248-409-1900 dburke@mi-worklaw.com

By:  Bill Pilchak – 9/11/14

          Attending high school in a blue collar community, I learned that bookworms and nerds could expect swirlies and wedgies delivered by students who were invariably not in the honor society. In dozens of ways in hallways, bathrooms and gym classes, smart kids were bullied and marginalized while the greasers and jocks who tormented them stood at the social apex.

          Years later, I would come to realize that Gary Libon (pseudo), a small, studious kid with thick glasses, a talent for math and chemistry and a mother with an apparent penchant for corduroy pants had actually been the toughest kid in school. John Gadonski (pseudo), a talented student cartoonist produced a surprisingly good series of comic books premised upon Libon’s intellectual superiority but presenting his physical features and unfortunate wardrobe in caricature. With only slight exaggeration, superhero “Libby Piggy,” looked like the Creature from the Black Lagoon in cords. Libon’s “toughness” was displayed by the grace with which he endured silent ridicule as volumes were passed from student to student month after month. Once you recognize that brainpower is the currency within a school, you see that the swirlies, wedgies and comics were a way for have-nots to bring down the haves.

          When majoring in political science in college in the 1970’s, I studied the French and Russian revolutions and Marxism, more prominent conflicts between haves and have-nots. In both revolutions, the (intellectual and economic) haves were executed and society was turned over to the have-nots. While a revolution against an uncaring monarch is understandable, anyone who has ascended in economic or social class should always remember the executions didn’t stop with the Romanoff family or Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Nearly 42,000 people were guillotined or otherwise executed during France’s “Reign of Terror,” and 10,000-15,000 “representatives of overthrown classes” in Russia were executed in September-October, 1918 alone.

          When I began representing management in employment litigation, I found myself in the middle of another have vs have-not battleground. Lawsuits are one of the ways economic classes brawl in a civilized world.   It’s easy to recognize the Marxist implications of our legal scuffles. Drawing conclusions about why people are in each camp is more difficult. But, the more I consider the issue, the more I believe that one of the main differences is knowledge and information.

          The common denominator of those who do truly succeed is their constant collection and then application of information. Conversely, one seldom sees an extremely knowledgeable person in a subservient role or in poverty. Especially given my own path from the Parkside Projects in Detroit, to Warren, CMU and my current role, I often wonder why the critical importance of education is not loudly stressed by leaders of the underclass. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that powerful forces are invested in keeping their constituencies ignorant. Let me offer these examples:

  • I have always been mystified as to why a concerted message about the importance of education has not been streamed to urban elementary, middle and high school students by prominent minority leaders to stem the astronomic drop-out rates in core cities. (Detroit’s graduation rate, recently 50%, has climbed to 64.7%). The phenomenon of studious black students being accused of “acting white” is undeniable and must be overcome. Until President Obama briefly mentioned it on July 24 (Google: “Obama Acting White”) I’ve never heard any black leader address this important issue. Neither education nor illiteracy are among the six major “issues” found on Operation Push’s website; none of Jesse Jackson’s weekly blogs since 2009 address education and none of his blogs since President Obama’s “acting white” comment even mention that specific issue though it is precisely in his wheelhouse. Could it be that education is not stressed because an educated black community becomes increasingly politically diverse and less likely to look to Jackson or the Democratic party for leadership? Is there a motivation to assure that fewer conservative figures like Dr. Ben Carson, Clarence Thomas, Condoleezza Rice, Herman Cain, Alan Keyes, Congressman J.C. Watts, Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele, Congressman (& Lt. Col.) Adam West, Thomas Sowell, NFL Hall-of-Famer and Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate, Lynn Swann, Francesca Chambers, (editor, Red Alert Politics),Conservative African American blogger, Crystal Wright (http://conservativeblackchick.com/), Michigan Supreme Court Justice Robert Young, Republican National Committee Member, Keith Butler, Colin Powel or Dr. Bill Cosby emerge after gaining an education?
  • I have written previously on the absence of educated leaders and staffers in unions. See http://mi-worklaw.com/a-chance-to-bring-labor-relations-into-the-information-age-silently-slips-away/ That post went on to wonder “why the UAW didn’t spend some of its estimated $260 Million in annual revenue to hire MBAs to provide them with a game plan for the future,” so they would not be working from a 1930’s business model. One reason is obvious: Unions can only take the positions they take by playing ostrich to the real facts and pressures facing business today. No one with any business knowledge would support many of the positions taken by unions. Only naïve individuals would follow their lead. Undoubtedly, the increasingly-educated population is one of the reasons unions have declined to represent only 11.3 percent of the work force.
  • Plaintiffs in litigation are likewise invested in remaining ignorant of the truth. With very rare exception (i.e. those A+ attorneys who receive so many referrals that the cases they take involve actual discrimination or retaliation), plaintiffs seldom chase after facts in the discovery phase of litigation. Why chase down the actual facts when one knows that those facts will support the defense? In the same way that criminal defense attorneys almost never ask their clients if they actually committed the crime, most of our plaintiffs are not interested in the real facts underlying separation decisions. Criminal attorneys don’t ask if their clients are guilty because they would then have to deal with that reality, both ethically and personally, such as losing sleep when their efforts free the guilty rapist. Some plaintiff-side attorneys similarly don’t want to know the truth. Some don’t even take depositions. They hope to simply present the plaintiff’s suspicions to a jury in a sensational manner, appeal to the anti-corporation sentiment and hope that results in a verdict.

          So, in politics and in our avocation, we strive to illuminate facts… and the truth. The more a decision-maker knows, we feel, the better our chances in politics and in court. It would be hard to be on the other side. Ignorance is a force to be reckoned with, but to use it, one must cultivate and preserve it.