I have been reading Sammy “The Bull” Gravano’s book, Underboss.
Gravano was just that – underboss – second-in-command of the Gambino “family” of Cosa Nostra, also known as the mafia; also known as organized crime.
As distinct from legalized crime.
He worked for John Gotti, the “Dapper Don,” who was boss of the Gambino family back in New York, back in the ’80s. Gravano ended up turning on his boss – who (according to Sammy) had turned on him, first. Both ended up in prison.
But that’s not the real story of the book.
The real story is the parallelism of syndicates. Of organized vs. legalized crime. Sammy was a “made member” of organized crime. He had to earn the approbation of already-made members, in order to be “made” – as by showing he could get the job done. And he did, which he describes at length in the book.
This is the source of the delusion that legalized crime isn’t the same thing as organized crime. Which is how – and why – it becomes a much worse thing. A demented and for that reason a much-more-dangerous thing. A politician or bureaucrat imagines himself to be a “public servant,” which is an interesting inversion given that servants are servile. They can be commanded – and are expected to obey – while “public servants” do the commanding and when not obeyed, have the legal power to punish those they “serve.”
These “public servants” also believe they “serve” by right – and that it is our obligation to obey (and hand over however much of our money they say). That it is . . . criminal to disobey them.
Sammy “The Bull” knew he was a criminal and – to his credit – never pretended to be otherwise. He killed people – a terrible thing – but never had the gall to pretend he hadn’t done the thing. And he had the guts to do the things he did himself – as opposed to pretending he didn’t because he had someone else do them.
Whatever Sammy’s sins, he was what they call inside organized crime a “stand up guy” for that reason.
That it does something else when it “taxes” people. That it isn’t robbing people. No honest criminal would ever think such a thing – which is arguably an even worse thing than simply taking what’s not yours but at least being honest with yourself (and your victims) about it. Just as rape is made something much more loathsome when the rapist insists he was merely “making love” to his victim.
Legalized crime tells itself – and you – that it is providing “services,” even when they aren’t asked for. It makes you an offer you can’t legally refuse – while pretending you have a choice because it claims you are “represented” by people you never asked to “represent” you, chosen by other people who represent everything antithetical to you.
Organized crime is more honest in another way, too, in that much of the money it earns it didn’t take. Which it therefore earns legitimately – or rather, morally – via the free exchange of goods and services that people do want and are willing to pay for, unlike “the schools,” for instance. The most infamous contra example of this being what legalized crime styled “Prohibition” – by which it meant the outlawing of the free exchange of money for alcohol.
It still uses violence to enforce similar decrees – as in the case of the “lockdowns” of small businesses, for the benefit of big businesses – which were allowed to remain open and thus got all the business denied the small ones.
Sammy might have asked for a “piece” of the business, but he never would have insisted he was doing it to “stop the spread.”
But perhaps the greatest single example of the unhinged mental state of legalized crime was the prosecution of one of organized crime’s most famous figures, Al Capone – on “charges” of . . . “income tax evasion.” The insolence hypocrisy of this takes the breath away. Capone was put in prison for having “evaded” the robbery that is styled by legalized crime the “income tax.” As if by etymological hocus-pocus the taking-by-force of money becomes something that isn’t the taking-by-force of money. And that it is a “crime” to not hand over what the strong-armed robber says is “owed.”
Only legalized crime is capable of such dissonance and that is what makes it so much more dangerous. C.S. Lewis explained the nature of this danger when he wrote:
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
Italics added to emphasize the points.
Sammy and other “wise guys” knew exactly who they were – and exactly what they were doing. They did it without compunction – but also without the unction. It was just business, nothing personal.
And a lot more honest, fundamentally, than what legalized crime does without the slightest compunction and endless unction.
. . .
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