Adults Behaving Badly

I admire those who have the vocabulary to describe human foibles with flair and precision.
This morning, I received an email with a link about Michael Hanscom, the Seattle-based contractor who was removed from his temp job for posting a photo on his personal weblog, on his own server and on his own time.

The photo showed a shipment of G5s on a loading dock at Microsoft, and it was titled “Even Microsoft Wants G5s” (not a news flash, considering that Redmond develops a fair amount of software for the Mac). Even though there was no identifiable or privileged information in the photo, some Microsoftee considered it a breach of corporate security and Michael was dismissed.
Michael’s misadventure subsequently was reported (ironically) on MSNBC and in numerous other media outlets, both in the US and overseas. He’s received up to 300,000 hits on his blog, the content of which is a fine example of grace under pressure. He is working again, his temp agency having found him another position about two weeks later.

I started wishing for the vocabulary to describe bad behavior while reading the feedback Michael received from several apologists who took on the mission of defending Microsoft, as if it were a beseiged Mom and Pop grocery store.

Someone else had the same reaction, and described this as “corporatism”. This is a real word, but he’s given it a new spin: a self-serving and inappropriate alignment and personal identification with a monster institution or business.

Corporatism frequently exhibits itself as an impassioned and usually irrational defense of institutions against individuals. Manhandling military base protesters is another example, or labelling parents and law enforcement officials “anti-Catholic” when they file suit against pedophile priests.

I don’t know what is the root of this kind of behavior, but it’s an example of another phenomenon which seems to be more and more common: adults behaving like children because of fear, cowardice or lack of self-discipline. And there is something about this type of activity that makes it particularly offensive and incomprehensible.

I for one expect “big people” to behave as if their years on this earth have taught them something about decorum, self-control, the ability to reason. Bathroom humor and dirty jokes are for pre-schoolers and adolescents, respectively. Road rage is understandable from a hormone-charged teenager, but inexplicable from a grey-haired adult. Smirking by an insecure adolescent is barely tolerable; by a senior citizen sales clerk – or a President – it’s nauseating.

“Following the leader” is a charming childhood game, but in the voting booth, it’s a cop-out, an abandonment of personal responsibility. Refusing to integrate someone into an organization because of characteristics that are a consequence of age and gender is expected of high schoolers, although it’s frequently decried. In the workplace, it’s morally wrong and (in America), illegal.

People may feel that hiding under the shield of corporatism, or other types of juvenile behavior, protects them from a scarey and unpredictable world run by surrogate abusive parents. Economic insecurity, the fear of being ridiculed or ostracized because one isn’t thin or good looking enough, being of a minority race, religion or national origin and therefore a terrorist suspect: these are powerful forces aimed at keeping an “uppity” citizenry under control.

I looked forward to becoming an adult, especially a middle-aged one, because I saw a benefit to, well, growing up: having the freedom and ability to make adult decisions, having the wisdom and experience to make sense of the world, engaging in intelligent conversations about politics, history and the arts.
This is a Playhouse 90/Omnibus view of the world, probably fifty years out of date. Perhaps that concept of adulthood has just gone underground and will appear again when the social and political climate is more receptive. I sure hope so, but somehow, I doubt it.