Collateral Damage: The Cost Of Getting AheadBy
In the wake of the Aurora, Colorado mass shooting, we see the expected hand wringing about the easy availability of firearms, the unavailability of mental health services, and the radicalism of a powerful gun lobby that sees a rising body count as acceptable to ensure our “freedom.”
Not to defend the National Rifle Association, but there is something bigger going on here than the availability of firearms or lack of public mental health services. In the flurry of articles in the aftermath of September 11, someone suggested that rather than “How did this happen?” or “Why do they hate us?”, the most pressing question was “Would America keep its head?” Uh, no. We experienced a kind of mass psychosis we never quite recovered from. America sanctioned an illegal invasion, kidnapping, warrantless detention, secret prisons, and government-sponsored torture. Our leaders smiled into the camera while defending it. And America went along.
Aurora would never have happened fifty years ago, not just because assault-style weapons were less plentiful, but because it would have been unfashionable. When multiple killings did happen, they were not events staged for television. Fifty years ago, America didn’t measure its heroes’ worth in body counts. Since then, and for decades — from Eastwood to Stallone, from Schwarzenegger to Willis, and from the World of Warcraft to Grand Theft Auto — we have romanticized violence to the point where, as Chip Berlet wrote,
Some terrorists write a script in which they see themselves as a Superhero out to avenge a wrong—real or illusory. Men in the United States seem oddly attracted to this role which intersects with guns and violence.
Now, rather than simply blowing his own brains out, the aggrieved (mostly) white, male goes postal, or Columbine, or Oklahoma City. Shock and awe. He feels the need to make a grand, cinematic statement of his anger and frustration so everybody with a television will be unable to miss it. Look at me! Look at me! It’s not just the guns, it’s the culture. We’ve made slaughter and mayhem into a remorseless, personal statement.
It’s self-actualization for losers. It’s all about ME. And if success isn’t measured in explosions and body counts, it’s measured in money. That’s how billionaires keep score.
Remember the massive cheating scandal at the Fuqua School of Business in 2007? The reporting noted that over half the MBA students in a Rutgers study admitted to cheating. They didn’t see it as a character flaw, but a way to get ahead.
“They’ll argue that they’re just emulating the behavior they’re seeing in the corporate world; they’re acquiring a skill that will serve them well when they’re out there,” McCabe said. “Getting the job done is the important thing,” he said of the students’ mindset. According to the students, “How you get it done is less important.”
The response from the graduate school was more ethics training.
Yet, Yves Smith points out that attitudes found in business schools are simply “lagging indicators of broad cultural shifts in norms.” Defining deviancy down, as Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once put it. Students are just emulating behaviors they observe among their heroes, whether cinematic, political, or economic. Smith writes,
… American elites are openly corrupt. You can see it with the revolving doors between regulators and top industry jobs, the way CEOs and top politicians tell astonishing lies whenever they are in trouble, the weird combination of precision on inconsequential details versus the carefully coached combinations of misleading but not untruthful answers and “I don’t recall” when you sure as hell know they do remember, the way the press is so thick with propaganda that it takes an Enigma machine to pull out any real messages. So with those role models, why should we expect business school graduates to be paragons of virtue? The[y] are aspiring Masters of the Universe. They are smart enough to see what the real game is, and the message conveyed by the business press and who rises to the top in large organizations today is far more powerful than any lecture, no matter how well or frequently delivered.
Criminality and corruption have become cultural. Mainstreamed. Ronald Reagan flouted the law to fund his secret Contra war. And got away with it. Gordon Gecko assured us that greed was good. Ayn Rand calls us all to be Übermenschen, and screw your neighbor. Fox News lies to the country 24/7 without compunction or consequences. Bankers on Wall Street and in London made fraudulent billions, leaving the world economy in ruins and millions of destroyed lives in their wake — and like our mass murderers, did it without remorse. And got away with it. No one-term ethics class, stricter gun control, or individualized therapy is going to fix that. Through our acquiescence, we’ve made lying, cheating, stealing and violence (both physical and economic) culturally acceptable — expected even. A little collateral damage is just the cost of getting ahead.