Nobody likes a cheater. Such acts may stir deep feelings of loathing that erode trust and have ruinous consequences with regard to reputation and relationship. It’s one of those things that is hard to overcome. I’m not just talking about infidelity here. I’m referring to a broader type that does include infidelity, but also includes things like pilfering, speeding, lying about one’s age, and other forms of dishonesty that benefit you at a cost to someone else. Irrespective of the potential social costs, most people, given the opportunity, with little threat of detection, will and DO cheat. Be honest with yourself here. This shouldn’t be surprising. What is surprising is the fact that altruism, or selflessness, the behavioral opposite of cheating, exists at all.
By virtue of the fact that human beings are the product of millions of years of evolution by means of natural selection, we are imbued with a selfishness that is hard to deny. As distasteful as this may be, it is nonetheless true. We are compelled by our selfish genes to survive, thrive, and replicate. Within this context, cheating and selfishness make perfect sense and altruism makes little. Yet we do exhibit altruism. Why is this? Steven Pinker wrote in How the Mind Works (1997, p 337):
Natural selection does not select public-mindedness; a selfish mutant would quickly out reproduce its altruistic competitors. Any selfless behavior in the natural world needs a special explanation. One explanation is reciprocation: a creature can extend help in return for help expected in the future. But favor-trading is always vulnerable to cheaters. For it to have evolved, it must be accompanied by a cognitive apparatus that remembers who has taken and ensures that they give in return. The evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers had predicted that humans, the most conspicuous altruists in the animal kingdom, should have evolved a hypertrophied cheater-detection algorithm.
And indeed we have – this cognitive algorithm drives the emotional response we have toward cheaters. Human beings are one of the few species that engage in altruism outside of their kin. This is referred to as Reciprocal Altruism and clear links have been established between the demands of this type of social exchange and the origins of many human emotions (e.g., liking, anger, gratitude, sympathy, and guilt). Pinker (1997) notes that “Collectively they make up a large part of the moral sense.” We are inclined to engage in reciprocal altruism because we have the cognitive capacity to compute cost benefit analyses and the emotional capacity to respond in ways to encourage gains and discourage losses. We have to be able to remember favors given and received and we must effectively calibrate reciprocation. It is a delicate and intricate dance that if kept in balance does result in both individual and group benefits.
When benefits or favors are traded, both parties profit as long as the value of what they receive is greater than the value of what they give up. Because most favors are not exchanged at the same time and they likely vary in degree of effort and value, a calculus is needed to keep the exchange in reciprocal balance. This balance can tip in either direction and people “remember past treacheries or good turns and play accordingly. They can feel sympathetic and extend good will, feel aggrieved and seek revenge, feel grateful and return a favor, or feel remorseful and make amends.” (Pinker, 1997 p. 503).
It is important to note that there is a different calculus, a more flexible and enduring one that plays out in friendships and kin based, as well as intimate relationships. “Tit-for-tat does not cement a friendship; it strains it. Nothing can be more awkward for good friends than a business transaction between them, like the sale of a car. The same is true for one’s best friend in life, a spouse. The couples who keep close track of what each other has done for the other are the couples who are the least happy.” (Pinker, 1997 p. 507). Healthy close relationships come with a feeling of indebtedness and spontaneous pleasure associated with contribution instead of anticipation of in-kind repayment. This is true to a point however, and if one person takes too much, without giving back, the relationship is likely doomed. In such healthy relationships, there tends to be compassionate and enduring love, free of ledgers, time cards, and cash register receipts.
So, we are hyper-vigilant cheater detectors, and our scrutiny of others’ cheating behavior varies based on a number of variables. Certainly kinship and friendship play a part in our perception. But in addition to what we understand about reciprocal altruism and cheating, we also know that our cheater detectors tend to be finely focused on people who are different from us. Those outside our identified social groups (tribal moral communities) are scrutinized much more closely than those inside our circles – and they are examined with much more resolution than we direct toward our own conduct and toward those in the in-group.
