The Greater Good

Entry by: kerrymeister

23rd June 2015
For the Greater Good

I have lost count of the many times I promised myself I would leave. Being in a place such as that - somewhere which feels as though it exists in a bubble all its own - has often led me to the conclusion that I have gone quite mad. What else can I be, now my mind and body have assumed the air of an old woman, and the sheer incongruity between who I am; what I believe in; and what I do are anathema to one another?

I can still remember receiving the email asking me if I was still interested in attending the interview. In a split second - just as I was about to press 'Send' - I sensed my life swerve away from the one I had chosen. I think it is called the 'Butterfly Effect;' the beating of a butterfly's wings in one part of the world can cause something like a typhoon in another. So it was, in hindsight, with the pressing of the button; one innocuous action, minute in and of itself, unleashing forces the like of which I scarcely imagined at the time. Had I thought about it more, perhaps I would have chosen something different. But then, upon the advise of my erstwhile fiancee - someone who convinced me it was merely a stop gap between finishing university and finding something I really wanted to do - I agreed. The interview was, I must confess, one of the worst I've ever had (and trust me, I've had more than a few!). Everything I said in answer to their inquisition only invoked strange facial expressions from the two interviewers, which could only mean one thing: I really wasn't what they were looking for! By the time this had dawned on me, and realising I had nothing left to lose, it occurred to me that I should at least attempt to leave with some dignity left if nothing else. So, gamble though it might have been, not least because my sense of humour is, shall we say, unusual, I began to crack a few jokes. No one was more surprised than I when they started laughing. And, once the ice had finally broken, somewhere in the back of my mind I believed I had achieved the impossible: I had secured a job on the basis of one piece of paper (my degree certificate) and a sense of humour which, in the real world, barely qualifies as such!

I was now part of the Establishment.

I had sold my soul for a mess of pottage.

Still, we needed the money. I was studying for a PhD. Times were tough.

Alas, such as it was, my mental comfort - my raison d'etre - did not quite work out as expected. For the most part, I was more interested in my romantic entanglements (and they were incredibly tangled). What can I say? I am easily distracted by a handsome face and a few kind words. Being there, in this regard, was like being a child in a sweetshop! The price for such indulgences though was a hefty one as I knew it would be. After the best part of a year, the sum and total of my thesis amounted to little more than three pages about some books I had skim-read. Consequently, I was politely informed I was no longer permitted to continue with it. My life's work gone, and all for a handsome face! Small consolation though it is now, it was a very handsome face though.

Of course, I could write you a list as long as my arm explaining what I do and why I do it but they are only excuses and I am tired of making them.

The irony of it is: I am still anti-war; I still disagree with billions of pounds being wasted on machines which kill people; I still disagree with the prevailing ethos that the organisation I work for does what it does for the greater good. What is good about waging war on a country which, aside from Britain and the US providing them with weapons to defeat the Russians in the 1970s, is full, end to end with farmers fighting with pitchforks? How could anyone defend the idea of countless children being blown to pieces by mines laid by Allied forces and the Russians, while said countries refuse to give villagers the precise location of the mine fields? Why? Because, in short, no matter how many children are maimed or killed, no country wants to give the Taliban an advantage!

You see? I still believe such things are fundamentally wrong. What kind of person would I be if I did not? Yet, for all my compassion for the innocent people who suffer most in a warzone, to my shame, it is negated by the work I do for an organisation which still couches the death of civilians as a necessary evil and war itself as the only method of bringing a perverse kind of democracy to countries which, without outside interference, might well have done the job themselves on their own terms. As it stands, while I know little of the peace settlement in Afghanistan, I do know that a clause in the Iraqi constitution permits the US to exploit Iraq's oil reserves. Here we have a country completely decimated after decades of war and dictatorial rule; cities which are still waiting to be rebuilt as a result of a war our country waged, which will probably remain in their current state because the country is, in essence, bankrupt; and the one commodity which could raise the money needed to revitalise their country is being stolen from under their noses. Our invasion of their country was meant to free the populace from Saddam Hussein's influence, under the banner of freedom the Iraqi people could once only dream off. Yet, without realising it, they have merely exchanged one dictatorship for another. Why should we be surprised when they try to fight back? When all they really want is to rule their country in a way that suits them? Such actions do not make them terrorists!

