Anyone who has watched the ITV series Mr. Bates vs the Post Office will have been left stunned by the breathtaking smugness and audacity of those officials who worked for the state-owned service, the extent of its legal prerogatives and the behaviour of those officials, as well as the allegations about the dissimulation and cover-ups managed by the manufacturers of the Horizon accounting system.
It is impossible now to imagine that any of those involved could not have worked out that the idea the Post Office had been abruptly taken over by a swathe of crooked sub-postmasters was absurd. We can dismiss that immediately. They must have known it was nonsense but instead chose to fabricate an outrageous campaign that involved telling each sub-postmaster he or she was uniquely having problems, and also dedicated all their efforts to protecting the brand and revenue stream, regardless of the financial and psychological cost to the sub-postmasters. They were helped along by those lawyers who exhibited their traditional ability to say whatever the paying client tells them to say.
The ghastly saga serves as an allegory for our times in several different ways. Here we see, on an epic scale, the way organisations and prominent individuals dedicate all their time and money to saving face in the first instance until finally, years later, they are dragged to court. By then the damage is a thousand times worse than it might have been and many of the victims destroyed or dead.
I make no apology for quoting Alexander Hamilton yet again because his words describe the problem with piercing clarity:
To retract an error even in the beginning is no easy task. Perseverance confirms us in it and rivets the difficulty; but in a public station, to have been in an error, and to have persisted in it, when it is detected, ruins both reputation and fortune. To this we may add that disappointment and opposition inflame the minds of men and attach them still more to their mistakes. (1774)
This is precisely how the Post Office tragedy has played out. But there is more to it. How is it that Post Office representatives were able to force themselves on sub-postmasters, turning up like Gestapo officers in unmarked cars in the dawn, intimidating and threatening them? The answer is, unfortunately, simple. Human society is filled with people who are capable of behaving like that which is why of course the Gestapo itself was able to recruit its operatives. And the Stasi. I can smile, and murders whiles I smile(Gloucester in Henry VI Pt III).
Some are sociopaths, a type of person increasingly favoured in business and management precisely because they are psychologically capable of destroying others without a hint either of empathy or ability to understand that what they are doing might be unreasonable. Or simply they have the wherewithal to take the money and do whatever they are told.