Culture of Complicity

“Culture of complicity” is a phrase used to describe the collusive relationship between leaders of Japan’s nuclear industry and its government, including energy regulators. Not only does Japan have a history of covering up violations at its nuclear power plants. But at least one inspector was exposed and blackballed in 2000 for reporting a cracked steam dryer at the Daiichi plant, the very place where four nuclear reactors failed in April. Oversight lacks transparency. One example is that the Japanese public did not learn about the damaged steam dryer until 2002, two years after it was first reported. Fines for industry violations have been minimal, not substantial enough to prompt the power companies to stop their risky behavior or make immediate repairs. Collusion is a constant temptation as leaders move seamlessly from the nuclear industry to government advisory or regulatory positions and vice versa.

Japan’s “culture of complicity” sounds frighteningly familiar—not merely a Japanese problem. Nor are the underlying motives of power and money that sustain this culture limited to any nationality or group. Take two recent examples.


A culture of complicity enabled the U.S. financial meltdown of 2007. As long as property values were rising, banks, investment houses, ratings agencies, real estate companies and insurers all wanted in on the mortgage game. To generate business, brokers and bankers colluded on relaxed standards and attracted unqualified borrowers. At one point some insiders realized that the mortgage pools being sold received consistently high ratings, though they were increasingly filled with junk—that is, with mortgages held by persons almost certain to default once the balloon rate set in. Those who saw this meltdown-in-the-making did not warn the proper authorities, however (though a few whistleblowers sounded warnings). Instead, these entrepreneurs bet against the banks that held bad mortgage bundles and made a killing for themselves when home prices dropped. That set off the crisis and banks stopped lending. Then the federal government consulted none other than the heads and former heads of the big banks responsible for the damage. Now, almost four years into the recession, the big banks are raking in profits, but housing and job-creation are stalled. Complicity pays off.

Power, not money, was the motive behind the church’s culture of complicity that enabled the clergy abuse scandal. In choosing to protect the hierarchy rather than Catholic children, church leaders clung to the ecclesial power structure, which was reinforced for decades by civil authorities who refused to “meddle” in church affairs. The crisis was made public not by whistleblowers or by repentant clergy, but by secular reporters. Even after an office and review board process were established, diocesan oversight lacked transparency,as evident in Philadelphia’s recent clergy abuse crisis. Penalties against abusive priests have been heavy, but penalties against the church’s powerful shepherds have been virtually nonexistent. Most remain as powerbrokers in the church.

In these three cases, the benefits top leaders enjoy in lifestyle, power and prestige far outweigh any penalties they might face. In fact, few ever pay a personal penalty for their risk-taking, regardless of the damage done. No C.E.O. declares personal bankruptcy. No bishop loses his home or retirement. Instead, the government (taxpayers) subsidize the long clean-up of a nuclear meltdown and a financial meltdown. Government props up power companies and banks, not to mention those who have lost homes or livelihoods. Likewise, faithful Catholics pay diocesan legal defense bills and care for the abused members of their families and parishes.

 A culture of complicity demoralizes the public. It has also proved fiercely difficult to reform. Even so, voters must insist that governments regulate nuclear energy and the finance industry, allocating funds for monitors and regulators even in an era of austerity. Voters must also demand transparency. Every dollar spent to prevent a nuclear meltdown saves lives, jobs and whole communities. Every dollar spent to prevent the next financial crisis saves families from foreclosure and bankruptcy and the world from economic havoc. Prevention is always the best medicine.

 Catholics, though, have little choice in how their offerings are spent and little say in who is ordained a priest or bishop. Yet Catholics can insist, as individuals and through organized action, that the church take every allegation seriously and do all it can to prevent abuse from taking place. At the very least, Catholics should report any allegation or witness of sexual abuse to law enforcement first. That preventive step will save at least some children and their families from the trauma of abuse and its cover up by authorities. A culture of complicity keeps powerful institutional leaders from effectively monitoring themselves. It ought not prevent the public, however, from protecting itself.



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Juan Lino
7 years 8 months ago
Interesting post Karen Sue.  I am not sure the leap you make lands on solid ground but it's interesting to watch how you do it.  have you see the film The Bad Sleep Well?

Great phrase BTW.
Juan Lino
7 years 8 months ago
I'm typing too fast - I meant to say "Have you seen the film "The Bad Sleep Well"?
ed gleason
7 years 8 months ago
All institutions seem to have the protective mechanisms you describe well. Whistle blowers' complaints are easily dismissed as 'disgruntled employees'. You can add the military /defense corps as another example of 'keeping the lid on'. Ever hear about a high ranking being court marshaled ? a quiet retirement w/ a fat pension is the worst anyone can expect.  
Carolyn Disco
7 years 8 months ago
I just look for the plain, simple truth from bishops when it comes to their record in the sexual abuse scandal. 

Not their euphemisms about ''mistakes and inadequacies,'' mostly in the passive voice; or their claim that they did nothing legally or morally wrong; or their boast they were not indicted; or their boilerplate excuses of relying on doctors when they did not forward complete sexual histories to treatment centers, and ignored their recommendations.

What about the clear statement: ''I was complicit in the criminal endangerment of children, obstructed justice by not reporting to civil authorities in accord with the law, lied to survivors about their perpetrator's records, and covered up sexual felonies, resulting in more abuse.

Complicity in a culture of mendacity that scarred countless children is their true legacy.
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 8 months ago
Nuclear power is one of the best demonstrations of conservative double standard.  This industry fails criteria that conservatives apply rigorously to alternate forms of energy and industries that might endanger established interests such as nuclear, coal and oil.

