Facade - a reasoned rant




Stuart Fernie




There remains a certain respect for the truth when you tell a lie - there is a recognition of the existence of truth, even while denying it. Hypocrisy also suggests a certain recognition of truth, but you opt to refute it or act in a way contrary to it.



Putting up a facade is a more perturbing variation of truth avoidance because it seems that many who partake in the practice of putting up a facade may actually resist awareness of the truth behind the front or appearance, and so may defend with conviction and reason a series of principles and policies which may be admirable in themselves, but which fail to take into account certain realities or failings. Worse still, they may refuse to listen to arguments which run contrary to those they wish to follow.


This is a most disturbing and dangerous development as many decisions of principle and policy are taken by managers and politicians who, convinced of the viability of management without knowledge of that which is to be managed, feel perfectly comfortable and justified in rejecting advice based on experience and reason or, indeed, any advice not in line with the "official" view.



It is one thing to choose to live and work behind a facade where reality, truth and facts are not only denied but may actually disbelieved, but it is quite another to expect everyone else to accept the same pretence and condone such behaviour, yet that is exactly what so many do, and get away with it, because of the sheer scale of their conceit.


Scratch the surface of society and we quickly discover the vicissitudes of subjective and personal influence and ambition, a lack of transparency to the point where statements of principle are phrased to produce a lack of clarity and precision or contain truisms which advance no progress, and worst of all, a refusal to admit negative comment and advice despite proudly canvassing consultation (which should never be confused with input) - all in an attempt to maintain the facade or appearance of organisation. If taken to extremes, such management means that society may even be left open to the possibilities and dangers of disorder and abuse fed by ambition, incompetence and even corruption.


There are numerous examples of such behaviour:




I am genuinely moved that there should have been so much international pressure to help the people of Syria in the face of their humanitarian crisis (and let there be no doubt that they are deserving of and need such aid), but I am also at a loss to understand why the same nations did little or nothing to help the people of Rwanda, Ethiopia, Sudan and Serbia in their moments of crisis. Could it be that fewer opportunities to make commercial and political gains were available in these crises? Surely a humanitarian crisis is a humanitarian crisis no matter the political and economic factors.


Political promises, especially those made in manifestoes at election time, are traditionally taken with something larger than a pinch of salt. However, when one party vehemently and vociferously supports a policy as a matter of principle, attracting a large number of votes as a result, it is somewhat galling and disillusioning when that party reverses its policy upon gaining power.



How can the electorate have any confidence in its political representatives if they are willing to argue and defend a point of principle only to refuse to implement it when they are in a position to do so? Was there a genuine desire to implement their proposal only to discover it was not feasible, or was this a calculated and callous attempt to persuade the electorate to vote in their favour? Neither view invites an impressive judgment - incompetence or electioneering, but both suggest a facade of argument used as a ploy to achieve a political aim.


Is there a political will to regulate the banks? How can there be when successive governments have (for decades) depended on banks to prop up entire nations?


Despite the fact we didn't all get ourselves into the current financial mess, due to the fact we assumed those placed in positions of responsibility and authority would conduct themselves responsibly, we are all expected to help haul ourselves out of the situation, at least that is the much vaunted cry of our political leaders.


However, it seems there are several categories of exception to this rule:


Financial suffering can be avoided if you are a banker who continues to receive bonuses despite the fact several banks effectively became owned by the taxpayer when they were bailed out, and even though most banks persist in making heavy losses, according to their accountants. (Let us wonder in passing if these are the same accountants who declared films such as "King Kong", "Superman Returns", and "Men in Black 3" all flops despite making profits of some $300m, $200m (after deduction of development fees), and $350m respectively).



Financial suffering can also be avoided if you can afford to pay an accountant to advise on how to avoid paying full tax, or even any tax at all, e.g. large companies such as Amazon, Starbucks and Facebook, businessmen, film and TV stars, those who work abroad or offshore, or even MPs whose expenses (legitimate or otherwise) can be claimed back from the taxpayer.


While I'm sure that in terms of numbers, those who manage to avoid paying all the tax they might pay are relatively few, in terms of the sums lost to the treasury, they are considerable.


