The Inner Ring

The behavior of the network of people surrounding the Clintons, as detailed in recent revelations, reminds me of a talk that C S Lewis gave at King’s College, University of London, in 1944.

And the prophecy I make is this. To nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colours. Obviously bad men, obviously threatening or bribing, will almost certainly not appear. Over a drink, or a cup of coffee, disguised as triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still—just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naïf or a prig—the hint will come. It will be the hint of something which the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never understand: something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about: but something, says your new friend, which “we”—and at the word “we” you try not to blush for mere pleasure—something “we always do.”

And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man’s face—that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face—turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude; it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel.

The full text of the talk is here:  The Inner Ring

5 thoughts on “The Inner Ring”

  1. I have talked to other retired doctors about the temptation to rent your degree. We have all seen it. Some business contacts you and wants to employ you at a rather innocuous sounding enterprise. Sometimes the money sounds much too much for the small amount of time and effort involved. When I was forced to retire early due to an old back injury, Ithought I would make a second career our of measuring quality in health care, something I had been interested in for years. I spent a year at Dartmouth getting another degree and learning some interesting methods and technology.

    First, I tried to do a pure research approach that used new methods and which seemed promising to others with more experience in health policy than I have. I learned two things. One, a group at U of Michigan had all grants sewed up in this field of end stage renal disease. They were not interested in what I was interested in.

    Second, I submitted a proposal and learned that the reviewers did not understand what I was trying to do. It was a new method, now common in medial outcomes research but new then.

    So, I gave up on academics and tried private insurance and even think tanks. I had 30 years of experience in clinical medicine plus the Dartmouth backing.

    All I got was interest in “renting” my degree to do what they were doing anyway., which was a crude form of rationing. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, was interested in quality of care.

    I came back to California and tried another tack. A friend of mine was a chief of surgery at a medical school and was so computer illiterate that he had his secretary read his e-mails for him. He was astonished at the results I got from statistical analysis in an area that he knew well. His junior faculty members were not interested so I tried another tack.

    Here is a proposal to try to improve care for elderly as a pilot program.

    The local medical faculty group was very interested but the hospital administrator killed it.

    So, I spent the next 15 years teaching medical students skills that they will not be allowed to use.

    And I still get offers that propose too much money for some health care dodge that I refuse to participate in.

  2. I think people still know right from wrong. Staying ethical usually isn’t as profitable as skirting the rules.

    We are all tempted in our lives; repeatedly. The desire for wealth or power, or being around power, is a constant temptation.

    Those who succumb will tell you that “everybody does it”.

  3. I am fairly certain that enlightenment comes when we acknowledge to ourselves that yes, we have the capacity within ourselves to do great evil … or great good … and knowing that the choice may be put before us at any time, or in any manner. We have to accept that, to contemplate and know it, right down to our toes. Just knowing, just being aware that we may be tempted by a smiling face and favorable circumstances and reward – is in some small way, being prepared for having that choice being put before us.

    In the Lutheran liturgy, the Confession goes: “We confess that we are in bondage to sin, and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart, we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of your son, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name.”

    To know this, to take it to heart – I think armors us against temptation to do the easy evil, as opposed to the difficult right.

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