Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Matrix, “Bad Guys” and the Creation of a Utopia

Utopian visions of a better world entail a distinction between the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” If you get rid of the “bad guys,” you’ll only have the “good guys” left, and then you’ll be able to build your utopian world. For the eugenicist, it was a matter of getting rid of the inferior human specimens. For the National Socialists, it was a matter of either getting rid of the non-Aryans or at least enslaving them. For the Communists, getting rid of the rich vermin – the selfish bourgeoisie – would usher in the workman’s paradise.

William Deresiewicz, an essayist writing for The New York Times, seems to line up with the latter group. For him, the “bad guys” are the Wall Street capitalists– the contemptible “1 percent”:

  • A 2010 study found that 4 percent of a sample of corporate managers met a clinical threshold for being labeled psychopaths, compared with 1 percent for the population at large. 
Why are these corporate managers four times as likely to be “psychopaths” than the general population? Deresiewicz believes that they have been perverted by an inherently evil capitalistic system:

  • To expect morality in the market is to commit a category error. Capitalist values are antithetical to Christian ones…Capitalist values are also antithetical to democratic ones. Like Christian ethics, the principles of republican government require us to consider the interests of others. Capitalism, which entails the single-minded pursuit of profit, would have us believe that it’s every man for himself.
It seems that his logic is pushing him to conclude that if we change the economic basis of the system, we won’t have so many evil, psychopathic people. He also suggests that the psychopathy is far more prevalent than their four percent suggests. It also widely manifests as contempt of the poor:

  • The lie [of the rich] goes on. The poor are lazy, stupid and evil. The rich are brilliant, courageous and good. They shower their beneficence upon the rest of us.
However, it is Deresiewicz who is engaging in negative stereotyping. While he claims that the rich have designated the poor as the “bad guys,” Deresiewicz is doing the same thing. However, in his case, it is the rich who are the “bad guys.” To make his case, he references a study that has determined that “upper-class” people are more unethical than others:

  • Seven studies using experimental and naturalistic methods reveal that upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals. In studies 1 and 2, upper-class individuals were more likely to break the law while driving, relative to lower-class individuals. In follow-up laboratory studies, upper-class individuals were more likely to exhibit unethical decision-making tendencies (study 3), take valued goods from others (study 4), lie in a negotiation (study 5), cheat to increase their chances of winning a prize (study 6), and endorse unethical behavior at work (study 7) than were lower-class individuals. Mediator and moderator data demonstrated that upper-class individuals’ unethical tendencies are accounted for, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed.
These observations are nothing new. It has long been noted that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” However, power comes in many forms – economic power, political power, influential power (think media elites, celebrities, and university professors), or success. It seems that when people reach the top of their field, social constraints are weakened. Concern about the opinions of others is neutralized by success and adulation. After all, we have arrived, and this proves that we are superior people, above the standards of the common man!

I think that it was the unlikely Henry Kissinger who stated that power was the greatest aphrodisiac. Power weakens the conscience and intoxicates the head. It is not just a matter of the financial escapades of the powerful and successful. It is also their sexual and moral misconduct.

Wall Street doesn’t have a monopoly on power and immorality. Power can seriously corrupt any who touch it. However, Deresiewicz mistakenly interprets the results of the studies solely in terms of the rich. Consequently, they – the capitalists - are his “bad guys!”

Instead, we are all “bad guys,” and until we realize this, we will continue to divide the world into the “good” and the “bad,” demonizing those who are different than us.

In Jesus’ day, the religious leadership regarded the uneducated – they didn’t know the law – as the “bad guys.” However, according to Jesus, we are all “bad guys” who hate the truth, especially the truth about ourselves:

  • “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." (John 3:19-21)
We will not come to this self-knowledge on our own. It’s just too painful. Instead, it is easier to blame the other guy. After all, it is his fault! Consequently, whenever we divide the world into the “good guys” and the “bad,” we are always among the “good.” How convenient and also illuminating!

We are so self deceived, that we have no business judging others. Consequently, Jesus counseled:

  • “How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” (Matthew 7:4-5)
How does a blind man enable himself to see? First, we have to recognize that we are blind – that our lives consist of a self-imposed matrix of a multitude of intertwined lies – lies which we have come to depend upon as much as we do our pleasures. However, we will not be able to perceive the matrix without pain to shatter its lens and the Lord to provide a new lens. Jesus puts it this way:

  • "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30
His “rest” and healing depend upon recognizing that we too are the “bad guy” and trusting Him for His forgiveness and deliverance.

No comments:

Post a Comment