Sunday, March 05, 2023

Are We Having Fun?

Glen W. Turner was an American con man. Helaine Olen writes in The Washington Post:

Turner, the son of a sharecropper, told people they could all be rich and successful like him — if, that is, they made an investment in his multi-level marketing company. They would peddle “mink oil” makeup and his “Dare to Be Great” motivational tapes, and collect more money by recruiting others and taking a percentage on their sales.

When newly minted salespeople found it impossible to make a go of it, they were told to “fake it until you make it,” by wearing expensive clothes and waving around $100 bills to lure in others, a disillusioned Oregon recruit testified in court in 1972. A few months later, another seller would tell a Florida courtroom that he, too, had been instructed to “fake it till you make it.” When the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a complaint against Turner’s company, a judge cited the phrase as evidence of malfeasance.

Turner has long been forgotten. But his motto lives on. In fact, it has become the conventional wisdom:

Today, the phrase is also a way to push back on the feelings of self-doubt we call impostor syndrome, or to put forward an advantageous personal or professional confidence we might not entirely feel.

But faking it in matters of money is another matter entirely. Traditionally, businesses have had to state their returns using metrics that can only be faked by lying. Martha Stewart sparked headlines in 2005 when she fired a contestant on “The Apprentice” who embraced the phrase. “In my business, there’s just no faking it,” Stewart said.

Stewart was behind the societal curve. Even as she spoke, the housing bubble — riven with fraud committed (and invited) by banks, ratings agencies, mortgage brokers and appraisers — was growing bigger. And the Wells Fargo C-suite was looking the other way as employees, desperate to meet unrealistic sales quotas, opened millions of fake bank and credit card accounts. (As for “The Apprentice’s” more famous host — Donald Trump, a nepo baby who cosplayed a successful mogul on the show — we all know how that turned out.)

What happened?

The election of Ronald Reagan marked the beginning of an era of worshiping wealth, one in which more and more people came to believe that anything that made money was by definition a success. As inequality grew, almost all gains went to those already at the top, leaving many convinced that pretending to be on top already was the best way to make it so. Corporate shareholders began to prioritize quarterly profits over long-term results. At the same time, the federal government became less likely to prosecute obvious malfeasance. As we transitioned from a society that manufactured things to one whose products were intangible, reality was increasingly in the eye of thebeholder — or the pitchman.

These circumstances have led us into a society that is both more cynical and more predatory, both more receptive to and encouraging of outright fakers. “The con artist became a business model,” says Micki McGee, author of “Self-Help, Inc.” “It’s only in a market-worshiping economy that you can say defrauding people in the interest of profit would somehow be okay.”

And so here we are. Are we having fun?

Image: Inova Consultancy 


Gordie said...

It's shocking how quickly and easily society has turned into a cesspool.

Owen Gray said...

When lots of people follow bad advice, Gordie, things can change very quickly.

MoS said...

The thinking so many of us have embraced during the neoliberal era leaves us in a catatonic state now that so many dangers loom. We will cling to this toxic orthodoxy even if it leads to ruin. Other societies/civilizations in the past have triggered their own collapse going all the way back to the Mesopotamians and the Cradle of Civilization. The fable of Icarus is a warning but one we'll happily ignore. The ancient Greeks had the goddess, Nemesis, who was dispatched by the gods to punish hubris.

The UN leadership is now softly raising the issue of over-consumption, calling for the powerful, advanced nations to rein themselves in for the benefit of the have-nots. Can you imagine wandering into a middle-class Canadian home and convincing them to accept a 20-30% reduction in their standard of living for the benefit of some little brown people in some hell hole of a country? It's not going to happen and who doesn't know that?

Greed and over-consumption go hand in hand with the other major existential threats - climate breakdown and overpopulation. I went back through my archives, visiting some posts I wrote beginning in 2006. I use those posts as a yardstick to measure what progress we have achieved on these challenges over the following 16 years. There's a word for it - demoralizing.

Owen Gray said...

Progress, Mound? We're proudly marching backward.

Trailblazer said...

Re, Greed and over-consumption go hand in hand with the other major existential threats

I m currently reading Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari ; it's not encouraging! as was his earlier book Sapiens , a brief history of mankind.

At least I now have an idea on how it will all end; not well.

The con artists are everywhere and operate with ease as their modus operandi is now normalised from the Trumps and Boris Johnson's to the car salesmen onto the store clerk who pesters you to purchase everything you don't need.
To most people this is quite acceptable!


Owen Gray said...

It's tragic to see how easily so many of us can be conned, TB.

Anonymous said...

Rather than ‘conned’, I see it more as ‘enticed’ or ‘lulled’ for us to continue with our comfortable lives, instead of giving our own minds a shake. From there, as individuals, we might do the right thing for the planet and our civilization.
Most likely, that will only happen when widespread food and water shortages happen, and gangs of newly deprived people go on a lawless rampage of pillage and plunder “in search of sustenance”.
Oh what a lovely thought!

Owen Gray said...

We're simply not prepared to do the work required, DJF. Profiles in courage are hard to find.