Zen and The Art of MisappropriationIn the business world these days there seems to be less and less emphasis on fiscal responsibility and personal culpability when things go wrong and mismanagement occurs. Too often the bottom line is mistakenly seen as the ONLY line, and everything above it— no matter how convoluted or criminally wasteful or incompetent— is completely ignored after the fact. Ever wonder how multibillion dollar international corporations (who pay millions in salaries to financial watchdogs to justify and defend every expenditure on every spreadsheet in every ledger they use) somehow “lose” massive amounts of capital or accidentally waste millions of dollars on misappropriated material assets because of an errant typo or missing decimal point?

It’s because our culture seems to be in the grip of a growing “cult of irresponsibility.” It was irresponsible jerks who cooked up the junk-bond scams that scuttled the Savings & Loan industry and crashed the stock market in ’87. And who ignored all warning signs about the future consequences of equally-damaging mortgage brokerage scams that crippled the Securities industry and crashed the market again in 2008. Such clowns think it’s okay to chop the tops off mountains in West Virginia and dump the poisoned byproducts into the surrounding valleys in order to get to the coal faster. Nor do they think a floating mass of non-biodegradable plastic junk (roughly the size of TEXAS) spinning in the ocean off the California coast is anything to worry about, because no one knows how bad that might actually be. And if we don’t really know what kind of ecological damage might be occurring from such screw ups and excesses, then how can anyone be held individually responsible for the end result? But that’s junk logic. “I don’t know” plus “I don’t care” usually equals “bad.” It’s NEVER wise to steam forward full speed ahead, without looking, stopping only when we crash into something.

Such malfeasance in the mining industry resulted in polluted or abandoned towns in multiple states where the underground perpetually burns, spewing toxic fumes 24/7 from leftover mining fires that can never be put out. Sure, that sounds like some crazy, hella creepy videogame (Silent Hill, anyone?) but it’s absolutely true. And back in the 1970’s the business conglomerates funding the nuclear industry publicly scoffed at environmental concerns and dispatched corporate spokesmen dressed like used-car-salesmen (in day-glow polyester suits and terrifyingly-wide neckties) to conspiratorially whisper behind their hands that anyone afraid of a little radiation was a gutless Communist pussy.

Now we know better. Because we can’t EVER uncover Chernobyl or it will poison the whole frigging planet. Our great-grandchildren will still be piling steel and concrete on top of that radioactive mess two hundred years from now. The only current industrial strategy for dealing with radioactive nuclear byproducts is apparently “seal it in a container that we hope won’t leak for a few decades” and “put it somewhere where people don’t live and try to forget about it.” Or we can sell the expended core rods to some Third World country to make weapons-grade fissionables for bomb production. Seriously. We don’t know how else to get rid of it.

Meanwhile the Cult of Irresponsibility keeps right on paying PR firms and lobbyists to spin the truth while the criminally naive and foolishly gullible suffer. We KNOW it’s happening. But we seem incapable of focusing the magnifying glass of accountability on those who are actually responsible… at least long enough to do any good. We use the magnifying glass to recognize them and examine them… but we never keep the beam focused on them long enough to burn them up.

And whose fault is that?