Where’s the Outrage
This was written several days ago:
This Sunday, January 11, 2009, Frank Rich of the New York Times wrote a column detailing the financial and ethical disasters of the Bush Administration and the continued lack of outrage in our society. It’s worth reading and you can find it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/11/opinion/11rich.html
The lack of response from the public to the escalating drumbeat of everything from incompetence to calculated fraud has been puzzling to many. Those of us who are boomers have the impulse to point out that we know how to channel disgust with our government. We expressed public outrage in march after march in the 70’s and like to claim some credit for driving a President from office and shedding light on the chicanery of the day. But that enthusiasm for the truth didn’t last very long. We all embraced the escalating inflation of the currency and the easy credit that have only recently been exposed as one of the greatest Ponzi schemes of all time.
The Palestinians and the Israelis are demonstrating in Manhattan today but there are no rallies, there are no marches protesting the massive destruction of our economic life and our global credibility. People are loosing their homes on a daily basis and there is still no credible plan to stop that from happening. I could go on to list more tragedy – from our educational system to healthcare and on and one. So what has happened to us? Why is it that we don’t seem to be moved by what is happening to our fellow man and increasingly to each and every one of us.
I don’t watch much television any more but someone dropped a free copy of the Daily News on our doorstep a few days ago and it contained a television guide. As I looked through it I was reminded about my reaction to Donald Trump’s show, The Apprentice when it debuted in 2004. After nearly 35 years spent in the effort of facilitating cooperation within a number of enterprises I was dismayed that the “winner” of this show was the person who was most successful in beating all of the other contestants by any means necessary. And so it goes with most of these shows. We have mothers who trade families, nannies who encounter seemingly brain dead parents, a dozen people who expose themselves to 24 hour surveillance in an effort to win a half a million dollars, a half a dozen judges who settle disputes that a group of three year olds could resolve; the list seems endless. These shows are described as “reality” and perhaps more upsetting, “entertainment”.
My hands are not clean either. I have failed to stop some members of my family from watching 25 hookers compete for the hand in marriage of a seemingly demented man who apparently has a substantial amount of money. Well, that’s what it seems to me to be going on.
We have numbed ourselves as a nation. The producers of these shows must be desperate. How can they possibly top what they have already done? How can they produce even more human beings willing to expose themselves, emotionally and now increasingly physically to a mass audience? But they seem to manage.
Perhaps the only saving grace is that fewer and fewer people are watching network television. It is likely in five years time there will be little of it left. The medium itself could be very useful in communicating to the public but that potential is rarely utilized – perhaps that is about to change.
We are all about to get a wake-up call. For the first time since JFK we have a President coming into office who is telling us that we are all going to have to make sacrifices – we are all going to have “skin in the game”. That’s a big change from being told to go out and shop. Some of us may not like it, but I have a feeling that most of us will. It might feel good to actually pitch in help each other rather than watching each other as though we are zoo animals.
Mr. Rich quotes Dawn Johnson, the new head of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice as saying that we must “resist Bush administration efforts to hide evidence of its wrongdoing through demands for retroactive immunity, assertions of state privilege, and implausible claims that openness will empower terrorists.” Perhaps we will all support her from the perspective that the destructiveness of the Bush era offends us as Americans. Outrage has become too transitory an emotion. We need to operate from a set of principles that result in justice instead of retribution.
There’s also something else that might be on the horizon. Barack Obama is going to make some mistakes; some of the people in his administration are going to make some mistakes. It is just possible that we have a President who will acknowledge those mistakes, describe what he has learned from them and how they have altered his thought process going forward. Perhaps that kind of reality is something that we all will not only want to watch but actually participate in.
The lack of response from the public to the escalating drumbeat
of everything from incompetence to calculated fraud has been puzzling
Sometimes the "lack of response" can come from figuratively beating your head against that proverbial brick wall and having nothing to show for it but blood and a headache. A prime example is when the public at large expressed its outrage against Paulsons initial attempt to get $700 billion with no strings attached. When Congress actually voted it down the first time, people thought they’d found a voice at last – our representatives were actually listening! Unfortunately, four days later, our representatives proved they only wanted to get some pork added to the bill when they passed it with an additional $150 billion dollars worth of earmarks. Talk about a public letdown! So, all our efforts were in vain – again! [Bang on the brick wall ]
Why is it that we don’t seem to be moved by what is happening to our fellow man and increasingly to each and every one of us.
