The CYA Rule

5 Apr

I’ve actually been meaning to write about this for some time, as it is one of the problems with modern society, but two recent kerfuffles brought it into sharp relief. Unsurprisingly, the least important one is the one that drew more attention from the media and political commenters.

A week or so ago, it was revealed (from a 2002 interview) that Mike Pence, Vice President of the United States of America, refuses to be alone with a woman not his wife, nor drink alcohol at gatherings where she is not present. This fifteen-year-old titbit has drawn a wide range of comments, which can be roughly sorted into two sets.

The first set praises Mr. Pence for avoiding even the mere prospect of a political scandal that could doom his future hopes and aspirations. (A smaller subset praises his loyalty to his wife.) Even a groundless accusation of sexual harassment – even a hint of one – could tear Pence’s career to shreds. Therefore, Pence is doing the right thing. Just think, they argue, how much trouble Bill Clinton might have avoided if he’d followed a similar rule!

And let’s face it – there is a lot of truth here.

The second set condemns Mr. Pence for sexism and/or misogyny. One subset insists that, by refusing to treat female interns and suchlike as equals, Pence and his fellows are limiting their career prospects. Mentorships and suchlike are important in a great many fields – if women are denied the opportunity to work with someone higher up the ladder, they won’t make as much progress as their male comrades. The other major subset states that Pence et al are effectively blaming women for tempting them (rather than keeping their desires in check) and/or overstating the risk of a sexual harassment accusation.

And let’s face it – there’s a lot of truth here too.

On one hand, being a politician in America (particularly a Republican) means being neurotic about not doing anything that might be taken out of context and used against you. A closed door meeting with a female intern (or someone more senior) could be construed as a potential opportunity for sexual harassment. It is impossible to prove a negative – mud sticks, particularly when your enemies want it to. You therefore have no choice, but to avoid anything that might prove career-wreaking.

On the other hand, it is impossible to build a close relationship between a prospective mentor and mentee (if that’s the correct word) in public. If you can’t hold closed-door meetings, you can’t discuss anything confidential and yes, it is a very short step from this to excluding women altogether, because you will feel (reasonably) that you cannot trust your female subordinates. And yes, because of this women will have far more reduced opportunities than their male counterparts.

In a world run by good actors, there would be no presumption of guilt. A charge of sexual harassment – of anything, really – would be investigated carefully, then dismissed if found to be baseless. There would be no need to fear damage to one’s reputation if one had done nothing to damage one’s reputation.

But our world is not run by good actors. Bad actors do not hesitate to take an accusation and run with it, tearing careers apart. The accused will find himself alone, abandoned by his former friends and allies, as the howling grows louder. By the time the truth comes out, if it ever does, it is too late to repair the damage.

And so the only wise move is to practice the CYA Rule – Cover Your Ass.

I’ve worked in places where hardly anyone had any faith in the bosses. Those places tended to feature a lot of obsessive documentation, rigorous hewing to the rules even when they were clearly pointless … everything would be fine, as long as you could show that you followed procedure. No one trusted anyone else, with good reason. I was glad to leave.

You see this everywhere, if you look. A doctor who sees a patient might be 99% sure that the patient doesn’t need an expensive scan or medical procedure. But … CYA! Better to insist on doing the expensive scan or procedure rather than get blamed for not doing it, if it comes back to bite you. Pointless HR rules and regulations? CYA! All those boring safety talks no one heeds on aircraft? CYA! Pointless security checks at airports? CYA! No one can be blamed as long as procedure is followed – no one cares if the patient dies, as long as the operation was a success.

A couple of weeks ago, the Trump Administration and the UK announced a whole series of new and bothersome restrictions on in-flight baggage. The internet exploded with grumbles, quite reasonably. (The TSA has a bad reputation for stealing stuff from bags, so no one wants to put a laptop in their suitcase.) Trump got a lot of stick for it. But consider – if there genuinely was a warning that terrorists were planning to use rigged laptops to blow up aircraft, just how much stick would Trump get for ignoring it? The only wise move is to move ahead with new restrictions …

… And insist, if there genuinely is a terrorist attack that brings down an airliner, that they did everything they could to protect innocent lives. Why not? On 8/11, Osama Bin Laden was a minor nuisance with delusions of grandeur; on 10/11, he was a supervillain and the greatest threat since Hitler! How much stick did Bush get for ignoring potential threats after 9/11 proved that the threats were real?

We live in a society where far too many people think, when something goes wrong, ‘who can we sue?’ And right now we are reaping the punishment.

And the other kerfuffle?

This link popped up in my Facebook feed a day or so ago (more commentary here). The LA Times professes itself surprised by declining arrest rates in Los Angeles and goes to some trouble to try to look at reasons. This is not, as more aware people will note, a new problem, nor is it localised to California (or even the USA). The Ferguson Effect – where policemen feel that they will not be supported by their superiors if something remotely controversial happens – is in full swing. Policemen are doing as little as they can get away with because they believe, not without reason, that they will be thrown to the wolves if something goes wrong.

