Drawing by Darwin Leon
By David Arthur Walters
The conduct of a Miami publicist has given me personal cause to ponder on the meaning of integrity lately and to point out the dearth of it as formally defined. Indeed, the very lack of integrity and the virtues the term integrates has prompted competitors to almost universally advertise integrity as an integral component of their public philosophy. Yet it might be best not to advertise integrity, for the most blatant advertisers give the rest of us due cause to doubt their integrity and to examine their conduct for the hypocrisy that is, in the final analysis, the "underlying crisis" that divides each against each and all. Each would somehow be socially good while serving his selfish interest, a beneficial reconciliation that philosophers rationalize very well, but which often falls factually short of the ideal compromises set forth in ethical constitutions.
Of course we usually reserve the term 'hypocrite' for the most egregious cases of hypocrisy, particularly those liars who with evil intent set about to deceive us with their advertisements about their good intentions and deeds. Still, given the disintegrating diremption, the violent divorce of our fall from the good graces of original good into the vices of original evil, nary an unredeemed human being has a right to proceed, without a bad conscience, with the dialectic or great conversation that constitutes history. Nor, as the Master intimated, should he hurl the first stone unless he is without sin - his very individuality, setting him apart from society and its ideal overlord, being said sin as far as some are concerned.
However, since history is a mistake, and people with rocks in their heads have been fighting over the rubble of history since it was conceived as history, I would add a few stones to the fray, always mindful of the fact that I am, in a sense, my own victim. No doubt the execrations hurled from my cage will be thrown back at me by members within the excremental margin of my throwing range.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, integrity means, first of all, whole, sound, complete, entire, and so on. Secondly, integrity means unmarred, unviolated, uncorrupt, unimpaired, et cetera. Thirdly, integrity refers to an unimpaired moral state; freedom from corruption; innocent. An obsolete sense of integrity is 'sinless' - the state enjoyed by man before his original fall into original sin. Moreover, as if that did not suffice to define the term, integrity denotes soundness of moral principle; the character of uncorrupted virtue, especially in relation to truth and fair dealing; uprightness, honesty, sincerity. We find this usage quoted:
"Mankind does in fact trust a person known to be of thorough integrity, that he will always be upright." 1850 McCosh
Webster's Third International Dictionary's definition of integrity is more succinct in the moral context: "an uncompromising adherence to a code of moral, artistic, or other values; utter sincerity, honesty, and candor: avoidance of deception, expediency, artificiality, or shallowness of any kind; e.g., "An example of great physical vigor, business integrity, and thrift"; "A writer of integrity has a duty towards his opinions."
Of course integrity and the lack thereof are of universal import to human beings and is not something of merely local interest. Every nation or state expects its leaders to be persons of extraordinary integrity, and not those liars, thieves, and murderers who have not been prosecuted and convicted for their crimes and who have somehow managed to purchase or have inherited a reputation for great integrity. That persons of small integrity hold the highest offices in the land, offices which they abuse to disintegrate sovereign nations and to divide their own people, does not speak loudly for the moral integrity of the clients who condone their nefarious conduct and refuse to impeach them.
Economics and politics are so intertwined that we wonder which one predominates. Some ideologues insist that economics or organized greed determines all conduct in the final analysis. However that may be, if politics and economics is intimately conjoined, we might expect integrity in both rings, material and spiritual. But we find persons of dubious integrity in both, reminding us that classical arenas were sandy areas devoted to bloody battle, and that virtue in those arenas referred to unreflecting, decisive "manly" power; to wit: might made right, the survivor takes all, the very life of his opponent. We have hopefully progressed since the invisible light of Reason was discovered or invented and set forth as the main virtue of human beingness, the virtue that sets homo sapiens apart from other animals, and perhaps reveals that he is essentially a god, second only to the integrity almighty, humankind's one-god introjection/projection.
