Saturday, August 31, 2013

Day Two Hundred and Forty-three - TEDTalks: Crime & Punishment, Episodes 1 and 2, "Cheating... and the New Mafia. Well, I'm depressed."

Owing to the fact that I've pretty much slept the entire day away, I've found myself in the precarious position of not really having the time to watch Greenberg like I wanted to for today's Couchbound entry.

Also, I just did an episode of Anime... and wasn't in the mood for any other thirty minute to an hour long shows that I typically watch (like Numb3rs or Call the Midwife). It seems as though my lethargy has infected not only my sleep patterns but my viewing habits as well, today.

So, facing a quickly diminishing window of time to get the blog done before the day was out, I decided to go the educational route and watch something from the ever intriguing TEDTalks, these particular episodes being from the Crime & Punishment series of egghead lectures. The two speeches that I viewed were by Dan Ariely and Misha Glenny... and, while they both talk about the darker natures of humanity, they're also concerning subjects that are only very thinly related... the capacity for people to commit crime and the growing surge of organized criminal activity, respectively.

Dan Ariely takes a very scholarly look at pain and cheating. Through his studies, he has managed to produce data that shows not only which situations humans find that it's okay to cheat, lie, and steal, but also those possible triggers that minimize the urge to cross that line and take from the candy jar.

I found it fascinating to hear about these sociological studies which set up various ways to help people in situations where they could take advantage, only to find that certain things made it easier or harder for folks to live with themselves after stealing. I was especially intrigued by the implications that he made concerning the stock market, Enron, and the convergence of triggers that might have allowed such massive fraud to be seen as acceptable to the perpetrators.

Misha Glenny's lecture, on the other hand, while still interesting, was much more depressing. It feels so because his entire talk is about the massive surge of organized crime that is thriving in the recession thanks to the fall of the Iron Curtain, the defeat of communism not only putting former KGB and other security experts out of jobs, but thrusting them into emerging globalized markets with ample incentives to play fast and loose with property... and lives.

Not so much as scholar as an expert whose journalistic experience over the past thirty years has allowed him deep analytical insight and personal connections with victims and the criminals themselves, Glenny paints a portrait from the destruction of the Berlin Wall all the way to the warlords in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Coltan is the resource du jour for organized crime.

His logical leaps can be a bit fuzzy at times, as he early on draws a line between Soviet Olympic athletes and the Russian Mob which doesn't exactly compute... but it's not hard to assume where he's going as he reveals the former to be the affluent class of their era, suddenly without the support and resources that they had previously been accustomed to. The problem is that said assumption is on shaky ground a best as the only evidence he presents to support this claim is a photograph with some of these supposed athletes in bathing suits with heavy gold chains.

It just seems like so much stereotyping. I would've preferred it if he'd actually shown some hard evidence instead of just saying, "look at how 'naughty, naughty,' these half-naked guys are!"

Still, he brings up quite a few salient points about the wide reach of organized crime in the modern era and how pretty much everything we touch, eat, buy, and consume has their fingers in it to some degree. He, too, takes a jab or three (not undeserved) at Wall Street and its robber-barons, pointing a huge, accusing finger at Bernie Madoff and outright saying that there are more like him in the hallowed halls of America's corporations (again, with no evidence... just his word)... and, while it's easy to want to believe, I find it hard to take seriously.

Of the two lectures, I much preferred Dan Ariely's. At least he had the science to back it up. Misha Glenny just spins a story... and while I do not doubt the veracity of his work, it's difficult to digest his comments as he's just so obsessed with the big picture and doesn't make it easy to relate with on a personal level.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

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