I’ve obviously never been to one of these meetings, so don’t take this week’s comic to be a political cartoon or anything. Inter-agency coordination is great, and helpful! It’s probably more useful to a community to have one big well-funded performance space, for example, than a constellation of small, struggling spaces all earmarked for one specific purpose. And, of course, there’s all the information sharing that can occur at such a meeting too. One organization may have already solved a problem another group is facing, and a lot of effort (and money) can be saved simply by sharing some experience.
When I was reading up on those earliest organized crime “conventions”, though, I was kind of amazed by how much they sounded like they were pretty much just regular business conventions by today’s standards. A bunch of guys in suits gathered in a resort town, spent the days in meetings, went for walks on the beach, a partied hardy throughout. It’s pretty clear that the idea of Las Vegas as we know it came from the vision of these same guys. Of course, a big difference was that crime was the principle industry, rather than something like medical imaging software development.
As I’ve been thinking about it, it seems like the history of organized crime is kind of a dark reflection of the history of American business. As our business community got more structured and corporate, so too did the underworld. And, to be honest, it seems like a lot of business people really walk a thin line between the two worlds– sort of a Jedi vs. Sith dichotomy. I think we’ve all seen or read an interview with someone making millions of dollars from some ethically dubious means, who does the equivalent of shrugging and saying, “well, technically it’s not illegal”, which is definitely a warning sign that someone is slipping to the Dark Side. And that’s not to single out “business people” of course– a farmer can be just as guilty of exploitative and socially toxic business practices as the much-vilified Wall Street Investment Banker, it’s just that one of them might be a little more visible cruising down Broadway in a limousine full of cocaine than the other.
And that gets me thinking about ethics in general, something I feel like I’ve been thinking about a lot lately for some reason. What keeps a person anchored to their moral code? Fear of external punishment, or pride in their own integrity? We’re certainly a more secular society these days, but religion didn’t seem to put much of a stop to embezzlement and violence in times past– it seems it takes more than the threat of supernatural reprisal to keep folks on the straight-and-narrow. I suppose I won’t come to any big epiphanies here, in my little stream-of-consciousness comic post, but, like I said, it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about in this world of Enrons, “Enhanced Interrogations”, and Pharmaceutical Junkets.