Institutional Criticism

Stonewalling is, to be frank, what captured liars do when nothing else will do; yet for all of its putative “legality,” it has problems. The principal trouble is that everyone recognizes it for exactly what it is—a basically lower-choice, unsavory strategy. The secondary problem is that stonewalling creates the lingering fear, both inside and outside the wall, that it might fall down at any moment, leaving a lot of wreckage in its wake. No one elsewhere wants to hire anyone who has recently hidden behind a bureaucratic stonewall for fear that, once the wall falls down, the new employer will get stuck harboring someone who has been publicly disgraced. Everyone involved in building a stonewall fears such blacklisting, because, once people outside the wall learn of its existence, there is incentive for one of them to “come clean,” telling the truth everyone knows and thus saving themselves while leaving their former colleagues behind on a sinking ship. Thus, even the rumor of possible jeopardy creates justifiable anxiety behind the wall—the fear that someone will break it. Those who professional lives and livelihoods depend upon the preservation of the wall are thus forced to threaten their colleagues in gangsterish ways, all in order to preserve the illusion of an impregnable wall. However, each person supporting the wall knows as well as everyone else that, human beings being human, the truth will eventually get out. Thus, those on the inside find that, if they presently have a thriving racket, it is best to extract as much money as they can to provide for the day when they can hire the sort of expensive criminal lawyer who can get them past the agents of law enforcement.

The true unfortunates in this scenario are those insiders who were not originally part of the lie but who simply went along, out of ignorance or fear or weakness; for it is they who, once the wall falls down, cannot afford the muscular lawyers.

The Grants-Fix (1987)