Friday, January 5, 2018

Left-Wing Muscle Part 1: The American Corporation

     There’s a lot of bewilderment over how a minuscule fraction of the politically engaged – the hardcore, no standards / no norms / no objective reality / no prisoners Left – can have such disproportionate influence over ordinary people’s behavior. Well disproportionate leverage is like that; it always demands investigation and explanation. I provided a large slug of the explanation in this essay. However, certain pieces of the puzzle have proved more puzzling than others to ordinary Americans.

     Which is part of the reason I nearly always find something to write about, each and every morning.

     It’s become quite clear that America’s corporations are important targets to the Left. This follows naturally from my “Don’t Be A Joiner!” thesis. A corporation has no political power – i.e., no power to take from anyone something that’s his by right – but it does have great influence over the lives of those who work for it and those whose well-being depends in part on it. That gives Leftist activists a strong incentive to pursue authority positions within corporations.

     The Left’s targeting is quite narrow. Leftist activists don’t actually want to produce anything; that’s left to us grubby groundlings. What they want is the ability to raise up political allies and crush political opponents. The Human Resources department is the ideal perch from which to pursue those purposes.

     Nearly a year ago, I wrote:

     From the heavy emphasis on politics among American left-liberals – remember that one of their maxims is that “The personal is political” – we might expect that when they gain a foothold in an institution of another sort, they will begin to inject political postures and activity into its mission. Note in this connection the behavior of Human Resources departments, which are a favored target of the Left-inclined. The larger the company, the more emphasis its HR department will put on “political correctness,” and the more reliably and severely it will penalize deviations from it. Such an orientation needn’t be overt to be gruesomely effective in twisting the company’s mission in a left-wing direction, especially if it’s reinforced by pressures from outside.

     I’ve meant to return to that thread ever since. It implies the answer to an unasked question. The question has proved to be as important as the answer:

How did HR departments acquire so much muscle?

     On the subject of “human resources” departments generally, the great Robert C. Townsend is definite and negative:

     Unless your company is too large (in which case break it up into autonomous parts), have a one-person people department (not a personnel department). Records can be kept in the payroll section of the accounting department, and your one-person people department acts as personnel assistant to anybody who is recruiting—lines up applicants, checks references, and keeps your pay ranges competitive by checking other companies. [From Further Up The Organization]

     Clearly, American corporations have elected not to follow Townsend’s advice. But why? The terrible perversities that have emerged from the cancerous growth of HR departments are plain for any business-oriented person to see. Their malign influence on workers’ morale and the tensions among them have been documented innumerable times. And it should go without saying that an HR department is not a profit center but a pure cost: it produces nothing the company can sell to its customers, actual or potential. So why are they so ubiquitous and so malevolently powerful?

     Grab a fresh cuppa and hold on to it tightly, Gentle Reader; the ride’s about to get bumpy.

     More than twenty years ago, I wrote:

     Large organizations have inherent deficiencies that conduce toward a generalized condition of incoherence and failure. Why, then, is the world's commerce completely dominated by two or three thousand giant corporations?

     Simply, because governments systematically tilt the field in their favor.

     Ignore the propaganda about "monopoly" and "antitrust." Nothing favors Big Business like Big Government. The occasional forays against specific targets in the private sector -- mostly, companies that have been slow to bend the knee when the State commanded it -- are mere flea bites, compared to the many ways the legal environment has been biased toward giant businesses.

     This remains the case. Moreover, it incorporates secondary dynamics that give rise to the Human Resources plague:

  1. The proliferation of regulations affecting hiring, firing, benefits, and general employment policy.
  2. The mushrooming of reporting requirements and statistics generation that enable government monitoring.
  3. Intimacy between the persons who work in HR and those who work in government.

     While #1 and #2 make plain the incentive to create specialists responsible for keeping “the law” at bay, it’s possible that #3 is the most pernicious. It’s been multiply confirmed that persons who seek government employment tend to be “fans” of government and its intrusions. The same is true for those who must work intimately with them – and no category of corporate employee works more closely with governments than those in HR.

     As it “matures,” an HR department tends to become ever less accountable in any fashion. Specialists are like that; indeed, it goes to the heart of why we patronize them. A specialist in our time is more likely to be the possessor of specialized knowledge than of a special skill. A specialist at dealing with governments will naturally need to possess detailed knowledge about the laws and regulations pertinent to his corporate employer. That produces a situation in which CEOs and vice presidents are ill-equipped to question or qualify the pronouncements of an HR department concerning government requirements. HR can thus get away with claims that such-and-such policy is “required” regardless of the legal and regulatory facts.