Again, we try. There were significant outcries against going into Iraq in 2003, outcries against the decimation of the Constitution (Patriot Act). It’s not the people who are not outraged, who are not "moved by what is happening to our fellow man". We are definitely outraged! But, when we complain to the White House or to our representatives we are ignored and nothing changes. [Bang on the brick wall ]
People today are trying to figure out how to survive day-to-day. They don’t have time to march on Washington. The airwaves and the Internet are rife with expressions of anger and disgust. Yet we have an outgoing administration that not only doesn’t hear us but thinks it has done a bang-up job for the last eight years and makes no apologies! [Bang on the brick wall ]
Like Nonzeroone, I too hope Mr. Obama and his team can be what we all want him to be. But, like the old saying goes, "The proof is in the pudding."
Nonzeroone – I understand your reasons but someday I hope that you "will regret having left America" and will decide that coming back wouldn’t be such a bad idea!
We are all irrational…predictably so.
We’re channelling your inner ape in a different way this week.
My guest on the show is Dan Ariely.
Dan’s a behavioural economist at MIT and we’re discussing his (often)
cheeky experiments over two decades as part of his effort to probe how
we really make decisions, especially decisions about what to spend our money on.
Here’s the blurb:
Your Irrational Mind on ABC Radio National’s All in the Mind: Like
it or not, you’re not the beast of reason you think you are. Dan
Ariely, a behavioural economist at MIT, argues that we’re surprisingly
and predictably irrational. Sex, freebies, expectations, placebos,
price — they all cloud our better judgment in rather sobering ways.
Dan’s unique research was partly inspired by a catastrophic accident
which caused third degree burns to 70% of his body. He joins Natasha
Mitchell in conversation.
Prepare to confront your inner, irrational self.
Oh, and…the podcast is longer than the streaming audio and on-air
editions this week. We added a few extra titbits to the podcast that we
couldn’t possibly squeeze into the broadcast.
So, enjoy the bonus extended-podcast titbits, which include discussion about:
– why we’re so seduced by FREE! things, sometimes at greater expense to ourselves.
– the little lies many tell, and how cash and moral reminders change that.
With all my heart I hope you are right that Obama will be a man that will publically demonstrate the metacognitive skills that a mature, caring, intelligent adult utilizes in attempting to improve him/herself, and will thus serve as a role model for others; that is to say, as you said, admit and expose the mistakes, discuss how and why they were made, be proactive in avoiding them and their confounded relatives in the future.
Let people see you don’t have to have the answer the first time–if you’re willing to admit you’re wrong. Demonstrate to young Americans that mistakes are absolutely essential; that the novel started with a very faulty draft; that if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning. And if you’re not acknowledging and correcting your mistakes, you’re dead or lying, and in the case of some, murdering.
If Obama turns out to be That Man, I will regret having left America, for that will be a turning point…
Sam said:”I understand your reasons but someday I hope that you “will regret having left America” and will decide that coming back wouldn’t be such a bad idea!”
I hope that some day I will have the opportunity to regret it like hell, ’cause that will mean a lot of people will be better off…
It is popular these days to see ourselves as irrational; it seems to provide some explanation as to why we have behaved the way we have. I would suggest that it is a red herring cooked up the by psychology community, a community that I was a member of for many years.
Kahneman and Tversky did a multitude of experiments that demonstrated that emotion always takes precedence over rational thought. When I present this information in my seminars, business people become very uncomfortable. We need measurements, metrics, valuations – all those things that give us a sense of comfort in a world that seems filled with uncertainty. Douglas MacArthur was a maniac in many ways but he did have at least one moment of clarity – "There is no security in this life, only opportunity" he said.