This inclination is a byproduct of the universal and innate tendencies to be much more forgiving toward one’s own mistakes and more judgmental towards others’ transgressions. This is the self-serving bias. We also have a tendency to see exactly what we expect to see and miss or ignore things that don’t fit within our expectations. These tendencies are explained by our inclinations toward confirmation bias and inattentional blindness. Finally, there is the fundamental attribution error which leads us to blame others’ transgression on their internal personal attributes while we ignore important and contributing external environmental circumstances.
That is a lot to take in, but suffice it to say that we are much more likely to give ourselves and those similar to us, a break when it comes to cheating. We are much less forgiving toward outsiders, particularly those that seem to hold different values, norms, or customs. This is even true within a society where there is, to a substantial extent, social cohesion; but, where differences exist with regard to beliefs or ideologies. These truths are self evident – just look at the rancor between Liberals and Conservatives in the United States. But it also helps explain the racial and ethnic tensions within and across this country toward Hispanics, African Americans, Muslims, and particularly, the poor.
Currently, much blame for this country’s financial woes has been heaped onto the poor due to “entitlement spending.” These recipients of social safety net spending are often defined as cheaters and freeloaders. There is no doubt that there is, and shall forever be, a small contingent of citizens who are completely comfortable with getting a free ride. It would be foolish to argue otherwise. This is a legitimate problem.
On the other hand, I suggest that we must be willing to acknowledge the prevalence of cheating across the economic spectrum and refocus our microscope on the costs of cheating by corporations, white collar criminals, and those whom we tend to give a pass because they are similar to us. In my previous article, Crime & Punishment and Entitlements: A Deeper Perspective, I discussed the egregious costs of our prejudicial criminal justice system and the entitlement mentality rampant in corporations and those at the upper end of the economic spectrum. I submitted that article with the intent of opening eyes to the wider hypocrisy that pervades this country and the erroneously sharpened focus on a small fraction of our fellow “freeloading” countrymen. If you believe that the infamous 47% of Americans are truly freeloaders, I suggest that you take an objective look at the data from that group (from FactCheck.org):
- 22 percent [or around 47% of the 47%] receive senior tax benefits — the extra standard deduction for seniors, the exclusion of a portion of Social Security benefits, and the credit for seniors. Most of them are older people on Social Security whose adjusted gross income is less than $25,000.
- 15.2 percent [or 32% of the 47%] receive tax credits for children and the working poor. That includes the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit. The child tax credit was enacted under Democratic President Bill Clinton, but it doubled under Republican President George W. Bush. The earned income tax credit was enacted under Republican President Gerald Ford, and was expanded under presidents of both parties. Republican President Ronald Reagan once praised it as “one of the best antipoverty programs this country’s ever seen.” As a result of various tax expenditures, about two thirds of households with children making between $40,000 and $50,000 owed no federal income taxes.
- The rest [21% of the 47%] ended up owing no federal income tax due to various tax expenditures such as education credits, itemized deductions or reduced rates on capital gains and dividends. Most of this group are in the middle to upper income brackets. In fact, the TPC [Tax Policy Center] estimates there are about 7,000 families and individuals who earn $1 million a year or more and still pay no federal income tax.
According to the US Federal Budget, in 2012 we spent about $187 billion on traditional welfare programs (e.g., food and housing supplementation and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), accounting for 5% of the total $3.7 trillion budget. An additional $333 billion (or 8.9% of the budget) was spent on Medicaid (healthcare for the poor and disabled). In total about fourteen cents (14¢) of every tax dollar you pay goes to the poor.
For relative comparison, in 2012, $925.2 billion (or 25% of the 2012 budget or 25¢ of every tax dollar) went to defense, $805.6 billion (21.6% or about 22¢ of every tax dollar) went out in Social Security income for seniors citizens, $492.3 billion (13.2% or 13¢ of each tax dollar) went to Medicare (healthcare for our seniors), and $121.1 billion (3.2% or 3¢) went toward education. The remaining expenses include unemployment, building roads and bridges, government operating costs, public safety, government supported research, interest payments, and so on.
