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Bankers, says the current iconography, are greedy, amoral money grabbers.
I, too, once subscribed to that innocent belief. But the bankers I met during seven years of working on the graveyard shift at the Most Successful Bank in the Universe are nothing like as harmless as that.
What I saw during those seven seasons of midnights at the Bank was a brutal social Darwinist selection of the Fittest to Rule, an adoration of military style masculinity, and above all a cult of ‘leadership’ as an inborn trait that is supposed to make those ‘leaders’ genetically superior to the rest of us – and justifies their sadistic treatment of ‘inferiors’. Reluctantly, and over time, I began to admit to myself that there is a word for this kind of ideology although it is rarely used in this context. A word that is big and frightening. Let me take you a little further inside the Bank before I dare to voice it.
When I joined the Most Successful Bank in the Universe, I had three pounds left. I held them tight in my pocket, pressed against the flesh of my hand.
That night, together with seven other jobless humanities graduates, I entered the Building Without a Name. In the heart of the City of London, next to a medieval graveyard, I walked through the obscure little door with neither name nor logo on it, crossed the secret marble hall inside, and was taken down into the bowels of the Third Basement for Basic Training – a ‘vigorous’ test of whether I was Fit to Survive.
In my book, ‘Graveyards of the Banks’, I take the reader with me through that secret door. Through the medium of a haunting novel, you can experience what I did: squeeze through the maze of desks on the huge working floors, sit trapped in an iron chair high above the city of London creating high end graphics to illustrate the Bank’s vision for 8 hours without a break. Lose your sleep, privacy, toilet privileges and all your dignity. Surrounded by a war like atmosphere where every 4AM deadline was a crisis and we all lived in terminal fear.
Bankers often fell asleep under their closely huddled desks, covered by day-old smelly shirts and towels slowly drying in the icy aircon, clutching their briefcases like the young soldiers in the trenches of a war a hundred years ago. Every night, any of us could be fired. And then there was the annual cull that mandated a fixed percentage of ‘terminations’. I was told I would be dismissed if I voiced the slightest criticism.
Nothing in my life in the humanities had prepared me for an environment as hostile to human life as this.
Why did I stay? Why did we all stay?
I did it for the money.
Mordor in the City paid me more for this night job than I ever earned before (or after), although of course my wages (calculated on the basis of 15 minute units that were rigorously policed, and shifts that could be cut short without pay at 5AM or whenever the Bank felt like it) were risible compared to what the bankers made. My colleagues in the graphics centre were historians, scientists, clinical psychologists and even economists, one was a former headmistress. We all barely managed to make ends meet in London, even so.
Working conditions in the Most Successful Bank in the Universe were not conducive to sustained cognitive thought. But slowly I began to adjust my perceptions. That’s when I realized: what I had been told about the banks was completely wrong.
The bankers treated us, the workers in the ‘Center of Global Excellence’ as our supervisors called it, as losers who deserved only contempt and constant verbal abuse. Those bankers were themselves (almost exclusively) young men undergoing a brutal grooming process, designed to select the rulers of tomorrow.
I discovered that this ‘Selection of the Fittest’ ideology was present in every aspect of what the Bank did – to us, and to the outside world. And this ideology is what differentiates it, in my view, from the other, more traditional, authoritarian and highly stratified systems I initially mistook it for.
The official image of banking as glamorous and performed by a meritocracy of super talents (popular before the crash but still going strong among the wannabes) was debunked immediately. There is nothing glamorous about sweating into the same suit for 20 hours and fighting over the last milk bottle in the filthy kitchen. Like us, the bankers were condemned to endless, useless repetitive tasks that did nothing but maximise mistakes in our collective output – we certainly were not maximizing shareholder value. In fact the Bank was run just as inefficiently as the much maligned public sector organisations it was trying to destroy.
But, as stated above, the iconic figure of the banker as a greedy, dirty, alcoholic toddler was also woefully incorrect. This came as a huge surprise to me. Like many humanities graduates I had no idea what to expect from finance, except money.
Well, of course , money is important, but it is by no means the highest value in the Bank.
The aggressively expressed and mercilessly implemented ideology the Bank subjected us to fulfills, to my horror, most of the criteria for the most notorious and brutal ideology of the 20th century, updated and evolved into a slick, global 21st century version. I was hesitant to name it, because it is such a terrifying word, but more and more, and although I really didn’t want to believe my tired eyes, I began to see striking parallels to elements of the ideology of fascism.
I have been warned not to use the word ‘fascism’ because, for some people, it has been devalued to the point where its meaning can no longer be understood, like a ‘coverall’ political swear word for everything we don’t like. If true, that is a real shame, and also quite dangerous. How are we going to recognize the changing forms of virulent ideologies if we can’t name them? Is the real, unspeakable F word ‘fascism’?
