The Invasion of Snitches, Squealers and Whistleblowers
The Invasion of Snitches, Squealers and Whistleblowers: The Age of Informers Is Upon Us — Time to Draw the Line and Rein Them In!
Not too long ago I saw the provocative movie, The Scent of a Woman, starring Al Pacino, as a blind veteran, and a student who was under tremendous pressure to “snitch” on his classmates who had played a joke on the headmaster. In the last scene the headmaster, in a plenary session attended by the entire faculty and student body, accused the student of not being part of the great tradition of its graduates because he would not snitch. Al Pacino shows up and delivers a truly moving anti- snitching- informer speech which should be shown in every school classroom. “What is your motto here? Boys, inform on your classmates, save your hide. Anything short of that we’re gonna burn you at the stake?” “Well gentlemen, when the shit hits the fan, some guys run and some guys stay.” “You’re building a rat ship here. A vessel for seagoing snitches. And if you think you’re preparing these minnows for manhood you better think again. But I can tell you this: he won’t sell anybody out to buy his future! And that my friend is called integrity, that’s courage. Now that’s the stuff leaders should be made of.” I fear, however, that our schools and parents now agree with the headmaster.
I searched the Internet and also asked a few dozen people the question, “What’s the difference between a squealer, snitch and whistleblower?” There was no clear consensus on these let alone clear definitions of each. I was not surprised. Language is meant to communicate and not so much to define. Try your hand at defining love or a horse’s ass or even yourself!
Bottom line, however, all of these definitions and descriptions have one thing in common- its people telling on others. They are all “informers” so let’s call them that. Why do they inform? Maybe Dostoevsky or Freud knew the fundamental reasons why but what comes to mind are pleasure (yes, people find pleasure when others suffer), jealousy, anger, revenge, humor (be it dark, light or in-between), access to money or power and the perception by the informer that he or she is performing a good. Oftentimes informers fool themselves about their motives and are really informing for other reasons. In the great Italian novel Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) Don Fabrizio, the main character, was asked to run for political office. He replied, “I cannot.” When asked why, he replied, “I do not have the quality of self-deception.” Self-deception is very common in all walks of life, and I suspect plays a major role in a significant percentage of informers.
Confession: Way back in the days of my youth in my Old Italian neighborhood, an informer was called a squealer. And let me tell you one didn’t want to be an exposed squealer because life would then not be worth living. As in Dante’s Inferno there were gradations of squealing the lowest level being someone who was a paid informer. This would be comparable to a modern day whistleblower. All informers were not considered squealers if they performed a perceived good. In fact, there wasn’t a word for them. For example, I remembered that I once “squealed.” I lived across from my elementary school and saw a student, in two successive nights, smash school windows by hurling large rocks at them. On the third day, I warned him to cease and desist for, if he didn’t, I would tell the principle. He called my bluff and broke more windows on the third night. I “squealed” to the principle and the kid was suspended. He was older and stronger than I, but the neighborhood code ruled that I did the right thing, and this guy better not harm me. Though we didn’t use the word, a squealer was considered a traitor such as Judas Iscariot and Benedict Arnold.
I’ve observed the cultures of four American generations. Judgments on the acceptability of informers depend on the values of the time. With certain exceptions, they have been held in disrespect until about 20 years ago when, virtually unopposed, the Age of Informers began. Like a virus, it has and continues to inexorably infect all segments of America from elementary schools, families, institutions, government and to everyone else as acceptable behavior.
