Last weekend, The New York Times ran an article in the Magazine encouraging people to default on their mortgages because, essentially, this is what big business does all the time under the rubric of “strategic defaults.”

Basically, the argument goes, when big business does it, it’s strategic. When individuals do it, it’s unethical. So why not adopt the morality of big business? After all, they were the ones who duped us into taking the mortgages in the first place. Right?

The author gives two reasons such defaults are frowned upon. The first is that defaulted mortgages depress neighboring property values. The second is that “default (supposedly) debases the character of the borrower.” Gotta love that parenthetical word. It’s as if “keeping one’s word” were something that we’ve all just been kind of force-fed by a society which wants nothing more than to exploit our good, trusting natures.

Well, so maybe that’s so. What then? Do we return to the Wild West? Obviously, one op-ed piece isn’t going to change anyone’s mind (well, maybe a few), but it just strikes me as another symptom of our deepening sense of ambivalence about what, after things we believed in begin to fall way, we should keep of the “old ways.”

Aren’t things like “character” worth keeping? Do we want to relive the Wild West? I don’t know. Anyway, who am I—a novelist—to complain? It may have been hard living, but it sure made for some good storytelling.

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SHYA SCANLON is the Fiction Reviews Editor for The Nervous Breakdown. Scanlon's work has appeared in the Mississippi Review, Literary Review, New York Quarterly, Guernica Magazine, Opium Magazine, and others. His book of prose poetry, In This Alone Impulse, was published by Noemi Press in January, 2010. In 2009, his novel Forecast was serialized online across 42 journals and literary blogs as part of the Forecast 42 Project. Forecast will be published by Flatmancrooked in December, 2010. He received his MFA from Brown University, where he was awarded the John Hawkes Prize in Fiction. Please visit him at www.shyascanlon.com.

6 responses to “Society Fail?”

  1. I could see martial law following soon after…

  2. Greg Olear says:

    The gyst of the documentary Corporation is that corporations exhibit every single trait of psychotic sociopaths (I’m butchering my psych terms, I realize). So, no, individuals should not behave like Big Business. If they did, it wouldn’t be martial law; it’d be Mafia law. U.S. corps behave like Tony Soprano throughout the rest of the world.

    • Shya Scanlon says:

      I should have thought to include mention of that documentary! It’s a good one. And exactly for the reason you mention, this article is strange and irresponsible, and yet understandable: this is the new model for behavior we’re being provided. And it’s a model that seems undeniably successful, if we define success monetarily–which we often do. It’s like the corporation is a vast projection of Freudian Id. I guess we see where that gets us.

  3. Phat B says:

    From what I hear it takes anywhere from 6-14 months from when you miss your first payment till they actually get around to evicting you in Los Angeles. 1 year free rent doesn’t sound bad to me. I know a lot of kids who haven’t payed rent in months. I kinda wish I owned a house so I could default and get a free ride for a piece. I know it looks bad on you record and all, but man…

    • Shya Scanlon says:

      Well, moving into a vacant house is something altogether different, I’d say. There are plenty of abandoned lots all over the country. Were I homeless, maybe I’d seek one out.

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