I had an entirely different topic in mind for this week’s video, but when I heard the news about what was going on on Wall Street, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to use it as an exploration into ethics.
So, like many of you, I’ve been watching with interest what’s been going on but if you aren’t up to speed, I’ll try to summarize what little I understand about it.
I think it’s safe to say, that most people hold Wall Street Bankers in very low moral regard, so when anyone scores a win against them, most people cheer. Something like that seems to have been happening over the past few days.
The simple explanation is, a group of independent, we might call, “little guy”, investors got together though a group or a subreddit on the social networking site, reddit. And they hatched a plan to exploit a common investment practice used by hedge fund billionaire types which is itself, considered exploitative.
So, they all committed to investing in an unlikely and low value stock and coordinated their effort it would skyrocket in value against the expectations of the hedge fund managers which means they would get caught unaware and lose billions in the process. And that’s what seems to have happened so far.
So queue everyone from the left, the right, and the mainstream media cheering on as the rich finally feel some pain, or so the narrative claims.
And in my curiosity to understand what was going on, I thought I’d jump onto Reddit to see how this happened and how it’s currently unfolding, from the source itself.
And what I found in the group in which this whole scheme found its genesis, was pretty much what you’d expect. It’s a lot of us against them rhetoric, a lot of people getting swept up in the moment, acting on adrenaline, and cheering each other on as they continue to do battle with the Wall Street Billionaires.
And while the rest of us may cheer them on, there was something revealing in the way that these Redditors described themselves and their adversaries that is reminiscent of a problem that seems to remerge every time people try to overthrow unjust powers.
What I saw in those threads was a lot of malice and hatred directed towards their adversaries, in this case, Wall Street Banker types. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t find that difficult to understand. There are people in there sharing stories about how their families and their lives were ruined by Wall Street in the 2008 crisis. So, for many, it’s personal and it’s easy to sympathize with.
What I think is worth exploring is whether this approach is productive in reducing the evils that we perceive in the world or whether it just replaces the evil we oppose with more of the same evil.
So what we seem to have a habit of doing, especially in the modern era, when we learned that the way to oppose unjust authority is through revolution, is to identify some oppressive regime or powerful entity, and oppose it at all costs and with every available measure.
So, this means using all the things that the oppressors have used, which we recognize as evil, against them. this means violence, manipulation, propaganda, deception, whatever. It’s all on the table and it’s all admissible.
But this assumes that whoever employs these kinds of measures, will be immune to their effect and that once the existing evil power structures are overthrown, that will put an end to the evil. Once we topple them from the pedestal, it will remain empty, so to speak.
But the thing about ethical choices, is that they do affect us. When we commit evil acts, we are changed by them. We become desensitized to them and more inclined to do them again since we’ve already crossed the line that would have otherwise deterred us.
If I could use a metaphor, it’s like a wine bottle. The more you invite evil through the endorsement of your actions, the more it becomes part of you like a wine bottle getting filled up with sour wine. You and I are vessels in that way.
Our experiences shape who we are, so if you deliberately expose yourself to evil through your own acts, it becomes a part of you and your character.
So in the case of this Wall Street drama, I saw a theme in the posts that were shared on Reddit, but one stood out as definitive in the way it captured the tone of what was going on.
They said that in order to defeat Wall Street greed, you have to become like them - you have to be singularly motivated by exploitative greed without a shred of mercy.
So the logic here is clear, to defeat the thing you hate, you have to become the thing you hate… and this will somehow reduce the presence of the thing you hate in the world?!
I think the problem with this is fairly obvious. If you embrace the evil that you hate, you will become it, and if you are successful in overthrowing those who would employ that evil, you will only replace it with yourself. The evil, being malice, violence, deceit, oppression, remains intact, it just claims a new host… which is you!
And history has tried to teach us this lesson over and over. The French Revolutionaries perceived greed, decadence, disregard, and gross inequality in the reigning imperial regime of France. So, they overthrew it, but in the process embraced all that they hated in their enemy, they became something far worse as they turned their sights back on the people inflicting murderous terror and oppression of their own.
The same thing happened with the Russian revolution, the Cuban revolution, the Chinese revolution, it happened in Venezuela, it happened in Zimbabwe, and on an on.
But this doesn’t mean that we can’t commit certain kinds of evil to bring about a greater good. For example, if I was hiding Jews in my house and the gestapo showed up at my door asking questions, if my courage remained intact, I would absolutely lie to them.
If someone were attacking me or my family with the intention of inflicting serious harm or even death, I would be justified in using proportional violent force against that person.
And in the case if Wall Street bankers, if they really are as bad as everyone believes, then they could probably benefit from a dose of their own medicine. But here’s the key, I said benefit from it and I wasn’t being facetious.
When we perceive some evil, our animosity for that evil should be directed at the evil itself. It should be directed towards violence, deception, lust, and greed, not towards those who commit violence, deception, lust, and greed.
Our malice and hatred should never be directed towards other people because if it is, and we act on it, then we will become the kind people who maliciously hate other people, rather than the evil itself and, as a result, we will continue to perpetuate that evil.
If we want to remove the evil that we hate in the world, we have to refuse to become its next host and the way to do that is by not committing evil acts out of hatred or malice for other people. It’s the old cliché of hating the sin not the sinner.
So, if I decide to go after wall street bankers, I don’t do it because I hate Wall Street bankers and want them to suffer for suffering’s sake. I do it because I hate greed and exploitation and I want them to learn a moral lesson that will hopefully encourage them to stop embracing greed.
If I do it out of sincere love for my fellow man, some of whom are being exploited and some of whom are doing the exploiting, then I will immunize myself against becoming the next one who does the exploiting.
Our motives are what distinguish the outcomes here. If we choose to love, even our enemies, then we may help them reform. If they don’t reform, then they will suffer a terrible fate, but not because we hate them, only the evil that they commit and if that is our disposition, we will prevent that cycle of evil from relentlessly revolving.