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Monday, March 14, 2011

Is Marvin Fertel A Dangerous Sociopath?

Here is an exchange from yesterday's Meet the Press between Chuck Todd and Marvin Fertel, the president of the NEI, the Nuclear Energy Institute:
CHUCK TODD: We have a couple of nuclear power plants in earthquake zones, or at least in California. Is there a concern? Should Americans be concerned about the fact that these power plants are sitting in earthquake zones? Are they safe?

MARVIN FERTEL: Yeah, all of our power plants, whether they’re in California, which is a high earthquake area, or in the Midwest or other places, are required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to design to be able to withstand the maximum credible earthquake. And the NRC continues to update and upgrade what the requirements are.

From this performance there naturally arises in the mind of any sensible observer the immediate and serious question whether Marvin Fertel should be diagnosed as a dangerous sociopath who at the very least should certainly be forced into retirement but probably also placed under public observation for making these statements at a time like this.

In response to what can only be regarded as the rhetorical question of whether Americans should be concerned about power plants in volatile earthquake zones identical with the one wreaking catastrophic havoc after an earthquake in Japan (of course they should!), Fertel is singing an insipid insidious mashup of "Don't Worry, Be Happy" and "We're in the Money" for the cameras.

There really should be a clinical designation for an addiction to monetary acquisition that undermines the capacity for rational and responsible judgment. Just think of all the world-destroying self-appointed swinging-dick Movers and Shakers we could medically calm and confine to comfortable club chairs and tango lessons in buccolic scenery were such a diagnosis to catch on!

No doubt, of course, even the majority of people who see through Fertel's obviously cynical and opportunistic happy talk of "maximum credible earthquakes" would airily excuse his lethal but lucrative lies as a matter of a man doing the job he is paid to do. (By the way, the "maximum credible earthquake" assumed for the Diablo Canyon facility is 7.5 -- smaller than the actually existing but somehow apparently not credibly forseeable earthquake the devastation from which was under discussion in the very exchange above.) Just following orders! Just chasing dollars!

In my view, this commonplace defense (which compares to defenses of corporations that are legally required to maximize stakeholder profit, as if that is an end to any discussion of the immorality and criminality of so much corporate profit-taking) bespeaks nothing less than the utter suffusion of public discourse by the deceptive, fraudulent, hyperbolic promotional and self-promotional norms and forms of marketing and advertizing, which have truly rendered our society well-nigh suicidally superficial, at once driven by ever amplifying sensationalism as well as ever more decisively disarmed of any checks of critical reflection.


Chad Lott said...

"There really should be a clinical designation for an addiction to monetary acquisition that undermines the capacity for rational and responsible judgment."

I thought that was Capitalism?

Dale Carrico said...

Well, Adam Smith proposed there was a fundamental and universal human disposition "to truck, barter, and exchange" and I daresay he was right about that. I disapprove of those who in noticing that Smithian disposition fail to notice equally fundamental and universal human dispositions to share and to help and to communicate with one another. But come what may, I wouldn't describe everything that goes on under capitalism as pathological, even plenty of the competitive and profit-making stuff. But there is definitely an acquisitiveness that seems in many people to be filling a scary hole where their heart or conscience or critical faculty should be, there is a competitiveness that obliterates the long term for the short term, that takes what it claims it makes, that thinks every victim invites their exploitation and so absolves the exploiter of responsibility for harm. Capitalism in its current configuration seems to manufacture and celebrate such people, to the ruin of us all, but I don't think it has to be that way exactly, surely?

Poor Richard said...

Upton Sinclair observed, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

As for capitalism being sufficient as a diagnosis I side with Dale. Could there be some babies in that old bathwater?

If anyone wants a one-word label for Mr. Fertel's malady other than sociopath, which is apt but very general, I vote for a diagnosis of "clinical venality" to be added to the DSM-V. It sounds like a STD.