Thursday, March 26, 2009

A parable of culpability

Imagine a family. Nancy is the mother, Sam is the father and Joe is the young child.

Joe (the young child) sets up a yard sale. An older child he doesn't recognize (named Neville) approaches, wanting to buy something. Joe, as many young children are, is not comfortable interacting with people he doesn't know.

Joe asks Nancy (his mother), who wishes to teach Joe the lesson that it hurts everybody for him to refuse to interact with people he doesn't know. She tells Joe to sell Neville what he wants at his yard sale, regardless of whether the young Joe is comfortable making the sale.

Neville promptly buys Joe's 1 dollar bill for the price of two shiny quarters and runs away. Joe is very excited, at first. It takes him until that evening to realize he's been had. Nancy yells at him, saying it was irresponsible to make that sale to Neville. She punishes Joe and sends him to his room.

Later that day, Nancy goes to the supermarket with Joe and her husband, Sam, and sees an older child bemoaning his fate. Joe recognizes Neville, but Nancy is trying to teach the young Joe a lesson and doesn't listen. Instead, she starts speaking to Neville.

Neville says he had a dollar, had spent it on 2 ice creams, and was now having a bad day and wanted more ice cream. Thinking it would teach Joe a lesson about responsibility, the mother makes Joe give the two quarters to Neville, who promptly goes and uses it to buy more ice cream. He takes the last of the ice cream. Sam now realizes that in order to have ice cream himself, he will need to ask his wife for taxi fare to go to a different ice cream store because he had brought enough money for ice cream but not for both ice cream and taxi fare.

Ridiculous, no? Nancy, the mother, exhibits behavior that makes no sense? Joe, the young child, is repeatedly punished for being naive, while Neville gets rewarded for bad behavior? Sam just kinda got screwed?

Structurally, the young Joe is the set of US investment banks. Nancy, his mother, is Congress. Neville, the dishonest child, is the set of subprime homebuyers while Sam is the rest of the US homeowning population.

Cheers to Neville Chamberlain, Joe the Plumber, Uncle Sam and Nancy Pelosi for the names. I understand Neville Chamberlain has nothing to do with it... he's just easy to make fun of

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