Watching Elizabeth Warren disassemble Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf is a gotcha moment, one wherein we assume the bad guy has been handed his still steaming intestines by the champion and justice will soon be served. Much as I hate to admit this, I doubt it.
I doubt it because…look at him. He’s looking at her with an almost-blank expression, but there is enough there to tell. To tell that he just doesn’t Get It. He’s listening to her, he’s answering her questions with well-advised Policy Speak, doing his best to evade a direct answer until she pins him to the wall, and even then there seems to be a kind of “okay, sure, but so what?” attitude practically shining from him.
The problem which Warren, which the Justice Department, which the SEC, which we cannot address and which underlies all of this is that Not Getting It.
There is a hole in the psyché where some form of non-tribal empathy should be. It’s not there. People like Stumpf follow guidelines and if the guidelines say what they do serves their tribe, it’s by definition ethical. Whatever that is.
In his case, ethical is whatever benefits his selected tribe and keeps him from being ill-treated at their hands.
He’s looking at Warren as if she’s speaking some archaic form of English no one has spoken in a century or two. He understands the words but the cultural content is foreign, alien. Not there for him. Why, he must be thinking, should I give a damn about a bunch of people who own no stock in Wells Fargo who got badly treated by the people I put in place to treat them badly? And what’s that mean, anyway? It’s not like it’s their money! And besides (so he might tell himself, late at night, when everyone else is asleep) if everything works out they won’t know the difference and my tribe will be richer. I will have Done Good.
But it didn’t work out, so, hell, now I have to sit here and listen to this tight-ass social justice warrior lecture me about something called ethics.
What is this nonsense about jail time? How dare she compare what I do with a teller who might pilfer from the till! Of course that person should go to jail, that’s theft! I’m not a thief!
Why isn’t he a thief?
Because he’s following the guidelines. And, just as an added bit of justification, if that teller steals twenties from the till, who else is that benefiting? No one! But what he has done has increased profits for the company and therefore put more money in the pockets of the shareholders. What he has done has benefited people! His people. According to the guidelines they have given him.
Make us more money. We don’t care how. How is your job, that’s why we hired you. If we didn’t like the job you were doing, we would fire you.
He kept trying to talk about the Board, you note. Warren wouldn’t let him. If, in his view, what he had done was wrong, the Board would have fired him. Therefore, he did nothing wrong.
So what’s this senator all up in a huff about? Doesn’t she understand that the number one rule in this country is to make money? And that when you make money for other people that’s the only justification you need? It’s not like we’re robbing banks. No, we’re putting money in the bank. It’s the opposite of robbery.
I agree with Senator Warren, this will not stop until people at his level face serious jail time. There are people outside his tribe that he took advantage of who cannot afford to lose ten dollars let alone the fiscal date rape they experienced. He hurt people he not only doesn’t know but doesn’t regard as important. Only their money, in aggregate, matters.
There are, no doubt, if by virtue of probability alone, CEOs who regularly say no to plans like this because it will do harm. We almost never hear about them. Scandal drives media ratings much more effectively than what we used to call “soft news” or, worse, “puff pieces.” Feel good news is pleasant but doesn’t attract the same kind of attention. We need to find these people, these moral CEOs, and have them teach classes on saying no for moral reasons. It would maybe be worthwhile having them at such hearings to offer a counterexample on camera.
But the truth is, for Stumpf and others of his ilk, the problem goes much, much deeper. This is for him the driving heuristic of his life. Do for his tribe. And his tribe is comprised of people just like him. Moneyed, “educated,” connected. They doubtless give to charities. They do this as substitute for actually giving a damn about people they don’t know.
It is not a problem isolated to them.
Over this past weekend we had another police incident, this time in Tulsa. A man is dead whose only “crime” was being where he was. The dashcam videos, even the video from other sources, all confirms that this man was shot to death for no reason.
Oh. Wait. He was black.
Interestingly, of all the officers on the scene, all of them went for their tasers—except one, and she was the one who fired the fatal shot.
Why am I linking this to the CEO of Wells Fargo? Because in my opinion, they share the same problem. They don’t recognize anybody not part of their tribe.
Because what the officer later said about the situation is contradicted by the videos. And I believe she actually doesn’t know how what she did was wrong.
Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, explains how we “think” most of the time by heuristics. There is a folder in our brain containing files of behaviors based on experience, on received wisdom, on made-up shit that got us through something before. It is easier to pull a file from that folder and paste it over a new situation than to think through something from first principles every time.
So what was the file the officer pulled out of that folder? Maybe something like: Large black male, threat, must put him down.
Yes, I’m guessing. Just as I’m guessing about Mr., Stumpf’s thinking in regard to pillaging the personal funds through fraudulent deals of people he has already placed in a file labeled “Customers: cattle: no further regard required.”
It’s a problem of categorization on both ends.
News flash to both ends: we aren’t categories. We’re people. Start getting it.