April 19, 2010
Goldman Sachs and the Grassy Knoll
Posted by Mae Kuykendall

Critics of the conspiracy theories of the Kennedy assassination have long suggested that Americans wanted a more satisfying explanation for the brutal death of the young, vibrant President.  A sole loser with a mail order rifle was hard to accept as the agent of the ending of a charmed life and a period of political magic.  Hence, the grassy knoll.
In the language of an English professor, the official narrative (sole killer, single bullet), with causality or identified causal agency (sole loser assassinates the President), appears too thin to provide a satisfying narrative.   There's a gap between cause (sole loser) and effect (cataclysmic event in U.S. history).  The causality of the narrative seems faulty.
In order to create a satisfying narrative that fills the perceived gap between cause and effect, people have filled the gap with multiple conspiracy theories. The cause advanced by the Warren Commission makes the event look underdetermined.  How could one insignificant man make this traumatic intervention into US history?   Conspiracy theories provide a cause that is not only overdetermined (lots of people were complicit--who knows how many?) but endlessly narratable.  We realize that we will never know the full truth, so competing theories can and will be revised endlessly.
The problem in the Warren Commission Report is one of causality and, ultimately, narratability. The alternative causality (grassy knoll) makes a much better story.
The financial crisis of 2008 ranks as a cataclysmic event in the U.S.  Unlike the Kennedy assassination, the narratability problem lies in complexity.  There has been no arrest of a lone gunman, which sustains the need for a satisfying story.
Goldman Sachs shows some potential to fill the story gap twice.  The filing of the SEC's civil charge feels a little like the moment when the Dallas police dragged Lee Oswald from a movie theater into custody.  So Goldman is having a brief audition as the sole gunman.  Moreover, since the "arrest," grassy knoll theories that support and extend the lone gunman theory are spreading rapidly.  The New York Times headlines, Senior Executives at Goldman Had a Role in Mortgage Unit.  A theory of "mathematical intractability" explains  the perfection of the gunman's concealment.
Goldman, it seems, may have found a path to long-term narrative interest.  The firm is a satisfactory narrrative figure as a lone actor, and a fertile source for stories of conspiracy and concealment. 
For those in search of a narrative about the financial crisis, one figure that brings together grassy knolls  and a single gunman into a story that can be told and revised endlessly is irresistible. 
Goldman's best defense may well be to hire a stable of master storytellers.  Not Mad Men.  The kind that can keep listeners at a campfire wide eyed and spellbound.

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