"And if you've smoked any weed, had a joint in college, whatever -- tell us the truth! This will not adversely affect you, it's most important to us that you tell us the truth."
There were two officers at the front of the LAPD Reserve Officer Orientation. The Reserve Officer program was unpaid volunteer police work. You'd get a small stipend for equipment, and "intense paramilitary-style training" as they described it.
I was excited to protect and serve. It was 2009, and I didn't have much to do after the financial crash wiped everything out. So, I was becoming a reserve police officer. I was thinking I could help out in detective work, I like figuring things out. Or riot duty.
I liked the orientation, and I filled out the required background application. There were questions to tick off, something like this:
Marijuana .............. Multiple times in last year [ ] Once in last year [ ] Multiple times in lifetime [ ] Once in lifetime [ ] Never [ ]
Hashish ................ Multiple times in last year [ ] Once in last year [ ] Multiple times in lifetime [ ] Once in lifetime [ ] Never [ ]
Cocaine ................ Multiple times in last year [ ] Once in last year [ ] Multiple times in lifetime [ ] Once in lifetime [ ] Never [ ]
Barbituates ............ Multiple times in last year [ ] Once in last year [ ] Multiple times in lifetime [ ] Once in lifetime [ ] Never [ ]
Halucinogens ........... Multiple times in last year [ ] Once in last year [ ] Multiple times in lifetime [ ] Once in lifetime [ ] Never [ ]
Marijuana and hash? A few times in lifetime.
Hallucinogens? Once in lifetime.
Cool, I should be good... I don't even drink, I'm the most sober person I know.
I put down my references, employment history, whatever, and clicked submit on the webpage.
And the computer spits out -
REJECTED: YOU ARE PERMANENTLY BANNED FROM CALIFORNIA EMERGENCY SERVICES.
I called a case officer.
"Hey officer, pardon me for being blunt, but what the heck is going on? I had mushrooms once in Amsterdam, but I'm one of the most sober people I know. I don't even drink, haven't even had a drink in three years."
"It's the hallucinogens... flashbacks, you know? It's a liability thing. You can't be part of any emergency service."
"I wasn't sure about it, I just marked it and figured I'd mention it on the form so I was honest for the polygraph, and could explain it."
"I didn't have LSD or acid or anything. I don't think mushrooms even generate flashbacks. I just marked it because, y'know, the recruiting officer said to be honest."
"Okay son..." he started gently. He pauses, he's obviously thinking. "Did you, umm, fill it out on paper, or online?"
There's a pause. It sounds like he's frowning on the other end of the phone.
And he speaks, "...well, then there's nothing we can do."
I thought about reaching out to then-Governor Schwarzenegger for an exemption, but I let it go. I probably would have had a different life trajectory if I'd been accepted, I probably wouldn't have left California a few months later.
I've since spoken to a number of police officers, soldiers, and other servants of the public in intelligence, security, and emergency services.
You're expected to lie on certain things.
I think they see you as a liability if you don't lie. Things are often off-track a little bit, but if you open up about all of it you can really screw up people's lives.
At least, that's my working theory. If I apply for civil, military, police, or intelligence services again, I'm going to write what they expect to see on the application. If they wind up digging around and seeing this blog post, well, you want to tell me with a straight face that that's not the way the world works?
Radical honesty will probably fail in an interview where dishonesty is part of the job. Police, intelligence, sales and even nursing can apply dishonesty as a means to an end.
Are honest people dangerous? Dangerous like Jar Jar Binks, maybe.
Funny thing about that.. my Army recruitment NCO lied about portions of my employment as I had forgotten the names of my former bosses. The recruiter put obvious John Doe type names on the application. The background check personnel quickly realized that all was not halal and requested I visit their regional office to clarify the situation. The background check personnel were not alarmed or surprised at the recruiter's actions. I assume it's probably a common occurrence.
When not in periods of drawdown, Army recruitment personnel are under pressure to get recruits in boots and will lie to everyone including the Army and recruits to meet their quota. Conversely, background check personnel work with multiple government agencies including military, FBI, CIA, etc and are under pressure to keep out those deemed threats to national security apparatus whether because of qualities that are malicious or simply because someone is lacking "maturity"/personal skills(specifically credit issues) required to not be a total fuckup that eventually sells secrets to pay off debts.