For further comparison, according to a report from the Conservative think tank The Cato Institute, in 2006 $92 billion (3.5% of the 2006 budget or about 4¢ of every tax dollar) went to corporate subsidies. This “Corporate Welfare” was defined by Cato as “any federal spending program that provides payments or unique benefits and advantages to specific companies or industries.” Cato indicated that corporations such as “Boeing, Xerox, IBM, Motorola, Dow Chemical, General Electric and others” were recipients of your tax dollars and Cato further noted that such companies “have received millions in taxpayer-funded benefits through programs like the Advanced Technology Program and the Export-Import Bank.” Additionally, it should be noted, that between 2002 and 2008, tax breaks totaling $53.9 billion and $16.3 billion in direct spending for a total of $70.2 billion were directed to companies in the fossil fuel industries (e.g, Exxon-Mobile, Shell, Chevron).
Clearly that 14¢ of every tax dollar has triggered much contempt in a significant proportion of our population. Many outspoken Conservative and Tea Party folks heavily focus on the this portion of the budget and the “entitled” individuals who allegedly, willingly and lazily, live off your hard earned money. We must acknowledge that these angered individuals are endowed with this tendency as a natural result of our altruistic tendencies and our subsequent finely tuned cheater detection neural software. And I submit, that this software has been hijacked or perhaps even hacked by the those whose gains are ignored as long as you focus your anger at the poor. It serves the very specific financial and security interests of the wealthy when Americans direct such anger toward those at the bottom of the spectrum rather than those at the top. Next time you come across an economic “freeloader” I challenge you to really think about the cheating that occurs across the spectrum, and ask yourself whether there is a chance that your anger has been manipulated and perhaps even misdirected. Coming together on this issue will likely result in more targeted and effectual reforms that will benefit us all. The splinters that currently exist keep our collective eyes off the ball. The result is an ever widening disparity between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of us.
Posted by Gerald Guild
Categories: Corporate Crime
, Socioeconomic Status
, White-Collar Crime
| Tagged: Cheating
, Confirmation Bias
, Fundamental Attribution Error
, Self Serving Bias
The true costs of crime are difficult to calculate. Different types of crimes inflict substantially varying societal costs. Violent crimes alone cost Americans about $50 billion dollars a year according to a report from the Center for American Progress.1 It is estimated that the costs of pain and suffering borne by the victims of violence are several times higher than this $50 billion figure.1
There is no doubt that violent crime in the US is a major problem. Murder is certainly not a uniquely American act, but as in other things, we Americans excel at it. The U.S. murder rate is nearly three times the rate that it is in Canada and more than four times the rate that it is in the United Kingdom.1 And although violent crime captures our attention and makes us fear one another, its relative economic impact is perhaps one half the cost of so called “White-Collar” crimes committed by our affluent brethren. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) estimates of white-collar crime come in at $300 billion dollars a year.2 Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi Scheme alone was estimated to cost his investors somewhere in the range of $50 billion dollars.3 And what was the cost to the American Taxpayers for the 2008 Financial Crisis? An article in Bloomberg Businessweek tallies the total costs to American taxpayers at $12.8 trillion. What portion of that cost could be attributed to white-collar crime?
