September 14, 2001 (Ira Pilgrim)

Whipping Boys

.... said Don Quixote. "And where have you ever seen, or read of, a knight being brought to justice no matter how many homicides he might have committed?"


In the days of the divine rights of kings, there were also princes. They, like all children, tended to periodically do things that they shouldn't. Ordinarily, when a boy does something bad, he is punished. In those days, the usual punishment was whipping. It was not considered good form to whip a prince. Besides, no one wanted to do it because, when that prince became king he would take his revenge for the whippings and the one who punished him might loose his head, or worse. So some clever courtier invented the whipping boy. This was a boy about the same age as the prince who was hired as the prince's whipping boy. When the prince misbehaved, the whipping boy was whipped instead of the prince.

While princes have gone out of style, whipping boys have not.

When a general makes a mistake, who pays for it? The soldier does, and he often does it with his life. Is the general punished? Not likely.

When the manager of a factory screws up, does he loose his job and his family go on welfare? Of course not. That is what happens to the people who work for him.

When a surgeon makes a mistake, who dies?

When a lawyer screws up, who goes to jail? You guessed it!

The tradition in Japan used to be that, when a Samurai was dishonored, he would disembowel himself. Like most such traditions, I suspect that it was honored more in the breach than the observance. The former Prime Minister of Japan is still alive and doing well.

One of the major problems in our society is that only the people at the lower rungs of the social ladder are accountable for their actions. The managers, the ones who often call for accountability, are not. When a king or dictator is deposed, he is usually allowed to emigrate to some resort town, where he lives out his life in peace and comfort. When a plant manager causes the plant to close down, he often gets a job at some other plant. I knew a dean of a medical school who had been fired from deanships a number of times.

Like being a duke or an earl, once someone becomes a member of the upper classes, it is for life. Occasionally you have a revolution, like in Russia or France , where the upper classes pay with their lives for their miscalculations; but that hasn't happened for a long time. Even in Russia, it has been a long time since the last bureaucrat was imprisoned or executed. Hitler committed suicide and Mussolini was killed(they lost the war), while Stalin died in bed (his side won).

Next column

Return to the Race, Class, Culture and Religion Home Page

Return to Ira's Home Page