Furthermore, given the complexity of our political-economic integration, we expect integrity in our professional journalists, that we may know who has sufficient integrity to conduct daily business for our business, political, and other cultural institutions. That expectation, once very great because we had faith in the virtue of free speech - mistakenly believing that truth would drive out lies - was severely disappointed when reporting and opinionating became a paid profession, lowering the esteem of professional journalists even lower than that of other intelligentsia who have prostituted themselves to the power elite. Today, truth is, for the most part, insulting, and coherent thought seems crazy or fanatical. An ancient virtue - that of blind loyalty to powerful patrons instead of the principles set forth in their codes of professional responsibility and ethics - constitutes professional integrity today, notwithstanding a few truth-telling individuals who have not been fired yet. In fact, practitioners of the world's oldest profession have more integrity than the lot of them. Of course, there are exceptions for which we have Integrity to thank.
Again, given the perennial concern with integrity, it must be wanting in human nature. Perhaps we seem to have more integrity today because of that concern. Morals have not changed much since the first codes were recorded at the beginning of recorded history. Technology has progressed radically over the last two centuries, producing such an excess that there has been more and more to go around, providing greater cause for complaint against hoarding and a broader distribution of the surplus. Business practice had its start in piracy, and religion and politics proceed with the worship of power and the regulation of murder. Fortunately, by virtue of technological advances if not moral advances, even honest businessmen can make a fortune. Therefore perhaps we do have more integrity today than before.
Of course pessimists beg to disagree as the population balloons, and consider modern progress to be regressive, a gradual disintegration into chaos and anarchy. For them, high technology equals low morality. Indeed, perhaps the more we see integrity advertised in the formal philosophical statements of institutions and in the newspaper publicity that passes for news and analysis, the less integrity we have in society. It seems obvious to a growing number of people that we have falsely credentialed scoundrels in high office instead of men and women of high integrity. They are more sophisticated than the old scoundrels; they have college educations; they have more wealth, and have greater reason to fear for it, hence the pseudo-conservative (neoconservative) movement.
A person who wants a reputation for integrity should be quick to denounce the lack of it in others, after it becomes a matter of public record. The press, for instance, has lost its taste for investigative reporting that might prevent bad news, focusing instead on breaking news. Bad news is good financial news for the media. In any case, when someone has been caught being bad, he must be denounced, especially by those in the same profession.
The Washington Post Service reported (January 8, 2004 Miami Herald) that $241,000 in bribes were taken by a man of great integrity, commentator and journalist Armstrong Williams, to promote one of President Bush's programs, as if Williams really believed in it. Williams said he understood "why some people think it's unethical," and agreed that it was fair for people to believe that he sold his opinions. Let the report state that professional journalists have been selling their opinions for years, and that some of them consider it their patriotic duty to do so, especially under war presidents.
Mr. Williams is, by the way, chief executive for a public relations firm, the sort of city-slicker business that got a solid reputation for hypocrisy among honest country folk in the early twentieth century. The real sin in this case is that Mr. Williams sold his opinion to a third party and got caught at it. Chicago's Tribune Media Services dumped his column and its public relations facility composed this statement:
"Accepting compensation in any form from an entity that serves as a subject of his weekly newspaper columns creates, at the very least, the appearance of a conflict of interest, prompting readers to ask whether his opinions have been purchased by a third party."
Two men of great integrity, Senators Reid and Kennedy, asked President Bush to get the bribes back from Williams, and said:
"We believe that the act of bribing journalists to bias their news in favor of government policies undermines the integrity of our democracy."
The unwitting masses should therefore expect the opinions of reputable journalists to be purchased for them, by the local publishers and editors of national newspaper chains. An honest conservative political philosopher of a previous generation said that media critics should not blame newspaper publishers and editors and advertisers for newspaper content: the blame should fall squarely on the shoulders of readers, the great mass of whom are, by the way, more interested in keeping their prejudices than in knowing the awful truth about many things. including their own nature and that of the civic leaders whom they adulate and imitate no matter how morally reprehensible and moronic those modern heroes might be.
Yes, unpopular but truthful opinions may appear on the op-ed page, but even those opinions should be carefully regulated by the market needs of the public. Tom Fiedler, for instance, the executive editor of the Miami Herald, stated in writing that "market needs", including racial and ethnic factors and the reputation of the journalists governs what appears in the editorial pages - not the clarity of thinking or excellence of writing. A careful reading of the Herald will lead the reader to conclude that the same criterion applies to news and analysis.