Granted, the crisis was caused by numerous factors including pressures in the 1990s on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from Clinton Administration officials to increase national home ownership rates,4 as well as the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act (eliminating banking barriers allowing banks to be both investment and depository banks). But opaquely risky mortgage-backed securities (MBSs) and collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) were sold around the world with little understanding of the associated risks. These CDOs and MBSs essentially bundled bad debts in the form of subprime mortgages that were sold to people for homes that they could not afford. Then the housing bubble burst and upwards of 27 million mortgages5 had been issued for homes whose values were well below the debt obligation and ballooning payments forced many Americans to default. This perfect storm of contributing factors was a product of greed, deregulation, lack of understanding of risk due to the complex nature of financial derivatives, and so on. But it was also, as seems evident today, a product of criminal behavior. In a 2010 New York Times article by Peter Henning it was reported that:
At a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, Senator Ted Kaufman of Delaware summed up the frustration on Capitol Hill with the lack of any identifiable villains for the financial troubles of the last two years. “We have seen very little in the way of senior officer or boardroom-level prosecutions of the people on Wall Street who brought this country to the brink of financial ruin,” Mr. Kaufman said. “Why is that?”
Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle of the Federal District Court in Washington expressed similar frustration with the settlement between the Securities and Exchange Commission and Citigroup over the bank’s misstatements in 2007 regarding its exposure to subprime mortgage-backed securities. In its complaint, the S.E.C. refers repeatedly to “senior management” receiving information about increased losses in its portfolio from problems with subprime mortgages, but none were named in its complaint.
The United State’s prisons are filled with “criminals” because politicians have to take a “tough on crime” stand in order to get elected by their constituents, us; however, we must take a closer look at who in particular resides in our prisons and assess to what degree these white collar and corporate criminals are actually held to account.
According to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), at years end in 2011 over 6,977,700 adults were under correctional supervision or in jail or in prison. About 4,814,200 offenders were supervised in the community on probation or parole. About 2,239,800 were incarcerated in state or federal prisons or local jails. According to a report from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in 2010, just under 71,000 juvenile offenders were held in residential placement facilities. These are big numbers, but let’s put them in relative terms. From a recent BJS Report:
- About 2.9% of adults in the U.S. (or 1 in every 34 adults) were under some form of correctional supervision at year end 2011, a rate comparable to 1998 (1 in every 34).
- About 1 in every 107 adults was incarcerated in prison or jail.
How does this compare to other nations? Our incarceration rates far outpace any other modern industrial nation and are only comparable to the pre World War II rates in the Soviet Union’s Gulag system. From the National Council on Crime and Delinquency Fact Sheet (2006):
- The US rate of incarceration is the highest in the world.
- The US has less than 5% of the world’s population but over 23% of the worlds incarcerated people.
- Compared to the world’s other most populous countries, the 2.2 million people currently incarcerated in the US is 153% higher than Russia, 505% higher than Brazil, 550% higher than India, and over 2,000% higher than Indonesia, Bangladesh, or Nigeria (ICPS, 2006).
According to a breakdown of the Federal and State Prisoner Population from ProCon.org, in 2008 violent criminals accounted for about 47% of the total State and Federal Prison Population, while drug offenders constituted 22%, property thieves made up 17%, drunk drivers, immigration offenders, and other public order offenders accounted for 12%, and juveniles and other unspecified offenders made up the remaining 1%. These numbers were derived from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. There is no category for white-collar crime; although, within the property crime statistics, at the Federal level, there is a category listed as fraud. But even in these Federal Prisons, the number of people convicted of fraud is a fraction of 6%, or well under 11,000 Federal Penitentiary inhabitants.
Now let’s look at incarceration rates by race and ethnicity. Again from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2010, White males were incarcerated at the rate of 678 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents of the same race and gender. Using the same relative comparison groups, Hispanic males were incarcerated at the rate of 1,755 inmates per 100,000 Hispanic males and black (non-Hispanic) males were incarcerated at the rate of 4,347 inmates per 100,000 black males. African Americans (13% of the US Population) make up about 40% of the prison population and Hispanics (16.7% of the US Population) account for about 20% according to 2010 US Census Data. These rates are hugely disproportionate. Let’s contrast this data to the following information on white-collar crime from the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division:
The [National Incident Based Reporting System] (NIBRS) data for 1997 through 1999 show white-collar crime offenders are, on average, in their late-twenties to early-thirties, which is only slightly older than most other offenders captured in NIBRS. The majority of white-collar crime offenders are white males, except for those who committed embezzlement. However, in comparison to offenders committing property crimes, there is a higher proportion of females committing these white-collar offenses.
