Jul
23

Collateral Damage: The Cost Of Getting Ahead

By

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.


Comments

  1. Not to dispute your main thesis, but I note that MoJo has catalogued just over one mass killing per year for the past 30 years. So not sure that 9/11 was a game changer.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 2

  2. Dixiegirlz says:

    “(I know you’ve been published over at Huffington Post before. You should submit this one for their consideration. It’s head and shoulders above most of the stuff over there.)”

    Agreed.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 1

  3. Tim Peck says:

    “Ayn Rand calls us all to be Übermenschen, and screw your neighbor.”

    Uh huh.

    I’m sure Mr. Sullivan can help us understand how he came to draw this conclusion. Specifically in what way does Ayn Rand call for us to be supermen and screw our neighbor?
    ……………………………
    [submitted 7/23/2012 10:07a]

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 1

  4. I’m partly with Cecil. America has been on a war footing of some form or fashion since 1941.

    World War II
    Korea
    Vietnam
    Cold War
    Grenada
    Panama
    Iraq
    Afghanistan
    Iraq (again)

    So, I don’t think this is something that goes back only as far as 2001. I think that’s a defining point in history for several other reasons, but not inasmuch as it contributes to mass murderers or rampage killers.

    Anytime these things happen there are as many people pointing to a “cause” as there are people to point. Whether it’s people blaming violent society, or violent entertainment, or the availability of guns, or the lack of mental health care, or the teaching of evolution (no kidding, Rick Warren blamed that), it’s all people with a pet agenda using a tragedy to prop up there particular issue.

    And, they’re all pretty much wrong.

    There are simply just a small percentage of people who have both the propensity and the motivation to commit such a crime. There are historical records of mass killings as far back as the late 1800s, and I don’t think those can be blamed on movies (and *everyone* had a gun, right? and the state of mental health was just to lock up even the slightest of the odd people….)

    Of course, as populations grow so do the numbers in that “small percentage”. So it often seems like there are “more” of these crimes (and there are), but maybe not more per capita.

    Or not. I don’t know, I’m not paid to do math.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 4

  5. Dixiegirlz says:

    Good points, also.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 2

  6. Tom Sullivan says:

    Aurora and LIBOR occur in a cultural milieu that celebrates the rogue cop, the maverick, the reckless, financial wildcatter, the toxic-mortgage-bundling banker as heroic, as someone who, in pursuit of personal greatness is entitled by his talent and daring to flout laws meant only for us lessers. Ayn Rand’s Howard Roark, for example. John Allison, former CEO of banking giant BB&T, is spending money to teach that crap in business schools.

    What feels different about recent mass killings is not the body count. Richard Speck had a body count. But he didn’t commit murder publicly or for the publicity. It’s not just the weapons. It’s the “look,” the style. It’s about the costumes, the “Superhero” personas mass killers create for themselves. The trenchcoats, the body armor, the camo. A vigilante president as flight-suited action hero.

    As Yves Smith suggests, the corruption found in business schools, in London and on Wall Street reflects a broad cultural shift in norms. Downward. Inspired by the heroes we celebrate in fiction and in fact. And as long as we reward their criminal behavior with fame and with stolen billions, as our conservative friends say, we’ll just get more of it.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 3

  7. Dixiegirlz says:

    But I wonder if it’s anything new? Well the high profile mass killings are. But the corruption has been around for a very long time…I suspect since recorded time began. I look back on my school and college days. There were always the cheaters…..and the rest who simply wanted to learn (out of an inborn sense of self worth vs. making a good first mpression.) Human nature doesn’t change much…which is why I question if the vast corruption is anything new…or are we just are more privvy to it.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 3

  8. Tim Peck says:

    “Aurora and LIBOR occur in a cultural milieu that celebrates the rogue cop, the maverick, the reckless, financial wildcatter, the toxic-mortgage-bundling banker as heroic, as someone who, in pursuit of personal greatness is entitled by his talent and daring to flout laws meant only for us lessers. Ayn Rand’s Howard Roark, for example. John Allison, former CEO of banking giant BB&T, is spending money to teach that crap in business schools.”

