As if we needed him to spell it out for us again, Chris Hayes, of Nation magazine and MSNBC fame, with many familiar examples (the Wall Street bust-out Banking Ponzi scheme, baseball's steroid scandal, teacher cheating on tests, Enron, etc.) has, in this book entitled "Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy," shown us the mechanics of how America has been turned into a "criminogenic society,"
The long version of Hayes' story is that systemic corruption "sets in" only when the society moves what use to be anomalous behavior into becoming clear societal norms. Put somewhat more generally, systemic corruption sets in only when a society allows "having no ethical norms" to actually become "the norm." And then, when the same society reinforces this "norm of no ethics" with a "culture of no accountability," the circle of criminality has been completed.
According to Hayes, the end result of this transformative systemic formula is always the same: the creation of a society run with no penalties for certain crimes by certain groups in society, usually its elites. In such an criminogenic environment, one is deemed foolish only if he is "not" committing the penalty-free, societally-sanctioned crimes allowed with impunity for his group. Thus we get Wall Street, K-Street and the systemic crime and corruption oozing out on the streets of Washington, DC like so much raw untreated and un-contained sewage.
The shorter version of Hayes story is that "the fish always rots from the top:" Everyone at the top in Washington DC and Wall Street has a "Get Out of Jail free Card" that never has to be used. That is how the U.S. Congress, the U.S. presidency, the U.S. Supreme Court, and Wall Street all are being run today: with complete immunity against any and all crimes that have been redefined as American norms.
At the lower strata of society, in the black ghetto, for instance, we used to call this the "get over strategy." Its systemic effect is the same as above, a perverse version of the "Golden Rule sets in: "If you are not getting over on someone else, then you can be sure they are getting over on you?" It is just a slightly more cynical and more perverse version of Gresham's law introduced here by Hayes: "Unchecked bad ethics always drive out good ethics." Unfortunately, these have become the new American way, writ large.
Somehow, in all this, Mr. Hayes (perhaps owing to the test he passed to get into a private New York Elementary School) sees America as having once been a meritocratic society? However, I must reluctantly ask, compared to what? And who says so?
From where I sit: a descendant of slavery, with a father, a step-father, a grandfather, four uncles, and a brother all serving in American wars as far back as WW-I, and having to watch them all be ignored by the GI-Bill, and other perks granted to white American GIs as a matter of course, seeing them insulted and referred to as "boys;" having to use handed-me-down books from white schools in the once segregated South; watching a slew of legally enacted Civil Rights Bills implemented in a delayed fashion, then go unenforced for a generation before they are summarily gutted; watching all the major cities (including Hayes own liberal New York City) become bombed-out dystopias as a direct result of "white flight," as their schools then become more segregated today then those in Mississippi; seeing a full fourth of the black male population in prison or under the control of the penal system (the same percentage imprisoned on trumped up charges during Reconstruction), and I think I have found a systemic trend here that might undermine Hayes' carefully constructed neo-liberal thesis that America somehow is a meritocracy?
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I also vigorously challenge Hayes' neo-liberal assumption put forth as a matter of course, that Americans all like to be ruled by elites: No, we don't! We uniformly hate elites, and the closer they get to New York City, or Washington D.C., the more we hate them, period.
But maybe he is on to something though, when he suggests that systemic corruption begins when the anomalous crime is turned into a societal norm. But even on this point I believe there is a deeper historical problem that he has overlooked, one that undoubtedly has served as the predicate and the gateway drug for changing anomalous crimes into societal norms: It is that America is a society that continues to live well above its moral means, on moral credit, as it were -- constantly lying to itself about what it is and about what it is capable of becoming, using rhetoric to constantly delay committed actions congruent with its stated values and historical principles.
The gap between how America sees itself (such as being Hayes' meritocracy, when clearly it is in actual fact little more than an increasingly unequal and profoundly racist society), and how it behaves, has been steadily increasing since the nation's founding. Yet, despite the embarrassing American inner cities and their related statistics of horrors carefully cited here, and with an impotent, ineffectual "token" Mulatto president in office, America waxes on about all the progress it has made on the racial front? Go figure? Indeed what kind of racial progress and what kind of meritocracy is this anyway?
Obviously this neo-liberal hatched narrative, is a part of the carefully packaged self-serving American delusion about racial progress. More and more our country, across the board, is being forced to live only on the lies our pseudo-elites, force-feed us. The nation's actual deeds now contradict everything that comes out of its collective lying mouth: If you want to know if an American President or Congressman is lying, just watch to see if his mouth moves; then do as I do, click the mute button on the remote.
Since the American Revolution, America has been a social system "rigged" only for the convenience of racist white people, and little more. Full stop. Who are we kidding here?
We have tried to square this circle with dishonest rhetoric and juvenile pandering tricks such as racial tokenism and lies like that told in this book about being a bonafide meritocracy, or emphasizing gay marriages and LGBT issues instead discussing the embarrassing social meld-down across American inner cities. But those sidestepping neo-liberal dogs no longer hunt: White racism is the only issue that lies deep in the American bosom, at the very core of its vital organs, and having a Tea Party, where our a mulatto President is made to tap dance on the hot tin roof of the White House, will not make racism go away.
The problem with living on moral credit, and on a continued diet of self-delusion and telling ourselves "little collective white lies," is that they too eventually become the norm. And when this happens, as it has happened in this country, a nation's moral compass can go completely haywire. It no longer knows where ground-zero or ground-truth really is?
As a nation we can no longer see the reality of our own misdeeds, even when author's like Matt Taibbi in his book "Divide" spells them out as a clear draconian drama of collective Cognitive Dissonance.
America no longer just believes in the lies it tells itself, like this book, it has become so entangled in them that we no longer know where the lies end and the nation begins: Indeed, America has "become" the lies that it tells itself. And Hayes book, despite its many virtues, by not being completely square with us, as we used to say in the 60s, has become a part of the problem and not a part of the solution.