By YOUSEF DRUMMOND
HOW ironic it is that the very people to whom we choose to entrust with our cherished political liberties, because we thought they were exemplars of sound, unshakeable ethical conduct, now stand before us as naked immoralists (even though they’re fully clothed?). How ironic is it that other elites who command the network airwaves cavalierly dismiss their blatant unethical conduct, only to point accusatory fingers at the lack of regulatory oversight or reform of this nation’s political system? Are we to entrust these same elites with the responsibility to reform a corrupt corporate system that grants them cushy benefits and trains them to neglect the common good? No.
No amount of regulatory oversight or reform, whether now or in the near future, is an adequate substitute for sound ethical conduct. Contrary to what these elitists believe and what their Ivy League alma-maters taught them to believe, a sound ethical conduct stems not from a blind belief in political authority, but in questioning authority, even to the point of subverting it. I’m not talking about subverting political systems, but to subvert a blind delusion that they are here simply to regurgitate information that serve corporate power. Those of us with a sound ethical compass do not blindly accede to a wanton exploitation of the weak, a staple mantra of the elitist. I’m not referring here to a weakness in a person’s physical constitution, but to a lack of knowledge of those obscure “code words” or “professional jargon” elites learn at elite universities. They banter these words around at board-room meetings and exquisite cocktail parties while oozing disdain at the rest of us. Elites suffer from a self-delusion they only learn from elite universities; here, I’m talking about Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Columbia University, to name a few.
Those of us with sound ethical conduct ask the unpleasant questions. How are my actions beneficial to the common good? We submit ourselves to critical self-examination.
One singular event among many precipitated my zeal to write this column. One is the startling revelation that Wall Street broker and financier Bernard Madoff single-handedly squandered what some have reported to be $50 billion dollars in investor capital - that’s 50 with a “B”. Mr. Madoff is a Fordham University graduate and a member of the board of directors of Yeshiva University in the Bronx since 1996. Last Thursday the F.B.I. arrested Mr. Madoff, chairman of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, LLC, on charges of running a deceptive scheme in which he was paying off old clients with money from new clients. It was not until a few investors, fearing the dismal economic crisis here in the United States, began to request that their share of investments be divested from Mr. Madoff’s securities firm, only to find out that they weren’t able to because of Mr. Madoff’s deceptive scheme. Ironically, his two sons, whom their father elevated to top positions within the firm, were unaware of their father’s deceptive scheme; they alerted the authorities after asking their father how the firm could pay bonuses if it could not pay investors; and their father then confessed to the scheme, saying what he was doing was a “big lie”. Mr. Madoff’s pyramid scheme, called a “Ponzi scheme”, is by far the largest investor fraud scheme ever recorded and one ever attributed to a single individual.
The ripple effect of Mr. Madoff’s deceptive scheme is already being felt globally – a Spanish bank has reported that clients of one of its Swiss subsidiaries have lost $3 billion dollars; Bramdean Alternatives, a British company that manages pension funds, lost $19 million dollars; the Carl & Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation, a philanthropic outfit located in Boston lost $145 million dollars; Fix Asset Management has lost $400 million dollars. Mr. Madoff’s own charity, the Madoff Family Foundation, has lost $19 million dollars. These funds are directly funneled into the Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital for leukemia and lymphoma research studies. The list goes on and on.
There are reports that global Anti-Semitism will spike due to the fact that Mr. Madoff is Jewish, even though many Jewish charities invested huge amounts of money into his company.
Our elites today run afoul of these cherished attributes and I contend the problem lies with this nation’s educational system. We cannot lay the blame solely on family dynamics because our educational system is the vehicle through which our elites prepare themselves for tackling domestic and global political, economic and social issues. Whether we like it or not, we depend on their sound judgment because we voluntarily enter a social contract whose legitimacy rests on the spirit of the law. Their ethical conduct is so immoral that it runs counter to the rule of law, the very instrument employed to prevent such crimes.
These elite universities divide students and faculty into specialized fragments that allow students and faculty alike to retreat into self-imposed cocoons; because of this design they are shielded away from the “outside world”. Organization, technology, self-advancement and information systems are the only things that matter. I remember clearly the late Columbia University professor of humanities Edward Said criticizing the Israeli treatment of Palestinians. Despite fierce criticism and calls for his resignation from his professorial post, he remained steadfast in his political activities until death.
George W. Bush, who will step down as president of the United States next month, is a graduate of Yale and Harvard Universities. He is but one of a long list of self-centered mediocrities graduating out of these elite universities. He has a limited intellectual capacity and no moral core. Like the rest of his caste, Mr. Bush was propelled by his family fortune and connections. There are those, however, who graduate out of these universities with a mind of their own. Only a small minority of these graduates see education as part of a larger intellectual journey. The rest don’t search for anything.
That an Arab journalist, who sat at a recent news conference listening to George Bush and the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, hurled both shoes with deadly aim at his target – the President’s head – is a testament to many of us who clearly understand Mr. Bush’s dismal lack of understanding about global cultural and political issues. He then appeared on the cable-news airwaves joking that it was a “size-ten” shoe. He isn’t aware that even showing the bottom of a shoe to anyone in the Arab world is an insult.
The men and women graduating from elite universities are stunted individuals without the capacity to think. They cannot question pressing moral, political and cultural questions. These elite universities only educate drones who fill corporate hierarchies that then fix parameters for this nation’s economic, political and social institutions.
We are facing multiple failures in this nation – from our mismanaged economy to our tattered constitutional rights to our lack of universal health care to our imperial debacles in the Arab world. The elite cannot solve our problems. They’ve gotten us in the mess we’re in today.
The writer is a recent revert to Islam and can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org