Seeing ourselves as irrational and swayed by the whim of the latest bauble or promise of invincibility is a reflection of the materialism in the popular culture. If you buy into the premise that you are what you consume, this explanation makes sense. It is essentially useless in understanding the emotional drive to expand one’s awareness and act without anticipating some predetermined result. Somehow I don’t think Mr. Airely is going to shed any light on how human beings can move forward by tapping into what they already know – we are our brother’s keeper and the decisions that we make are simple, profound and require courage that we won’t find in the popular culture.
"We have numbed ourselves as a nation. "
Bill, it’s possible you may be using a euphemism for "brainwashing", no? 1984.
I don’t know if it’s so much that we have consciously done anything – it may be simply the way the world has evolved since the beginning of the industrial revolution and probably before. I didn’t watch much tv or go to movies in my early life and often it rather shocked me what was important my friends, and I was a popular kid (who fortunately knew how to keep her mouth shut). Later in life, in the early 1970’s I think, I threw away my tv and have never owned another. I shed newspapers and magazines later when I finally realized the impossibility of "honest reporting" in a format funded by advertising. Fortunately for my hungry little mind, a little later the internet was created. I was shocked to find I didn’t give a rap about what was going because I also realized that editors in any media can only do justice to those items that interest them from their personal perspective – you simply have no choice to choose knowledge except by source and go with an intuitive "ring of truth" with what they report. Otherwise I concluded, you are just following this herd or that herd and have little hope of being you. Yes, many times it is rational thought that guides us but I think intuition is at least equally important.
As an ex community organizer, I felt the posters’ pain as you railed against our allowing this outrage to continue without protest. You seem to be what we used to call "do gooders", people who are educated, can actually really and truly, reasonably and most times objectively conceptualize and who have a visceral need to make the world better. The intellegensia. But the actual fact in my experience is that a huge majority of people in most of the world is simply not like that at all. They are simply followers. Today I had an interaction with someone with a college degree who could not add 3 two digit numbers together. Can you really expect somebody like that to conceptualize a global future when they cannot add 15 + 15 + 10 in their head? Whether you can or should make the world better as a leader of such followers is a moral matter and has been discussed ad infinatum since the beginning of time.
To my mind, the leaders who lead by instilling fear are the ones to shy from. And fear is probably the underpinning of all retail marketing. Think about it, about how products and services in our society are marketed – fear that you won’t fit in with the herd, that you will have bad breath, or that your clothes will not smell clean & fresh, or that you will feel the pain of arthritis, or that your child will get picked on at school because he is not wearing designer clothes. Etc, etc, etc. Bernanke got the bailout bill passed with an outrageous dose of fear-inducing bs that had our Congress quaking in their boots. Bush got the war in Iraq started by injecting a huge dose of fear into the heart of America. The medical industry has everybody spending outrageous amounts so they won’t die. (I call it the new Fountain of Youth)
In my own moral perspective, true leaders are those who want to make the world a better place for us ALL but who, like like our darling Chris, abide by some simple truths of life on Earth. Among them is one of the only truisms I have found to be common to the many religions of the world: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Simple respect and inclusion of everyone in the herd, as the Japanese used to do in their workforce before they went the efficient and productive American way. My own personal truism about knowledge is that if it is too complicated to really understand in a logical or intuitive way, then it is bs. It is why Obama’s is the only presidential voice I’ve heard since Nixon.
Going about day to day business I have been listening to a number of people.
I have yet to hear anything outside the normal response. For most they have
believed the propaganda that they have never had it so good, bought the houses
and took on the consumer debt. They are worried about lifestyle, not about the
core values (or lack of) that got us in this mess. There is very little cognizance
and only a small amount of suspicion concerning the criminal behaviour of the
financial markets. There is anger that money has been lost in house values.