     Given the left-wing inclinations and avidity for power of persons who work in HR, the consequences are easily foreseen.

     When I wrote, in Love In The Time Of Cinema:

     “The country was deep in the grip of the ‘diversity and inclusion’ fad. It started before you were born, and was pretty much a bad memory by the time you were old enough to notice. Noisy minorities were at their noisiest—and since a history of oppression was the legal and social coin of the realm, every one of them claimed to be ‘oppressed.’ The one getting the most attention at the time was ‘trans.’”
     I wasn’t sure I’d heard her correctly. “A transportation company?”
     She chuckled. “No, biological men who wanted to be women, or to be treated as women. A very few biological women who wanted to be men, or treated as men. They called themselves ‘transwomen’ or ‘transmen.’”
     I barked a laugh. I couldn’t help it. I caught hold of it quickly, and forced myself back to seriousness.
     She smirked. “You can laugh because you have no idea how bad it was. But there was nothing funny about it. Even though there were only a few thousand of them all together, they were unbelievably successful at bending governments and institutions to their whim. They won privileges that very few people can imagine today.
     “Tim’s employer’s Human Resources department was run by a gaggle of vicious women—real ones, not ‘trans’—who’d already succeeded in enacting weird ‘sexual harassment’ rules and rules about how to treat persons of differing sexual orientations. You could get fired for daring to defy the company naturally the company’s vicious women and vindictive homosexuals used the rules like a club to subjugate or flat get rid of anyone they pleased.
     “Well, these insane HR harpies needed new worlds to conquer, so they decided to make ‘trans tolerance’ their next campaign. But they didn’t mean ‘show tolerance for the deluded.’ They meant to make differing with a delusional person—calling a ‘trans’ person by his birth name, or referring to him as ‘he’ when he claimed to be a ‘she’—a hangin’ offense.
     “They rewrote the personnel policies for the company for the umpteenth time. Corporate management gave in without a fight. The new policies included mandatory ‘sensitivity training’ seminars for the entire company. Until Tim was herded into one, he had no idea what was coming.
     “He sat through about twenty minutes of their harangue before he couldn’t take any more of it. He felt someone had to take a stand against the lunacy. And Tim being...well, Tim, he wasn’t going to wait for someone else to do it. So he stood up.
     “He told them their nonsense had gone far enough. He said the ‘trans’ types are obviously detached from reality. That they need therapy to help them accept themselves as they are, not reinforcement for their delusions. That we should treat the mentally ill with compassion but that it’s wrong to cooperate in their lunacy. And he said he wouldn’t bow to any rule, from HR or anyone else, that compelled him to think or speak or act otherwise. And he walked out.
     “His supervisor fired him immediately after the seminar. He didn’t have anything against Tim. In fact, he agreed with him. He just didn’t want to tangle with HR.”

     ...I was describing an actual occurrence that had been narrated to me by the person to whom it happened. In his case, the HR department had claimed to corporate management that their fresh edict had been dictated by the laws of their state, which was false. The CEO bought it wholesale. It’s possible he never even thought to question it. Why would he? That’s what he had an HR department for!

     When I wrote in Statesman:

