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The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are…

The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead (2004)

by David Callahan

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The author theorizes that cheating is at an all time high in American culture (it's hard to be sure with his data, since we don't have data far enough back to compare). Very little of what he discusses will come as a suprise for anyone who has spent any time on a college campus, as either teacher or student, or who has sat silently and listened to the ordinary citizens in restaurants discussing their personal lives for all to hear. If you still believe that most people are honest, you probably should read this book. ( )
  Devil_llama | May 9, 2011 |
Interesting, but digressed into political commentary at points ( )
  jtfairbro | Sep 29, 2009 |
Richie's Picks: THE CHEATING CULTURE: WHY MORE AMERICANS ARE DOING WRONG TO GET AHEAD by David Callahan, Harcourt, January 2004, ISBN 0-15-101018-8

Five years ago I was in Chicago to attend Book Expo. Early on that Sunday morning in May I was riding the Metra, heading south to McCormack Place. A guy who looked like he was still grasping the last threads of Saturday night had his boom box cranked up, sharing a soulful tune with everyone in our train car. As I prepared to leave the train I asked him for the name of what it was that he'd been playing. He scribbled it down in my notebook. (King Britt presents Sylk130, "Gettin' Into It.") A couple of years later I stumbled across that notebook with the scribble and within ten minutes had successfully downloaded the song over the Internet for free. It's still there in my computer, along with all sorts of great tunes, all downloaded for free, ranging from ancient singles that I was introduced to as a kid by Cousin Brucie and Alison Steele The Nightbird, up through an assortment of killer tunes from the past twenty-plus years of MTV that I can close my eyes and see the videos for. The highly publicized prosecutions of "file-swapping pirates" persuaded me to belatedly dispose of the software I'd used to accumulate that ill-gotten music.

But the question is, why did I feel so comfortable and righteous taking it all for free?

"Lately, conservatives haven't had much to complain about. Many aspects of Americans' personal behavior have changed in recent years. Crime is down. Teenage pregnancy is down. Drunk driving is down. Abortion is down. Opinion surveys suggest that Americans are growing more concerned about personal responsibility, as conservatives have narrowly defined that term. And much of the supposed 'deviance' that conservatives have anguished about for a quarter century has been waning.
"Still, cheating is up. Cheating is everywhere. By cheating I mean breaking the rules to get ahead academically, professionally, or financially. Some of this cheating involves violating the law, some does not. Either way, most of it is by people who, on the whole, view themselves as upstanding members of society. Again and again, Americans who wouldn't so much as shoplift a pack of chewing gum are committing felonies at tax time, betraying the trust of their patients, misleading investors, ripping off their insurance company, lying to their clients, and much more.
"Something strange is going on here. Americans seem to be using two moral compasses. One directs our behavior when it comes to things like sex, family, drugs, and traditional forms of crime. A second provides us ethical guidance in the realm of career, money, and success.
"The obvious question is: Where did we pick up that second compass?"

So asks David Callahan in this fascinating look at where we are headed in America. Led by doped-up sports icons, doctors with bogus prescriptions, auto repair guys who find more to fix then is really wrong, corrupt stockbrokers, and ready-to-buy politicians, the leaders of the parade are the corporate executives.

Of course, the amoral behavior by corporate executives is dictated by stockholders who, of course, are us and our parents and friends and our retirement portfolio managers.

So where are we all going?

"Money, get back.
I'm all right Jack keep your hands off of my stack.
Money, it's a hit.
Don't give me that do goody good bullshit.
I'm in the high-fidelity first class traveling set
And I think I need a Lear jet."
--Pink Floyd, Money

"Cheating is not a new problem in the United States or anywhere else. It has existed in nearly every human society.
"In Ancient Greece, the Olympic games were rife with cheating. Athletes lied about their amateur status, competitions were rigged, judges were bribed. Those caught were forced to pay fines to a special fund used to set up statues of Zeus. Greece ended up with a lot of statues of Zeus."

There are a set of interrelated influences that the author believes are the cause of the current cheating epidemic in America--the increased pressures of job competition and insecurity, the widening rewards gap between the winners and losers in our economic system, the relentless trend toward deregulation that enhances temptation, and the belief by so many people that the system is so utterly corrupt that they have no fair shot at attaining the American Dream in an ethical manner.

"Hey honey-you've got lots of cash
Bring us round a bottle
And we'll have some laughs
Gin's what I'm drinking
I was raised on robbery"
--Joni Mitchell, Raised on Robbery

THE CHEATING CULTURE is an eye-opening introduction to the real world. It will enlighten high school students as to how their peers are adroitly eluding obstacles that might interfere with becoming rich, famous, powerful, and going to Disneyland. The only worry is deciding which is more effective: buying term papers online or paying tutors to write them for you; purchasing the proper mobile electronics to be able to secretly bring your answers into the classroom or having your parents line up a doctor who can sell you the learning disability diagnosis that will permit you more time to complete standardized tests.

"The choice between being a winner or a loser in an economy filled with inequities seems stark and frightening to many college students. Says one student: 'Grades are the most important things which judge whether you go to medical school or to work as a janitor.' "

It is not surprising that Callahan finds these same students go on to cheat in college, grad school and--for those who thus successfully navigate their way to and through the sidewalks of the Ivy League--in a business world where untold riches can be scooped up at the expense of a gullible public that is unprotected by a deregulated, corporate-lobbied government.

And if you somehow get caught and have to pay back fifty grand and kick back for six months in a Santa Barbara country club prison, you still get to keep the millions (or billions) you've salted away and certainly don't ever have to worry about becoming some lowlife cheater who is so pathetic as to have to download music from the Internet.

Richie Partington
BudNotBuddy@aol.com ( )
1 vote richiespicks | May 24, 2009 |
Very anecdotal in style, which becomes boring after a while. Difficult to get through, surprisingly for such an interesting and provocative subject. Argues that there are structural reasons why people cheat, that cheating begets cheating, and that the problem is essentially top-down and emanates from pervasive business-, wealth- and production-oriented values in the United States. ( )
  karenmerguerian | Nov 18, 2006 |
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Preface: My friend Peter went through a shoplifting phase a few years back.
Chapter 1: I played a lot of Monopoly growing up.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0156030055, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:21 -0400)

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Cheating on every level has risen dramatically in the last two decades. Why all the cheating? Callahan pins the blame on the dog-eat-dog economic climate of the past two decades. An unfettered market and unprecedented economic inequality have corroded our values, he argues-and ultimately threaten the level playing field so central to American democracy itself.… (more)

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