The extent of the invasion finally struck me about 10 years ago when I was involved with helping a few young teenagers with serious problems. One scenario dealt with parents whose neighbor believed them to be abusive to their children. Later it was discovered she viewed the parents with disdain but no reason was ever discovered. She called the state agency whose mission is to protect children from abusive parents relying heavily on informers for its leads. There were multiple mandatory lengthy visits by state employees which failed to uncover any abuse. The state is obligated to respond to every call regardless by whom, even if the caller is obviously inebriated. So anyone who doesn’t like parents, for whatever reasons, could harass them by falsifying reality, and parents are helpless to stop them! It’s an unchecked license for harassment for if no abuse is found, the informer is not held responsible and moves on in life, unscathed. A friendly social worker told me that, for whatever reasons, many visits to homes prompted by informers failed to find any type of significant abuse. Imagine the impact on the entire family that’s going on every day in our country with no one to defend them. There is an urgent need to quantify this system on a national level, and it’s not difficult to design a survey approach.
Here’s another story which, because of my Old Italian neighborhood background, I thought could never happen; children both threatening and actually informing on their parents! One day, sitting next to me at a doctor’s office was a friendly woman in her 40’s. For some reason she volunteered to tell me that her son threatened to call the state agency to accuse her of using “physical and psychological abuse” on him. Ask yourself, “Where did he learn this legal language?” Someone fed it to him and advised him how to use it! I believed she pinched him on the cheeks real hard when he was out of order. I asked her how she responded to his threat. She told me she was fearful of the state entering her family life, and she stopped pinching the kid’s cheek. Then the following week it actually happened! A teenager informed the state agency that his father slapped him on the face for smoking pot. The state came to the home and warned the father that if he slapped the kid again, for whatever reason, they would, “take action” against him and take him away as a state ward.
I related this story to a guy I grew up with in the Old Italian neighborhood. I asked him what he would do. He, without a moment of hesitation, said he would tell the state to, “Take the kid away.” Though it’s tough for modern folks to accept this, he meant it. And that’s one reason kids would never inform on their parents. There are, of course, others such as love and respect. In Fiddler on the Roof it’s called “Tradition.”
A high school district initiated indoctrination classes urging students to inform on their schoolmates if they were bullied to the school and their parents. If they saw someone else who they “thought” was bullied, to report it to the school. The definition of bullying was fairly broad including pushing and abusive language and, oftentimes, is in the eyes of the beholder. Also, I was told by a few teachers, that parents almost always take the sides of their children never questioning whether the perceived bully was provoked by their kid. This was not that way in the past. In otherwords, parents accepted the informer system. In fact, the same state passed an anti-bullying law encouraging and giving rise to untold numbers of informers.
The acceptance of the invasion of the informers continues to grow unabated. There are few voices opposing this trend, and I often wonder why. Notice the media’s welcomed but quiet acceptance of the invasion of the informers for they, themselves, feed mightily on informers for their life-support information. How did they discover that Governor Romney took a long drive with the dog on the car roof and President Obama smoked a joint when he was young? Today media is everywhere and their need and appetite for informers is their fuel for “selling newspapers” which increases the number of informers on a daily basis. Not explicitly recognized as such, the Internet is now the number one source of hundreds of millions of daily informers happily surrendering their privacy to others which can be sent to untold numbers of friends or whomever which exponentially increases their vulnerability to those who want to attack them.
You may wonder why I’m so alarmed. Let’s take a look at recent history. Informers are a major force in establishing governments that rob citizens of their privacy and freedom and assume total control by the use of pervasive Sword of Damocles culture of fear. One only needs to look at recent history. In the communist Soviet Union, it is estimated that the KGB, the spying agency, depended on 11 million informers which was, would you believe?, short of Stalin’s goal to make everyone an informer. Children were instructed to inform on their parents and so they did. In Nazi Germany 90% of all informers were citizens and, as in the Soviet Union, children were taught to inform on their parents which is undeniably, though not yet recognized, already subtlety beginning to happen in our country. The informer system of fear was and still effectively employed in such countries as Fascist Italy, Yugoslavia, Cuba and North Korea. Who knows what’s now going on in other parts of the world.
I spoke to a few “escapees” from the Soviet Union, and their messages said it all. They lived in a world of informers: Children on parents; neighbor on neighbor and everyone on everyone else. When those informed upon were punished rewards were received by the informers. Other “favors” were demanded by the Communist rulers, and you don’t need much of an imagination to guess what some of them were.