And this is a reasonable attitude. Who wants to be tried, convicted and sentenced in the court of public opinion – a court spearheaded by those who can shout the loudest – when they know their lives will be ruined? Why do the job when you might wind up the next target of the mob? Why put your life at risk when your superiors will happily betray you just to please public opinion? When the bonds of trust break down, it’s CYA time. And the principles of CYA do not allow you to take risks when there’s no safety net.

Most policemen I know will agree that bad – i.e. corrupt – policemen should be taken off the streets. They will have no sympathy for them whatsoever. But there is a significant difference between a genuine accident and outright malice (or doing the right thing and winding up in trouble anyway)… and if people are penalised for accidents, they’ll do everything in their power to avoid doing anything that could lead to an accident.

There’s some chuckling – even gloating – online about the Mike Pence affair, from both sides of the political divide. And yes, it does have its absurd side. But policemen not doing their jobs because they’re concerned about personal repercussions is far more dangerous …

… And far too many of our society’s current problems are caused by men and women who are trying desperately to apply the CYA Rule instead of doing their jobs.

16 Responses to “The CYA Rule”

  1. Anarchymedes April 5, 2017 at 11:18 am #

    In the modern polite society, betrayal is a substitute for violence, for duels. It’s the only weapon the weaklings are comfortable using. So, just like in the old times, people do the CYA thing, either by running and hiding, or, if push comes to shove, by striking the first blow. If the betrayal is imminent, betray them first. Betray, or be betrayed. Putting one’s live on the line? Or even risking losing one’s job? For whom? For someone who will sell you to the wolves without batting an eyelid? And for what? For the very ideals they bullied you for at school, and then laughed at you, and labelled you immature? That’s the modern society. There is a saying, Maturity can be measured by the number of brutally murdered illusions. So, either go CYA, or So I dub thee Unforgiven. (Metallica, anyone? 😉 )

  2. sjallen343 April 5, 2017 at 11:26 am #

    The only problem is that without a major cultural shift this will continue to get worse. I do not see how this can happen without coming face to face with a complete and utter disaster of the nation ending variety.

    As a wise man once said “It’s very easy to lose track of reality if nothing has tried to kill you recently.”

    Police the (Western) world over are doing this, not just in parts of the US. What possible reason do they have to do otherwise? Much noise has been made (in Australia anyway) about a recent event where a lunatic drove a car through a crowd and the police response. Not a terror attack, just your everyday nut job on the wrong day. Would you, in a split second decision, decide that you were going to ram a vehicle travelling at 60kmph at a similar speed? Combined momentum means you are going to effectively hit at 120 kmph. You will not survive this.

    Would you die for people who are going to spit on your grave? What on Earth do these people think they offer that would entice anybody to sacrifice on their behalf?


  3. Vapori April 5, 2017 at 12:25 pm #

    That is indeed a very serious problem.
    And one that can hardly be solved, without a major cultural shift.
    It’s not just in the police and political sector but in all kinds of businesses.
    Air craft regulation check.
    food production regulations check, (a good part of the pruduced food gets thrown away because it doesn’t fulfill certain norms.
    Building regulations check.
    In public buildings I need to make checks before even a minor changes, if they want to drill a hole in a wall I need to make a test costing roughly 600$ per room
    Fire protection regulations check. (Public buildings inflated in price over the last 30 years mostly because of safty regulations they are nearly 40% more expensive because of that with just a reduction in fires of around 4% ) And the trend will likely continue.

  4. Billy April 5, 2017 at 12:28 pm #

    CYA, Kind of like on Facebook when female relatives send out the * Those people who don’t like any of my posts or respond the I will unfriend etc.

    If feel like telling them (Which is true) * I don’t respond or like your posts because you are female (Relative or not/ Except for my Sisters / Mom etc ) and I am Married.

  5. bretwallach April 5, 2017 at 4:31 pm #

    Chrishanger wrote: “…if women are denied the opportunity to work with someone higher up the ladder, they won’t make as much progress as their male comrades.”

    Those women can’t work for a woman higher up the ladder because why?

    I have to laugh; the basic gist of women’s complaints is “the patriarchy oppresses us so we need X, Y, and Z to right the wrongs of the oppression.” And I ask, “who, exactly is going to give you X, Y, and Z?” The answer: “Why, the patriarchy, of course!”

    If women are so horribly oppressed and abused by men, why don’t they get off their asses and create wildly successful all-female companies and institutions and simply ignore men and the alleged patriarchy? Why do they need folks like Pence at all? They are more than 50% of the population and can vote themselves whatever power they want. They don’t need Pence or any other man to do anything for them, ever.

    And that’s why I think there is no truth at all to the complaints about Pence.

    • jh April 13, 2017 at 3:02 pm #

      no.. Women have been denied economic and professional opportunities. It plays a factor in this world right now. We build off and work from the past. A past that has traditionally benefited white males.

