We’re All Losing Ourselves in Wayward Narratives

In Opinion, Topical
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We all know that agonizing feeling of accidentally dropping something we value.

For a fraction of a second, as the magnitude of our carelessness sets in, time stands still. There’s no anger or frustration yet; that comes later. For now, all thought is on action. Our eyes widen, our pulse quickens, and whatever reflexes we have snap into motion.

Maybe I can catch it, you think. No, it’s too late for that as the object sails past your fingertips. Maybe I can smoosh it between my body and the wall. Nice thought, but logistically that’s not going to happen here. But surely I can get my foot under it to soften the blow! That might have been possible if you were quicker, but you weren’t. And then—

THUMP. CRACK. SMASH. You broke it.

And you know it immediately. You don’t even need to pick it up to know it. It’s gone.

Or how about the mid-wash cycle realization? It’s a very Schrödinger’s cat moment. You know you fucked up and it was probably too late 20 minutes ago, but until you actually look in the washer it might be OK. So begins the mental tug-of-war: do you live in hope for the next 10 minutes, or do you vainly try to undo this mistake right now?

I once had the greatest hoodie in the world—maroon, oversized, unremarkable in every way except that it was mine and I loved it. Then I put it through the washer with fish oil capsules in the pocket. Well, that was the end of that hoodie. I’m still emotionally recovering.

This is what I thought about as I read the headlines of Senator Elizabeth Warren grilling Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf on Capital Hill. Apparently Wells Fargo employees were opening bogus customer accounts to boost their performance (on paper), which as a result boosted the company’s stock price—which had the oh-so-surprising, obviously unintentional effect of lining the CEO’s pockets </sarcasm>.

How often have we now read about banks engaging in (basically) criminal activity? It’s commonplace. We expect it at this point. We’d probably be more surprised to read a story about a bank’s honesty or generosity.

Nonetheless, there’s a certain amount of outrage attached to stories like these. We’re shocked in spite of the obviousness of it all. We want heads to roll and policies to change. We want to prevent crooks like John Stumpf from doing this again.

This “outrage” mindset is what baffles me.

How many such stories do we have to read before we come to the realization that it’s not just “a few bad apples”? Rotate any cast of characters into power positions at these banks and you’re going to end up with the same degree of corruption.

The system is fundamentally, irrevocably broken, and you’re looking at it with a let’s-just-fix-it mentality? I don’t know how to say this, but it’s broken. Stop being that tragically angry person standing on the sidewalk, clutching your broken iPhone, like your wishes and regrets are going to put the shattered screen back together again.

You’re probably thinking that Elizabeth Warren is fighting the good fight—and so is the media for reporting it—but I’d argue otherwise. When you and I allow ourselves to give any fucks about a toothless public shaming, we’re being led by a wayward narrative, far from the mark we should be focusing on if we truly wanted change.

Yes, you and I benefit from the function of these banks. They serve a purpose. But we as a society are not well-served by a publicly traded entity beholden to stockholder pressure to endlessly outperform. That’s what’s broken—the whole overarching system.

A real solution would be positively seismic. There’s nothing and no one the change wouldn’t affect. Anything short of that is just walking around wearing a hoodie that smells like fish oil and Febreze. And I’m sorry, but a Senatorial firebrand who excels at producing sound bites smells like fish oil and Febreze to me.

Enjoy the carnage, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s any more significant than base entertainment.

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