…much of the investigation and regulation of corporate white-collar crime is left to regulatory agencies and professional associations (American Medical Association, American Bar Association, etc.) and not to the police or other law enforcement agencies. White-collar offenses, in these cases, probably will be reported to the [Unifrom Crime Reports] (UCR) Program only if criminal charges are filed, which is extremely rare in instances of corporate crime. Corporate crime is usually handled within the regulatory agency (sanctions, cease-and-desist orders, etc.), or corporations are made the subject of civil cases.
A quote from Noam Chomsky seems appropriate here:
“For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit.”
So, is it that Corporate Crime and other forms of white-collar crime fall largely outside the scope of the law? Not entirely. Individuals like Bernie Madoff, whose crimes cost his wealthy customers a great deal, are in prison. But what about Corporate criminals? Here is a case in point recently reported by Christina Rexrode and Larry Neumeister in the Associated Press, where corporate criminals are seemingly given a GET OUT OF JAIL FREE card.
When the Justice Department announced its record $1.9 billion settlement against British bank HSBC last week, prosecutors called it a powerful blow to a dysfunctional institution accused of laundering money for Iran, Libya and Mexico’s murderous drug cartels.
But to some former federal prosecutors, it was only the latest case of the government stopping short of bringing criminal money laundering charges against a big bank or its executives, at least in part on the rationale that such prosecutions could be devastating enough to cause such banks to fail.
They say it sounds a lot like the “too big to fail” meme that kept big but sickly banks alive on the support of taxpayer-funded bailouts. In these cases, they call it, “Too big to jail.”
Something seems askew here. These disproportionate incarceration rates go hand in glove with the prejudice directed toward the poor and non-whites in our communities. How is it that American’s give corporate criminals a pass and at the same time celebrate liberty and freedom while incarcerating the poor and our minority citizens at rates that typify the Soviet Gulag? This all drips of palpable hypocrisy. The economic costs alone seem to justify a colossal reorganization of our priorities.
As Conservatives and Liberals battle contentiously over important issues, it seems to me that the vitriolic banter just keeps the American eye off the factors that truly harm us. A couple points are clear to me. First, as long as corporations have legal rights as individuals, but limited accountability, and secondly, as long as money equates to political power, things will not change. As we bicker over ideological perspectives that define the political poles, and as Americans direct blame and scorn toward the people at the lowest end of the economic spectrum, we miss the true essence of who is entitled and who is TRULY destroying this great nation.
1. Shapiro, R. J., and Hassett, K. A., (2012). The Economic Benefits of Reducing Violent Crime: A Case Study of 8 American Cities. Center for American Progress.
2. Cornell Law School. White Collar Crime
3. Lenzner, R. (2008). Bernie Madoff’s $50 Billion Ponzi Scheme. Forbes.com
4. Holmes, Steven A. (September 30, 1999). “Fannie Mae Eases Credit To Aid Mortgage Lending”. The New York Times
5. Wallison, P. (2011). The True Story of the Financial Crisis. The American Spectator: spectator.org
Posted by Gerald Guild
Categories: Corporate Crime
, Socioeconomic Status
, White-Collar Crime
| Tagged: Crime
, Erroneous Thinking
, White-Collar Crime
Although I did not make a substantial number of posts in 2012, the traffic to my site doubled. Throughout 2012 my blog had 35,819 hits from 31,960 unique visitors, accounting for over 46,720 page views. I had visitors from every state in the US and visits from people from 165 nations around the world. Visitors from the United States accounted for the vast majority of those hits, but the UK, Canada, India, and Australia also brought in large contingents.
