“Enlightened Self Interest and Financial Industry Hypocrisy”
Chapter Three of Three: “We Are What We Eat”
An Old Fashioned Rant By Cognitive Dissonance
“Something that has been understood for thousands of years, and only recently conveniently forgotten (the word ‘recent’ being a relative term) in order to promote, and believe, the myth of a protective and benevolent government, is that there has never been any inalienable ‘rights’ regardless of what the ‘Constitution’ says, other than those that are given to us by our masters (the politically correct term is ‘elite’) for social/political cover and expediency, or those we take (often from others) for ourselves.
Ultimately the Constitution is simply a politically correct document (“Just a piece of paper.” G.W. Bush once said) that our masters (the elite) make a grand show of supporting in return for near total monetary and social control. The reality is that the Constitution can be revoked at any time (martial law being the most obvious, but not the only way) or just not enforced (laws are for the little people) which then requires ‘We the People’ to apply ‘force’ to bring it (back) into use… assuming it was actually ‘used’ before and assuming ‘We the People’ have the stomach and will to suffer great harm in exchange for reinstating a collective lie. This is a root cause of our collective apathy and one of the reasons so many prefer to remain asleep.
In return for the continued perpetuation of the illusion of equally enforced laws of the land (what’s good for the master elite is good for “We the People” after all) we begrudgingly accept ‘minor’ imbalances and unjust infractions against our ‘person’ in order to partake of the system’s spoils and spillage. After all we ‘citizen/workers’ are junior members of the hierarchy, and thus ‘our’ compensation (aka earned income, capital gains and investment income/interest, private and public pensions, and many ‘entitlements’ of various shapes and forms from tax breaks to SS/Medicare for being part of the system) is presently, and will remain in the future, severely limited.
The fact of the matter is that we work cheap, having pooled our labor into cities decades ago where there is much competition for services similar to ours, and we give away more than we keep because we all practice our own version of greed and Unenlightened Self Interest. Alas, as long as we eke out enough to pay our bills with a little left over for some cheap thrills, we show up for work when called and do the dirty work when needed.
That’s the bargain we really want, right? We want little to no substantial effort, no hassle, and our inalienable right for entitlements to be paid out for as long as we are alive and for a minimum of work. And don’t bother me with the ugly details. I am not saying we won’t work hard to ‘better’ ourselves as long as their rigged game gives us a fighting chance. Of course the ones we usually fight over a few more crumbs are each other.
But we need to stop and seriously consider that we are playing ‘their’ game and not ours, so why are we so upset when ‘they’ change the rules and payouts. Oh…that’s right, because we have this piece of paper that says we are ‘free’ and thus we have ‘rights’. So stop treating me as a captive slave when I’m actually the free range variety.
As much as we like to convince ourselves we deserve what we have because we work hard, how much of our good fortune is an accident of birth to parents who lived in the mighty American Empire during the final leveraged economic expansion of the 80’s and 90’s, but not so much the double aught’s? The problem now is that we won’t work as hard to take (back) our ‘rights’ (aka our inalienable entitlements) as the masters will work hard to deny us of them. The elite mob knows that ultimately this is a war and they are prepared to go to the mattresses. Are we?
Consider this twist. While each Plantation Owner Master (corporate entity/elite) works for his or her own benefit, the very definition of Unenlightened Self-Interest, they also work together to further their shared needs and for the benefit of their greater good. And that dear reader is the definition of Enlightened Self-Interest.
It is ‘We the People’ who do not organize and act together for the benefit of our own collective good. Rather we almost always act in an unenlightened manner that benefits only ourselves and our immediate family. Even then, only for a short period of time, lately just to the next paycheck. Ultimately we rely upon the benevolence of the master/elite to continue to slice, dice and distribute the pie in the same manner as before. We have allowed ourselves to be duped into believing there is only one greater good and that our masters will quickly agree to our demands for more simply because we are free citizens with inalienable rights.
Mesmerized as we were, we never looked deep enough to recognize that the system was a farce and an illusion from the very start, at least from the perspective of the wage slave. We have not received much of anything of real and substantial value in exchange for our labor since the late 1800’s when we flocked to cities and cheapened our labor by pooling it all in one place. I find it supremely ironic that ‘We the People’ have become modern day North American Indians and are taking fiat beads in exchange for our valuable land and labor.
What little ‘real’ value we did manage to accumulate is now being taken from us in a brazen day light robbery. The sad fact is that we weren’t so must robbed as we willingly deceived ourselves by selling our souls for a hand full of baubles. Now that the USD Petrodollar Ponzi is collapsing, we are all standing around crying in our hands wondering who will make restitution. Restitution? With what? Moar fiat beads?