WRT nuclear:

It requires government supported loans to establish new plants.  This is an industry that still requires subsidies after more than 50 years of existence.

Private insurers refuse to insure new plants.  Liability of nuclear companies for accidents is limited to the laughable $12B, forcing the taxpayers to assume the greater part of any cleanup.

There are numerous hidden coss borne by the taxpayer and not reflected in their cost per kilowatt-hour.

The fear of nuclear power is not irrational.  It is quite rational.

All human contrivances have an MTBF, a mean time between failure.  The French may be better than most at this and have the most responsible nuclear program, but failure of any himan made system is inevitable.  Their MTBF might be the best in the world, but it is there, and it will eventually happen.  France, beloved of the pro-nuclear, may just be unusually free of natural disaster or just having a run of luck.

Nuclear waste never disappears and some components have a half life many times greater than that of empires.  France and America will eventually disapear, but the nuclear residue will still be with our descendants.

EVery nuclear plant is a terrorist target, a true force multiplier for any anti-AMerican force.  This is another hidden cost, as now more money and manpower has to be directed to detect terrorist plots.  At the same time, the American citizen has to suffer more surveillance and loss of democratic rights.

At any rate, the issue should at least be publicly debated and is a pro-nuclear slam dunk only for those who have had their healthy scepticism and common sense  trumped by ideology and attitude.

7 years 8 months ago

Mr. Kopacz.
I consider myself fairly conservative, whatever that means, in the sense that a lot of what self identified conservatives espouse seems appropriate to me.  I have not seen a lot of push for nuclear energy in the last 15 years from these self identified conservatives though I am sure you will find some.  Nuclear energy did not seem like a Republican/Democrat issue divide.  Here is a recent article that shows measured support but not overwhelming support for looking at nuclear energy by people on both sides of the political spectrum.  It seems to me that the political divide was over drilling for oil and natural gas and mining coal rather than over nuclear energy.
Given that, I think you made a lot of very sound points that have to be considered before we embark on building a lot of new plants.  And I am sure they will be considered and in fact may scuttle further attempts to build nuclear plants.  I say this as one that was in the wind path of Three Mile Island, live within 15 miles of a functioning nuclear plant and watched as New York abandoned a six billion dollar plant at Shoreham before it generated one watt of electricity for commercial usage.  I generally support the building of more nuclear plants but think we have to examine it carefully before any are built and your points are good ones.  If the tradeoffs are too high, then I will support not building any.  I do not see it as a conservative/non conservative thing.
We need energy or else the civil unrest that is sweeping a lot of the Arab world will be nothing like it will be here in the US when 10's of millions will lose employment unless we can find the energy to employ them.  The world is addicted to energy and to blithely say we have to do without is not a solution.  The energy must be found somewhere.  Conservation is one area of help but it is not going to dent the total need in any great way.  We can not build new dams and solar and wind power are very limited and bio fuels are a way off if ever they are to be economical.  The need for energy is real and we have to find ways to generate it.

Anyway this post is nothing about energy though it has been introduced in the sense of a cover up as an example of guilty people not getting their due. 
7 years 8 months ago

This is the third or fourth time that Ms. Smith has brought up the financial crisis and who is guilty.  One reason I don't think anyone will be found criminality culpable is that too many people of high political rank are involved.  It is easy to just blame Wall Street in a general sense or mortgage brokers or greedy bankers and then let the whole thing slide.
We will get exercised over Wall Street greed and I agree they are greedy and rig the system in their favor but it will be impossible to pin anything on anyone specific.  There will tons of law suits against Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Bernie Madoff and others and money will change hands because of this but no one will go to jail, except for Bernie and maybe a few others who might be caught on some insider trading issues which had nothing to do with the financial crisis.
Some of the real culprits are too high up to go after and too well connected politically so to go after too many of the little guys might cause the light to shine too closely on these people.  So friends of Angelo, Jesuit educated Angelo Mozilo, will not get a close look and Angelo will retire in the sunset somewhere with his $500 million and not be heard from too often.  Similarly the FCIC, Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, was a sham and a cover up and we will get sophisticated snow jobs like the academy awards winning documentary movie, Inside Job, to lead the public away from what really happened.
And are we being led astray as to what really happened inside the Church?  Maybe all the dialog is directed in the wrong areas as we keep on criticizing the bishops for their lack of concern for the children.  Maybe we will find out some day the true motivation.
Bill Mazzella
7 years 8 months ago
Great post Karen. The hierarchy has gotten away with "the church is not a democracy" phrase which covers a multitude of sins. The church is not a democracy in that we cannot vote Jesus out for example. But we do understand that we expect an example from Jesus and all leaders. We have to insist that the right leaders are chosen. We can do something about it. From the fourth century on the church has been run as an empire with the state enforcing the rules of the church whereby dissenters were either imprisoned or killed. This no longer holds as there are really no civil sanctions even tho excommunication is used by the hierarchy. The reason the hierarchy acts the way it does is our fault. We can no longer say we cannot do anything about. We can. As long as we say we cannot the hierarchy will continue to wield its power and abuse. The abuse cover-up and the coming liturgical changes show a leadership which is more into power than spirit. The empire should be over but we continue to enable it by believing that we cannot do anything about it.  We can do something about it.
ed gleason
7 years 8 months ago
Walter; you site Karens and my posts as off track by saying General M. Mosley was fired''..Wrong ... he was not court marshaled..   ....He was asked to resign W/ pension.
 you say "Likewise, Karen seems comfortable sailing through the article despite errors/omissions ' wrong again..
" On 11 July 2008, a formal retirement ceremony was held for General Moseley; he officially retired from the Air Force on 11 August 2008.' [look it up] Something like C. Law..


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