On the universal logic of The Boss
Anyone familiar with the vertical structure of just about all workplaces—from old school industries and services to the arts, to the innovation and public sectors—understands the universal logic of The Boss. No matter how pleasant it might feel to fulfil one’s working tasks and hours; irrelevant of how invisible the allegedly inherent antagonism between the social hierarchy’s different layers might seem; no matter how much one might actually doubt the current relevance of an analysis based on the concept of hierarchy—or even the very existence of the phenomenon itself; at the end of the day there’s no question about the pipe’s ontological status. The boss is always The Boss.
It is sometimes said, correctly so, that one man’s death is another man’s bread. A similar form of relations applies here: one worker’s senior is another worker’s subordinate within a top-down structure, the functional logic of which is that of the man who doesn’t fight his oppressor, instead does one of two things: turns the other cheek or heads home where he punches his wife who then spanks their kid who at last kicks the dog. The dog is, of course, faced with the same two options: to go for the already lacerated rag doll or simply cuddle up in the den and keep quiet.
In other words, there’s a pretty good reason for one aiming for a successful future career abiding by the above-mentioned logic—to follow the route taken by the rest of the runners in order to safeguard one’s position inside the only game worth playing. Namely, the award-economy which operates at the heart of the larger economy—in the public sector just as the private—wherein one is rewarded for marching in step with tradition. This is not just about showing loyalty to the logic. It’s also—and, in fact, most importantly—about demonstrating one’s ability to play by the rules of that tradition at all times. Only then does the real game begin, and one can expect to start jumping like a karaoke-ball from the doll to the dog to the kid to the wife to the husband and thus continuously upwards.
On a path to a bureaucratic perfection
Let’s see a hypothetical example of such a journey. A young law student, wanting to earn himself some valuable experience and a respectable reputation, might start as a journalist while still studying—preferably at a newspaper with strong ties to the real suits and ties. After graduating, he will find a bureaucratic post in the lower ranks of a ministry, followed by an embassy post in a country of some significance. Next he will go back to the ministry, this time for more heavyweight stuff, say as a chief of staff, only to take another step further by becoming an undersecretary. Following a few years’ rise—handling at least a few controversial cases as well as sitting in a number of different committees—he will finally be appointed the chief of a major institution such as the police force. A successful decade later or so, he will understandably head for a little less critical, more comfortable position: a soft chair in a cosy office with a view of the ducks on the pond.
This anti-Kafkaesque fairy tale of an all-too-successful bureaucrat is the exact description of the path taken by Stefán Eiríksson, outgoing Reykjavík Police Commissioner and forthcoming division manager of the Reykjavík welfare services. And if everything had gone as planned, nothing could possibly have seemed out of the ordinary about his latest karaoke-ball move. But then, someone pressed pause: yesterday, newspaper DV sported a front page headline stating that Stefán had decided to step down from his post because of his latest dealings with Interior Minister Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir. The background story here—with which frequent Grapevine readers shouldn’t be too unfamiliar—is so long and complicated that the mere thought of explaining it in a paragraph or two gives one a headache. But as there’s no use in fearing pain, let’s go for a short one.
Attack and deny
In November last year, a memo was leaked to most of Iceland’s media, concerning a Nigerian named Tony Omos, one of the many people who’ve unsuccessfully applied for asylum in Iceland. The evening before a scheduled protest in front of the Ministry of the Interior, one aimed against the planned deportation of Omos, who at that point had gone hiding, the memo—which included sensitive information on Omos as well as his to-be baby’s mother and another woman, both of whom reside in Iceland—was sent, spiced with unsupported allegations of his alleged oppressive behaviour towards his baby’s mother. The receiving media then ran stories based on the memo, willingly (or unwillingly) justifying the deportation while undermining both the protesters and Omos, who handed himself in some days later and was subsequently deported to Switzerland, where he still is today.
Although the minister and her partners in crime have always denied any involvement in leaking the document, the progressions of police and State Prosecutor investigations into the matter—following charges pressed by the lawyers of the individuals named in the memo—has slowly but systematically brought the puzzle pieces together, alongside thorough research and extensive reporting by two DV journalists. Building on court rulings in two minor side-cases which were brought up during the investigation, it was, for instance, recently revealed that two of the minister’s assistants have the legal status of suspects in the case, and are believed by the prosecutor to have leaked the memo with the premeditated intention of—surprise, surprise—smearing Omos.
Below the professional fantasies, The Boss
Enough of the headache; now for some dysfunctional painkillers. Having already been accused of several cases of unfair, unfitting, undemocratic, unprofessional and unwhatever interference—such as calling down journalist for unsympathetic reporting—yesterday’s story must be the most serious one for the minister as the newspaper claimed that Hanna Birna had repeatedly telephoned Stefán to complain about the investigation, in one case even calling him up to her office. For fans of rhetorical repetition: the Minister of the Interior, under the authority of which the police force falls, tried to influence a police investigation into a suspected violation of law executed by the subordinates of that very same minister—if not the minister herself.
Although neither of them have heretofore been known for lack of verbiage, both Hanna Birna and Stefán have been notably dry and reticent in their public responses to the allegations, employing the most typical gobbledygook of not being allowed to talk publicly about individual cases and so on. And while both deny that there’s is anything dark looming behind Stefán’s otherwise light-hearted decision to change his office-desk-view from buses to bird life, neither of them has convincingly reacted to the actual nucleus of DV’s revelation: namely, that the minster systematically tried to influence the investigation.
Then again—albeit all grand fantasies about the possibility of political professionalism—when all comes to all, Hanna Birna is simply Stefán’s boss. And the boss is always The Boss. Having already reached so far in the game, Stefán would never have allowed himself to even enter the thought process of the possibility of punching back and thus becoming the one who pushes the minister down from the cliff of her political career. He knows very well that, in turn, he himself would need to take on the unpleasant role of a rescuing trampoline for Hanna Birna to land on down at the rock-hard bottom. Faced with such a pathetic and painful fate, going down to the hairy dog den and the dirty rag doll makes, at least, for a bit softer and more comfortable choice.
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