George Graham

How Mass Cynicism Ruined the World and Blocks Recovery

It’s all your fault. Yes you. If you hadn’t lost your faith in human nature, none of this would have happened. The economy would not be in tatters. Children would not die because their parents cannot afford food or medicine. Homeless families would not be camping in the woods behind the church next door. Old people would not be forced to take jobs as security guards – if they can still find those jobs.

You let it happen. I let it happen. We are all to blame.

One phrase probably sums it up best: Looking out for number one. But there’s more to it than that. Even more devastating than pervasive selfishness is the acceptance of depravity. You hear it all the time.

Well, what do you expect? Politicians are all crooks. Money talks. If you’ve got the money, honey, I’ve got the time. Take the money and run…

And so on. We have lost our capacity for outrage. We have heard and seen too much. We are jaded. So we shrug our shoulders when we hear of some new scandal. Hey, we knew it all along. They’re all a bunch of crooks.

And what about us? Are we a bunch of crooks?

In one way or another, yes. Just about everybody cheats at something. And if we don’t cheat, we look away when we see someone else cheating. Even more sinister is our acceptance of an unfair advantage because it is legal. That makes us as crooked as the law allows.

tobaccoThis rant is brought to you courtesy of the U.S., Canadian and British insurance companies. As reported by Agence France-Presse this week, several major life and health insurance companies have billions of dollars invested in tobacco!

The news agency found a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that reports “at least $4.4 billion (US) in insurance company funds are invested in companies whose affiliates produce cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco.”

Here are a few examples cited in the study:

U.S. insurer Prudential Financial Inc. has $264.3 million invested among three U.S. tobacco companies, including Reynolds America and Philip Morris.

Canadian insurer Sun Life Financial Inc., which sells life, disability and health insurance, has a stock portfolio with more than $1 billion in two tobacco companies, including $890 million in Philip Morris.

Prudential PLC, which sells health and disability insurance, has $1.38 billion in two tobacco companies, including British American Tobacco.

The study also details substantial tobacco investments by Northwestern Mutual and Massachusetts Mutual Life, in the U.S., and the Scottish firm Standard Life PLC.

The irony of this deadly paradox is stunning. Is it possible that the people who run these companies are unaware of tobacco’s dangers? Don’t they know tobacco is considered the leading cause of lung cancer and a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke, pulmonary disease and cancer?

Of course they know. They just don’t care.  So are you going to shrug your shoulders once again? Or are you mad enough to switch your insurance company or sell those insurance shares?

Of course I’m kidding! Hey, you gotta look out for number one.

But what about those self-serving politicians and the well-heeled lobbyists in Washington who are at this moment scheming to sabotage passage of a decent health insurance bill? Are you mad enough to raise some hell about that? Or are you going to shrug and tell yourself there’s nothing you can do, that politicians are all a bunch of crooks, anyway?

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for