Another problem, in my view, is that the iconography of fascism (largely a product of British and US media) is so firmly placed in the past, all grainy films, swastikas and uniforms, and the past of only a handful of countries, that it is hard to recognize it in contemporary form. But I saw many aspects of it, alive and thriving, in the Banks.
So let me be cautious and call it proto-fascism because it is not the ideology of a nation state, only that of the most powerful institutions in the world that pack the economic punch and political influence of many nation states combined. A 21st century high tech proto-fascism that revolves, like traditional fascism, around the core idea of a master race, a group of ‘born leaders’ whose superiority to the rest of us is a biological phenomenon. Born to rule, proving themselves through war and corporate combat, and therefore deserved winners of the battle of Survival of the Fittest, while the rest of us are losers, Unfit to Live, and deserve the bad treatment we get.
This new definition of the master race as ‘leaders’ has become decoupled from race and ethnicity (though not from gender). To me it looked like a very clever update (or evolutionary adaptation...) that makes it acceptable to many who would otherwise reject it. And it can now be globally applied.
Genetic superiority is not just a justification of ruthless behaviour. Constant battle readiness is seen as further proof of exhibiting traits of ‘dominance’ which is itself perceived as an integral part of ‘natural leadership’. Dominance is also linked with the cult of warrior like masculinity which perhaps goes some way towards explaining the continued gender imbalance in Banking. It’s not that women can’t count (or get MBAs), it’s that the proto-fascist ideology sees them as naturally (ie. genetically) inferior. Submissive to male dominance, to be absolutely clear. I certainly saw that every night, reflected in the bankers’ actions, most of whom were proud possessors of a penis.
The more senior bankers sometimes shared amused glances with each other (and occasionally also with me, a ‘girl’ on the sidelines) while they watched the ‘young dogs’ fight it out, fight each other, fight to regain some modicum of emotional control, fight dehydration, fight sleep deprivation, fight but never show tears… The bankers were always, always angry (except when they collapsed from exhaustion – unlike truck drivers and pilots they had no legally enforceable rest periods, and neither did I). Anger was the only acceptable emotion at the Bank, unless you wanted to be fired for being weak.
I know (because they told me) that many senior bankers saw these conditions as proving grounds that would select the Fittest to Rule. The survivors would be those ‘natural’ leaders. Conditions that were often compared (with pride) to ‘bootcamps’ in the military, creating an elite troupe of corporate killers. Fascist regimes love to create these, too. Upper bankers fantasized about being generals in the wars of the galaxies. The junior bankers were cannon fodder. Most of them didn’t survive the first year.
The upper bankers, showing me their teeth, would say that they were the proud products of this very same selection process – successful predators to a man.
The young bankers couldn’t believe what had happened to them. Little princes who had been privileged at every stage of their careers so far, they had been told they were special and destined for greatness, and not just by their mothers. And now – cannon fodder in the trenches. Again, not unlike their counterparts a hundred years ago.
All this fighting and ruthless elimination cannot stand still, either economically or psychologically. If you see yourself as an elite corporate killer, you need something to kill. Your empire needs to dominate. Like deregulated neo-con capitalism, this ideology runs on perpetual, aggressive expansion, another core element of fascism.
The bankers are not just fighting for themselves. They are fighting for a new world order in which they are the superior species. Lloyd Blankfein’s famous 2009 quote that Goldman Sachs (his bank) was doing ‘God’s work’ was received with a lot of derision at the time but in a deeper sense it is absolutely true. The Banks are on a mission to change the world and rule it. Unfortunately, the rest of us, the genetically inferior losers, have to live in this world too.
Let me be clear: I don’t think of individual bankers as ‘evil’. I also don’t believe in conspiracy theories. What I saw is the product of a long term corporatist/neocon/proto-fascist world view that has evolved over decades, accelerated by concurrent political developments, particularly in the US and the UK.
My theory may sound a little outlandish to you. Don’t believe me sight unseen. Read my book (although it won’t take you seven years, I promise). Follow Nyla into the dark heart of capitalism and experience what life is like in these secretive institutions – not as described by bankers (with their obvious agenda), or journalists who remain outside (very few journalists have ever been inside the Building Without A Name) but by an ‘accidental’ grassroots insider who has seen more secrets in seven years that the average banker sees in a life time.
‘I did it for the money’ is volume 1 of a trilogy. Volume 2 ‘Monsters Arising’ will focus on institutionalized bullying (our own shift leaders had absolute power over us on the night shift and used it). Volume 3 ‘Slaughterhouse Morning’ will open up the vista to mass firings, large scale human experiments and a close-up of the boys on top.
Nyla Nox is the author of ‘Graveyards of the Banks – I did it for the money’, available on Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/Graveyards-Banks-Midnights-Successful-Universe-ebook/dp/B00U7HRVNK