One of the things that made “Disruptive Politics in the Trump Era,” John Fonte’s recent column for American Greatness, so provocative was his insight that the depredations of the Administrative State are indissolubly allied with what he calls “the cultural leviathan,” the progressive-left-dominated institutions that define the uplands of American social and political life. Many conservative commentators have lamented the Administrative State on Monday, the cultural Left (read: “leviathan”) on Tuesday without quite making the link that Fonte makes in his column.
A second thing that makes the essay worth pondering is Fonte’s inclusive anatomy of the beast that is the cultural leviathan. “Today,” he notes, “the facts on the ground tell us that the progressive Left dominates major institutions of American life: the universities, the mainstream media, the mainline churches, the entertainment industry, and the human resources departments of the Fortune 500.”
Any Tom, Dick, or Harry knows that the universities, the MSM, the mainline churches, and the entertainment industry are wholly owned subsidiaries of the Left. But it took a commentator of Fonte’s insight to roll corporate HR departments into the mix. No, it’s not an entirely original observation—I seem to recall that Heather Mac Donald, for example, has made similar arguments. But the synthesis, the articulation is arresting.
I had always sensed, without quite analyzing the feeling, that HR departments were the enemy. Fonte’s taxonomy afforded one of those “Eureka” moments that made Euclid’s bath [oops! I meant Archimedes, of course] so exciting. Of course! The Orwellian-named “human resources” department: of course it is a locus of politically correct, big-nurse imposition.
Like a suppurating orifice, the human resource department provides an ideal site for the multiplication of the bacterium politicus correctus. For one thing, such departments are always organized as top-down, unaccountable bureaucracies. HR departments are known for their arbitrariness masquerading under the rubric of “policy,” Wizard-of-Oz-like impersonality, and slavish conformity to faddish diktats promulgated as “best practices,” weenie speak for “do it my way.” In this sense, HR departments are like pseudopods of progressive government bureaucracies grafted onto the pliant stock of corporate timidity. It is not surprising, then, that HR departments tend to attract meddling and astringent personalities whose most cherished delight revolves around lording it over others.
And that brings us to the secret fuel of the enterprise: power. At many companies, the human resources department is the chief gateway to employment, advancement, and company perquisites. There is an almost biological dynamism surrounding the existence of power. Like a patch of moist soil, it cannot exist without soon being populated by a teeming, metabolic exchange. And so it is not surprising that HR departments are perfect handmaidens to what Fonte calls the cultural leviathan: pullulating sources of petty and not-so-petty regulation and enforcement.
I thought of all this the other day when reading about NBC’s new “anti-harassment rules for the workplace.” Stung by the predatory antics of former NBC anchor Matt Lauer, who had a button on his desk to lock his office door when he wanted to “entertain” some hapless female, NBC is now taking a “zero tolerance approach” to romance among staffers. Big Brother would have approved:
Staffers have been told that if they find out about any affairs, romances, inappropriate relationships or behavior in the office, they have to report it to human resources, their superior or the company anti-harassment phone line. . . .
Plus, there’s been a series of ridiculous rules issued on other office conduct. One rule relates to hugging. If you wish to hug a colleague, you have to do a quick hug, then an immediate release, and step away to avoid body contact.
Also there’s strict rules about socializing, including [not] sharing taxis home and [not] taking vegans to steakhouses. [!?]
I am not quite sure how the vegan/steakhouse interdiction comes in, except perhaps under the rule of thumb that for “progressives” anything that is not mandatory is forbidden.
Naturally, this preposterous regime will be enforced by NBC’s human resource department (whether or not it operates under that exact name). Perhaps some bureaucrat there stumbled across a fragment of W. S. Gilbert’s libretto for the Mikado and, not realizing it was satire, decided to put the Mikado’s “stern decree” into action.
Our great Mikado, virtuous man,
When he to rule our land began,
Resolved to try
A plan whereby
Young men might best be steadied.
So he decreed, in words succinct,
That all who flirted, leered or winked
(Unless connubially linked),
Should forthwith be beheaded. . . .
This stern decree, you’ll understand,
Caused great dismay throughout the land!
For young and old
And shy and bold
Were equally affected.
The youth who winked a roving eye,
Or breathed a non-connubial sigh,
Was thereupon condemned to die—
He usually objected.
It’s funny on the stage. In the workplace, not so much. Even as the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman works to modernize that Islamic theocratic regime, granting women the right to drive and even go to pop concerts, corporate America seems bent on re-segregating the sexes and imposing a caricature-Victorian species of pudeur. Who knows, excess burkas may soon flood the market from Saudi Arabia. Maybe NBC can pick some up cheap.
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