Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Let’s Pretend

Increasingly, America appears to be living with a “Let’s Pretend” philosophy. That is, we would prefer, apparently, to make believe that things are as we imagine them to be in the best of all possible worlds, ignoring the reality of our daily lives. Example abound.
Business Ethics: what can one say here, but “business ethics” is now a classic oxymoron. We would like to think that private business people behave according to some ethical code, when we know, deep-down that no such code exists. Business people behave so as to maximize profit to themselves. Full stop. There are no ethical norms in business. Businesses behave "unethically" whenever it is in their best economic interests to do so. That is why businesses need to be regulated by outsiders, i.e., the government—to prevent them from behaving in such a way that the general public is harmed. We know about environmental concerns—recent mining and oil disasters only serve to punctuate the public concern here. Our last election (2010) was a grand exercise of “Let’s Pretend” in this regard. But even more fundamentally, we should understand that business people will behave periodically so as to damage your own economic interests, so long as the actions enhance theirs. It is not that they intend to hurt you; that would be a side-effect of their actions. That is a primary characteristic of pure capitalism in free markets, that philosophy so beloved by many in our country.
Political Ethics: Hmmm, perhaps, "Winning isn't the most important thing. Winning is the only thing."
Sporting Ethics: High on any list of “Let’s Pretend” in America is the notion of amateur athletics. While we long ago gave up any notion that Olympic athletes were “amateur”, we maintain this pretense big time when it comes to college athletics. In baseball, the major leagues created and largely own their feeder system—the minor leagues. Kids graduate from high school and the best of the playing lot go to a minor league team, hoping to make it into the big time—the majors. In basketball and football, though, the minor leagues are colleges. Frank Deford, perhaps our most daunting critic of big time athletics, recently called it like it is, in commenting on a case involving an Auburn football player, in which an “agent” was accused of trying to squeeze $180,000 from Mississippi State to recruit a young player, Cam Newton, into their football system. Deford goes on to say:
“Withal, the most illuminating tidbit in the whole saga is that Newton's father, a preacher, says he didn't want his son to go to Mississippi State because there he would be, "a rented mule.”
Well, that's the best definition of college athletes I've heard.
The NCAA said the running back was ineligible in 2005 because he received improper benefits.
Everybody makes real money –– some real big money –– except the athletes, except the mules, the Cam Newtons. They're not allowed to be represented by reputable agents, so of course, mountebanks come out of the woodwork. They're not allowed to be paid, so of course money will slip under the table. But the NCAA, in delusion, persists in trying to continue to prop up the failed concept of 19th century amateurism.
Yes, 50 years ago, the NCAA had company in hypocrisy. Many Olympic sports –– skiing, track, swimming, figure skating –– were supposed to be amateur then. So were tennis and rugby. By now, all these sports have realized it was impossible –– let alone immoral –– to be popular, commercial entertainments, but not remunerate the performers. In all the world of big-time sport only in American college football and basketball does the myth of amateurism still exist.”
How would this system change were we to ever stop playing “let’s Pretend”? Well, perhaps, we could allow the colleges to become the literal minor leagues of football and basketball. Let colleges hire football players and pay them salary levels similar to that which they might get were they minor league baseball players. The players would be full-time professional athletes, not students, so they wouldn’t have to play “let’s pretend” I’m an actual student, and college teachers would no longer have to play “Let’s Pretend” my student athlete has actually done the work. The students could still attend games and cheer for their team, much the way small towns around America still cheer for their minor league baseball teams. The athletes would get paid, some would go on to the majors and earn big bucks. The rest could decide after they fail to achieve major league professional careers, whether they wanted to try college as an academic activity, or simply go on to something else.
Judicial Ethics: Ahh, a big subject is judicial ethics. It was perhaps brought to the forefront of American consciousness when Antonin Scalia led the pack of Republican justices that voted to appoint George Bush President, rather than let the votes actually be counted in Florida, thus corrupting fundamentally our system of Democracy, and by the way, fouling the notion of non-partisan justice in the land.
So, building on that history, we have here in North Carolina, a system in which the people vote to install judges. In our most recent exercise in the “Peoples Choice Awards” we had a gaggle of people running for various judgeships. Now, the ballot identifies the judge candidates as “Non-Partisan”, i.e., their political affiliation is not identified, giving rise to at least the concept that we might expect our judges to act as non-partisan.
But it turns out that this is simply another exercise in “Let’s Pretend.” One of the candidates running for a judgeship, openly advertised himself as a Republican, with the elephant displayed proudly on his signs, announcing to everyone that, whatever the ballot might suggest, if you vote for me, you will get a Republican judge, with everything that means.
On protesting to the State Judicial Standards Commission, I was told, in response that:
”A judge or candidate may:
(3) identify himself/herself as a member of a political party and make financial contributions to a political party or organization . . .”
So, the announced “non-partisan” nature of the judicial election process is simply another of our exercises in “Let’s Pretend.” My response back was:
It is certainly good to know that you have a standard covering this last election.
And I suppose it is good for us, members of the lay public, to put aside this silly notion about non-partisan judges who will make decisions based on the law, as distinct from political affiliation. I have written to the Charlotte Observer, copying our county board of elections to urge that we now ask judicial candidates to identify their political affiliation and rid the system of the fiction that judges are non-partisan.

Thank you for clarifying this matter. You have been most helpful.”
I continue to like to play “Let’s Pretend” with little children about Santa Claus at Christmas Time, or with the “Easter Bunny”, or with the “Tooth Fairy.” But that’s because little children soon learn that we are just playing a game for their amusement. But that aside, “Let’s Pretend” on more adult subjects seems to me to render more harm than good. Perhaps I should speak to the bearded old white guy in the sky about this matter.
Post a Comment