So yes, I truly lament my decision to remain there as long as I have. The grass did not grow under my feet in all that time either. I have been promoted twice and now earn more money than I have ever had in my life. More irony! The one person in the organisation who would raise the entire place to the ground if I stood half a chance of getting away with it and I am actually good at a job which is slowly killing me. Or so it seems sometimes...

It is not as though I am particularly popular either. Most of my immediate colleagues have acquired an aversion to me since I refused to be part of something which I knew to be wrong; something which would result in people losing their livelihoods. Only no one would believe me at the time, irrespective of the evidence I placed before them. In the end, the powers that be made the decision anyway; my refusal to put my name to any of it merely resulted in a proverbial black mark on my record. And, although I made it abundantly clear on several occasions that I wasn't chastising anyone for their decisions or the quality of their work, few people wish to seem friendly with me for fear of being tarred with the same brush. I daresay I did not help my cause when I got embroiled in another argument with a senior member of staff because he had lied to the director general about the progress my project was making. Never mind if it failed its first test; all he cared about was looking good on front of the person who has more power than he rightfully deserves. Still, after half an hour of trying to explain to the manager why I thought he had completely misrepresented the facts, he finally capitulated, saying he had no choice. I did not consider it prudent to remind him that we always have a choice, even if sometimes they are all bad ones.

Needless to say, I didn't get my third promotion. I had no real desire to sell to the Devil what is left of my soul.

I am still there though. The Devil has that much of it at any rate. I recall, while I was in the throes of arguing with the manager, shaking my head at his initial response and telling him I really was in the wrong job. His response was not quite the one I was expecting. It was something along the lines of being in exactly the right job because I care about how it is done. Ah, the crack and split of another piece gone...I don't much care about my job, at least not in the way he thinks. My one concern is how my decisions will affect other people if I miss a vital piece of evidence or fail to interpret it in the correct manner. I have seen it done before. Reports written on the 'health' of the organisation, detailing which areas can easily withstand budget cuts and job losses, based on information few people bother to maintain, and a programme which is too complex to understand. Ultimately, both were scrapped. As for the people who lost their jobs? They were never reinstated. I was told to stay quiet and then, for reasons only known to a select few, threatened with a prison sentence underhe Official Secrets Act if I divulged what I knew to anyone outside of the tiny room in to which I had been called.

So, I guess there is an answer to my perennial question. Now I know how these places operate, I feel obliged to ensure that any decision made by the organisation will be made on the basis of the best information I can find, even if it means finding it myself. And yes, I do care about my job but only in so far as understanding how people's lives are affected and depend upon the decision we make. Those decisions have to be right and fair. Those constitute my only purpose there; all else is shadows and dust. Many people may well argue I am still complicit in it all – guilty by association – and they may well be right. However, sometimes the greater good can be achieved a little more effectively than waving banners demanding an end to wars; protesting against budget cuts; or reinventing the welfare state (I agree with all three). If you can make a difference to another person's life, and only one person's life, you have done something good. Thus, for as long as I am what I am, and do I do, my duty is to get the better end of any bargain made about the future of the people upon whose lives my decisions depend.

But, dear reader, if you think saving people's jobs and lives on any given day does not redress the balance in some form, you are mistaken! No one's life is more or less valuable than any other; however, I would be a dreamer if I thought I could save them all. On that note, I will leave you with this to ponder: which is better? Resigning my post and watching from the sidelines as more people are consigned to the scrap heap because someone, somewhere gambled a little too much of someone else's money on the Stock Exchange, while innocent people suffer the consequences? Or being part of an organisation I despise as much as anyone, purely because, by being part of it, I might eventually make a difference? You may answer that in any way you see fit.

Only remember: if you can save only one, you save them all.