PARIS -- Is there anything people can possibly do these days to disgust or unnerve themselves? Or is the only barrier to bad behavior massive societal shunning, the likes of which isn't noticed by those who are too engrossed with themselves to pay attention?
I'm asking this because it seemed that everywhere I looked recently, I was bombarded by stunning acts of shamelessness -- to the point where shamelessness arguably WAS the major trend in the news. Let's look at a few examples.
-- The "sequester": The U.S. Congress wants us to feel its pain as it considers cutting about two cents from each dollar of increased scheduled government spending, when doing so allows Congress to totally avoid doing what it really ought to: cut the other 98 cents. If a fat kid has a cake and I give him another entire cake, then take away 2 percent of the second cake, that kid won't complain. In fact, he'll get even fatter - just like this government will, all while crying starvation.
-- Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has been all over the news for demanding that employees of the tech giant come into work. CEO Wilma Flintstone of 1200 B.C., am I right? Get with the George Jetson era, man! The kids all work from bed now because they can sleep with their iPhone under the pillow! They don't have to work more than, like, a half-hour a day when that's the equivalent of a week's work back in the "old days," right?
Either you're a salaried employee whose behind is wholly owned by a company that's entitled to call the shots, or you're a contractor who can work from anywhere but are contractually obligated to produce deliverables in exchange for the freedom to be anywhere you'd like to be, as long as you get the job done. You're not entitled to all the benefits and security of an employee while behaving like a contractor. Maybe those employees would be cool with only being paid based on what they actually produce? Or, alternatively, they could just get their behinds into the office and be grateful that they're generously employed.
-- As of this week, the Canadian federal government has written off $540 million in student-loan debt. Great. Why work three jobs to put yourself through college, or have to carefully assess the viability of an investment in your chosen education, when you can just ring up the charges and stick the single mother down the street with two kids and three jobs with the bill?
If the ultra-rich can always find ways to skirt taxation through shelters and loopholes, guess who's paying for you to flake on your eminently lenient student-loan repayment plan: Likely your mom and dad, who think that you're an independent, responsible adult. What you're really doing in defaulting is continuing to cash in your allowance from your parents, except that it's multiplied exponentially and laundered through the government.
--A Planet Fitness member in Massachusetts made the news last week for having her gym membership revoked by management for yakking on her cell phone in violation of the club's phone-free policy. There's nothing quite like working up an exhilarating sweat on a cardio machine at the gym while trying to enjoy a brief reprieve from the day's stresses, when suddenly you find yourself an unwitting captive to someone shouting the details of her banal life into a cell phone. There is only one kind of remark that should ever be uttered on a cell phone in a cardio fitness area: "Has the transplant arrived? Prep me for surgery -- I'll be right there!"
--Russia's parliament just voted for an incremental ban that will fully outlaw smoking in public places, including residential buildings, restaurants and bars, by 2015. The measure aligns the country with the rest of the civilized world. But it got me thinking about the rampant disrespect for others' freedoms. There would be no need for bans if people weren't so shameless as to think that imposing their noxious habit on everyone around them was acceptable. No one would be trying to take away anyone's personal choice to inhale a high density of carcinogens if they did so with a large bag tied tightly around their head so they could suck every bit of it in.
--And finally, to wrap up the Global Shamelessness Tour with an extreme case of tone-deafness: Iran has requested bilateral talks with the U.S. while their nuclear chief, Fereidoun Abbasi, announced almost simultaneously that Iran is pursuing another 3,000 uranium-enriching centrifuges for its broadly defined "nuclear program."
And that's just one week.