Thursday, April 7, 2011

"Am I My Brother's Keeper?"

Cain murders Abel in a woodcut by Albrecht Durer, 1511.

I remember in much younger days how the followers of Ayn Rand would quote that question from Genesis as a kind of challenge meaning "Am I responsible for what my neighbors do or don't do?" The clearly intended answer being "no." Since we all grew up together in Bible-reading Texas, I'm surprised that they never seemed to remember the context of that question, and who asks it, why, and what the answer was. Cain has just murdered his brother, and God confronts him. Cain is trying to dodge responsibility for what he has just done, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Is it really up to him to be always mindful of his brother's whereabouts? Of course this is not a serious question, it's a dodge, an excuse. God answers Cain with another question "Where is you brother Abel?" soon followed by a shocked "What have you done?"

One of my students pointed out to me recently how these very popular game shows that pit people against each other like "Survivor" are such fantasies. A group of people who really were marooned on an island would stand a much better chance of survival if they cooperated instead of trying to undercut and sabotage each other. I've never understood the wild appeal of "American Idol," not just because of the saccharine conventional music it promotes, but because one of the alleged pleasures of the show is watching the brutal and humiliating auditions. I've never understood the pleasure of watching some ordinary person who's never really done much harm in life publicly humiliated. It's one thing watching some high and mighty sort get knocked down a few pegs, but instead it's the spectacle of How the Not Very Mighty At All Have Fallen. The appeal is lost on me.

These days, we find ourselves in a fun house world of morality where a large group of already very wealthy people committed what is probably the largest act of larceny in history, almost wrecking the global economy, and yet it is the rest of us suffering the consequences who are told to feel ashamed for our wanton ways. Our representatives go out of their way to coddle the very people who ruined us all, and meanwhile try to take away our last remaining protections against the predations of the market economy. They tell us solemnly to "take responsibility," while dodging their own responsibility for creating this whole crisis. People who keep overseas tax shelters, even in times of war and crisis, are congratulated on their patriotism. For the last 50 years, war has been left to the servants. The same people who mow our lawns, repair our cars, cook our meals, clean our homes and businesses, serve as our secretaries and care for our children and elderly, also fight our wars. "Consuela, would you please clean up that mess I made in the Middle East? Thank you dear." As in the Spanish American war, so now in our current imperial military adventures; the military who fights them is mostly made up of immigrants and the poor, "disposable people." The very idea that once prevailed in the USA since the beginning that we all pull together and do our part in times of war or crisis is now ridiculed. Soon after the deadliest attack ever on our soil, we are all told to go shopping, and that nothing will be demanded of us. In fact, after invading two countries and starting two major wars, taxes for the top income earners are cut dramatically, creating a major drop in revenue available to the military to fight those wars. Calculating that the public would be unwilling to share the full sacrifice of blood and treasure for such nakedly imperial adventures, our rulers turn to mercenaries to fill out the ranks of our over-stretched and over-worked military.
A corrupt and lazy press averts its eyes from all of this to fix its gaze on the powerful and to fawn on them and upon their willing lackeys.
Our people are sold on the idea that anyone can win the lottery if no one rocks the boat and spoils our chances. We now have the War of All Against All, and instead of finding ourselves the musclebound heroes in our own video game, we find ourselves reduced to the abject and meek servants of a soon to be all powerful over-class. We've discovered that the Lone Wolves are the easiest to pick off and kill.
Now, we have a hostility to all public enterprise and all collective public life that is so extreme that even Adam Smith would be shocked and appalled. People are sold on an adolescent dream that they can have it all and do what they please without any responsibility. No one need feel obliged to maintain the very society that makes their fortunes possible. That is not a vision of adults, that is a fantasy of teenagers.

Just try to find "God helps those who help themselves" anywhere in the Scriptures (even my own mother believes it is there). You'll find it in the Book of Ben Franklin. Instead, in the Scriptures you'll find a Dirty Hippy who wandered around homeless dependent on the charity of others (what a parasite!) having the temerity to tell an aspiring young John Galt to sell all that he has and to give the money to the poor.

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is so socialist.

10 comments:

Jay Simser said...

This is an awesome post. I enjoy all of your posts - I especially liked the Mona Lisa post yesterday - but this one hit me in particular. I now have a real reason why I do not watch these unreal "reality" shows.

As I read it I got to thinking that perhaps we could identify all of this as a "Lord of the Flies" Syndrome. Thanks for making me think,

susan s. said...

Wow! Thank you for speaking about this issue! Have you linked this to FB? I came here first, so I don't know. I have friends who should read it, too!

Counterlight said...

It's posted now.

susan s. said...

Yes, I saw it just now. I would have shared it immediately, but I like to ask. I figure if it's yours, it's yours to share first, you know? So, I did share when I saw that it had been. . . ;-)

JCF said...

Rant on, Doug!

it's margaret said...

Damn effing right on!

Ann said...

Another way the Hebrew can be read "am I the keeper of the image [of God]"? It is all so terrible - only a few rich people have said -- this is the wrong way to run the country - make us pay more for the good of us all (Gates and Buffet).

Grandmère Mimi said...

Great post, Doug, and so very true, more's the pity.

jw said...

You should send this to the Editors of the NY Times, The Washington Post, the San Francisco paper, and the New Yorker Magazine, Oh, Wall St. Journal and Christian Science Monitor!

johnieb said...

You're a really good writer, Doug; this is all too true.