In our country, everywhere one looks informers are thriving and growing in number. For example, the federal government has created paid whistleblower informers, primarily corporate employees, whom inform on their companies to the government. If wrongdoing is found, they are paid off .They are now coming out of the woodwork though very few have been successful. The ones that have exposed wrongdoing are trumpeted in the media. Interestingly enough, no one asked the informers whether it was money or some other reason that made him or her inform. If it wasn’t money, what then was it? And about the many other whistle blowers who informed for naught: What was their motivation? A recent state law passed where a hot line was established for disabled people or anyone else to inform to the state whether the disabled are being abused. This week, in Arizona, the federal government has established another informer hotline for illegal immigrants or anyone else to report abuse of their rights by the police. The government establishment of an informant system goes even to the smallest level. For instance, in New York City, there is a policy of the police department that barbers and hairdressers must charge the same price for a lady cop’s haircut as a cop man’s. Now, it takes a longer time for barbers or hairdressers to cut a woman’s hair. For this very sound reason, they charge more. New York City’s gender police sent out informers and discovered that the barbers and hairdressers were still charging more for ladies’ haircuts and approximately 200 establishments were fined. Stay tuned!
We all know about many who informed on celebrities, politicians, athletes and whomever. The informer is never right or wrong. The motives of the informers are rarely questioned. They often receive financial benefit by media interviews and even write tell all books – and we all know about the recent book by the mistress of a previous presidential candidate.
But here is something many of you have never thought of. There is a new type of immensely powerful informer. It has no eyes, heart or hormones and lacks feelings. It’s a device called a computer. Facebook is the number one informer in the United States. People discover what other people are doing and relay it to all of their “friends”. I know of numerous cases where sex and unfaithfulness were discovered via Facebook among other transgressions. Now corporations and universities thoroughly examine Facebook postings of potential students and employees in order to pry into and learn more about into their detailed personal lives. Despite this, Facebook participants continue to reveal lots of personal information to their “friends.” Recognition is indeed a powerful human drive.
There is another, huge stealth informer. It’s regulations. We are living in the world of exponentially increasing regulations for everything we do ranging from the amount of water in a toilet bowl to what language is permissible. It is self-evident that many regulations are too onerous for individuals and organizations for they are not productive but destructive in nature. Bottom line, they are bad regulations. There is little doubt that many are now justifiably ignoring the regulations or trying to evade them which has created, in addition to whistleblowers, other types of potential informers many of whom are disgruntled.
There’s little doubt that with a few exceptions, Americans are not aware of the alarming downside to the character of our people and strength of our nation due to this informer epidemic. What is alarming is that it is not only becoming accepted behavior but it is encouraged in many walks of American life. Fortunately, we still value privacy, and we should be aware that informers are major players in invading our privacy. Choose one personal fact you would most want others not to know about you, and assume that someone “informs” another party of your secret. Would this bring peace or more turmoil in the hectic pace of your life as well as your family or maybe your job? And how about someone who informs another party about your second most cherished secret? How about the third or fourth? Shall I go on? Can you handle it? Remember, Jesus Christ admonished the crowd when a prostitute was about to be stoned to death when he said, “He who is without sin let him cast the first stone.” And no stones were thrown!
Don’t get the wrong impression. I’m all for good informers who presently have no label. How about “Samaritans?” I “squealed” on the stone thrower and believed I did the right thing. It’s good that we inform on someone who is determined to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge. Bottom line, it’s all about our values as a nation, where to draw the line on informers. To repeat, there is little doubt that Age of Informers is expanding rapidly. The solution? I do not see one for now. But I believe the critical first step is to have a national debate on the destructive impact of informers for the vast majority of Americans are in the dark about it. Leaders, of course, as in all movements, are needed. In the meantime, I would urge parents to teach their children not to squeal. Oops, I mean not to inform!