The business side of woodworking                                     August 2013

Kerry Knudsen

Accountability adjustment

If you have a Lance Armstrong Live Strong yellow wrist bracelet, you should keep it. Relics of tragedies grow in value. Tragedy, in the classical sense, does not mean grief for survivors, as we use it now. It meant the destruction of a person as the result of his or her character. MacBeth was one, and Hamlet another. Armstrong is another. I saw recently that consumers are suing Armstrong for $5 million for lying in his autobiography.

Throughout history, people have pointed to role models for their children. Other people have tried to be the role. Literature (including tragedies) is full of role models, often personified as hunters, farmers, grandmothers, country parsons or battlefield heroes. The Greeks and Romans idealized sports figures, virtuous women and valour.

Along lifeís way, we seem to have dropped the deeds that defined role models, and have gone straight to stardom. The world is awash in wanna-bes and polluted by ises. Can anybody name a virtuous starlet? I donít watch movies, so I canít. I can name some incidents with starlets in which virtue is conspicuously lacking. The same is true of sports figures, politicians, hunters and farmers. I can even think of a few media parsons that leave a sense of wanting to wash my hands.

I wonder, though, if this cult phenomenon of wearing yellow plastic bracelets is symptomatic of a deeper cultural need to believe in something. Iím not about to proselytize anything, but it seems people identify more than ever with sports teams, starlets, hunters and farmers that have nothing to do with the virtues they once embodied. Instead, we get soccer hooligans, girls with no panties, bubba fishermen cheating on tournaments and enviro-nuts, each with its bushel of reasons. A reason for every season.

An interesting aspect of todayís departures from yesterdayís virtues is the lack of consequences. U.S./Canadian/British commentator Mark Steyn recently noted it took a month longer to get Ft. Hood defendant Nidal Hasan to court than it did for the Japanese to surrender after Pearl Harbor. During WWII, traitors and spies were tried and hanged in weeks or months, not years.

I am not advocating hanging. I am simply interested that consequences are rapidly evaporating from our visual world. Donít like your wife? Divorce her. Bad choice at the track? File bankruptcy. Drinking and driving? Plead it down. One gets the sense that life was not always so easy.

Last weekend, another commentator took a look at the markets. The U.S. Fed is pumping money into investment banks, which are investing in the market. Everybody sees record gains on the Dow, and most seem happy. Iím not, since I canít get in on the deal. What about Solyndra? This was a case of a Democrat donor that received half-a-billion dollars and dissolved. Everybody is amazed at the disappearing money. Hereís a hint: money does not disappear. It went somewhere.

The commentator mused that consequences, like morals, are an evolutionary continuum, and that the trend will continue. This is an interesting thought, but it has no basis in history. Historically, consequences can be put off. The Axis forces were high on life from 1938 to 1943. After that... not so much.

History says life is more like an accounts book. Revenues ebb and flow. Some accounts are delinquent, and some warrant a repayment. Technologically, the world is constantly advancing, which gives us HDTV and searchable phone calls. Morally, we are not one iota further along than when we were described by Euripides or Homer. Artistically, we have never topped Venus de Milo or Macbeth.

My view is that the books are not balanced and society will demand accountability Ė a concept not heard on the daily news. We are not talking about an apocalypse of heaven and hell (although itís worth a look). We are looking at the consumers wanting their money back. Lance Armstrong did not earn his money. Get it? Lindsay Lohan is not worth another minute as a role model, including up to and after such time as she gets straightened out. A rehabilitation story, to her, may seem heroic. To grandmothers and country parsons, straightening out is what she should have been doing all along. Not leading little girls away from their dolls and fantasy cakes into ... whatever.

I get irked at Obama saving Detroit from bankruptcy, only to find out Detroit is bankrupt. I get irked at Ontarioís Liberals destroying all their e-mails relating to the gas-fired power plants, and then declaring the destruction was against the law, but there are no penalties. There MUST be penalties.

My sense is that we, as a culture, are no more ďevilĒ than ever. No evolution; no devolution. We have, however, somehow become so rich we can afford almost anything. We can give prisoners sex in jail. We can give murderesses a free life in Guadeloupe. We can give Chretien or Obama supporters the equivalent of a South Pacific island and we can give sports stars a licence to kill and a free, white glove.

While the rest of us have to pay and then pay, I don't believe in a continuum. I believe in a pendulum. I also believe the weight of the pendulum is too far left, and its own weight is about to reverse the swing. I also believe, each of us has a duty to add what we can. For small employers in Canada, it's time to collect receivables.

I never had a yellow bracelet. But then, I never believed in Lance. I do, however, have a medallion on my keychain of Winston Churchill Ė not for what he was, but for what he did when the world was on the verge of tragedy.


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