"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Violent, The Spiritual, And The Compassionate–Why The Strongest Always Prevail

Billy Ballston had a mean streak, or so said the neighbors who watched him pull the wings off of fireflies, electrocute frogs with his model train transformers, and throw cherry bombs at the alley cats behind the Chinese restaurant.  He had no spiritual nature, they said, no native Christianity; and far worse no sense of compassion or consideration for others.  His violence toward animals surely represented some sort of diverted misanthropy; and the boy was headed for trouble.

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The neighbors, it turned out, were right, but only if one continued to look at Billy through an officiously moral lens.  Seen that way, Billy remained inconsiderate and morally absent;  and while his overt violence had been trimmed, his native cruelty could never be tamed.  Looked at more objectively, Billy was simply a very smart man who understood that controlled violence – aggressive ambition and limitless aspiration – was as American as apple pie; and who fit perfectly into the amoral American paradigm.  

The Board of Excenture International were unsure of how to deal with this young executive whose numbers were higher than any older, more experienced directors, but nettling reports about employee dissatisfaction kept surfacing.  While not exactly a Simon Legree, Billy Ballston did run his office like a Roman trireme.  He kept his idealistic minions rowing in the galley until they faltered, their place at the oars quickly filled by other young, idealistic women.

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The Board of course did nothing since Billy’s numbers were higher than even the most seasoned director, and because they endorsed the same employment philosophy as Billy did, and as long as he committed no actionable labor offense, they were happy.

Supporters of Billy argued that his attitude towards his employees was not exploitation, lack of consideration, or even misuse of his office; but only business.  His industry was one of the most competitive in the sector, and there was no reason why he should let up on the accelerator.  He in fact was the ideal director – one who was not troubled by compassion or unwieldy concern for others, navigated the complex labor code with ease, and understood his employees with uncanny insight.  He knew exactly how much he could get out of each of them and how.

As Billy rose through the ranks, he built up a substantial company stock portfolio, lived well on its generous salary and benefits, and invested early and wisely in a number of tech start ups in California and Boston.  Before long he was able to leave his position with Excenture and form his own investment firm. He was quickly known on the Street as a comer – one of the most talented, ambitious, and determined investors they had seen in a long time.  And that from the highest ranks of Citibank, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley.

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Wall Street bankers have always been accused of excessive ambition and immoral greed.  They buy and sell companies with none other than the bottom line in their sights, and whether or not the new, restructured company returns to profitability or not, they have done their job for investors.  Either they turn an expected profit, or write off the losses against their gains.

This accusation of avarice is unfounded of course.  While there is nothing more expressive of American no-holds-barred enterprise than Wall Street, it is only following the accepted cultural code of conduct in America – run close to the wind, gain speed and advantage at any cost, sail close to markers and buoys, heel to 75 degrees, and win.

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There is no morality, spirituality, or compassion in business let alone in corporate America and especially on Wall Street.

Billy Ballston was in a perfect place at a perfect time.  Regulations were once again slipping and increasingly ignored by government watchdogs, elaborate derivatives and swaps were once again popular but in new and even more complex forms, and the Street was once again rolling in cash.
Wall Street aggressiveness was an example of controlled, socially acceptable violence.  Most of the bankers on the Street had pulled the wings off of fireflies, cherry bombed cats, and played dirty during recess. They never had ‘a mean streak’ but a violent, anti-social one which was, they soon found out,  an oddly positive trait.  They had been born with more lymphatic juices; extra survival genes that had held their own since the early Paleolithic, and an uncanny understanding of how the strong would not only control their own destinies but the destinies of others.

Is America a violent country, many people ask?  Of course it is.  It is by no means a Rwanda which erupted in a genocide which killed millions, a Cambodia in which millions died in the forced marches of an autocrat, a Soviet Russia or Communist China whose leaders exiled millions and killed others through famine and politically enforced economic ruin; nor a Nazi Germany where millions were gassed with the complicity of common folk.

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Yet America has more than its share of mass shootings; violent crime, protests, and demonstrations; and while gun control advocates insist that guns are the problem, any less blinkered observer knows that it is because the natural, normal restraints on violence have been removed, diluted, or eroded.  Gone are the days of uniform morality enforced by church, community, and neighborhood.  All is fair in the new world of identity politics where the commonweal is ignored in favor of the demands of the supposedly oppressed and put-upon.   Crime, if not tolerated, is given a generous bye because of the white supremacy and capitalist greed that have encouraged it.

Americans may not all be as violent by nature as Billy Ballston, but most have neither the intelligence, savvy, insight or ability to harness it as he did.

Alexander Hamilton was afraid of the populist mob that he thought Jefferson was enabling through his expansive and generous view of human society.  Men will always act in their own best interests within the context of the good of others, Jefferson felt; but Hamilton knew differently.  The mob rule of the Jacobins after the French Revolution was no surprise to him; nor was the restoration of the aristocracy.  One always did well to mistrust the mob.  Examples of Roman history and Shakespeare (Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, Henry VI, Part 2) offered the same wisdom.

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Mobs turn violent because human beings are violent by nature; and those with little education, intelligence easily and quickly resort to it when encouraged or roused.  Violent crimes are committed because men are inherently violent and when society becomes overly permissive and tolerant of them. 

Billy Ballston was one of the fortunate few gifted with good genes, better psycho-physiology, and the luck of the draw.  He would be a genius in any generation, in any culture.  He would be a Henry VIII, a Pope Innocent III, a Shah of Persia, a Seljuk prince, or a Medici. 

Men like Billy have no use either for spirituality or social compassion.  They simply follow the rules of engagement of human society – accept man’s basic, inviolable, permanent, and aggressive human nature and the necessary brakes society puts on it; accept that faith and religious belief are special means to control antisocial behavior without force; and that compassion is a kind way to accept brutality kindly.

Billy Ballston lived a good life with few if any regrets.  He was a man of action, not reflection; but others who watched and admired him liked his uncompromising realism.  He more than anyone refused to be tempted by false morality, sanctimony, or religious posturing.  If man was worth anything, he owed it to himself to fulfill his genetic destiny, to navigate a world trying imperfectly to control it, and to chart his own course.  The only validation of the individual, said Nietzsche, is the expression of pure will.  Billy Ballston came as close to that ideal as anyone.

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