      The money, the resources, the connections are still part of the old boys network. Men are still the gatekeepers. That’s why it’s impossible for women to gain the same opportunities and earn the same successes if people like Pence engage in a “I won’t have a business dinner with a woman who isn’t my wife” policy. Not only that, when Pence denies the opportunity to hear a woman’s perspective, he may not understand that the reality for women is different.

      I’ll put it in one example. I told a friend to get the uber app. The first thing she asked was “Is it safe?”. Why? because, while I never considered rape to be a possibility, for her, it was a possibility. This is one of the questions women always have to ask that men don’t. (except in prison) The world is different for men and women.

      Frankly – if Pence can’t behave himself in private, it tells me that he lacks self-control. I would put him in the box labeled “potential rapist if given the opportunity”. You don’t accidentally have an affair. and you don’t get unfairly smeared. The truth does come out.

      The blog writer is a typical white male.

      BTW – Pence is the vice president. If women were allowed to break the laws that Pence supports, then we would have a different conversation. But as it is, women are required to follow laws that this republican conservative sexist fool supports and votes for. Remove Pence from office and put Sanders in there. Do not let republicans enter or vote or pass legislation that affects anyone but themselves. That’s the only way your demand for women to “not need Pence” works.

      • Jared April 16, 2017 at 2:12 pm #

        Your solution is a bit extreme. And I think you give to much importance to pence’s roll in government.

  6. Big Ben April 5, 2017 at 8:56 pm #

    The foolishness of CYA …
    Chump says that laptops and tablets are suddenly a threat, specifically coming from a few countries. Ooookay, if they’re so dangerous why are you letting the laptops etc. on the planes at all?
    Are the security screenings luggage goes through that much more thorough than the screenings that passengers and carry-on luggage goes through? And if so, maybe the thing to do is make passenger screenings more intensive.
    Any clever hardware-software-bomb maker could make a laptop explode at any time, whether it’s in someone’s lap or in the baggage compartment. If it gets through security, it’s on the plane.
    Anyone remember the shoe bomber and the underwear bomber? Maybe all clothing should be banned as well … then no asses would be covered.
    But important asses are being covered, I guess. No matter how nonsensical their CYA policies are.

  7. Kell Harris April 5, 2017 at 9:23 pm #

    I’m so tired of everybody throwing around words like racest mysognist. Transfobe. Homofobe. Shoot I was just on YouTube talking about a character in a show. When I said I didn’t like a make character I was labeled a misandrist. Sigh people are so annoying

    • bretwallach April 5, 2017 at 9:38 pm #

      People are so annoying? Would that make you a misanthrope? 🙂

    • Kell Harris April 6, 2017 at 10:06 am #

      guess so lol

  8. BobStewartatHome April 5, 2017 at 9:43 pm #

    Given the negative response of the political class in places like Baltimore to ordinary law enforcement practices, I think the police are just being responsive to the desires of the authorities. There’s no CYA involved at all. It is also true the many police officers don’t wish to work in such an environment, and they are fleeing such hell holes as quickly as they can. If the same politicians are returned to office, then this process will accelerate, and soon the residents of the city will be able to enjoy a new normalcy, right along with a new kind of policeman. The killings will go up and up, and this will be blamed on an absence of “gun control” in the surrounding jurisdictions. It’s nothing new. Detroit has been stumbling down this path for decades, and the District of Columbia has become a third world outpost except in those areas frequented by lobbyists, congressmen, staffers, and the media. Sort of like London.

    • Jared April 16, 2017 at 2:16 pm #

      I think you hit on a critical point. But I think that when it gets bad enough there will be a push for a federal police force. Further removing power from the local governments.

  9. tern April 6, 2017 at 5:20 am #

    I’d be a little more concerned about the so-called “Ferguson Effect” if police were, in fact, being prosecuted for crimes they commit while in uniform. But this rarely happens despite the publicity of the rare exceptions.

    • Kell Harris April 6, 2017 at 10:14 am #

      The thing is whether a police office is prosecuted or not the career is over whether they were guilty or not. the thing that pisses me of in that particular case was the cops were called there because of a domestic dispute.
      The guy was beating up his girlfriend but nobody cared about that. All they cared about was a black man hurt in police custody. The media screamed racism never mind that half of the arresting officers were black. It was genuinely an accident when they pined him to the grown after he resisted he fell in just the wrong position. It was an accident and yet people screamed and painted his picture up on buildings like he was some martyr hero. gag me

      • Tarun Elankath April 6, 2017 at 3:42 pm #

        “whether a police office is prosecuted or not the career is over” – this is NOT true at all at-least in the US. Usually, it *never* comes to prosecution since the local prosecutor is in bed with the police. (Go do your research if my statement is unconvincing). Secondly, even if a case is filed, the case is usually dismissed or there is no sentence imposed.

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