Oddly from the same people who were crowing two year ago about how much they
had made in their house value. There is
a lot of fear that things could get uncomfortable, 1970 1980’s recessions
uncomfortable. This is blamed on the current politicians in power or from their
supporters excused because it’s global and nobody saw it coming. That large
numbers of people saw it coming and that its happening regardless of the
political shade of any locality is not considered. In those earlier
decades the biggest agitation in the UK would have been coming from the trade
unions, but they have been effectively destroyed. (I am not implying that
there agitation would have helped in any way) As always on the fringes extremists
are using the situation to recruit to their particular cause and there is
clearly bodies growing on the internet which have dangerous agendas.
Individuals such as my mother, who has only ever been in debt to buy an home,
have diligently put money aside for pensions by honest hard work are disgusted
to see their efforts squandered by those living in the credit frenzied party lifestyle.
She is unlikely to get out on the streets and protest. In fact those who have
been whooping it up in the party are far more likely to protest has the sex
drugs and rock n roll is been taken away. It’s often said ‘ignorance is bliss (and
very dangerous)’ and for most in the context of the current situation that is
still the main influence. For those it has already overtaken, they are caught
up in dealing with their own problems.They may be ouraged but finding a job or somewhere to live is a more pressing matter.
Like most sane people I have deep concerns about the future. Not a fear that
the economy is going to fall apart, I actually think that nations been governed
by greed and lifestyle politics is a terrible thing and that there are much
better states we could live in. Wall Street may collapse but all the resources,
human ingenuity, skills etc are all still there. My fear is the unfortunate
human behaviour that may run rampant as the economy collapses and the current controlling
influences start to fall apart.
Some people clearly need to be challenging the current leadership with clear
minds and coherent reasoning. The crash course been an outstanding example. I wonder what its like for those in Government who
can see the situation and the dangers of not getting the solution right. One of my concerns is that what starts as righteous indignation with those that have
got us into this mess (obviously most forgetting that they may have played a
part in it) will feed more dramatic and recrimatory
behaviour. If things carry on to the levels of the 1930’s and nobody forewarns
or prepares the masses the outcome could be terrifying. Its chaos in the UK
when the shops are closing for 24 hours, what will the response is to potentially
empty shelves for months. People in the 30’s didn’t expect everything on a
plate and people like my grandmother had a mentality that prepared the
practical matters of life for the times when things were not so good. My daughters think that a family only having one
car and not been able to afford designer accessories are hard times. They only
know 24 hour shopping.
Recrimination to my mind depends on how far things go. If things don’t change
much its essential that those who believe greed and its attendant moralities
are what should govern nation states should be called to account and those that
have clearly broken the law be subject to the enforcement of the law. What will
most likely happen is a set of show trials to satisfy the public. If things get
really serious recrimination gets pointless and will only cause futile
slaughter. More important is people gathering around clear principles to
continue the best of what human endeavour has achieved.
I hope the above reads clearly, the written word is a media I rarely use and
my efforts normally reflect that.
The point that I was trying to make, perhaps somewhat unsuccessfully, is that outrage is not a useful response to what is happening. That’s not to say that those who are guilty of malfeasance shouldn’t pay the price. They should. But after we locked up everyone who broke the law we wouldn’t be anywhere closer to a new economic paradigm than we are now. Demonstrating to ourselves that certain behavior is unacceptable is a necessary part of the process but not a sufficient one.
I’m also not so sure about the judgment that most people are followers and always will be. I have to look at my own experience. I worked on Wall Street, drove and SUV, had a watch that cost too much and so forth. Events and experiences provided me with the opportunity to see things differently.
I’m also suspect of explanations that suggest that we are all somehow victims. Brainwashing, the media, a poor education system, etc. It seems too simple to me to decide that I am one of the few who know or will ever know what the truth is and everyone else is condemned to being a dolt forever. While it is true that the fear that will consume many people as a result of what we all know is coming will make them less than useful in crafting solutions it will also provide an opportunity for many people to become aware. From my perspective, that is the beauty of the Crash Course – it provides an opportunity to become aware and doesn’t claim omniscience. As Walsch wrote in one of his Conversations with God books – there is no one book. That is to say that there is no one perspective that has the answer. That has been my experience as I continue to become more and more aware of the linkage not only in the elements of the world’s problems but in their solutions as well.