This morning, I learned of two terrible events. First, there was the Connecticut school shooting. Next, HSBC had been fined about $2 billion for widespread money laundering to drug cartels and banks with known terrorist affiliations.
I don’t know enough about the shooting to write about it with any kind of justice. What I do know is that in the coming days and weeks, I will be perhaps equally disgusted by the many kinds of vultures who circle over the tragedy, whether it’s angling politicos or media members looking for a quick bite.
It sucks that you can’t really stop crazy people from doing fucked up shit. Laws are supposed to help in the cause, but when something like this happens, the law is always a step behind. The shooter who took his own life will not be brought to justice. In this world, he will not bear responsibility for his actions.
And when you start hearing the particulars of the HSBC case, responsibility again rears its ugly head. This is far from the first time that a bank or other highly visible institution has traded with or aided the enemy, but it’s a unique situation in scope and global visibility.
Most of the reaction, even from the mainstream media , has been indignant. Once again, financial royalty aren’t going to jail for their grave trespasses. They’re just being fined the equivalent of sales tax on last year’s profits. If you want a solid voice to back your anger, look no further than Matt Taibbi.
The reasons given for not trying to throw HSBC’s brass in jail is that it’ll threaten the bank’s stability and, given its lofty position, the global economy. Additionally, the bank’s U.S. charter could be threatened, causing more collateral damage and lost jobs. It’s a bit like when many nations turned a blind eye to the Japanese experiments and massacres in China, or like the immunity bartered (in exchange for cooperation) to the same kinds of druglords that HSBC helped. Value trumps responsibility.
But we already knew that. For Dystopian purposes, outrage at the perceived leniency of HSBC’s punishment almost misses the point. In this global age, we individuals are more dependent on others than we’ve been at any other stage of history. Hurricane Sandy destroys faraway refineries, and New York City has near-apocalyptic gas lines. When we let the agents of human disaster off the hook because too many others will pay the price for their punishment, we neither protect the innocent nor discourage the guilty.
We invite catastrophe…for which we are not really responsible.