Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Toxic Cultures of Violence & Greed

The sheer volume, scale and rate of killing, the way the animals form a continuous stream rather than individual creatures, makes it clear the animals are seen as raw material. The cattle are called ‘beef’ even while they’re alive — and that not only protects people from acknowledging what they’re doing and that they’re doing it to sentient beings, it’s also accurate, a reflection of the process itself.
Timothy Pachirat, Yale Political Science PHd candidate

How did we get here? [Golman Sachs] changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence.
Greg Smith, former Goldman Sachs executive director and head of the firm’s United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa

There were two very important pieces that I've read in the NY Times the past 2 days that I'd like to share. First, food columnist Mark Bittman reviewed Yale political science PHd candidate Timothy Pachirat's book Every 12 Seconds, which refers to how often an animal was slaughtered at the Omaha slaughterhouse where he worked for 5 months (2500 per day). Here's how Bittman focuses the significance of Pachirat's study:

The most publicized stories about industrial agriculture represent the exceptions that prove the rule: the uncommon torture of animals by perverse individuals in rogue operations. But torture is inherent in the routine treatment of animals as widgets, and the system itself is perverse. What makes “Every Twelve Seconds” different from (for example) a Mercy for Animals exposé is, says Pachirat, “that the day-in and day-out experience produces invisibility. Industrialized agriculture perpetuates concealment at every level of the process, and rather than focusing on the shocking examples we should be focusing on the system itself.”

As Bittman adds, Pachirat's study on the "normalization of violence" extends from industrial meat production to imprisonment, war, torture, deployment of drones and other sophisticated weaponry that allow impersonal killing.

The second hit piece was from Greg Smith, who resigned today from Goldman Sachs after a dozen years on the job. When Smith joined the force, he believed in what the company was doing. Not anymore. He goes on to describe a culture that calls clients "muppets," doing whatever it takes to make profit for the company, regardless of how it affects the client:

I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a client’s success or progress was not part of the thought process at all.

These are two must-read articles. What makes them so fascinating is the perspective of each writer who both describe first-person accounts within the highly influential cultures of industrial farming (where Americans get 99% of their food) and investment banking (which almost single-handedly brought the entire global economy to her knees in '08). As Smith writes, "You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the junior analyst sitting quietly in the corner of the room hearing about 'muppets,' 'ripping eyeballs out' and 'getting paid' doesn’t exactly turn into a model citizen."

Pachirat is not an animal rights activist or even an animal-lover at that. He's an aspiring political scientist who began asking questions about unseen violence which led him to spend time on a factory farm which led him (unexpectantly) to become a vegetarian (out of conviction for how animals were horrifically treated and what that does to an ignorant & indifferent population gorging on its flesh). He is making highly significant connections between what happens to "beef" on a farm and what happens to "suspected terrorists" (who are often later found--dead--to be nothing more than "civilians") in Pakistan and Gitmo prison.

Smith was swimming in power and wealth during these last few years at Goldman. He was not forced out. He just couldn't live within that culture of competitive greed any longer nor could he lead anyone else down that toxic route either.

"Toxic culture" is precisely what Phil Angelides called the investment banking industry on the radio today, in light of Smith NY Times editorial. Angelides is the former California treasurer who heads up the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, an investigative arm of Congress studying the lead-up to the loss of trillions of dollars of household wealth and 24 million jobs. He ultimately called for far more regulators on the job--paralleling what the US government had on the job during the savings and loan crisis in the late 80s.

These 3 voices (Pachirat, Smith & Angelides) serve as a wake-up call to a de-regulated, laissez-faire America wishing and dreaming that the violent & greedy actions of industrial farmers and investment bankers won't affect anyone else. As Martin Luther King prophetically declared 4 decades ago, we all exist in a "web of mutuality." We are in this together. It's no use ignorantly believing otherwise.

1 comment:

  1. It is so sad that we are desensitized to all of the greed and violence around us. I wish we would tax the bejeezus out of these massive corporations earning profits that are way too big (Goldman Sachs, Big Oil, Apple, etc.) and send all of it to the victims of our horrible culture. Would you support a government takeover of some of these industries like investment banking?