I’ll tell you with what. With a Petrodollar (or whatever it is morphed into) that at its core is debt based and thus worthless. Think about it for a second, a fiat dollar’s value comes from our faith and belief that nothing is worth something. Consider that our fiat currency only retains ‘value’ if we remain seduced by the insanity and drive ourselves deeper into slavery. Where I come from that is a Faustian bargain and incredibly we want more, not less.
Yes, I know what you are going to say, you didn’t sign up for this deal. You had something else in mind. Well folks, this didn’t happen overnight and any inaction or passivity on our part in the past or present is a loud and clear vote of support for the status quo into the future. The system survives because we support the system. There are no them, just us. Remove our consent and they/us/we collapse. But since we aren’t ready to fight as hard or suffer as much short term pain as ‘they’ are, we have lost long before we wake up in the morning. I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.
And now that we are screaming for collective relief (because we know deep down inside we will never ‘win’ fighting alone) why are we not accepting our part of the collective responsibility of getting us to this point in the first place? If we aren’t responsible for our small part of the problem, why are we ‘entitled’ to partake in a small part of the solution we are demanding? Instead we shuttle back and forth between Stockholm Syndrome and being the battered slave or child victim.
Somewhere along the line as we engorged ourselves on the baubles the fiat dollars bought (just like the North American Indians were ‘rich for a day’ when they brought the beads back to the tribe) we allowed ourselves to believe that the nation could be placed on autopilot while we examined our navels for lint. Now that we are faced with the stupidity of that collective decision, we have devolved into finger pointing, infighting and hoarding while demanding someone else fix the frigging problem.
Time to grow up boys and girls because we can’t fix what we don’t acknowledge is broken……over selves. And as good as it makes us feel when we point to they, them and those as the evil culprits, ‘they’ aren’t going away until we accept our role in this mess and our responsibility to change everything. Are we really so childish that we would think the elite master will see the error of his or her way and hand over the keys to the plantation and walk away? Why would ‘they’ do so when they are willing and able to fight to the bitter end, then change clothes and start all over again? This is the same problem that has repeatedly faced the peasants of the last two thousand years.
Society’s fuzzy ethical and moral lines and shady boundaries are regularly violated, then subtlety twisted and reinforced in the mainstream media as well as in movie and television dramas. These transgressions are part of our cultural conditioning and most never recognize its impact because rarely do we make an attempt to apply critical thinking to what we do, say and think.
For example, who can forget Fox TV’s Jack Bauer (“24”) suffering terrible bouts of moral conflict and emotional distress just before breaking some alleged terrorist’s finger or hand, then proceed directly to outright torture in order to extract just-in-time-to-save-the-world information? Hey, just as long as he saved the world I guess it was OK to shoot that guy in the knee cap. Besides, he was a frigging terrorist, so he deserved it.
Was it coincidence that our televised Predictive Programming and collective social training in torture justification came around just in time to hate those dirty brown Taliban? In America, just as long as the good guy sincerely regrets being bad, it’s all good dawg. After all, that’s what rehabilitation is all about even if one must rehabilitate on a weekly basis.
We love to hand out second, third and fourth chances because we want them offered to (or more importantly self bestowed upon) us as well. We call this doing well by doing good, and ignore the double standard and blatant self interest in the actions and result. Moral certainty for the TV viewer is always important when playing near the edges of the ethically crumbling moral cliff.
Speaking of gray areas and cliff diving, what about Leone “Léon” Montana, the hitman or ‘cleaner’ character at the center of the movie “The Professional”? The endearing house plant loving (“it’s my best friend”) Leon certainly demonstrates ethical behavior (“No women, no kids, that’s the rules”) by taking in young Mathilda Lando, almost certainly saving her from a brutal death. And he acted to further the interests of his employer and various innocents caught in his line of fire.
Since Leon was kind hearted and never really profited financially from his ‘killing work’ (his boss was his bank, so you know what was going on there) it was a bit safer to… kind of... you know… like him. Even think of him as a hero of sorts. But he still was a killer, so what do we do with this cognitive dissonance? Thank goodness we were spared the moral uncertainty of caring for a ruthlessly efficient hired killer when Leon was killed by Stansfield, the real ‘bad guy’ (who was a DEA good guy) while once again saving Mathilda from herself and the world.
Thankfully Leon manages to take Stansfield with him to an early grave with a concealed booby trap grenade, thus also removing the bad good bad guy. The movie ends with Mathilda planting Leon’s houseplant outdoors, symbolically putting down roots in the memory of Leon. The viewer is now morally and emotionally released from any moral uncertainty for his or her attraction to the good bad guy (Leon) and his or her hate for the bad good bad guy (Stansfield).
