ENRON, THE RCC, AND THE ONGOING FAILURE OF EVERYTHING
In hindsight, it was obvious from Enron and the Boston Archdiocese that America was just not on the up and up.
This is my own curious perspective, because I’m one of the oldest Millennials and my bones will be partially dust by the time we publish this. Let me explain, before the wheel of ages turns and leaves only bard songs to remember my name.
Looking at the news, it’s impossible not to perceive virtually all of America’s institutions as toxic, dysfunctional, and besieged–those that aren’t starved, half inert, or in some cases actively self-destructing, that is.
Which puts me specifically in mind of a disastrous couple months around the end of 2001 and the beginning of 2002. Please note that this is also the period when Nickleback’s How You Remind Me became a hit–that’s not one of the disasters I mean, but it’s sure not helping.
If you ask when the whole America thing went awry, a popular answer in some circles is that it was bad from day one, and that our problems stem not from the system breaking down but rather working as designed.
But there’s at least a difference between a shitty system that’s stable and a shitty system that’s melting down and irradiating the land on which it stood for 20,000 years. So how can you tell when the former tips over into the latter?
Well, case in point, remember Enron? They were a nominally boring energy conglomerate based in Texas and, for more than a decade, one of America’s ten largest and richest companies.
According to the History Channel, Enron once employed 21,000 people and reported $111 billion in annual revenue. Fortune named Enron “America’s Most Innovative Company” six years in a row. The only thing I ever did six years in a row is not graduate college, so that’s a strong streak.
Except then we found out Enron’s great innovations were all in a very specific sector: fraud. The company was actually drowning in debt and had essentially no income, but through a series of sham accounting tricks they kept this all under wraps for a surprisingly long time.
In early 2001, Fortune writer Bethany McLean published a long story on a simple question: “How does Enron make money?” Nobody knew. The company’s own executives couldn’t answer her. Again this is reminiscent of my college years, when I too failed to figure out ever making money.
Investopedia records that months later, Enron’s stock price tumbled from more than $90 to about 27 cents. The company filed the at-the-time largest bankruptcy in US history, and most of its top executives went to prison.
And the rest is history, in that it’s a very clear warning sign of things to come that we mostly never remember. But it’s the timing of the thing that stands out to me: the last few months of 2001. Stick a pitchfork in that.
Only a few months later, the Boston Globe obtained court records proving that Cardinal Bernard Law, archbishop of Boston, had looked the other way on molestation accusations against one Father John Geoghan, giving Geoghan a tidy suburban church assignment and no oversight.
The unfortunately named Cardinal Law insisted that the Roman Catholic Church really had a very strict anti-child fucking policy, which is something most people never have to be quite that specific about. Also per the Globe, the archdiocese later paid $95 million to molestation victims, far exceeding the average yearly sum for organizations of similar size, which is still $0.
This was of course not the first RCC molestation scandal. Like the Enron thing, they managed to shift the problem around and wave it away for a long time. But eventually there came a straw to break the cardinal’s back.
Right after the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, Americans largely rallied around the flag and wartime spirit.
Man-child faux savant President George W. Bush suddenly had a 92 percent approval rating; 78 percent of those polled said religiosity was on the rise; and in spite of the disaster, 73 percent of Americans said the country was going in “the right direction” (wherever that was). America, they told us, was strong.
Except it wasn’t. And INSTANTLY we got back-to-back reminders that everything in America was not okay.
You can, it turns out, just dance around a major institutional problem for a surprisingly long time. Sometimes it looks really bad and people get angry–but if you can live with that, then hey.
But not forever. Case in point, you can do it for Oscar Grant. You can do it for Sandra Bland. You can do it for Trayvon Martin or Eric Garner or Michael Brown or Tamir Rice or Walter Scott or Alton Sterling or Philando Castile or Freddie Gray or Delrawn Small or Ezell Ford or Tanisha Anderson or Botham Jean or Breonna Taylor. You can, shitty as it is, do any of those.
But, possibly, you cannot do it for ALL of those. There’s always one too many somewhere down the line.
And America has a lot of dances going on. Some people, maybe, are getting a little too tired of wars. Or bailouts. Or fraud. Or rape culture. Or transphobia. Or capitalism at all, perhaps?
During the financial crisis of 2008, San Francisco Chronicle columnist John Carroll coined a phrase: The Failure of Everything. This was facetious, but only barely. The truth is, recent American history does look very much like just a very long, very slow failing.
We’re the Enron of countries, the archdiocese of the world. Bluster and institutional indifference keeps all of the momentum going–until it doesn’t.
Harq al-Ada, a Bay Area Satanist and psychologist, observed last week that feelings like anger and aggression are natural responses to PTSD. So if we multiply trauma across years or generations, what other response do we expect?
Satanists like to talk about behaviors we call natural, but perhaps a better word for these things would be “inevitable.” It’s inevitable that people will think or feel certain ways sometimes. And if those feelings persist, do certain actions also become inevitable?
Well, birds gotta fly, fish gotta swim. People are more complicated, but perhaps certain things just come naturally to us too. Including: “Awake, arise, or be forever fallen.”