A Tammany Hall member once admitted that, sure, what they were doing was graft, but insisted it was ‘honest graft’. In addition to demonstrating that the properly conditioned mind, with enough motivation, is willing to believe anything no matter how manifestly self-contradictory, this brought to mind sports fishing. Bear with me:
When you deep-sea fish, which I’ve done twice in my life (1), the ship takes on a large number of small bait fish. Then, when the fishing grounds are reached, most of these bait fish are released. They quickly form a little school. Some are left to be used more dramatically as bait – they are put upon hooks at the end of lines, and cast into the sea.
Ideally, the little school of bait fish will attract predators – the sports fish. With luck, some of those sports fish will go after the hooked bait fish and get caught. Most of the sports fish probably do not get caught, but are likely to get a meal out of the school of bait fish. It’s possible some, perhaps many, of the bait fish will also survive.
So: from the point of view of the bait fish, it could be said that many of them are freed by the actions of the fishermen – they were caught once to be used as bait, but by the actions of the fishermen made it back out to the open ocean. The sports fishermen can be seen as their benefactors in this sense.
For the sports fish, more likely than not, they get a meal out of the deal – most of them probably don’t get caught, but get to eat some bait fish. Again, the fishermen are benefactors, distributing meals to the sports fish.
Finally, the fishermen themselves take some, but not all, of the sports fish and eat them. It’s a win-win-win! At least, for the fishermen and many if not most of the fish involved.
Thus, sport fishing as a whole can be seen as an act of benevolence on the part of the fishermen, with the fish who get eaten as an unfortunate but unavoidable necessary side effect.
This is what is meant by ‘honest graft’. The error is imagining it is done for the benefit of anyone except the fishermen or Tammany Hall or the Chicago Machine. Sure, they can all point to the little fish that benefited from their benevolent actions – the immigrants who got government jobs, the downtrodden Irish or Polish or whatever who were welcomed and fed and housed. But such benefits are simply the price paid by those on top for their privileged positions and piece of the action(2). Their interest in the little people is the interest of a cattleman in his steers.
- I spent most of the second trip throwing up over the rail, which is why there is unlikely to ever be a 3rd trip.
- As a young man, Orestes Brownson went to New York to fight Tammany Hall, because the jobs they controlled were not paying the workers their full wages. He joined the Workingmen’s Party, which ran people against the Tammany candidates, but lost. Imagine. That branch of the Workingmen’s party fell into obscurity once Tammany figured out it was necessary – a necessary evil, from their perspective – that they just pay the men. In fact, if they paid them and treated them well, they could count on the workers’ political support. The only thing left was to enforce Callicles’ definition of virtue: reward your friends, punish your enemies, and do whatever you want. Thus, the small – insignificant, really! – price one pays for being the beneficiary of a political machine is merely one’s soul – willful blindness to and cooperation in the evils they work in enriching themselves and punishing their enemies. You do this to have a job. “But for Wales?”