     The founder and CEO of Onteora Aviation grimaced and muttered “Shut the door.” Sumner did so and seated himself in one of the two leather guest chairs before Forslund’s desk.
     He looks anxious.
     “Have you gotten to know Irv Grutstein?” Forslund said.
     “The HR director?” Sumner shook his head. “I don’t think we’ve even exchanged hellos.”
     Forslund nodded. “I’m not surprised. He’s not much for socializing, at least not outside his department. I’ve tried to stay well away from it.” He smirked ruefully. “Sometimes I wish I’d never created it in the first place.”
     “I don’t think we’d be able to contract with the Pentagon without one,” Sumner said. “With all the rules the Labor Department has about equal opportunity hiring—”
     “And a lot of other things.” Forslund opened a manila folder, paged briefly through its contents, and closed it. “As you don’t know him,” he said, “it falls to me to inform you. Grutstein loves rules. The vaguer and broader, the better. All empire builders do.” He slid the folder across the desk to Sumner.
     Sumner opened the folder, glanced at the first page, and felt all the strength leave his body. He looked up at Forslund, hoping that his boss would assure him that it was all in fun, some sort of interdepartmental joke. Forslund shook his head.
     “It’s no gag, Steve. It’s an official intracompany complaint by a software engineer named Violet Hochberg, alleging sexual harassment and sexual discrimination—”
     “By Louis Redmond,” Sumner breathed.
     “Exactly. Grutstein brought it and the complainant to me about an hour ago.” Forslund sat back in his chair, looking exhausted.
     “Anders,” Sumner said, “there is no one in this company with better morals or ethics than Louis. You can’t—
     “Believe it? Not for an instant,” Forslund said. “However, OA’s HR director does. At least he’s pretending that he does. Shall I tell you what he said to me when he presented it?”
     Sumner braced himself. “Go ahead.”
     “He said,” Forslund measured out the words, “that if Louis would agree to resign without contesting the charges, he’d refrain from instituting a criminal case against him. Oh, and that he’d have no objection to my recommending Louis for a job with one of our competitors.” An incredulous laugh. “As if I wouldn’t slit both wrists to prevent that very thing.”
     “With a rusty bottle opener,” Sumner murmured.
     “Nothing, nothing.”

     ...I was once again describing a real occurrence that had been related to me by a friend. HR departments are like that. They want power, they have an agenda, and they’re unabashed about driving for what they want. Unless corporate management is willing to defy HR, there is little defense...and owing to HR’s intimacy with regulatory authorities, that willingness is a rare jewel.

     One other influence deserves mention. The larger a corporation becomes, the more sensitive it becomes toward public-relations considerations. Every Fortune 100 company expends significant money and effort at PR. Its advertising is more intended to influence persons who are not and will never be its customers than those who will be involved in purchasing from it.

     That’s a second string to HR’s bow. HR departments with external connections can rally support for their agenda from entirely uninvolved persons and groups. Threats of boycotts and public protests can ratchet up the pressure on an organization to the point where the boldest CEO might decide to “live to fight another day.” It hardly matters that the activists involved in mounting the pressure represent a tiny fraction of public opinion and essentially none of the company’s customer base.

     Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and other left-wing organizers have used this approach several times. I can’t remember reading about a failure on their part.

     There’s more to this subject, of course, but I believe I’ve covered the meat of the American corporation’s “HR problem.” It arises from conditions and influences inherent in a Big Government milieu. It cannot be undone without first undoing those conditions and influences. It can only be countered in particular instances, by extremely clever tactics backed up by unshakable determination.

     Bear always in mind Robert Conquest’s Three Laws:

  1. Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.
  2. Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.
  3. The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.

     More anon.


JWMJR said...

It didn't take but a third of my nearly 50 years of working for me to conclude that the most important question on application for an HR management position was always, "Are you an insufferable asshole, if not how quickly can you become one?"

Grouch, MD said...

The link to “Statesman” refers back to this same article instead of Amazon. No worries, I bought the book anyway.

Francis W. Porretto said...

Whoops! Thank you, Grouch. I seem to miss one link in every piece. It's fixed now.

ÆtherCzar said...

I'm working some social justice HR into my next novel - your examples are very informative. It's rare to see a writer with actual experience and understanding of the business world. I liked how you drew on that experience for Statesman. Thanks!

Paul Bonneau said...

HR departments are the enemy.

I worked as a computer hardware engineer (learning about computers in the Marine Corps - air control computers). No degree in engineering, but a BA in Physics, an unrelated field. I had plenty of experience troubleshooting, and taught my skills to other engineers who came from college lacking any experience.

I quit for a while and did something else. Then after some years I tried to get back into it, sent my resume around, got no-where. HR departments trashed my resume, presumably because I had no engineering degree and no "excuse" for getting out of computers for a while.

My wife ran into some of my old worker buddies (who I had taught earlier) in a restaurant. They asked how I was doing. She told them I was looking for work and having no luck at it. They said they would carry my resume to their boss, the engineering manager, bypassing HR. He interviewed me and hired me although I had no experience with Fiber Channel hardware and firmware - he just figured my past showed I could learn it fast enough, which I did. So I became a systems engineer for a while, on some of the most powerful machines on the planet (Sequent Computers).

When the Revolution comes, one of the first things to do is line up entire HR departments against the wall, and shoot them.