The new Rationalization #23, The Dealer’s Excuse. or “I’m just giving them what they want!” now bumps Woody’s Excuse: “The heart wants what the heart wants” to sub-rationalization status as 23A.
Good. Woody Allen doesn’t deserve a free-standing rationalization.
While narcissist Woody’s contribution to the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations list states that something is ethical if you want it badly enough, as in, “I really, really want to have sex with my adopted daughter,” its recently revealed parent hold that conduct becomes justifiable and benign if there is a market for it. Woody’s excuse is bad, but this is worse. For one thing, it’s usually disingenuous. Those who employ the Dealer’s Excuse aren’t providing a service out of altruistic motives, but out of the profit motive. They want the money they can make by doing unethical things that make society uglier, dysfunctional and dangerous, and they really don’t care if their customers come to a bad end or bring miseries to others.
The most famous exposition of The Dealer’s Excuse is in “The Godfather,” as Don Corleone and the other mafia heads discuss their “business.” The Godfather is balking at adding drugs to the mob’s businesses, and says:
When — when did I ever refuse an accommodation? All of you know me here — when did I ever refuse? — except one time. And why? Because — I believe this drug business — is gonna destroy us in the years to come. I mean, it’s not like gambling or liquor — even women –which is something that most people want nowadays, and is forbidden to them by the pezzonovante of the Church. Even the police departments that’ve helped us in the past with gambling and other things are gonna refuse to help us when in comes to narcotics. And I believed that — then — and I believe that now.
The Don knows that drugs are exactly like liquor, prostitution and gambling. Each harms society in well-understood, well-documented and tragic ways, and each has been prohibited or inveighed against by moral authorities for centuries. He isn’t concerned about the damage the narcotics business will do, only that societal objections are currently so strong that the business is too much of a risk. He is a capitalist without scruples, and #23 is a capitalist rationalization, one that demonstrates vividly why conscience-free capitalism is societal poison, sometimes literally.
The Dealer’s Excuse isn’t only or even primarily used to justify making destructive and illegal products and conduct available, acceptable and commonplace. It is the rationalization of choice when elected officials pass irresponsible laws, like tax cuts, and unaffordable entitlements. It is how General Mills and Kelloggs justify selling breakfast cereal dangerously loaded with sugar; why Hollywood no longer makes movies that require an IQ above 85 to understand, why TV shows no longer bother to insist on civil language or avoid gratuitous sex and violence, and why over 50% of network programming is reality shows, celebrity shows, quiz shows and dreck.
It is how schools justify giving out high grades to students who deserve low ones; how the National Football League rationalizes allowing its game to sacrifice brains in the name of bone-crunching action; why governments use aggregated uninformed opinions revealed in polls to make complex decisions. The Dealer’s Excuse is what news organizations now use to justify what stories to cover, and how they are covered. It is also the rationalization for cowardly subordinates who don’t tell management when the organization is rotting from within, or when they nod vigorously knowing that their leader’s proposed action will be a disaster.
The more I think about #23, the more I conclude that it is one of the most insidious rationalizations of them all.