It’s Called a Conscience: How Matt Taibbi Describes What the Banksters Lack

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    Here’s an excerpt from Matt Taibbi’s article, “A Christmas Message From America’s Rich” (which appeared in ROLLING STONE on December 22) followed by a comment from me:

    “What makes people furious [at some of these Wall Street bankers] is that they have stopped being citizens.

    “Most of us 99-percenters couldn’t even let our dogs leave a dump on the sidewalk without feeling ashamed before our neighbors. It’s called having a conscience: even though there are plenty of things most of us could get away with doing, we just don’t do them, because, well, we live here. Most of us wouldn’t take a million dollars to swindle the local school system, or put our next door neighbors out on the street with a robosigned foreclosure, or steal the life’s savings of some old pensioner down the block by selling him a bunch of worthless securities.

    “But our Too-Big-To-Fail banks unhesitatingly take billions in bailout money and then turn right around and finance the export of jobs to new locations in China and India. They defraud the pension funds of state workers into buying billions of their crap mortgage assets. They take zero-interest loans from the state and then lend that same money back to us at interest. Or, like Chase, they bribe the politicians serving countries and states and cities and even school boards to take on crippling debt deals.”

    My commentary:

    Taibbi hits the nail on the head when he says, “It’s called having a conscience.” Meaning, we’ve got a problem here of great power being wielded in America without being restrained by the usual moral demands of an internalized sense of what right requires.

    But I would bet that these banksters, in their private lives, are not all that different from other people. I doubt that they behave shamelessly, more than the rest of us, or that they treat their friends more shabbily, or that they don’t clean up after their dogs.

    People get caught up in the forces operating around them in their culture. In this case, the “culture” includes “the corporate culture” of the financial world. It also includes the “political culture” of our emerging plutocracy.

    Conscience is often represented as something that is internalized. But history shows that a great many people –probably most people– absorb their sense of rightness, and their degree of involvement in the very issue of what’s right, from their surroundings on an ONGOING basis.

    The problem thus should be regarded less in terms of the despicable nature of individuals than in terms of the moral corruption in the culture.

    And these subsidiary cultures –the corporate, the overall power system– in turn are embedded in the evolving “moral culture” of American society. It may well be that something has gone wrong in America, of a still more general systemic nature, that makes has opened the door for this amoral tendency –this opportunism and sense of entitlement, that Taibbi describes– to become so prevalent in America in this era.

    It’s as though the body politic has suffered a weakening of the “immune system” –by which morality protects a society from infection by corruption– and allowed such shameless and amoral subcultures to develop, to become so powerful, and to do so much damage in today’s America.

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    Andy Schmookler is running for Congress in the 6th Congressional District of Virginia, challenging the incumbent Congressman, Bob Goodlatte.  An award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, Andy moved with his family to Shenandoah County in 1992.  He is a graduate of Harvard University and holds a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley.  

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    To learn more about Andy, please go to his website. You may also follow Andy on Facebook and on Twitter.