So in summary, Army recruiters are systematically encouraged to lie which is at odds with the "values" of other government apparatuses.
Values in the USA are predominantly based upon polar opposites: honest-dishonest, generous-stingy, courageous-coward. It's overly simplistic and sets the foundation for the types of issues addressed here.
A more robust ethical system includes the concepts of a mean, deficiency and excess. Applying this idea (for whom we can thank Aristotle more than 2500 years ago) we arrive at dishonest-honest-too honest.
Granted this does little with regard to identifying the situations where being totally honest is "too honest" but at least it provides the room to consider the possibility. Without which, there's very little chance that society, collectively, will evolve beyond the ethical system we have in place.
What someone else said: maybe this is the case for police, but definitely not for intelligence agencies.
I had a similar experience with the US Army although it involved minor nonrecurring medical issues rather than illegal drugs. The head of the recruitment office was outraged that I reported my medical history honestly and he refused to submit my application, arguing that the Army's doctors would never accept it. I spent several weeks asking him to let the doctors make that choice, so he eventually rewrote my application to remove most of my medical history and submitted it. At MEPS, they told me something similar to what you experienced: tell the truth, and it's for your health and safety and not a human filter. When I answered honestly, they threw me out on the grounds that they needed more information about my medical background. I gave them a copy of my medical history from the hospital, so they permanently disqualified me for providing insufficient information. I suppose it's my fault that the hospital lost some of my records converting from paper to data and that I recovered from some conditions without ever needing to visit the hospital to establish a written record.
Before that, I had scored 97 on a test at the recruitment office and my recruiter recorded that I had scored a 99 because it would look better. I am now convinced that dishonesty is an epidemic in the Army, and that the Army's recruitment process is more focused on keeping people out of the Army than getting them into it.
Whoever made it through to AmanicDroid's intelligence unit must have gone through a different recruiting hub, or they must have stuck to the lies they were told to tell and were never found out. For anyone going through Sacramento, I will repeat the advice given to me by my recruiter, another recruiter that was listening, and the head of the recruitment office: lie about everything or you will never make it through MEPS. If intelligence officers who need honest servicemen have a problem with this, they should work to change the recruiting process.
They should stop asking. Does it somehow make them liable for not bothering to assess whether you committed a crime?
I feel like this every single time I go through customs. Just tell them what they want to hear. The truth unfortunately most of the time would just lead to more questions or being denied entry.
Great blog post amazing we are taught as kids never to lie. But many situations in the adult world depend on lies.
Funny that honest people have to ask themselves "Is this one of those cases where I am meant to lie?".
Alternatively, stay the fuck away from military and police services or anything that is based on lies. Your moral should come first.
You should write a letter to a guy called Obama.
He took drugs, like the Clintons, and it seems they are doing fine in the Administration.
Mike Radivis just asked asked some good questions on "Chase Meaning, Not Happiness" -
How do you measure meaning if not in terms of happiness? Aren't things that create more happiness for a longer time for a larger number of individuals better than those things who lack those qualities but are proclaimed to be personal achievements anyway? Does the scope of happiness make happiness meaningful to you or not? What are achievements good for if they aren't good at facilitating happiness? Imagine you wouldn't experience any pleasant or unpleasant emotions and would have to decide rationally what to pursue (assuming that is possible at all). Then what you want to do with your life? (Another way to formulate this question maybe would be to ask what's your grand strategy in that situation.)
I'm quite interested in your answers. I like that your blog posts are so outspoken. It's just that the message of this post is hard for me to grasp, as I'm pretty much utilitarian in my thinking.
Good questions. I'll go through it line by line.
How do you measure meaning if not in terms of happiness?
Recently a comment was posted where someone asked why I don't drink. I do seem to mention it in a number of posts, mostly those where I'm complaining how hard it is to find a girl who also doesn't drink, but I suppose I've never explained why. I also don't do drugs, smoke, or take medicine.
I've never had a drink in my life. I went to a private school in Andover, Massachusetts for middle school and I don't think anyone there drank. Maybe they did and I was blissfully ignorant. I remember one kid got caught for smoking and it was a huge controversy.
After middle school my family moved to Austin, Texas and I went to a public high school. My first day there I got lost and happened to have wandered behind the building. to my surprise there was a huge mass of kids smoking cigarettes and pot. One such kid, a Junior, picked me up and put me in a trash can.