Last night, in my internet travels, I came across this New York Times op-ed from a former hedge fund manager who left the world of finance when he realized it had turned him into a greedy, wealth-addicted jerk.
Although I couldn’t wrap my mind around the sheer enormousness of the numbers the author, Sam Polk, was talking about (multimillion dollar bonuses? It’s like a completely different reality), I liked some of his observations. Like this one:
I made in a single year more than my mom made her whole life. I knew that wasn’t fair; that wasn’t right. Yes, I was sharp, good with numbers. I had marketable talents. But in the end I didn’t really do anything. I was a derivatives trader, and it occurred to me the world would hardly change at all if credit derivatives ceased to exist. Not so nurse practitioners. What had seemed normal now seemed deeply distorted.
And then I got to this part:
But I was lying to myself. There were plenty of injustices out there — rampant poverty, swelling prison populations, a sexual-assault epidemic, an obesity crisis. Not only was I not helping to fix any problems in the world, but I was profiting from them.
Let that sink in for a second. Fat bodies. Are an injustice.
The exorbitant salaries of the financial sector that the author left behind aren’t the only thing that’s deeply distorted.
And when he left it, guess what he did? Did he devote his life to helping people who had been harmed by Wall Street’s predatory practices, perhaps by fighting foreclosures or supporting living wage campaigns?
No, he started a non-profit “to help poor families struggling with obesity and food addiction.”
Food addiction. Food addiction. Not hunger, or food insecurity, or lack of access to nutritious food options, but food addiction. And fatness. Because heaven forbid poor people ever enjoy food or be anything less than thin. Because clearly what poor people need isn’t money, but rich people telling them how to eat.
I just …my head spins trying to make sense of it.
All the sense I can make is that power distorts thinking, twists the urge toward compassion into condescension. Into a sick sense of superiority and a savior complex.
Polk says he finally feels as if he’s making a real contribution. Well, he’s certainly contributing to fat hatred, to a toxic culture of moralizing about food, and to the lack of respect for poor people as humans with intelligence and agency.
Note #1: Chris Maisano has a great analysis of what’s wrong with the op-ed, which he calls “chicken soup for the neoliberal soul”: an individualistic approach that erases the need for collective action.
Note #2: Hedge funds always make me think of hedgehogs. The world would be a much better and cuter place if we could replace all hedge fund managers with hedgehog managers.