This year the top ranked article was my 2011 post on Conspicuous Consumption and the Peacock’s Tail, which accounted for 50% more hits than this year’s number two ranked article (Brainwaves and Other Brain Measures – the number one post from last year). The piece on conspicuous consumption, is in my opinion, one of my all time most important pieces. It addresses our inherent drive to advance one’s social standing while actually going nowhere on the hedonic treadmill. It delves into the environmental costs of buying into the illusion of consumer materialism and its biological origins (the signaling instinct much like that of the Peacock). The Brainwave piece, also from 2011, compares and contrasts the different measures used to peer into the workings of the brain.
Of my posts published in 2012, only two made it to this year’s top ten list: five were from 2010 and three were published in 2011. Of those eight from previous years, five were also on the top ten list last year.
My 2012 review and discussion of the Broadway Musical Wicked topped the list of posts actually written in 2012, but it came in third overall this year relative to all other posts. This article explores the theme that “things are not as they seem.” I relate the story told in the show to the political and historical manipulation American citizens are subjected to, and it stirs up unpleasant and inconvenient realities that many would prefer remain unknown.
Great interest persists in my post entitled Nonmoral Nature: It is what it is. This review of Stephen Jay Gould’s most famous article received a number four ranking, down from a number two ranking over the last two years. I had also reviewed in 2010 a very popular New York Time’s article by Steven Pinker entitled The Moral Instinct. This article moved down two notches this year, ultimately ranking number five. My critical article on the Implicit Associations Test ranked number six this year, versus a number four ranking last year. My 2011 post Where Does Prejudice Come From? ranked number seven this year, down two spots from its ranking in 2011. One of my all time favorite posts from 2010, Emotion vs. Reason: And the Winner is? returned to the top ten list this year coming in eighth. In 2010 it ranked number ten, but it fell off the list last year. My Hedgehog versus the Fox mindset piece ranked number nine this year, compared to a number ten ranking last year. Finally, in the number ten slot this year, is my 2012 article Happiness as Measured by GDP: Really? This post was perhaps the most important post of the year.
So here is the Top Ten list for 2011.
- Conspicuous Consumption and the Peacock’s Tail (2011)
- Brainwaves and Other Brain Measures (2011)
- Wicked! Things are NOT as they Seem (2012)
- Non Moral Nature: It is what it is (2010)
- Moral Instinct (2010)
- IAT: Questions of Reliability and Validity (2010)
- Where Does Prejudice Come From? (2011)
- Emotion vs. Reason: And the Winner is? (2010)
- Are you a Hedgehog or a Fox? (2010)
- Happiness as Measured by GDP: Really? (2012)
Again this year, the top ten articles represent the foundational issues that have driven me in my quest to understand how people think. This cross section of my work is, in fact, a good starting point for those who are new to my blog. There are several other 2012 posts that ranked outside the top ten; regardless, I believe they are important. These other posts include:
This latter article, The Meek Shall Inherit The Earth, pertains to the microbiome, the collection of an estimated 100 trillion individual organisms thriving in and on your body that account for about three pounds of your total body weight (about the same weight as your brain). These little creatures play a huge role in your physical and mental well being and we are just beginning to understand the extent of their reach. Modern medicine in the future, will likely embrace the microbiome as a means of preventing and treating many illnesses (including treating some mental illnesses).
Although, not among the most popular articles this year, my pieces on the pernicious affects of poverty on child development from 2011 warrant ongoing attention. If we truly wish to halt the cycle of poverty, then we need to devote early and evidenced based intervention services for children and families living in poverty. As it turns out, poverty is a neurotoxin. Knowing the information in this series should motivate us, as a society, to truly evaluate our current political and economic policies.
The bottom line:
The human brain, no matter how remarkable, is flawed in two fundamental ways. First, the proclivities toward patternicity (pareidolia), hyperactive agency detection, and superstition, although once adaptive mechanisms, now lead to many errors of thought. Since the age of enlightenment, when human kind developed the scientific method, we have exponentially expanded our knowledge base regarding the workings of the world and the universe. These leaps of knowledge have rendered those error prone proclivities unessential for survival. Regardless, they have remained a dominant cognitive force. Although our intuition and rapid cognitions have sustained us, and in some ways still do, the subsequent everyday illusions impede us in important ways.
