizations and on Casting Out Devils

I never really understood large organizations and freely admit that I don’t fit in very well. I didn’t know that the name of my medical school had changed its ownership and name until after I graduated.

In Nha Trang, my CO, who assumed that I shared his irrational hatred of using “illegal” drugs, had a kid court martialled for alleged drug abuse. I flew down to Saigon to testify. The board asked a few preliminary questions which I answered with my usual innocent honesty, then the one about the unit. There was a stunned silence at my response after which the convening officer said “Captain Haas, you are dismissed, and thank you.” The kid was back in the unit the next day. My commanding officer was unaccountably replaced two days later. I wish I could remember the question.

My last job before becoming a commissioner, was in 1976 when they paid me 600 dollars a month as an associate clinical prof at MSU College of Human Medicine. (They need to be sure what or who they were treating). The students that they sent me were the ones that no one else wanted in their program. I got the losers because they thought that I wouldn’t complain. I let my unhappiness be known, not knowing that that was considered ungentlemanly. My  boss fired me, and then had to rehire me for 3 months because no one else would do that crappy job. My income went up by 2000 dollar per month after I got rid of the aggravation. I later put that academic appointment on my CV, someone checked and couldn’t verify my appointment. MSU had lost my records, sending the only good part of this affair, namely getting fired from MSU,  into a black hole.

And then there is Butterworth Hospital self vaunted as highly organized, where I taught residents and medical students, gratis. Around 1988, the someone who ran the program noting that I was brusque in my teaching, decided to play loose and fast with my practice by helping my competitor. They named him to the teaching rotation so that he might get referrals. I was making plenty of money doing real estate on the side and teaching brusquely for free didn’t buy any land contracts. I honored my contracts, but had none with Butterworth, so of course I quit. My competitor was not prepared to take up the slack, no one taught and the residency was put on probation 18 months later. The big organizational geniuses who ran the residency blamed me for not teaching brusquely.

In these examples, I was oblivious to the rules that seem to govern the folks who thrive, or in many cases rot away in these organizations.

I spent my career self employed, depending on my reputation to get referrals, always looking for other opportunities and, Lord knows, making original mistakes. I constantly developed alternative ways of making a living as a fall back. I have the tools to lay floor and kitchen tile in the basement and keep a chauffeur’s license so I can drive a taxi if medicine craps out.

If I made it, earned it,or traded for it, it was mine, net of costs. I tried collaboration, but those ventures almost always failed.

The organizational types work within and see the effects of team efforts but they soon realize that their reward comes out of a limited pool of money and influence devoted to ” labor.” They have to compete for their ”fair” share and that this usually depends on politics. One man’s gain is another man’s loss, a zero sum game. This makes them think that these same arbitrary rules apply to folks outside of their organization. They don’t.

I’m whinging on about this as it reflects on my blundering into political office here in Kentwood with its well entrenched bureaucracy. I was dumped into  a playpen where everyone is trying to protect his turf. They gang up on outsiders, one of which I became even before I was sworn in. It doesn’t worry me; I think my own thoughts and have my own life separate from the city. What interests me is how the organization has apparently focused its fury on a relative outsider, Tom Webb, an independent contractor, entrepreneur and wanna be politician. If he’s like me, he has made mistakes, had his plans rejected more often than accepted, made something out of nothing, negotiated, been cheated and robbed. Tom didn’t need a boss to make money. He has run for mayor and for commissioner at large and lost each time. I came to know Tom as a hard driving, smart, resourceful man who shared many of my political values and so I supported him in his last campaign. Our Mayor took the opposite view and spent taxpayer dollars to counter one of Tom’s campaign points.

More recently, the Mayor apparently intervened to prevent Tom from serving when there was an absence on the Zoning Board of Appeals. (I thought that appointments and removals of these appointed offices was a function of the entire city commission, but I’m not important enough to ask these questions.) The Mayor allegedly appeared personally at that meeting to advocate for a change of zoning for property in his own neighborhood. I suspect that the ZBA members actually present were intimidated and voted as expected while the political actor who controlled their appointments looked on.

Sometime after this unaccountable affront to his civic volunteerism, Tom was warned, but not cited, about an open fire on his property. I was there when the mayor cited this non infraction of the ordinances to explain his exclusion of Tom from place on the ZBA.  The ejection of Tom from grace was beyond brusque.The rictus of hatred on the mayor’s face was disproportionate to the evidently contrived reasons for the decision to exclude Tom.

Recall the German saying: not even the Kaiser has power where there is no money. Just as the Kaiser needs to have propertied subjects, the power wielding politician needs a group  who have something to lose when he exercises power. Outsiders don’t care what our mayor thinks or does.The rules governing organizations keep members in line, afraid to rock the boat, and  constantly putting their wetted fingers up  to detect changes in the political winds according to which they set their sails. These arbitrary rules that evolve within large organizations don’t apply to the  outsider, especially to the individualist. He doesn’t play by the the group’s rules. The solo agent can fight against the large organization using the actual laws, in the  current case those of Michigan that govern Cities (I suspect that the mayor showing up at a ZBA meeting to argue a case would excite some concerns.)  He can ignore the organization or in the opposite strategy, the individualist can even preempt the organization as the generally stupid people who rise to the top go through their cyclical falls from grace, leaving the organization bankrupt, or in the case of governmental ones, in need of less corrupt political leadership.

When a politician uses his power arbitrarily,  he’s sort of peeing in his pants; everyone can see it, insiders have to smell it, outsiders can afford to chuckle about the loss of control,  but only the politician gets that warm feeling.

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