Saturday, February 11, 2006

On the iPod: Conspiracy of Fools

I'm fascinated by the Enron debacle. I'm in the energy business (which, for the volume of money that moves through that industry, is surprisingly small-town and clubby), and Enron stories are constantly being told. A couple of my colleagues are former Enron employees, including one from the infamous energy trading floor. I've listened to Power Failure, an account from Sherron Watkins, the primary whistle-blowing manager at Enron.

When the story broke big back in 2001, all I really knew of Enron were the commercials of the guy walking around in the iron suit. "What the hell is it this company actually does," I remember wondering. You certainly couldn't tell from the commercial. (Note: I tried finding an image or a copy of the video online, but no joy.) Turns out they were trading bandwidth. Who knew. But that was part of what characterized Enron: opaqueness, vagueness, so "creative" that nobody who wanted to dig deeper could figure out what in the world Enron was up to. To the Enron insiders who were blazing new trails in the reinterpretation of truth, people who asked irritating questions just "didn't get it."

It's tempting to cast the Enron story as an expose about how "The Man"--which is basically the Bushies, Texas oil, Halliburton/Carlyle blah blah blah--keeps the plebians pressed down under his heel while he manipulates world events and steals Joe Worker's retirement savings. But what makes this such an epic story is how human the tale really is. The primary players in Enron's fall, the ones whose moral failings enabled the pride, greed and lies that brought down the company and ruined its employees and shareholders, came from common backgrounds. Lay, Skilling, and Fastow were all self-made men. They worked hard, fought to get into top schools, and played the corporate game with skill and brilliance.

I suppose that the biggest failure of all for these men was that they believed their own bullshit. They drank their own Kool-Aid about how smart they were, how anointed their aspirations were, and how entitled they were to more, bigger, and better of everything. So wrapped up were their personalities in their corporate "accomplishments" that when it became clear that their deceits and machinations had caught up with them, their fragile human natures came out of hiding. Jeffrey Skilling at one point was curled up in a fetal position on his bed, wailing that it was "all over... Everything I've worked all my life for, gone..."

The affair claimed at least one life: Cliff Baxter, an Enron executive and steadfast opponent of Skilling and Fastow. His poignant note says it all.

In the final analysis, I can't help on some level admiring and sympathizing with these men. I, like they, know what it's like to be absorbed in work, to be exhilarated by accomplishment, to be driven by the prospect of gain. I know the joy of working with competent, highly motivated people. I know how the whole thing can stoke a man's ego. I can see how their sense of worth could be caught up in the whirlwind of professional competition. And when they are brought low, I can relate to their desperation and fear.

One thought that comes to mind as I try to integrate the lessons from this drama is that in every aspect of human interchange, we owe each other openness and honesty. When we make excuses for concealment and lies, we set ourselves above one another and inevitable damage will follow. So as I just got through saying in my last post, we who claim the name of Jesus need to raise and set the bar for honest and plain dealing. But as I look across the landscape of American Christian faith, I see faint cause for optimism. We are a fearful, fickle people and our leaders are men of power, wealth, and high ambition, reluctant to risk their fortunes by being honest about who they are, what they think, and how they justify their rewards. In short, Christians are less honest with each other than the culture is with itself.

2 Comments:

At 5:52 PM, Blogger caucazhin said...

ZEKE this is an excellent post!!! There are obvious other things you and I don't quite agree on but your words I reposted below are music to my ears.I also added what I feel is a pertenent chapter of James below.Preachers who profit from the Gospel and the Profit at any price Corporations had better open their eyes.
ZEKE SAID:I suppose that the biggest failure of all for these men was(that they believed their own bullshit). They drank their own Kool-Aid about how smart they were, how anointed their aspirations were, and how entitled they were to more, bigger, and better of everything. So wrapped up were their personalities in their corporate "accomplishments" that when it became clear that their deceits and machinations had caught up with them, their fragile human natures came out of hiding. Jeffrey Skilling at one point was curled up in a fetal position on his bed, wailing that it was "all over... Everything I've worked all my life for, gone..."
So as I just got through saying in my last post, we who claim the name of Jesus need to raise and set the bar for honest and plain dealing. But as I look across the landscape of American Christian faith, I see faint cause for optimism. We are a fearful, fickle people and our leaders are men of power, wealth, and high ambition, reluctant to risk their fortunes by being honest about who they are, what they think, and how they justify their rewards. In short, Christians are less honest with each other than the culture is with itself.
James 5
1 Come now, ye rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you.

2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten.

3 Your gold and your silver are rusted; and their rust shall be for a testimony against you, and shall eat your flesh as fire. Ye have laid up your treasure in the last days.

4 Behold, the hire of the laborers who mowed your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth out: and the cries of them that reaped have entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.

5 Ye have lived delicately on the earth, and taken your pleasure; ye have nourished your hearts in a day of slaughter.

6 Ye have condemned, ye have killed the righteous man; he doth not resist you.

 
At 7:01 PM, Blogger caucazhin said...

COMMENT #2 On Preachers who profit from the gospel and I mean all of them who do this.
1ST Timothy 6
5)and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
6)But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7)For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8)But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.(WHEN IS THE LAST TIME YOU HEARD A TELEVISION PREACHER SAY THAT)(THEY HAVE ALOT TO LEARN FROM ST.FRANCIS OF ASSISI) 9)People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10)For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home