Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Psychopathy 101


Just a couple of days ago I was mentioning to someone how Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho inadvertently turned out to be the single best chronicle of the entire ethos of the 1980s. What was initially repudiated as relentlessly ugly, hyper-violent nihilism has, in hindsight, taken on a strange air of both sly subversiveness and surprising prescience. What makes American Psycho so subversive is that it imagined soulless consumption and craven materialism taken to its seemingly logical conclusion. Patrick Bateman was what you would get if you removed all societal and moral restraint and left only the gleaming id at the center of our quickly dissolving culture. What makes it prescient, however, is that it imagined a Wall Street populated by indifferent monsters willing to literally kill to get what they want.

True, the barons and minions of today's Wall Street don't connect car batteries to people's genitals or scoop out their eyes with pen knives (as far as we know). But if you've ever seen the documentary The Smartest Guys in the Room, about the rise and fall of Enron, and listened to recordings of commodities traders laughing to each other at the prospect of the elderly going broke and California burning up as they strangle the state's power supply in the name of huge profits, you know that there are more subtle forms of sadism.

I bring this up because another conversation I had this past weekend was with a friend of mine who represents Howard Dean's group "Democracy for America" and she was rightfully complaining about the need for our nation's MBA programs to begin putting more emphasis on business ethics. And two days ago the St. Petersburg Times highlighted how one business school, Florida State University's, is coming under fire for a move that could very well be in exactly the opposite direction.

Apparently, a few years back, billionaire asshole Charles Koch donated around $1.5 million to the FSU economics school in exchange for, well, control of the FSU economics school -- or at the very least the ability to decide which professors it hires. The goal, ostensibly, would be to ensure that the school does its part to foster his specific brand of free-market libertarian capitalism well into the next few decades. Think of it as Professor Xavier's School for Randian Supermen, with Koch himself playing the role of Mentor X and choosing the actual professors. This is a disconcerting enough scenario; the fact that this is happening at a public university -- funded, ironically, by taxpayers -- is just all kinds of unscrupulous. And a lot of people are now starting to realize this.

In 2009, Koch and his representatives used their bought-and-paid-for veto power to shoot down 60% of the faculty suggestions, at least a few of whom presumably lacked the conservative credentials that would've made Koch comfortable that he was getting his money's worth. The draconian contract FSU entered into with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation set up an advisory panel appointed by Koch himself, and that panel alone decides which candidates for various professorships deserve consideration. Oh, and the Sword of Damocles hanging over the university's head? Koch can immediately pull all funding from the school if he doesn't like who gets hired or if he finds, during his foundation's annual reviews, that they've failed to live up to his "expectations."

This is what's happening out there -- what's being allowed to happen. A very rich guy is essentially buying the kind of education he thinks your kids should have -- one that he assumes will benefit him and his anti-interventionist ilk by turning them into new recruits to the cause. Koch's plan is brilliantly creative: to go to the source and begin indoctrination from the very beginning -- to not simply sell students a product but to make them become both the product and the salespeople at the same time.

Forget ethics -- Charles Koch is personally cranking out the next generation of Patrick Batemans.

Better check the floor around you and make sure you're not standing on plastic.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Chez:
you have found the central figure of the baby boomer generation that is targeting the young. The Koch's have destroyed any chance right now of having climate and energy legislation that will protect the environment and future generations of this planet. Mainstream media will not cover the Kock's but its refreshing to see influencers of the next generation of leaders shedding light on the evil Koch empire. Bring them down brother and get this article on Huffington! More need to read and understand what we are going up against. J

Alanna said...

Doesn't surprise me. You know what I do for a living.

Oh and this, right here, that you have described, is one of the chief reasons why the student loan debt bubble is about to burst as is surpasses US Credit card debt for the first time...ever.

ROI, eh?

Darek said...

Place your bets now on how long it'll take the repub talking heads to defend Koch by claiming this is necessary to combat the liberal indoctrination at public universities.

Matt Osborne said...

Chez, Charles Koch isn't doing anything new. The FSU business is just the latest example of Koch money being used to fight their culture wars in economics departments. Heck, they didn't even invent the game plan. Google "1971 Powell Memo" -- this goes back a long, long time, and its why the American Enterprise Institute claims practically every Ivy League dean of dismal science as a fellow.

All the paranoid right-wing raving about conspiracies to undermine American institutions and pervert them to foreign causes? They're psychological projection. Look no further than the Kochs, the Chamber of Commerce, and the universe of Heritage Foundations and sundry organizations they support. They've been doing the suborning and undermining since about the time we were born.

Chez said...

I sort of assumed that, but just figured the Koch nonsense was especially egregious.

Anonymous said...

I looked at American Psycho as a sequel / update to Atlas Shrugged

nicole473 said...

brilliant piece. The Koch brothers have much to answer for.
Take a look at this - http://www.politicalruminations.com/2011/03/corporations-behind-michigans-unconstitutional-efm-law.html#more and you'll see the influence of ALEC, the Heritage Foundation and so forth.

ALEC is the group writing the sadistically radical laws these [strike]repbublican[/strike] fascist governors/legislatures are enacting.

Really getting scary.

Anonymous said...

The elephant in the room is that sociopathy is a requirement for success. Ethics too often get in the way of doing what is necessary to make the most money, so it is only natural that the business world would evolve to remove them.

Chez said...

Thank you, Ayn.

Riles said...

I had assumed the Koch brothers were the Left's version of what the Right portrays George Soros to be. A big boogeyman to use to as a means to stoke fear in their base. Apparently, the Koch's are the real deal...

Mart said...

Don't forget religious goofballs have whole Universities to suck the moral juice out of young peoples minds. The brilliant legal minds from Liberty University will be handcuffing the justice department for decades.

Matt said...

The lengths that these "libertarians" will go to avoid paying taxes is amazing.

60ft6in said...

It is fine to have right wing economic professors as long as the university also offers left wing economic professors. It takes two wings to fly a plane. A true fair and balanced plane will fly. I would never board a plane with Fox Noise on its tail. Whoops! Rupert's not in the airline business yet. Koch Crotch equals Festering Scrotum. The original Festering Scrotum runs with the Pattaya Hash House Harriers in Thailand.