Monday, March 16, 2009

Pride, shame, and AIG

Pride, in the Augustinian definition, is defined as "the love of one's own excellence." Some find pride egotistical, even sinful. We think it's a requirement if one is to do anything worth doing.

Something about having to have one's reputation depend upon one's work -- or even to put one's signature it -- likely compelled the Beethovens, Monets, DaVincis, et al to find a way to do things right. To take pride in their work. And to feel a little shame when they didn't do as well as they could.

So we find ourselves today reading about the numbskulls at AIG.

We're no financial genius -- or else we'd be collecting the kinds of bonuses that the aforementioned numbskulls have apparently collected -- but we figure that any group of financiers who screwed up so profoundly that the government was required to put $180 billion of their -- hold that...our money into their firm to stave off the collapse of the financial system might think twice about collecting bonuses, regardless of whether they're contractually entitled to them.

Let us consider now the concepts of guilt and shame, both of which might appear to be lacking among certain of the crew at the insurance behemoth cum badly-run-hedge-fund.

On this topic, our friends at Wikipedia tell us:

According to cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict, shame is a violation of cultural or social values while guilt feelings arise from violations of one's internal values. Thus, it is possible to feel ashamed of thought or behavior that no one knows about and to feel guilty about actions that gain the approval of others.

Psychoanalyst Helen B. Lewis argued that "The experience of shame is directly about the self, which is the focus of evaluation. In guilt, the self is not the central object of negative evaluation, but rather the thing done is the focus." Similarly, Fossum and Mason say in their book Facing Shame that "While guilt is a painful feeling of regret and responsibility for one's actions, shame is a painful feeling about oneself as a person."

So what we're saying is, at the very least the AIG management -- contracts notwithstanding -- ought to feel guilty about taking the money while the country is shouting about it. Moreover, we hope that they feel shame during the dark nights of the soul that we hope they're not having at our expense in the Virgin Islands.

We note that they could give it back, but that would be honorable, and the old adage about honor and thieves comes handily to mind.

We note the irony that the auto unions, whom we loathe as anacrhonisms left over from the days of Upton Sinclair, were sufficiently guilty and ashamed to offer some concessions to keep the US automakers afloat, albeit on our nickel once again.

We can only hope that the AIG-ers are modern day Arthur Dimmesdales, carving Fs into their chests even though the world may not see them.

(There's disagreement among the cognoscenti about whether "Fs" or "F's" is the right way to describe the plural of the letter; we prefer no apostrophe, as we believe that bit of punctuation is reserved for the possessive or the contraction).

Bonuses are pay-for-performance. Failure to perform should result in failure to earn a bonus. Anyone with any sense of pride, or shame, would reject the money. We're confident that they won't, though, and that despite the financial ruin that they've wrought, that they'll take the money and run, with no chest carving.

As for the Scarlet F, you may find yourself wondering for what it is an abbreviation. We leave it to the reader to complete the obvious word, which is a nominalization of the obvious word (nominalization being the turning of a verb into a noun).

Shame on them. Shame on AIG.

PS -- We congratulate Anonymous whose 10-year-old daughter uses ultimate, penultimate, and antepenultimate correctly, and trust that she is far too fine a young woman to finish the puzzle above.

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