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Nothing Fails Like Success

by Barnabas
June 12, 2002

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Nothing Fails Like Success_Barnabas- Last week I expressed the hope that I could live up to my name “Son of Encouragement” this week. But the news so far has run from too trivial for comment to too horrible to contemplate. I can’t afford to wait any longer for the news to improve.

Two headlines on op-ed pieces delivered me from trivia or horror. The first was in the New York Times (June 6), affixed to Anita Hill’s commentary on the whistle-blowers at Enron and the FBI, “Insider Women with Outsider Values.” The second was on Slate.com’s (June 7) obituary of Lew Wasserman, “The Man Who Ruined the Movies.”
These headlines evoked the paradox, Insiders succeed, but nothing fails like success.

Being inside is about power and the success it achieves. Except for insiders at the very top (or center, to keep the metaphor consistent), it is more likely to be implicit than explicit. Implied power may be insubstantial, but that makes no difference to those subjected to it. The insider may do no more than look absent-mindedly in the direction of a subordinate, who interprets the “funny look”, an implicit rebuke or command.

Ultimate values are not part of the insider world, which determines value according to its own definition of success. Being outside has no power in and of itself, but it offers the possibility of thinking freely; that’s why the term “outsider values” makes sense. It isn’t that every outsider is loyal to them or even cares about them, but they are at least available to the outsider.

An insider who imports and applies values from outside is at first an oddity to fellow insiders, then a traitor. They haven’t the time, energy, or interest to defend the givens of their ethical system against such irrelevancies. “I do it because I can,” makes perfect sense to them. The fact that they can is all that matters; they do not care why they can.

Outsiders, having no stake in the self-defined success of the insiders, care about why.
Lew Wasserman was, by reports, the ultimate insider. He ruined the movies, according to the critic who wrote his obituary for Slate, by defining successful filmmaking in terms of the market rather than in terms of the art form. To be successful, after his company released Jaws, meant to attract huge audiences and make tons of money. While filmmakers still experiment with the art, the local Cineplex in small cities can’t afford to show their work anymore. In a market economy controlled by an insider mentality, nothing fails like success. Their gain means public loss.

But movies are private business, and entertainment at that. Moviemakers define their success as they please because they owe the public nothing. If they want to go with insider thinking, it’s their business, and hang the cultural consequences.

The FBI is not private, though. Neither is an energy supplier for public utilities, nor a church or any other charity dependent on public donations. In enterprises with a direct public interest and accountability, insiderism is immoral. “Outsider values” are the only values that apply. “Insiders with outsider values” must be the norm, not the exception. Otherwise, as a dead certainty, nothing will fail like success.

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