Free cable television. Imaginary tax deductions. Do you take your chance to cheat? David Callahan thinks many of us would; witness corporate scandals, doping athletes, plagiarizing journalists. Why all the cheating? Why now?
Callahan blames the dog-eat-dog economic climate of the past twenty years: An unfettered market and unprecedented economic inequality have corroded our values and threaten to corrupt the equal opportunity we cherish. Callahan's "Winning Class" has created a separate moral reality where it cheats without consequences-while the "Anxious Class" believes choosing not to cheat could cancel its only shot at success in a winner-take-all world.
Updated with a new afterword analyzing the latest on cheating from the Martha Stewart trial to the Tyco and Enron sentencings, The Cheating Culture takes us on a gripping tour of cheating in America and makes a powerful case for why it matters.
Cheating, argues author David Callahan, is no longer the exclusive purview of lowlife criminals, slick hucksters, and shady characters with ace cards shoved in secretive places. Now everyone's doing it and because everyone sees everyone else doing it, they keep on doing it. Callahan says the trouble begins in America's brutally competitive economic climate, which rewards results and looks the other way when it comes to the ethical and even criminal transgressions of those who come out on the winning end. Certainly there is no shortage of examples of cheating from the business community, and Callahan nimbly dissects the dishonest actions of the usual suspects (Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing) to demonstrate how that same mentality extends out to our educational system, amateur and professional sports, the news media, and even the lives of common citizens who, while they would never think of themselves as being cheaters, are nevertheless inclined to commit the occasional act of beneficial fudging. And while honesty is a nice ideal, Callahan says that cheaters cheat because, contrary to oft-repeated axioms, cheaters win: the chances of being caught are shrinking as are the punishments meted out should one be nabbed, and the benefits of a successful cheat far outstrip any potential threat. Further, Callahan posits that otherwise upright folks who would not cheat are drawn into the practice out of fear that they simply won't be able to make it in modern society otherwise. There's a lot of material for Callahan to work with here, given that every instance of cheating is fair game as source material and is able to be used to construct a theory of epidemic. And the range of material is so broad and the basic argument ("we cheat more") so simple that The Cheating Culture feels a bit like a Newsweek trend piece writ extremely large. Still, it must be noted that Callahan really had all that material to work with and that fact alone is compelling evidence that his premise is dead on. --John Moe