Secondly, we are prone to a multitude of cognitive biases that diminish and narrow our capacity to truly understand the world. Time after time I have written of the dangers of ideology with regard to its capacity to blindfold its disciples. Often those blindfolds are absolutely essential to sustain the ideology. And this is dangerous when truths and facts are denied or innocents are subjugated or brutalized. As I discussed in Spinoza’s Conjecture:
“We all look at the world through our personal lenses of experience. Our experiences shape our understanding of the world, and ultimately our understanding of [it], then filters what we take in. The end result is that we may reject or ignore new and important information simply because it does not conform to our previously held beliefs.
Because of these innate tendencies, we must make additional effort to step away from what we believe to be true in order to discover the truth.
Posted by Gerald Guild
, Erroneous Thinking
, Rational Thought
, Socioeconomic Status
| Tagged: Erroneous Thinking
, Intuitive Thinking
, Rational Thought
, Spinoza's Conjecture
Often things are not as they first appear. This was point of the hit Broadway play Wicked. My wife, Kimberly, and I, went to see this show in New York City and we walked away very satisfied and at the same time, moved by this not so subtle message.
The show was based on the popular children’s story The Wizard of Oz. It was a prequel and a postquel of sorts, that told a story with very different implications than those popularized in the 1939 movie version. It portrayed the Wicked Witch (whose name in Wicked was Elphaba) as a wise and caring person both gifted with magical powers and cursed with a different skin color. She also was imbued with a powerful sense of right and wrong. Elphaba struggled with life in part due her father’s rejection but also as a result of sweeping societal prejudice that valued an increasingly narrow subset of the preferred “people” of Oz.
Once she was sent off to University (primarily to care for her physically disabled sister), Elphaba showed great potential as a sorcerer. However, she was outside the norm. She just did not fit in – she was smart, her skin was green (as a result of her mother’s consumption of an illicit drug when she was conceived), and she questioned the morays of the day. Essentially, because she was different, she was bullied. She also threatened those in power because of her assertions for justice.
The twists and turns of Elphaba’s University experience both alienated her further and highlighted rampant and unappreciated societal injustices. Ultimately, due to these sweeping and strengthening ideological changes, as well as Elphaba’s own deeds (as righteous as they were), she was labeled the equivalent of a terrorist. Concurrently, a closer look at the Wizard revealed his sheepish compliance with the up swell of prejudicial ideology. It became apparent that not only was the Wizard of Oz merely a man behind the curtain pulling the strings of the idyllic Wizard, but that he was more of a naive puppet himself, both riding the tide of ideology and sustained by those with true power.
There is much more to Wicked that tells the back story of the characters and situations in the Wizard of Oz. It was a clever story, entertaining in it’s own right, but much more than just a story. It clearly serves as a social commentary about the ideological tendencies and injustices of our unique economic and social policies.
If one looks past the white washed American History spoon fed school children throughout our land, one will discover unpleasant, if not deeply troubling realities carried out by our government and corporations in the name “freedom.” All you have to do is look at the facts underneath the story and you may be shocked by what we have done in foreign lands. Our popular media outlets, owned by corporate interests, also white wash these events. It is indeed alarming to learn what the rest of the world knows of our endeavors in places like Iran, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Ecuador, Panama, Chile, Argentina, and Columbia. Most Americans know nothing of it.
Democrats as well as Republicans have been active players in these atrocities. Its about globalization, free trade, and unabated profit seeking. It’s about the Corporatocracy that we embrace without question. I’m not suggesting a conspiracy – it’s rather a consequence of a way of thinking and our ravenous consumption. It takes courage and substantial effort to suspend one’s nationalistic tendencies and the presumptuous notions of American Exceptionalism. I dare you to take a closer look (here, or here, or read this and perhaps this). You won’t like it – really it is Wicked!