Shakespeare and the One Dollar Ignition Switch

A faulty ignition switch leading to the quote from Macbeth, And my more having would be as a sauce To make me hunger more“And my more having would be as a sauce
To make me hunger more…”

(Macbeth, act 4, sc. 3)

 A brief background for our international visitors. General Motors has recalled millions of cars due to a minor but deadly design flaw. In some models, the ignition switch can unexpectedly turn itself off. The sudden engine stall also disables the air bags, power steering and power brakes. Officially, the design flaw has cause 13 deaths, unofficially hundreds, without counting the wounded or disabled.

Often the victims did not know when or why the engine had switched off. For example, in a 2006 related accident two girls died while the driver survived with brain damage. For years, the family tried to find out what happened, as the black box recovered from the car recorded the then unexplainable engine cut-off.

This article, however, will deal with the related Congressional Investigation, now a routine ceremony, performed when some of the most egregious crimes, cover-ups or both reach a threshold level of public awareness and negative opinion.

Though some may disagree with the assessment, such Congressional Investigations end up being a fraud committed at the expense of the credulous. They are almost identical in script, denouement and conclusions. Especially, as in the instance, when the “investigated” is a CEO whose main claim to fame is his/her multimillion $ compensation. And who, usually, purposely or both – does not have a clue about what is going on. In this case, the interrogated was the CEO of General Motors, actually a woman, the first female CEO of the company. A fact interesting per se – an exercise in doping and duping the mind of the populace in regard to the end of gender inequality. A replica of the election of an African-American to the Presidency in regard to the end of racism.

The congressional investigation is a farce, as it routinely ends in much ado about nothing. The panelists interrogate the subject with vehemence, impetuosity and fearlessness. The idea is to portray themselves as the champions of the common man.  The diversion of baiting the interrogated has the sanction of an established ritual. The interrogated is expected to suffer tamely the exultations of his purported antagonists. Part of the script is the endlessly repeated inability of the interrogated CEO to answer any question. With the reiterated jaculatory reply to all questions, that she doesn’t know but that all will be revealed “at the end of a forthcoming internal investigation”.

And by the time the “internal investigation” is completed – usually months –  the so-called public opinion is already tired of the subject or is focused on another telenovela.

In any event, the interrogated is furnished with an impenetrable armor of immunity.

According to French writer Jules Renard, if you will look for the ridiculous in everything you will find it. But with congressional investigations, often the ridiculous jumps out spontaneously without looking for it.

As when, for example, the panelists lavished praise on GM while lambasting its CEO. Like those who, being able to add nothing to truth, hope for eminence from the disguise of paradoxes.

Praise and respect for GM have nothing to do with the subject at issue. In 2010 GM was forced into bankruptcy so that it could re-open by halving the salaries of its workers. But the diabolical ignition switch was found faulty about 10 years ago.

Still, more than a farce, the investigation is a tragedy, as it perpetrates and perpetuates the splendid, conspicuous and detestable fiction of representative democracy. Its entertainment value lies in the seasoned ability of the panelists to play the part of the indignant and angry with the interrogated, while (maybe), laughing within themselves at the boundless gullibility of the masses.

Description cannot suit itself in words to demonstrate”(1)… the dissonance between the vehemence of the interrogation and the tameness of the consequences.

However, via the congressional panel investigation, there were some interesting discoveries, on which, of course, the CEO could say nothing, due to the “GM’s internal investigation”. Which would prompt the naive citizen to ask why hold an investigation when the investigated cannot answer any questions from the investigators? But let that go.

One interesting discovery is that there exists, indeed, a governmental body by the imposing name of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Its task is to oversee the car designs, to test their performance and to verify their safety. However, the budget for the complete department is less than the annual salary of the investigated CEO in question. The temptation would be to increase the budget, but it is easy, I think, to demonstrate the futility of the remedy. To quote just one example, the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. It was found that, shortly before the apocalyptic explosion, the overseers were actually partying with the overseen while BP was footing the bill.

In the instance, the nominal root cause of the tragedy will likely be attributed to the engineer(s) at the bottom of the chain who failed to modify the design of the switch, as it added $1.00 to the cost of the car.

But would that be true? In the last few years we have watched the handling, the vicissitudes and the fate of the so-called whistleblowers. Who, at best, are fired or, as it happened to Bradley Manning and others, end up in jail with long sentences, meted out by kangaroo courts.

Here, let’s follow the hypothetical trail, beginning with the discovery of the faulty ignition switch. The discoverer of the problem, like 99% of the populace, works for a living. His suggestion that the switch is dangerous and could kill people would be likely met with skepticism, denial, a charge of over-zealousness and lack of business sense. A change in the design would add costs and the performance of the department is based on its efficiency (i.e. profit). If he insisted, he may not be fired on the spot, but, as everyone knows, multiple unrelated reasons could be found to find his work “unsatisfactory” and eventually to fire him. Could we blame him for understanding and complying with the unwritten mode of operation?

And yet, it is likely that the “internal investigation” will eventually find the “culprit”. He will not suffer – nor should he, I think – the fate of Bradley Manning and others. Manning unpardonably exposed the willful crimes and mass-murders of the military establishment. The death and injuries of a few hundred drivers of GM cars, sacrificed on the altar of profit, are an inconsequential blip on the screen of history.

For the history of the faulty ignition switch mirrors and exemplifies the history of an ideology that, in Orwellian new-speak, is cleverly disguised by referring to it as “culture”.

The ideology is reflected in the mantra hammered, into the minds of all, by the school syllabus and the regime media, “All men are created equal” and everyone can become the president. Why then should the discoverer of the faulty ignition switch, risk his odds of “becoming the president” by an act of courage that would jeopardize his chances and make him lose his job?

Not long ago, the Wall Street Journal published a report on the careers of students who had protested against the Vietnam War and other crimes. The conclusions were that, in their careers, those who protested had earned 50% less than those who didn’t.

As Shakespeare would say, “I see things too, although you judge I wink.” (2)

(1) King Henry V, act 4, sc. 2
(2) Two Gentlemen from Verona, act 1, sc. 2

In the play. Malcolm portrays himself worse than he is to test the reaction of Macduff

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