Two articles I’ve read in recent days draw an interesting contrast:
1) A study in a Swiss university tested financial traders in a decision-making game and found them more prone to cheating and back-stabbing than psychopaths. The article suggests that while the traders made no more profit for themselves than a randomly-chosen control group, their behavior was so focused on reducing the profit made by their trading partners in the game that it resulted in the lowest profit of any group studied.
It’s too much to hope the ethical failings noted here would goad the financial industry into seeking a better class of people but maybe the fact that they consistently made less money than any ten people picked randomly off the street will make a dent. Maybe…
2) One of the best articles I’ve ever read about the curious and twisted psychology of combat, the intensity of need and the bond that develops between soldiers in combat. It points out the way these young people, trained to kill on command, will take the most insane risks for each other, put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of their teammates and deny reality for years after if necessary rather than betray what they want – need – to believe. It’s heroic and delusional, sad and touching and scary. I don’t know that I like what I read but I understand something now in a new way and that’s what good journalism does.
It’s really interesting to compare the behavior and status of the two groups studied. Our society – our businesses, politics and ethics (so-called) – run at the whim of gamblers. That’s what stockholders, brokers, investment counselors and insurance companies are, after all. Scores of magazine articles and books glorify the successes and personalities of the ‘big winners’. Meanwhile, our soldiers are shunted into the corner and hidden from view as much as possible. They have no status and little standing. And certainly, their experiences have left a lot of them twisted and scarred.
But the articles points out an interesting conundrum and surely one of the benefits of a volunteer army – if our soldiers had to coexist with financial traders in their units, no one would ever get home.