The market needs of a democratic mass must not be presumed or expected to be very interested in provocative ideas contrary to the common prejudices of the herd, which, as Gustav Le Bon observed in The Crowd, is naturally low in intelligence because it finds its security in the lowest common denominator of great numbers. When individuals submerge their fears in crowds, they are capable of rushing into war and performing extraordinary acts of virtue ("manliness"), yet are also prone to relishing brutal behavior; hence the mass would, notwithstanding its violent storms and wars to make peace, preserve the peace of the status quo.
"To believe in the predominance among crowds of revolutionary instincts," Le Bon wrote, "would be to misconstrue entirely their psychology.... Abandoned to themselves, they soon become weary of disorder, and instinctively turn to servitude... It is difficult to understand history, and popular revolutions in particular, if one does not take sufficiently into account the profoundly conservative instincts of crowds. They may be desirous, it is true , of changing the names of their institutions, and to obtain these changes they accomplish at times even violent revolutions, but the essence of these institutions is too much the expression of hereditary needs of the race for them not invariably to abide by it.... In fact, they possess conservative instincts as indestructible as those of all primitive beings.... It is fortunate for the progress of civilization that the power of crowds only began to exist when the great discoveries of science and industry had already been effected."
Since I took up my inquiry into the meaning of integrity, I have noticed factual disintegration of ideal integrity in Miami as well. It reminds me of a woman whose beauty had infatuated me for two years: I had not noticed her bowed legs until she pointed them out to me, then that was about all I could see in her, my bow-legged friend. Now disintegrity appears in every crook and cranny. Former city commissioner Arthur Teele was busted for allegedly taking $135,000 in bribes. He claims the big white sharks of real estate, with Tom Fiedler in tow, have been out to get him for some time because of his resistance to their land grabs. He supposed they would try to nail him for Martin Luther's adultery. He chased an undercover cop who was tailing him, at such high speeds that the cop and dispatcher worried for his sanity and the public safety. [Arthur Teele would later commit suicide, shooting himself in the lobby of the Miami Herald building. Ed.]
In the greater Miami business arena, two highly respected persons of integrity, formerly employed by the Great Miami Chamber of Commerce as its executive director of finance and finance manager, used corrective ribbons and a signature stamp to steal $1.9 million from the chamber - the stone-age technique employed to steal the funds leads us to doubt not only the integrity of persons in high office but their competence as well.
Yes, indeed, I found integrity mentioned everywhere and at every level of life since I looked the word up in the dictionaries. I walked into a downtown Miami dentist's office for emergency dental care. I needed an antibiotic for an infection until I could raise funds and get back to my regular dentist, who has a Midwestern work ethic and charges according to ability to pay. Incidentally, my New York chiropractor provided free adjusts to the poor, but was busted for insurance fraud. And a New York dentist, when I told him I did not have $11,200 to fix my teeth, told me, "Go steal the money if you have to, or you will lose your teeth." Perhaps he's been carjacked by now. I've lost a couple of teeth since his quote - it was not the lowest - but my regular dentist managed to arrest the dental demons while I try to raise the $2,200 he quoted, to do almost the same work absent two teeth. So there is integrity and its lack in the dental business.
Now I cannot say if the downtown dentist practices integrity - he was not in. I did find the word 'integrity' in his brochure. I quote his Statement of Philosophy in full because it has the virtue of being well written, positively alluding to virtues deplorably lacking in several professions:
"Our philosophy. We are dedicated to providing personal, professional, comprehensive dental care in a safe, comfortable environment. You expect to be treated with respect, and we promise to perform our service with the highest integrity. During your initial visit, we will discuss various solutions and alternatives that will maximize the benefits of your care while staying within your budget. We encourage patient involvement, and we will share needed information and communicate openly and honestly throughout every phase of your treatment."
That subtle allusion to the professional vices led me to believe he was on the ball in terms of intellect. I noticed elsewhere in the brochure that he has an in-house insurance plan, part of his pricing game.
