I’m with Groucho on this one. It may be because we’re both grouchy, but I’ve never been a fan of joining clubs or organizations. Hell, I can’t bring myself commit to a quilting bee.
It all started when I was a little kid. I was reading the back pages of a comic book and decided to join the American Association of Aardvark Aficionados. The AAAA was a silly organization purported to champion all things aardvark. I sent in one dollar and got an official membership card and a newsletter. I was thrilled about this. Not because I gave a damn about aardvarks, but because I was a member. It’s what adults do. They join organizations and become somebody. I carried that AAAA membership card everywhere.
My friends thought I was a dork, but I didn’t care because I was a member and they weren’t. They were just jealous. But after a while, I came to realize that the AAAA seemed to have gotten more from me than I from them. They got my dollar, and I got a card. They got thousands of dollars, and thousands of kids felt they had “done something cool”.
It feels good to be counted. I know why people join the Knights of Columbus or the Kiwanis Club. These organizations have their “aardvarks”, too. But mostly they are an umbrella under which men (and women) can feel important and elevated.
Some of these organizations do stuff. They back Little League teams and throw pancake breakfasts to benefit the food bank. Worthy causes all. And it’s pretty easy to see how this scales up to bigger organizations. From Amnesty International to OxFam to Hamas to the ACLU: they all amass members and procure capital to help worthy (and sometimes unworthy) causes. And they make their members feel important.
Since joining the AAAA, I learned a lot about clubs. I learned that a few people working together can make great changes. I learned that being a voice in the wilderness is nowhere near as effective as being a voice in the choir. And I learned that all organizations are – without exception – corrupt.
I know what you’re saying: “All organizations are corrupt? Just because XXX organization is corrupt doesn’t mean that my beloved YYY organization is corrupt!”
Well guess what, honeykins: it is.
I don’t care if we’re talking about Hamas or the local gardening club. As soon as people get together and form a group to exercise any semblance of power, corruption creeps in. It may be laughably innocuous. We all know that one power-mad asshole who has to dominate the meetings and seems to get her way when it comes to the duty roster. She may not be as bad as a Hamas leader blowing up Israeli schoolkids, but she’s still a corrupt jerkoff.
I find it amazing that organizations get corrupted so easily and so quickly. I’m equally amazed that the most squishy-wishy lovey-dovey organizations can be corrupt. I’m looking at YOU, Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières, Make-a-Wish and even the local hippie co-op. Every one of you has committed some act that either betrays your purpose or damages your reputation. It may have been a lie to the press or a deception intended to channel power to yourself. You may have simply silenced a whistleblower. In one way or another, you bastards all brook corruption.
I don’t care how innocent and empathetic you think your organization is. One or more members is a corrupt asshole. I guarantee it.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not blithely dismissing the entirety of the human social network. I give money to charities that I deem worthy. But I’m under no illusion that they are angels. That’s why I’ll contribute but I won’t join.
There are many writers and journalists who make a living exposing corruption. More power to them! I delight in seeing corrupt bastards exposed and destroyed. But some of these writers think there’s some sort of utopian goal of “ending corruption”. Puh-lease. You guys aren’t crusaders with victory in sight. You’re beat cops keeping the thugs in jail while all around you crime continues to swirl. So spare us your supercilious denunciations of all that is “bad”. Just expose the most egregious offenders and move on.
There will be a another offender.
Like crime, just because corruption is endemic doesn’t mean we have to embrace it. It means we have to quantify each instance of it, gauge its effects and rectify it. In doing so, we must remember that there are no angels. In each of us lurks a red light runner and a liberty taker. Deal with that, then deal with the others.