This is all very confusing. Isn’t it simply about the egalitarian financial workers of America versus the too big to fail (TBTF) evil empire bagmen and rouge traders? If Goldman Sachs is doing God’s work, and I have no doubt that Blankfein’s declaration was honestly believed when spoken, what’s wrong with dipping your beak into a little of the frosting when you are serving the people their cake? Show me the line of demarcation between doing God’s work and dancing with the devil because from my vantage point my admittedly older eyes see nothing but fuzzy ethical ideas and bottom lines throughout the population.
From an individual trader’s point of view I am not sure how someone can act to further the interests of others if they’re simply trading their own personal book. Maybe this also has something to do with intent. Are there really ethical standards to meet or the greater good to serve when all you are serving is yourself and Mr. Pocket? Alas, supporting the rigged markets by buy buy buying is just a few degrees of separation from the Goldman Sachs traders and their bonus pool.
The same can be asked of those average Joes who say they aren’t responsible for anyone or anything else but themselves. At least until the apocalypse has passed. Then of course they will most certainly lend a hand in rebuilding. Is this position any more or less self serving than those Goldman traders? I would say the only difference is the degree of self service and the compensation.....or lack thereof.
While I don’t wish to label things as good or bad because it just leads to hard feelings, raised hackles and feet cemented in place, I do think it is fair to say that Enlightened Self Interest (ESI) is more outward looking and Unenlightened Self Interest (USI) is more inwardly focused. But even here there are no absolutes, just an ethical measurement taken from a stationary point of view that one is more or less than the other. It serves no purpose to declare black and white boundaries in a world that is gray all over.
But as much as ESI’s success might be hard(er) to measure (define greater good in a world of unlimited fiat creation funneled through the wealthiest one percent first) it seems to be much easier to measure USI using several measures, including 100% profitable trading days in a quarter by TBTF banks or large year-end bonuses during a period of national economic difficultly. “Greed is good”, in theory at least, is the driving force behind so called efficient market capitalism, where greed supposedly drives waste and non efficiency out of the capital (re)allocation process, allowing the wealth to be spread throughout the economy. There is that promised mafia ‘taste’ again.
You know what I’m talking about, the old ‘lifting all boats’ analogy that is still carried by the ‘haves’ like a blazing torch through the dark nights of abject greed and pure self interest. An honest read of history tells me that greed in this ‘pure’ form is a myth of the highest order. But it is an important myth that is perpetuated by those who would profit from others who wish to believe the myth, if for no other reason than to sooth the pain of being a wage slave ‘have not’.
Several questions and observations spring to mind after reading (and re-reading several times) the ESI and USI definitions and I will get to them in a second. But let us take a look at a few more definitions because it is important to understand what I meant in an earlier chapter when I said the financial industry might be suffering from a Cognitive Dissonance (CD). Again let us look at Wiki since it is in general agreement with several other sources.
Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming, and denying. It is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology.
Experience can clash with expectations, as, for example, with buyer’s remorse following the purchase of an expensive item. In a state of dissonance, people may feel surprise, dread, guilt, anger, or embarrassment. People are biased to think of their choices as correct, despite any contrary evidence. This bias gives dissonance theory its predictive power, shedding light on otherwise puzzling irrational and destructive behavior.
I don’t think this definition goes far enough because in many cases a person will seek to hold two conflicting ideas simultaneously precisely because they are trying to avoid the uncomfortable feeling or anxiety of cognitive dissonance. The technical term is tension and sometimes a person feels they must hold two conflicting views because holding only one is causing the tension and the anxiety won’t allow them to do as they wish. This leads us to the definition of denial which works hand in hand with CD. Again, from Wikipedia…..
Denial is a defense mechanism postulated by Sigmund Freud, in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence. The subject may use:
simple denial - deny the reality of the unpleasant fact altogether.
minimization - admit the fact but deny its seriousness (a combination of denial and rationalization, or
projection - admit both the fact and seriousness but deny responsibility.
The concept of denial is particularly important to the study of addiction. The theory of denial was first researched seriously by Anna Freud. She classified denial as a mechanism of the immature mind, because it conflicts with the ability to learn from and cope with reality. Where denial occurs in mature minds, it is most often associated with death, dying and rape. More recent research has significantly expanded the scope and utility of the concept. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross used denial as the first of five stages in the psychology of a dying patient, and the idea has been extended to include the reactions of survivors to news of a death. Thus, when parents are informed of the death of a child, their first reaction is often of the form, "No! You must have the wrong person, you can't mean our child!"
