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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Greed, guilt, & emotional distance

Iite this piece under the assumption that people are neither good nor bad. People, in my view, have two fundamental traits: greed and guilt. They constantly search to increase their own wealth, but succumb to powerful feelings of remorse and responsibility if their ventures go too far in harming others. With this theory in mind, I seek to understand large-scale crime and how it functions in society and human behavior, particularly in reference to the recent economic crisis. The economic champions of our day – executives, managers, financiers, and everyone else that makes up the infamous 1% that has reportedly worsened the American recession with its inflated paychecks and meddling hand in government policy – are not bad people. In reality, there are very, very few inherently “bad people,” and I am convinced that if you or I were in the auspicious positions of these economic gurus, we would have done the same thing with the same catastrophic result. So, my worry is not about these lucky people in particular – they’re just humans. My worry is about emotional distance. We feel the effects of emotional distance every day. Recently, we have seen countless stories on the Syrian conflict – about eighty people were killed a couple of days ago in a major city. This is an undeniably tragic event. People died for little reason, without cause, and not much is being done to prevent it from happening again. But, when you read that story, I would be willing to bet that you simply skimmed over it and moved on to the next big issue, no tears lost, not even a facial expression in the making. I know that’s what I did. Why? Because the shock value is gone. This kind of thing, frankly, happens all the time, and we hear about it in the same way – on the news, from our peers, online – every single time. There’s no reason to get violently emotional about something that occurs with (disturbing) regularity. This draws a sharp contrast to the Vietnam era, when the first “televised war” brought people to the streets in droves to protest against the U.S. and their right to bring forces to Southeast Asia. For the first time, regular citizens could see what was happening. They could witness the terror of war, and this was shock value in its purest form. People got mad. People don’t get mad anymore. We’re used to this. People die, and we just keep on complaining about how hard comps is. This lack of perspective is a fatal flaw in the human psyche, and it relates back to literally everything we do, including how we handle the economy. I am confident that the extremely successful money-makers at the top would not do what they do – would not trade on the inside, inflate bonuses, or give out faulty loans to people who can’t pay them back – if they knew and could see the pain they were inflicting. But they don’t. What they see is data. Honestly, facts like “unemployment above 10%” aren’t about to make anyone jump off the couch in a fury. The image of a family with no food with which to supply their nine children could. The people who caused this crisis are getting too much of the former – facts and stats – and not enough of the tangible results of their workings in the form of real families, real jobs lost, and real impacts on this country and others. That’s a problem. I would venture to say that it’s the problem. And I’m asking: what can be done to solve it?

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