Here’s What to Do About “Scumbag Syndrome”

ALPERN AT LARGE - The Urban Dictionary defines the provocative word “scumbag” as “a person of poor judgment and no class”, or “a reprehensible person with no morals and holds no regard for anyone but him/herself” or “a person with no sense of propriety, decency or discretion”.  In other words, the word refers to narcissists, amoral self-absorbed snobs, and individuals otherwise obsessed with their own self-importance.
By and large, these reprehensible individuals arrogantly and conceitedly take, tear down, and otherwise destroy people and institutions which have been part of the fabric of our society for their own immediate gain, and without any consideration of the consequences of their actions.  Unfortunately, our modern American society has been inundated by these scurrilous individuals, who appear to be the big winners while those who adhere by the rules appear to be the losers.
It’s left us with an inherent sense of unfairness, and it’s spawned both the Tea Party and the Occupy Movements (with each movement decrying the other in disgusting terms of “teabaggers” and “fleabaggers” while ignoring the fact that we’re all suffering from the damage caused by this “Malignant Narcissism” or (for lack of a more polite term) “Scumbag Syndrome”.
Perhaps it’s all come down to a sorry state of affairs in this country where it pays to win at all costs, because “winning” has somehow become equivalent to a “moral victory” in the minds of too many disempowered and dispirited individuals, but let’s go through a few prominent cases of “Scumbag Syndrome.”
1) Clearly the bailout of so many dastardly Wall Street pirates in the subprime mortgage scandal has sent a frightening message to all Americans, and the likes of George W. Bush, Barney Frank, Christopher Dodd, Christopher Cox and even our own President, Barack Obama, all have their hands on this filthy mess, no matter how much they try to cover their tracks.  The bad guys got away with fiscal murder, millions of individuals’ savings and fortunes were lost, and we’re hard pressed to find out who the good guys are here (or if they even exist).
2) Our corporate culture is rife with an apparent Mission Statement of “I got mine, and you can be thankful for the crumbs I give you.”  Too many of the hordes of current M.B.A.’s and “business experts” are merely nepotistic parasites who have inherited an era of American entrepreneurship and used their skills not to build but to ooze themselves and their friends into a position where they can abuse, mismanage and/or pilfer a company of hard-working employees into the ground.
The only way these parasites (who really are obsessed with their own brand of “business acumen”) can usually be extirpated and excised from an otherwise-productive business or corporation is to provide them a painful golden parachute, which sends a scary message to all who seek their fortune in the modern business world.  
Sometimes there’s justice, as to when Saint John’s Health Center unceremoniously ousted its leadership after years of losses, but usually it’s the ordinary, average-wage worker who must deal with the demands but without the rewards.
And part of the fury that hard-working Americans, who enjoy too few opportunities for upward mobility and too small a share of the profits that occur from their efforts, must live with probably helped sink the presidential aspirations of Mitt Romney, who came to embody all the excesses of modern-day multinational/vulture corporate culture.
3) Unfortunately, too many Americans have not one set of tyrants under which they must suffer but TWO, with both the aforementioned corporate pirates as well as a non-representative and self-absorbed modern-day union culture that will be all too eager (and with all sorts of self-justifying rationalization) to cause unlimited damage so long as “they get theirs”.
So when a small clerical union goes on strike at the Ports of L.A. and Long Beach, costing an estimated $1 billion a day and affecting some 600,000 truckers, dockworkers, trading companies and others’ livelihoods, well, the other unions don’t dare to cross their picket line. 
And when an underperforming—but overly self-obsessed—group of corporate losers run the iconic Hostess into the ground, it’s hard to know which group to blame more:  the management who drove Hostess into bankruptcy and who get bonuses as a result (LINK: ), or the union leadership that failed to work with management and who share responsibility for the job losses of 18,000 workers.
4) Not content to trample on the 60-year tradition of Nativity displays in Palisades Park in Santa Monica, that minority of atheists who have no tolerance of public expression of Christianity whatsoever is moving on to tackle other great scourges of our era, such as children being exposed to “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or singing “Silent Night” in school. 
It must be emphasized that most atheists are tolerant and don’t get too worked up about Christmas.  As a Jew, and with more than a few atheists in my family, I'll go out on a limb and proclaim that Christmas to be a delightful time of the year that is appreciated by the majority of non-Christians in our country (including those who have no religion, or even no belief in God).
Unfortunately, that small minority of atheists who develop ulcers when even the mention of Christianity comes up (and who probably have some serious internal issues that warrant confrontation, consultation, and—if indicated—medication), will now have to confront the holiday season now that a live, attended Nativity scene at Palisades Park has been granted a permit because their hard-fought, court-imposed ban on the decades-old tradition apparently only applied to unattended Nativity scenes. 
5) The screaming headlines in the Sunday edition of the L.A. Times about the unforgiveable lack of background checks performed by the Boy Scouts is right on target…for a practice that occurred in the 1980’s, and before any current Boy Scout was ever even alive.  So is this an anti-abuse issue, or an anti-Scouting issue, for the Times to take on?
It’s pretty easy to ignore and even denigrate the decades of service and dedication that generations of Boy Scouts (who, to this day, remain a venerable source of leadership and devotion to others in this country and in this world), but as a former Boy Scout still proud of my Scouting years and Eagle ranking, and who is equally proud of my own son’s involvement with the Scouts, the questions I have for the Times (and other obvious haters of Scouting) are three-fold: 
Do you even KNOW what sort of Training and rules that Scouting now has to prevent a recurrence of the wrongdoing of the past, to which modern-day Scouting has openly and publicly admitted and confronted?
Are you TRYING to ensure that Scouting will be forced to deny future access to gay Scouting leaders because the Boy Scouts will have to go to unreasonable measures and prevent future lawsuits?
Do you REALIZE how silly the Times and others look by defining the Boy Scouts as a haven for molesters, rife with pedophiles and evil-doers, to the exclusion of millions of families who’ve embraced and defined Scouting as a force for Good?
And so we’re back to the theme of Malignant Narcissism, otherwise known as …
… ”Scumbag Syndrome”.  A syndrome that’s rotting our country from within, and a syndrome from which no society can be expected to survive intact.
Whether it’s an explosion of governmental/corporate bailouts, corporate/vulture cronyism, union thuggery, religious intolerance or a warped view on young people and their families who are trying to make the world a better place, it’s still an explosive phenomenon of wrongdoing that goes well beyond any one set of religious tenets or societal values.
It’s a sense of “in it to win it”, but to win it for one’s own focused betterment, be it financial or egotistical in its nature.  It’s the full-throated scream that “I hurt” or “I want” or “I need” that is so loud as to drown out all the hurts, wants and needs of others, and which implies that those other hurts, wants and needs have no merit whatsoever.
And if you want to label me, a volunteering, six-day-per-week physician and taxpaying community activist who decries a perceived wrong wherever I see it as a “scumbag” … well, then you’re welcome to that.  It’s a free country.  Just remember that I am not suing anyone, am sticking my head on the chopping block for others to attack by writing this piece, and do not get paid a dime for anything I send to CityWatch.
But to those who still believe in cherishing the public trust of our taxpayer dollars, believe in entrepreneurial and worker initiatives to motivate and reward everyone for their hard work, who believe in religious tolerance and who believe in the virtue of public service, there’s a better answer and a better future for those who still remember the cherished Gift we’ve been given by a higher Power that we may never understand:  our Lives and the ability to change our world for the better, and to also change the world our children will inherit for the better.
Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah and Happy Holidays to all, and may God Bless America.
(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at . He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at   The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.) 
Vol 10 Issue 97
Pub: Dec 4, 2012