Tag Archives: stanford

The luxury of moral choices

So.  Like a lot of people, I have been watching the whole Greg Smith thing with great interest.  Like a lot of people, I am impressed that he made a moral decision so boldly and so publicly.  But.  But, of course, I cannot entirely ignore the disgruntled critics who say that it sure is easy to have an epiphany once you’ve padded your exit with a nice plush bank account of ill-gotten gains.  Does this somehow taint the morality of his decision?  Maybe.  Also, for me, it highlights the fact that moral choices are, to a certain extent, a luxury–and, more importantly, that our society’s incentive structure is totally fucked.

No matter what Smith does now, it cannot be denied that Goldman Sachs built his life, and to a certain extent gave him the ability to make the choice he did (moral stickiness ahoy!).  His column in the New York Times, which will bring him a lot of attention, lucre, and almost inevitably a book deal, could not have happened had he not had a career there.  Consider this: at the same time Smith was at Stanford, there was another kid there who was faced with the same choice: I can leverage this education to make a shitload of money on Wall Street.  But this kid looked at the lay of the world and said, nah, Wall Street is full of scumbags, I’m going to follow my passion and give my life to literature instead, even if my career prospects are laughably poor.  Where is this kid’s op-ed in the New York Times?

Not that said kid necessarily wants an op-ed in the NYT.  Said kid is impressed by the institutional weight of said paper but also frightened by and suspicious of it.  Said kid will probably spend a lifetime having distant and conflicted relationships with powerful institutions.  Said kid does not mind, even if sometimes said kid is like, where the fuck is my money for being awesome?  But.  Said kid acknowledges that even she had a certain amount of luxury to make the decisions that she did.  Said kid married young to a wonderful man with a steady, if not grand, salary.  If said kid had graduated from university and been out in the world struggling totally on her own without health insurance, eating instant ramen in her studio apartment every night, it is quite possible that at some point she would have said, fuck this noise, I am getting an MBA.

We live in a world where moral choices are a often luxury, and it would be so lovely if they could be an innate right.

Also.  Why did Greg Smith choose to have his poor soul sodomized for cash for twelve years when he could have joined the Peace Corps or some shit?  I will tell you.  Because our incentive structure is totally fucked.  Because a young, intelligent person with lots of options, unless they have the structural integrity of a fucking diamond or some kind of guiding passion welling from deep within, will choose the career path that will give them the most positive reinforcement.  The fact that making more money for rich people is the most lucrative and prestigious career available to said young person is bullshit.  Our priorities are fucked; our institutions are sick.  What do we do about it?

Beats the shit out of me.  I’m just in this life game to tell dirty stories and eat way too many bacon cheeseburgers.

Ooooooh yes. Thank you to whoever decided that an appropriate topping for a meat patty was... MORE MEAT. You have made the world a better place.

what’s not in the book

Today I received my class book for my upcoming ten-year Stanford reunion.  The book is a compilation of pages alumni from my graduating class made about their lives since college.  Since I am an absolute sucker for that kind of nostalgia, I tore it out of its envelope and spent the whole afternoon devouring its contents.  Nom nom nom nostalgia, you are so tasty.

After absorbing a few hundred pages of my fellow alumni, I did start to feel a bit inadequate.  After all, I had never dived the Great Barrier Reef, or built hospitals in Africa, or won an Olympic medal, or created my own start-up, or backpacked in Patagonia, or cut cancer out of grateful children.  Then I realized I was being utterly absurd.  Of course the pages would only feature the impressive achievements of seemingly well-adjusted people!  For my own page, I didn’t very well write about the two and half years of harrowing pain that had me in & out of hospitals, the surgeries, the creditors calling about medical bills, the conviction that I was slowly dying, the loneliness, the terror.  I mean, I didn’t want to be a bummer.

Once the book was closed I sat there wondering about all that was elided from those pages, about the people who didn’t send pages at all.  Then I thought how grand it would be if all the pivotal moments from people’s lives had been included, even the tawdry and painful ones.  Sentences like:

  • I destroyed my marriage when I slept with my boss.  I got promoted though.
  • Last year I finally reached my weight loss goal.  Cocaine is a hell of a drug.
  • …but after my second stint in San Quentin was when I really began to make some bad decisions.
  • This stifled suburban life makes me want to wedge a shotgun tightly under my chin and blow the back of my head off.
  • The condom broke.  I am expecting twins in August.
  • The worm they removed from my large intestine was over three feet long.
  • When my divorce finally came through, I rewarded myself by having a prostitute do all the things my wife wouldn’t.  But now that burning rash on my scrotum won’t go away no matter what I do.

But no no, I am being foolish.  Such things never happen to Stanford graduates.  We are all exemplary.  Everyone of us as beautiful and serene as the flower-heavy night wind rustling the palms on the main quad.

People who went to the Ivies though, they are fucked up.