    Specifically in what ways do fictional hero Howard Roark or successful businessman John Allison “flout laws”?
    ………….

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 1

  9. Chris Pelly says:

    Well said Tom. I value your perspective. Thank you.

    Here’s another interesting related article.

    http://nymag.com/news/features/money-brain-2012-7/

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 1

  10. If you were interested in actually defending your hero, perhaps you could actually explain how the characters are being maligned here.

    That is, if you are actually capable of it.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 2

  11. Tim Peck says:

    “If you were interested in actually defending your hero,”

    The burden is on the person making a positive assertion, not the person asking for proof.

    You have offered a non-responsive answer. But, then, it’s a tough one, isn’t it?
    …………….

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 2

  12. Ted Henderson says:

    Watching shaved apes like Tim Peck, “mat catastrophe” and Barry Summers fling poop at each other on this and other local blogs and comment threads amuses me greatly. Keep up the good work, boys.

    Thumb up 0

  13. Tim Peck says:

    Specifically in what ways do fictional hero Howard Roark or successful businessman John Allison “flout laws”?
    …………………

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 1

  14. Andrew Dahm says:

    Funnily enough, I’ve had the feeling I’m in a Monopoly game with somebody giving the other player extra money and dice for about a year now.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 2

  15. For someone unwilling to waste their time reading Ayn Rand’s tripe, yes it is.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 2

  16. shadmarsh says:

    Hey Tim, nice tits!

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 0

  17. shadmarsh says:

    Ted is a sock puppet….just fyi.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 1

  18. No. No way.

    I think it should be policy to out them.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 2

  19. Tim Peck says:

    “Aurora and LIBOR occur in a cultural milieu that celebrates the rogue cop, the maverick, the reckless, financial wildcatter, the toxic-mortgage-bundling banker as heroic, as someone who, in pursuit of personal greatness is entitled by his talent and daring to flout laws meant only for us lessers. Ayn Rand’s Howard Roark, for example. John Allison, former CEO of banking giant BB&T, is spending money to teach that crap in business schools.”

    Specifically in what ways do fictional hero Howard Roark or successful businessman John Allison “flout laws”?

    [blank out]
    ………………..

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 1

  20. flarn says:

    You do have a point, but I think you have to forgive someone for feeling that way about Rand’s superheros.
    Howard Roark “…was born without the ability to consider others.” In other words, Howard Roark was a sociopath.
    In Rand’s philosophy, sociopathy is a virtue. However, in real life sociopaths are generally terrible people, even if they might not technically be criminals.
    I personally think that Rand’s infatuation with William Hickman needs to be taken into consideration whenever the concept of objectivism is being discussed.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 0

  21. Andrew Dahm says:

    Very true. Objectivism is rooted in sociopathy. From Ayn Rand’s Journals, describing a character she based on Hickman: “born with a wonderful, free, light consciousness — [resulting from] the absolute lack of social instinct or herd feeling. He does not understand, because he has no organ for understanding, the necessity, meaning, or importance of other people … Other people do not exist for him and he does not understand why they should.”

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  22. Davyne Dial says:

    It seems to me Rand had a missing link in regards to human nature. Don’t think she had that nurturing instinct that is important for a sense of compassion. Her statement quoted below, misses the point, that when a horrendous crime is admitted to, it brings out in humanity a collective sense of retrubution. Especially when children are involved…due to the nurturing instinct being profoundly strong in most people.
    “Rand also wrote, “The first thing that impresses me about the case is the ferocious rage of a whole society against one man. No matter what the man did, there is always something loathsome in the ‘virtuous’ indignation and mass-hatred of the ‘majority.’… It is repulsive to see all these beings with worse sins and crimes in their own lives, virtuously condemning a criminal…”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Edward_Hickman

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