When something catastrophic happens, like the sub-prime mortgage crisis, I immediately search for two components in the event:
- Ignorance: a victim, or group of victims, who should have known better
- Selfishness: a malicious agent to capitalizes on said ignorance for his gain
In the housing example it was pretty clear: those people should not have been signing up for the mortgages. They couldn’t pay them. It was a bad idea. Shame on them.
But not quite.
The didn’t know any better. Many of them were quite uneducated—especially in financial matters, and they needed an expert to steer them right.
But that didn’t happen. The experts in this case were sharks there to help the bleeding fish, and they took that ignorance and turned it into fortunes. They knew it would hurt the buyers, or the people who financed them, but they didn’t care.
I just saw another remarkable example of this in an election in Texas. This old white guy was running for office, against a black incumbent, and he went and spent a bunch of money running an ad campaign. The twist was that, using his real name, he put black people in all his television ads.
And he won.
Let’s point out a few things we know about this:
- He used black people in the ads because he knew his future constituents wouldn’t vote for an old white guy
- He bet on the fact that the ignorance and apathy of the voting population would be so extreme that they’d vote on the impressions of the black people in the ads alone—without doing any research
- He was right
This is a strikingly pure example of cynical cunning taking advantage of ignorance. And just like the housing crisis, you needed both faults to be present for it to work.
If the black folks in the town had done any research, it wouldn’t have worked. And if the guy would have had a shred of decency he wouldn’t have done it.
So shame on both of them.
When fighting against malice in this world, it’s best to address both of these components. Immunize people vs. evil through education, and simultaneously imbue a morality that would prevent someone from being malicious—even if they could.