As in everything else in life, nothing is straight forward nor do simple answers ever really apply. How is it that someone of obvious sound and ethical mind such as the esteemed money managers mentioned in a previous chapter advocate the destruction of a financial system that is so clearly corrupt and beyond redemption, yet still believe that Enlightened Self Interest would or could still apply?
It seems that the only real answer might be that we wish to believe that the majority of financial professionals are honest and are truly trying to fulfill the basic requirements of Enlightened Self Interest (ESI). In order to believe this, by extension we must believe that only a minority are driven by greed or Unenlightened Self Interest (USI).
The entire concept behind ESI is that with enough people engaged in ESI a sort of flow or creative energy occurs that creates both a greater good and a rewarded self interest. I often say that we make our own reality and that goes for groups as well as individuals.
But I don’t know if this is a realistic view of reality, of what is actually going down on a daily basis on various trading floors and in private offices. It is hopelessly myopic, naïve and even disingenuous to think that everyone at Goldman Sachs and other Too Big To Fail (TBTF) banks are practicing USI and everyone else is following the path to ESI. Do I really believe that greed only exists at TBTF banks and that everyone else is in the clear?
If I am going to conduct myself in a manner that fulfills the tenants of ESI, a whole host of questions need to be asked and answered. How many individuals must honestly and consistently participate in Enlightened Self Interest in order for it to be effective or quantifiable? Are the effects of USI offset on a one to one basis by those of ESI? If 80% of the industry participates in ESI and the other 20% do not (and the 20% are responsible for 80% of the sales/profit assuming the 80/20 rule is alive and well) does it matter? Meaning should ESI be measured by production, profits or participation?
I am being completely serious here. If I am going to follow an ethical standard which in effect declares my intentions good and my character moral and I do this as justification for participating in a corrupt and conflicted economic system, shouldn’t I be ready and able to prove that I am ‘better’ than the Unenlightened? Ostensibly there is no burden of proof needed to be greedy since the act alone is the epitome of self interest that just so happens to be declared Unenlightened principally by those who declare themselves Enlightened.
To be quite frank I don’t think the so called Unenlightened give a fig about what other people think about them unless it affects their bottom line. And the bottom line is their self interest. So how exactly does one ‘act to further the interests of others (or the interests of the group or groups to which they belong)’ and how does it ultimately serve their own self interest if they do so? On the surface it seems this is a matter of faith that it will all work out or that Karma will reward those who are putting their own self interest second or third in priority.
I could argue that the term Enlightened Self Interest is simply a marketing ploy similar to ‘new and improved’ that is stamped on the forehead of the same ole same old to provide cover for blatant self enrichment. Where is my Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval that certifies that I am grade ‘A’ ethically upstanding and Enlightened? Does that stamp come from passing my latest compliance field exams?
I do not think it is a stretch to assume that most, if not all, the boys and girls at Goldman Sachs or J.P. Morgan also pass their compliance reviews. So what makes me any better than them? What makes them worse than me? Is it that they make more money than I or that they have a sweeter deal than I can get? Or just that they are more blood money thirsty and can live with the consequences to boot?
Finally I would like to point out a contradiction in the following point of view that I mentioned in the first chapter. Sometimes I will hear a fellow trader/advisor talk about his/her adherence to Enlightened Self Interest while also proclaiming that he or she has to make a living. Well, which one is it? Am I saying that because I need to make a living I will continue to participate in the corrupt system, but since I’m ethical in my actions I will call it ESI? Why not just say that I am ethical? I seem to be inflating my ego by conflating my ‘need to earn a living’ protestations with slaving away for the greater good, which by-the-way feeds me.
One can ‘make a living’ doing many different things. But what about a ‘very good living’, as in lots of money and toys and....well, you get the idea? Did I enter the financial field because I wished to make a boat load of money, then discovered the greed and corruption and decided to practice ESI? Or was ESI something I simply adopted when some pesky ethical issues began nagging at my brain, but I didn’t want to give up the good life? I don’t pretend to believe that my actions are pure as driven snow, so why do I need to dress up my profession in such a manner?
Quite frankly it stinks and always has. And while those in the financial ‘industry’ can rightfully claim that hypocrisy is alive and well throughout corporate America, that absolutely correct observation doesn’t justify their hypocrisy nor does it justify all of ours, it just rationalizes it as business as usual for all. The business of America, regardless of what it once was, is corruption; greed, self dealing and self interest run amok. And ‘we’ allow it because we believe, perceive or have been assured that we benefit from it as well.”