While little is done to plug these gaps in revenue collection, we are constantly reminded of the need to tighten our belts as a nation - is it any wonder that resentment and a sense of injustice are building?


Still, the appearance of action and control is maintained as the "little man" is pursued through a series of money-saving strategies, and it seems that appearance is what matters.




In the world of education there have been many initiatives of late, and a question begs to be asked - are these initiatives to genuinely improve the lot of pupils (and teaching staff), or are they there to allow their instigators to make their mark?


Usually, if the former is the case there is clarity of objective, and the language used to inform "stakeholders" (or interested parties, in non-jargon) of changes is clear and concise, exactly because there is a clarity of purpose driving the initiative and its proponents. On the other hand, when an initiative is derived from a desire to make a mark there is usually little clarity of objective except in the broadest possible terms so developments can be claimed to fit the initial plan and can also be claimed to be part of the overall strategy.


The language used to communicate such initiatives will tend to be inflated but will all too often lack any real content, and may even consist largely of truisms or intellectualised common sense. Sadly, it will usually be left to teachers and pupils to make sense of it all and make the initiative work while the instigators will claim credit for the initiative's successful implementation, thus maintaining the appearance of smooth educational direction.



Of course, success (or otherwise) will be decided by exam results and therefore the school's statistics and league table placing. The fact that exam results are supposed to be just one part of measuring the achievement of pupils and schools (independence, good citizenship, contributions to society) appears to have been forgotten when it comes to evaluating performance. Indeed, considerable doubt could be cast upon the validity of these statistics in terms of judgment of pupil and teacher performance as we may count any number of potential influences on pupil performance (ability, encouragement, enthusiasm, level of difficulty of exam), yet only the performance on one particular day is considered, and from that many judgments regarding pupil and teacher performance are made.


While it is reassuringly simple to turn to a statistic and be able to claim that measures are being taken to improve a situation (where appropriate), if the full spread of factors at play is not taken into account, there is little scope for genuine improvement. This is tantamount to papering over problems whose roots may be much more deep-seated, problems that mere exam statistics are unable to indicate.



Hospitals and Doctors' surgeries


Similarly, much importance is attached to statistics and waiting times in hospitals and Doctors' surgeries. This is surely a simplistic management strategy enforced from "on high" by policy makers and managers who appear to have little understanding (and perhaps even less concern) about the nature of treatment and patient problems, but who instead appear to reduce everything to turn-around times whose conversion into statistics can then be easily interpreted and vaunted as apparent success (where waiting times are reduced). Apparently it is beyond the scope of those policy makers who impose such strategies to see that the imposed time constraints, combined with staff reductions to make further economies, may well impact on the quality and level of attention staff are able to provide to patients, as well as on stress levels and job satisfaction among the staff left to cope with caring for patients. All in the name of economy and efficiency. However, there appears to be little or no checking on costs incurred elsewhere in the provision of care - costs such as medication, equipment and energy, perhaps because these costs are governed by "market forces" and apparently cannot be challenged, yet companies providing such materials continue to make significant levels of profit while their owners and directors hire accountants to avoid paying significant levels of income tax!



Once again the "we are all in this together" stance seems a little more restricted and tightly focused than it might be, but the appearance of action and control is maintained through cost-cutting measures - "difficult decisions", but few of those responsible for these decisions will actually have to live with them.


Policing and the armed forces are under equally huge financial and organisational pressure, with less effective structuring and ever-fewer left to do their most demanding and essential work.


Why do I get the impression that our country (and others) is being governed (now more than ever) by bureaucrats more interested in furthering their careers than acting professionally? Am I wrong in thinking that careerism is taking over from professionalism, especially as professionals who strive to express concern and dissent are ignored or shouted down by those who wish to maintain this facade of management and beneficent control?



Of course this is not limited to the UK - as I write, various services of the US government have been forced to shut down due to the lack of support by numerous politicians who have clearly decided to put their political objectives above the needs of their own people! If ever there was proof of a facade of government (supposed to act on behalf of and in the best interests of its people), this is it!



I should point out that the thoughts and concerns presented here are my own, and I make no claim to represent any other individual or organisation.



Many thanks for taking the time to read this page. I can be contacted at stuartfernie@yahoo.co.uk .



 Stuart Fernie



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