The Cheating Culture is not an easy book to read, mainly because you cringe in recognition of your own personal sins as you delve into this fascinating and eye-opening examination of the overwhelming extent to which Americans lie, cheat and steal their way through life. Even more discomforting is the fact that many of us don’t even think we are guilty of doing anything wrong. We cheat so much and so often, we feel entitled to continue to do so. Caught in between our need for inner peace and our desire for outer comfort, we strive to be a have in a have-not world, even if it means being less than honest, and not quite ethical in our pursuit of happiness and success.
Author David Callahan, cofounder of a public policy center called Demos and writer of many national articles and essays, argues in this truly important book that the cheating culture has its roots where most people would least expect it – in the Conservative Republican laissez-faire ideology that promotes personal gain at the expense of ethics and values. He then goes on in his book to show how greed, envy, cynicism, inequality, resentment and entitlement contribute to a mood among Americans that leads towards cheating -- not so much because people are in need, but because they are beset with anger and frustration towards a system they think they cannot beat…unless they rip it off.
Callahan covers every kind of cheating, from the corporate scandals of Enron to political scandals to managed care health rip-offs and high-stakes gambling in the world of sports and entertainment. He also covers cheating that occurs in everyday life, like getting free money from an ATM machine, downloading free music, fudging on tax forms, cheating on tests and exams, ripping off cable and phone companies, and so many other forms of cheating that we often partake in blindly, or with one eye open as we rationalize it away with excuses about how “unfair” the world is.
The bottom line of this powerful and honest book is this: it’s all about money. Well, rather our culture’s worship of money and how not feeling as though we have enough leads to crimes both petty and grand. Cheating is no longer just for the poor or the criminally imbalanced, it has permeated every aspect of American life and culture, from the minor dishonesties of middle class families just trying to squeeze a few extra bucks from their tax returns, to the major crimes of the Enrons and WorldComs of the world.
With the Martha Stewart trial just ending and new scandals erupting every day about how our politicians, leaders, athletes, celebrities and corporate CEOs are ripping off everyone and everything in sight, this book is not only timely but a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the negative trend toward personal greed and entitlement taking this nation by storm. Callahan also offers a website, www.cheatingculture.com, where you can go and learn more about integrity (and lack of it) and values in our society, and even take the Integrity Test to determine whether or not you are part of the cheating problem or part of the solution.
Cheating is an epidemic, as The Cheating Culture points out; a disease born of excess, greed, entitlement, conservative “values” and ultimately the dread fear of finding out that we are nothing without our stuff. Perhaps what makes this book so disturbing is just how far we seem to be moving away from realizing that what we need is already within us, even as we grab for more and more. Until then, we’ll continue to lie, cheat and steal our way through life, and wonder why we end up feeling so empty.