I have long believed that dentists and doctors and other professionals of integrity, especially those who espouse the competitive principles of an allegedly 'rational' free market, should be required by law to post their billings for all items in a community data bank, so people can shop for the best deals on fillings, extractions, dentures, and so on, in terms of "fee for service" pricing. Patients could register and become members of the virtual "reverse-marketing" community, discuss the quality of service and other virtues and vices of the doctors.
Several years ago I tried to obtain such pricing information from my Blue Cross Blue Shield. I discovered that membership did not give me any right to that information. I was informed that my Blue used criteria called UCR: Usual, what the provider usually charges for that service; Customary, what all providers customarily charges for that service; Reasonable, I was told, was a special, secret mathematical formula used to reconcile Usual and Customer. After further investigation, I discovered that boards and panels of doctors, not consuming members, controlled the Blues. I did the best to make a federal case out of the whole affair; the contracts and publicity were changed; some practices changed; an ombudsman told me I had helped a million people, but I don't think I helped them much.
Incidentally, it appears that South Florida lacks medical integrity. According to a January 9, 2005 Miami Herald report, a study concluded that South Florida Medicare costs are double that of Minneapolis, where doctors are more "judicious" and the life span is the same is Miami's. An effort is being made by insurers to impose integrity on the whole system, in part by providing consumers with more information about the quality of care, meaning performance. However, the Blues are obstructing the institution of such integrity; their advisory physician boards rank physicians according to performance; a spokesman stated that "Blue Cross and Blue Shield has no plans at present to tell patients how doctors rank." As for pricing, the first paragraph of the front-page news report makes a statement that can easily mislead the reader who does not carefully examine its context: "Doctors are traditionally paid the same whether they produce good or bad results."
But to return to the downtown dentist, who was away for the holidays: I was referred by the receptionist to a dentist on Arthur Godfrey Road on Miami Beach, a dentist who has a relationship with a local university's dental school. When his office was told that all I needed was an antibiotic, that my funds were limited but I was prepared to pay for an X-ray of the tooth involved and for the dentist's exam if need be, I was informed, prior to some giggling on the phone, that I would have to advance $1,000 in U.S. currency before he would see me.
No dice. I finally found another dentist on Alton Road; he would see me, provided that I went through all the rigmarole and listened to everything I already knew. As for my inability to pay $4,000 for his plan until I raised the funds, he said, "That's your problem." He did not offer any lesser service hence I had to suggest a cleaning: "Yes, that would be a good idea."
Just before I left the Alton Road office, a nice little old lady in the lobby, who had heard the prices being quoted, slipped me a slip of paper with the name of yet another dentist, one who, she said, did fillings for $100 or less instead of the $285 per filling I had just been quoted. Anyway, the total cost of my antibiotic prescription was therefore $130 - not bad. The cleaning, if I return, will cost another $100.
I had the prescription filled at CVS Pharmacy on Alton Road. I read the CVS statement of philosophy while waiting:
"Our Values for Success are: Respect for Individuals, Integrity, Teamwork, Openness to New Ideas, Commitment to Flawless Execution and Passion for Extraordinary Customer Service."
I wondered: How many of the employees could recite that statement and give practical examples of each virtue? How many cold define 'integrity'? Then I wondered how much the antibiotic would cost, and whether Florida has a law requiring pharmacists to offer the generic version of a drug before filling the prescription, because I had forgotten about that possible choice and had not been offered one. I asked the pharmacist. Yes, Florida has such a law, said the pharmacist. I said I had not been told about it when I put in my order. She did not respond, but I did not want to press the issue because filling the prescription I had was already taking forever, or so it seemed.
Now I am tempted to descend even further into the trivialities which perhaps should be ignored for the sake of sanity but are seldom ignored because they make our lives so miserable at times if we take them to heart. I am tempted to bring forth my case against the Miami yokel who provided the proximate cause for an ethical excursus from my own faults, but I will refrain from doing so because it is probably too dinky for the integrity of the subject, which is here in need of an abrupt conclusion.
If you want a model of integrity look to the Virgin Mary, whose integrity, in my opinion, exceeds that of her famous son. In the art world, behold Malevich's White on White if not the Black Rectangle or Black Cross. Then beware of those who advertise their own integrity as well as those who would have you advertise yours.
2004 South Beach