Posted on Sunday 30 May 2010

I enjoy words and their derivations – sometimes creating my own etymology. For example, I think reckless means "behaving as a person who has never had a wreck." I can’t confirm that derivation, but it’s too good to let that dissuade me.

Among the reckless things we lived with in the first eight years of this century:
  • ignoring intelligence about al Qaeda
  • misrepresenting intelligence and threats
  • invading Iraq
  • invading Iraq with minimal forces
  • disbanding the Iraqi Army
  • outing a CIA Agent
  • encouraging risky home loans
  • deregulating standards everywhere
  • cutting legal corners everwhere
  • bailing out Financial Institutions
In each of these cases, we lived with decisions that were based on the expediency of the moment or some idiosyncratic agenda without appropriate attention to the long term consequences. In every case, we’ve had to pay the price with the resultant disasters. And this list of reckless decisions is far from complete. I’ve often wondered where this recklessness came from. My understanding of the word conservative would encompass carefulness, but the opposite has been the rule.

The paradigm for the Bush Administration’s propensity for recklessness has been George W. Bush’s  military service. He essentially ignored it, or at least ignored the latter half of it – and there were no consequences. When it was confronted that he had essentially gone AWOL, and he simply ignored the criticism. The wreck that should’ve followed his behavior just didn’t happen. I would expect that this was not the only time where Bush had avoided consequences. It’s just one we know about for sure. But as much as I love to blame every misfire on George Bush [and his spoiled and privileged background], it isn’t enough to explain things. After all, Mr. Bush’s history was known well enough, and we elected him in spite of it. So the question becomes why would we gravitate to a reckless and impatient guy like Bush?

Recklessness seems to be the rule these days. Certainly, the financial industry appears to thrive on it – the dot.com bubble, the housing bubble, the oil bubble, credit default swaps, CDOs, derivatives. They even call them exotic financial instruments. And from all I read, BP cut corners at every phase of the Deepwater Horizon operation, overlooked warning signs in every turn, and had no plan for a potential "wreck." It’s even in the tabloids. Politicians and celebrities taking absurd risks with their reputations and living as if one could get away with such things. To my way of thinking, the odds of John Edwards, Mark Souder, Tiger Woods, George Rekers, or Jesse James pulling off their little sexual dalliances seems to be close to zero – yet they keep popping out of the woodwork. It’s like our whole culture has lost sight of the meaning of the word "risky."

How big does the wreck have to be to bring us to our senses. I would’ve thought The Great Recession might have been enough, but it obviously wasn’t. For that matter, 9/11 or the failure of the Iraq War were pretty good candidates. Perhaps, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill will point us in the right direction:

I’m beginning to wonder if The Cold War that we so longed to have come to an end may have actually been a force of restraint that performed a needed function – to keep us honest with risk. That would be a sad testimony to something about us. I guess Global Thermonuclear Destruction is a hard act to follow…
    May 31, 2010 | 10:20 AM

    Responding to the previous post as well (“I wish being right felt better”) — I didn’t see rightness affecting our attitude toward oil at all. At any stoplight, you could see muscle trucks, vans & SUVs lined up. Gas prices shot up and stayed there, and very suddenly all of these little economy cars popped out of nowhere.

    I was in Detroit during the time of the Chrysler bailout, and during GM’s takeover of Poletown. This was based on changing the definition of eminent domain from “public use” to “public good,” and the big guys would be deciding what’s good for us. It would be many years too late when a court determined that GM just didn’t have the right to raze Poletown.

    During those same years I met adults who had never ventured south of Eight Mile Road, the black-white dividing line at the time. I met people in my generation who had never known life without wheels, and it struck me that this had to make a huge difference in our sense of where “there” is. It’s a few generations, now, of people to whom it’s simply a fact of life: you’ve gotta have the right sort of vehicle parked in the right cul-de-sac. Truly, it all depended on oil, so whatever justified keeping it all going had to be right.

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