A Few Bad Apples

For about 28 years of my life, I’d never understood the expression “he wants to have his cake and eat it too”. I mean, eating the cake you have seems like a totally normal thing to do. In fact, to not eat the cake would be wasteful. And then I was making a cake for my husband’s birthday and I was really proud of it, and I realized that I wanted to both eat the cake and keep it intact. I wanted to “have my cake” and “eat it” too!

Similarly, I think people misunderstand the phrase “a few bad apples”. And this wouldn’t be a problem except that people end up using the phrase opposite to its meaning in advancing really bad policies.

My husband was getting frustrated one night because pundits were dismissing the shootings of unarmed black men by saying “it’s just a few bad apples” as if to say that it’s not a systemic problem that needs to be taken seriously, or even addressed. Then he yelled at the television: “the expression is “a few bad apples ruin the bunch”! And I realized that the idiom is actually expressing the axiom that “bad apples” suggest the likelihood of a more pervasive rot within the group.

It has to be said that, either way, we shouldn’t be basing our policy on catchy expressions. However, in this case, the idiom in its original form is reminding us of an important principle on which policy should be based: that corruption and prejudice are reinforced systemically.

So, in the context of police shootings: as soon as the existence of any bad cops is identified, there must be a review of all the cops and of the system in which they operate for signs of where the bad cops got the impression that their behaviour would go unnoticed, accepted, or unpunished, and whether there are any other (perhaps less obvious) elements of the system where the toxic culture could continue to fester.

In the context of hollywood, when you see so many prominent celebrities coming forward with their stories of sexual harassment and assault within the industry, not only should we be paying close attention and acting on the stories that are out there, but we should be critical of the material / art that was produced by a system where this kind of behaviour was prevalent.

Nobody’s saying that apples are bad. Apples are delicious. But in order to ensure that we are enjoying the best apples possible, we need to be diligent in checking for bad apples. If we don’t, not only will we no longer have any tasty apples left, but when we’re forced to interact with the apples they might make us sick.

Posted in: Progress

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